Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dickcissels at Fernald Preserve

Friday afternoon I made my first-ever trip to Fernald Preserve. It's on the west side of town about 45 minutes from my house, so it's not that far, but even as recently as five years ago I would never have considered going there. Fernald was a uranium processing plant opened in 1951, and to anyone who was a kid growing up in Cincinnati in the 60s and 70s, it was a very scary place. In the early and mid 80s, reports of radioactive leaks and environmental contamination coupled with illnesses from people living near the plant always dominated the headlines. Needless to say, at that time the word "Fernald" was never associated with anything good, but the place was closed in 1989 and became a government Superfund cleanup site. A 4.4 billion dollar cleanup project followed and in 2008 Fernald Preserve was the result. Now, sweeping meadows filled with native plants identified from an 1819 land survey of the area cover the 1,050-acre site, and grassland birds such as Dickcissels, Bobolinks, Henslow's Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, and Grasshopper Sparrows are nesting. Holding ponds dot the preserve and attract waterfowl throughout the year, and during the winter Short-eared Owls, Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Harriers are always reported. Basically, the former radioactive toxic wasteland has become a birder's paradise...

...a beautiful Dickcissel (Spiza americana) perches in the meadow near the Nature Center at Fernald Preserve. Look closely at his lower mandible...it's blue!

...the meadows were filled with Dickcissels. I've never seen so many in one place.

...yellows and blacks on the front, rich browns and rusts on the back...

...his russet shoulder patch stands out nicely in the sun.

...with his pattern of bright yellow and black on his chest, it's easy to see why this bird is sometimes called the "Little Meadowlark..."

...of course his constant singing from the highest perch might add to that moniker too!

...because Fernald's reputation was so notorious in the 80s and 90s (even after the continued reports of Fernald's transformation over the past couple of years), friends wanted me to check in with them upon my return to make sure I wasn't glowing--luckily, I wasn't (except from the heat!). I will definitely go back to Fernald. I'd like to spend more time in the meadows to get closer to the Dickcissels for better photographs. I had to crop these photos down more than I like, and the quality suffers.

22 comments:

texwisgirl said...

it looks like a meadowlark mixed with a sparrow mixed with maybe a bit of bobolink. :)

Lois Evensen said...

Beautiful images. I remember the stories about Fernald well.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

What a gorgeous bird, Kelly. I have heard of Dickcissels --but have never seen one. They do look a little like a Meadowlark, don't they????

Now you will have to paint this one...

Great pictures.
Hugs,
Betsy

Steve Borichevsky said...

Nice, I've always wanted to see a Dickcissel.

KAT said...

Thanks for sharing your trip to the Fernald area. I never knew any of that. very interesting...4.4 bill WOW ! Love the bird you discovered there I have never seen one before

Frank said...

I have only ever seen one of these .. very distant and in 'fall' plumage so it is great to get a closer view .. thanks for sharing this glorious encounter Kelly.

Out on the prairie said...

A favorite songbird for me, they have a charming song.Lovely pics

Roy said...

Nice post, Kelly! It's always great to see our mistakes turned around and made into something beautiful.

forestal said...

Gorgeous bird, one I havn't seen. Great captures Kelly!

grammie g said...

HI Kelly...It is amazing the birds I have learned about since I started blogging!!
Very nice post and photos of yet another lovely bird!!

Montanagirl said...

Beautiful shots, Kelly! His front yellow chest and black bib remind me of our Meadlowark.

Janice K said...

I am always amazed at all the different birds you see. That is certainly one I have never seen before. Your pictures are wonderful.

Tammie said...

what an amazing history this place has. So sad what people do on our planet!

Your photos are lovely
intimate captures.

Elaine said...

The dickcissel is a beautiful little bird, another one I had never heard of. You have a wonderful diversity of birds there in Cincinnati! It's great that they were able to reclaim the land and make it into a nature preserve. Occassionally the government gets it right and funds these kind of projects.

abirdersnotebook said...

Kelly this is one of my favorite places to go. Very good Dickcissel pictures.

Laure Ferlita said...

Glad to know something so gorgeous came out of something so bad! Great images (and the quality is fine, Ms. Perfectionist! ;•)

Walk in the Woods said...

Compromised quality or not, these are lovely images of a lovely winged-one!

Debbie said...

gorgeous bird, beautifully captured. crisp and clear, you inspire me to take better pictures!!!

Anna said...

Kelly you have to be careful with radiation, it is invisible.
Beautiful images as always, and sounds like a very interesting place, especially about the clean up. Thanks for sharing, and hope all is well. Sometimes I think about you, as we have something in common, our sons. Anna :)

Hilke Breder said...

Sounds like they turned that uranium plant into a piece of paradise. It sounds lovely the way you describe it. Lovely photos too of the Dickcissels!

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone. Yes...what a huge change! After growing up in Cincinnati and hearing all the horror stories that came out of Fernald, it's almost unbelievable that all the land could be reclaimed and renewed...and now amazing grassland birds are nesting there! Definitely a success...

Kathiesbirds said...

Wow, what a wonderful success story after all that horror! Gorgeous Dickcissels. I have never seen one and would so love to. I had no idea their lower mandible was blue!