Sunday, June 10, 2007

Crooked Run Nature Preserve

In a previous post, I said that the Cincinnati Nature Center was one of my two favorite nature spots in Clermont County. Here is the other one: Crooked Run Nature Preserve. In contrast to CNC's 1000 acres and miles of trails, Crooked Run is tiny - only 77 acres with about 1.5 miles of trails. Still, this hidden gem of the Clermont County parks system holds amazing mysteries. No less than 200 hundred species of birds have been seen here, many as residents and many who merely use this spot as a stop-over during migration. I have picked up several of my Life Birds here, and I can remember each one: Hermit Thrush, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Warbling Vireo, American Woodcock, Orchard Oriole and Palm Warbler, a fall specimen that I identified by its habit of bobbing its tail, to name a few. I took the dogs with me this Sunday morning to our weekly worship service in this quiet sanctuary.

Stepping through the gate, you first encounter deciduous woods, where the very air is green and many more birds are heard than seen on a late spring/early summer's morning. Today, I heard both the White-eyed and the Red-eyed Vireo, and was not only able to ID them by their songs, but was lucky enough to see them both. As for photos of these birds, or any I see on bird walks, you are out of luck. I have a little "point and shoot" Canon Powershot A530 with a 4x zoom - a nice enough camera and a good one for me to learn on, but not enough lens for bird pictures. Get out your field guides, look them up online, or go to blogs like Birdchick's for great birding photography.

The White-eyed was down rather low, just about at my eye level, as is typical for this species. He was puffing himself up and trembling as he sang "Pick up the beer, check!" Put a firm accent on the first and last "chick" sounds and hurry through the middle of the phrase, and you can get a feel for his song. I love to watch a bird as it sings - it really helps to cement the song in my mind. I can still see his
striking white eye, which contrasts nicely with his bright yellow spectacles and flanks.

The Red-eyed Vireo hangs out in the tree tops, repeating the same pattern over and over again, "Here I am, See me, Up in the tree, Down low, Vireo." Some people call him the "Preacher Bird" because his sermons run on and on, never seeming to end. He can be hard to spot, high in the dense foliage, and in fact, I think I must have seen the female today. I watched a Red-eyed gleaning insects from the leaves at mid-level while the singer continued his song overhead. "Here I am, See me, Up in the tree, Down low, Vireo." The sound definitely wasn't coming from the bird I was watching. The red eye of the Red-eyed Vireo might be a good field mark if you have the bird in hand, but isn't easy to see in a live and constantly moving specimen. The pale "eyebrow" over the dark eyeline are my key to this species. That, and the monotonous "Here I am, See me, Up in the tree, Down low, Vireo." SHUT UP!!

As you follow the path along the river, you come to this little observation platform, where you can look out at the mighty Ohio River, watching for ducks, loons, cormorants, and Bald Eagles. I usually only get boats - pontoons, power boats, and the ever present barges.

The namesake feature, and the key to the diversity of this place, is the Crooked Run Estuary. Originally Crooked Run Creek, this stream was changed into a shallow, slow-moving backwater by the damming of the Ohio River, first by the Chilo Lock and Dam in the 1920's, then by the Meldahl Dam which replaced it in the 1960's.

The Outer Loop Trail runs along the estuary. There are three small blinds where you can sit and bird watch. You can usually see Great Blue Herons and many duck species: Hooded and Red-breasted Mergansers, Mallards and Wood Ducks among others, in and on the estuary. Nothing today. I did try my "pishing" skills and annoyed a Tufted Titmouse to the point of actual disapproval. Again, no photographic evidence, but trust me - I got "the look."

These snags are good spots for Belted Kingfishers.

There is also a meadow, with a short trail bisecting it. I often find Indigo Buntings and Yellow-breasted Chats here. Today, a Common Yellowthroat made a silent appearance. No "witchety-witchety-witchety" from this guy, just a bright yellow throat and a black mask, perched in the weeds.

Along the meadow trail, my dogs called my attention to this. Egg shells - leathery, dry, curled up - and a hole in the ground. Box turtles? I think so. I have sent an S.O.S. to the Science Chimp to check my ID. Cool!

Gray Catbirds were the most numerous species today, some "meowing" in that harsh, screechy way they have while others ran through their entire repertoire. You know how to distinguish the three mimic species don't you? A Gray Catbird sings each song once, then moves on. A Brown Thrasher repeats each song twice before changing tunes. And, a Northern Mockingbird will sing each melody three times or more in succession.

Outside of the actual preserve, part of the adjacent Chilo Lock #34 Park, is a small wetlands. I have seen a Snow Goose here, scaup and Ring-necked Ducks. The surrounding area is home to Red-winged Blackbirds, Tree Swallows, and several sparrow species. Sandhill Cranes have even stopped by for a brief rest. (I missed them.) Last winter, a Green Heron stayed here until January, a state record for late Green Heron sightings.

I rarely see more than two or three people here, except on Sunday mornings after a Saturday night Cub Scout sleep-over. The park maintains two "yurts" that they rent out to the Scouts and others for that purpose.

Just for the Swami: a yurt.

In the parking lot, I scored the vireo trifecta when I heard a Warbling Vireo. Never did get eyes on him, though to tell the truth, there isn't that much to see. The Warbling Vireo is one of the plainest of the vireos - no Blue head or Black cap or Yellow throat on him. His song is great though - a rolling, bouncing tune that has been described as "First I'll SEE you, then I'll SEIZE you, then I'll SQUEEZE you till you SQUIRT!" with the accents on the capitalized words. It is supposed to be what he is saying to a caterpillar. I don't know if I hear those words exactly, but the rhythm is right.

As I head home, I silently thank Mrs. Mimi Ford Paul for her generous donation of this land that she and her husband, Robert J. Paul, farmed before the 1937 flood. In 1980, she dedicated this property to her husband's memory, and then lived here until her death in 1991. Without her gift, birds and animals would not have a refuge. And, neither would I.


Susan Gets Native said...

Do you think they could move the estuary a little closer to my house? I love going there. Hmmm...maybe I will take the girls tomorrow!

Mary said...

Katdoc, you don't need a fancy zoom lens to share your findings. I, for one, enjoyed seeing some of the birds in my mind and hearing their songs! I laughed at your titmouse :o) Your photos of scenes are very good - I appreciate your artful eye and writing skills!

nina said...

The pishing is not working out so well for me, either--I can't seem to attract anything, just get the same weird looks from everything--like "what's with this woman--can't she take her circus somewhere else!"
Anyway, enjoyed your Crooked Run introduction--we may head there very soon--I need a change of scenery--feeds my desire for discovery and adventure!

KatDoc said...

Good news/bad news on the egg shells. Julie says they are box turtle eggs, but that prime egg laying season is now (June) and that when the eggs hatch in the fall, the young turtles come out through a tiny opening and leave the shells behind in the nest chamber. These, she says, were probably laid very recently and were quickly found, dug up, and eaten by something (raccoon, etc.)

Bummer. :(

Well it was a cool finding anyway, and as Isabelle says, "At least it wasn't House Sparrows" that got the turtles.

[singing "Circle of Life]

Holly said...

If and when you ever get to DE, you not only have to get a massage from the Best Massage Practioner In Town ;), we'll need to take a trip to Bombay Hook Wildlife Refuge. I can show you some birds *there*, although you'll have to identify them for me!

We saw a redbird in our garden the other day. Not a cardinal, we've got lots of them around and I recognize them but a true red bird. First I've ever seen! I know, I know....not an uncommon, seldomseen wharbling lavendargrass, tufted, bluetailed, eyebrowed whatawing but still....I was modestly happy!!