Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Birding with DG

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Debbie Griffith, BWD's managing editor, had a birthday over the weekend, so I bought her lunch today and we headed up the Ohio River in search of bald eagles. Our first stop was the Willow Island lock and dam between Reno and Newport on the Ohio side of the river. In winter there's almost always something to see--sometimes just gulls and cormorants and Canada geese, but always something.

Today our first birds were coots, pied-billed grebes, mallards, and a smattering of ring-billed gulls. We also spotted a small flotilla of hooded mergansers along the lock channel--the males had their headgear fully extended showing the contrasting black and white. Hoodies are among my favorite winter ducks because they are commonly seen here in winter, usually close to shore.

Just above the dam, on the West Virginia side is a huge power plant. Warm water flowing from the plant keeps this part of the Ohio somewhat temperate in winter, so the waterfowl always seem to congregate in the placid, somewhat warmer waters above the dam. The public viewing tower on the Ohio side provides a good vista for scanning the river. I've seen common loons here, four different grebe species, and even some of the less common (for us) waterfowl species, including long-tailed duck, northern pintail, common merganser, tundra swan, and snow goose.

We left the dam and headed farther north to the Newell's Run embayment, a backwater created by the Willow Island dam. I did many a bird trip here as a kid and can still remember the life birds that this place has shown me. Debbie and I found more hoodies, more great blue herons, more ring-billed gulls, and black ducks mixed in (literally and probably genetically) with some mallards. Canada geese are thick here, too. As we pulled back onto Route 7 to head back the BWD's offices, we scanned the trees on the head of Middle Island. These huge sycamores and water maples are a favored resting/roosting spot for our wintering bald eagles. Sure enough, I finally spotted a big dark lump in one of the trees--a lump too big to be a squirrel nest.

It was a third-year bald eagle with a dirty-white head and upper back, and a dark tail. After ogling this bird for ten minutes or so, we snapped a distant digital image of it and headed back to work. Not bad birding for a lunch hour, And we had some bird to brag about to our co-workers when we got back. I think DG had a happy birthday.