Bonapartes Gull at Huron

Heading into late Autumn can be a tricky period for the avid bird-watcher. Depending on the weather, Ohio can be swarming with migrants, either lingering birds from earlier in the season (Ammodramus sparrows, warblers, shorebirds) or early waterfowl and gulls. Other times, one can find that you’ve headed out into a lull between the two major fall migrations. A stretch of warm weather that ended the day before the monthly Avids trip with a minor cold front passing through the state, combined with a general lack of reports of birds in either rarity, variety, or sheer numbers, was a source of hope for the beginning of the late fall waterfowl migration in northern Ohio. Four intrepid birders took the challenge to find good birds on their own, refusing the temptation to chase a Little Gull at Conneaut, and headed north towards the central Ohio shoreline of Lake Erie.

Bonapartes Gull at HuronThe first stop was Wellington Upground Reservoir as the sun rose in the eastern sky. Almost always a good spot for hordes of waterfowl when it isn’t frozen over, Wellington did not disappoint in terms of numbers of birds; however, variety was a little on the low side, with approximately 90% of all birds being Ruddy Ducks and American Coots. Several Horned Grebes entertained us as we examined each in turn for its potential to be a rarer Eared Grebe. A single Common Loon floated in the middle of the reservoir, and a couple of hundred Canada Geese disdained to include rarer geese among them. A Bald Eagle glided overhead and perched in a tree overlooking the water, causing some consternation among the coots. Near the end of our stop here, the nearby woodlot woke up, giving us Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, and Downy Woodpecker for the trip list.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (center) among a crowd of Ring-billed GullsAfter some discussion, we decided to add a visit to the Huron Pier to our itinerary. With winds blowing from the west-northwest, Huron would be a good indicator of the potential for good lake birds this day. We were greeted, as one usually is, by hordes of Ring-billed Gulls along the river mouth and loafing on the beach and gravel piles. As we walked further north along the pier, the Ring-bills began to be replaced by Bonaparte’s Gulls, with Herring Gulls and a single Greater Black-backed Gull mixed in. Two of us made the jaunt out to the lighthouse, a trip rewarded by a good flight of at least 20 Common Loons and an exciting flyby from a dark morph Parasitic Jaeger! Attempts were made to turn one of the more distant Bonaparte’s Gulls into a Sabine’s Gull, with no success. The pier also yielded a few American Tree Sparrows and a Song Sparrow. A final scrutiny of the gulls on the beach added a Lesser Black-backed Gull to the trip list.

Closer view of a Lesser Black-backed Gull at Huron (Photo Lisa Phelps)On to Lorain, where the winds began to be in line with Lake Erie expectations: biting and strong. A quick review of the harbor revealed no unusual gulls or ducks, and no early Purple Sandpipers were detected on the breakwalls. The wind convinced us our time would be better spent walking the dike around the impoundment instead, which turned up a handful of tree sparrows, a couple of juncos, and a single White-crowned Sparrow. A trio of Dunlin were foraging along the open water in the middle of the impoundment, and were joined by numerous coots and Ruddy Ducks. Adding to our duck list, we spotted Gadwall, Ring-necked Duck, Redhead, Mallard, and Northern Shoveler here.

A closed exit on the freeway for Wendy Park convinced us to try Cleveland Lakefront Nature Reserve next (or Dike 14 to old hands at Ohio birding). Scrutiny of the pines did not reveal any hiding owls or even Red-breasted Nuthatches, reported here earlier in the week. A walk along the paths was aborted as very few birds were in evidence. A single Fox Sparrow was the addition to the trip list here. With time becoming an issue, the Avids moved south to the land of the Amish.

Avid Birders explore the waterfront (Photo Lisa Phelps)We arrived first at Shreve Fish Pond, a pond that is being drawn down during spring and fall shorebird migrations. Here, we found a Wilson’s Snipe, two Greater Yellowlegs, about 50 Dunlin, a Killdeer, and 20 gray, dark-legged peeps that confounded us. We finally settled on Semipalmated Sandpipers as the identification, but this would be a late record for the species. Consultation after the trip convinced us that we should leave these birds unidentified, as Western Sandpipers were possible (although none of the birds had the longer bills one tends to find with that species; instead, bill length was stubby to medium). An American Kestrel, Great Blue Heron, and Belted Kingfisher were other good additions at this spot.

With an eye on a rapidly descending sun, we made our way to Wilderness Road, normally a spot that would be chock-full of water birds, but nary a one was to be found. We did add a dark-morph Rough-legged Hawk and a Northern Harrier to the list here, so it wasn’t a total wash. From here, it was a quick enough jaunt to Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area, with Sandhill Cranes as our target. However, as with Wilderness Road, this location was also very quiet, with flocks of unidentified blackbirds in the distance and a few tree sparrows in the bushes – it appears the birds had gone to bed, so we too called it a day and pointed our car southwest towards Columbus.

You can view more photos from this Avid Birders trip on Lisa Phelps’ Avid Birders page on Flickr.

Trip list:

1. Canada Goose
2. Mute Swan
3. Gadwall
4. American Black Duck
5. Mallard
6. Northern Shoveler
7. Redhead
8. Ring-necked Duck
9. Lesser Scaup
10. Bufflehead
11. Red-breasted Merganser
12. Ruddy Duck
13. Common Loon
14. Pied-billed Grebe
15. Horned Grebe
16. Double-crested Cormorant
17. Great Blue Heron
18. Bald Eagle
19. Northern Harrier
20. Red-tailed Hawk
21. Rough-legged Hawk
22. American Coot
23. Killdeer
24. Greater Yellowlegs
25. Dunlin
26. Peep sp.
27. Wilson’s Snipe
28. Bonaparte’s Gull
29. Ring-billed Gull
30. Herring Gull
31. Lesser Black-backed Gull
32. Greater Black-backed Gull
33. Common Tern
34. Parasitic Jaeger
35. Rock Pigeon
36. Mourning Dove
37. Downy Woodpecker
38. American Kestrel
39. Blue Jay
40. American Crow
41. Black-capped Chickadee
42. Tufted Titmouse
43. White-breasted Nuthatch
44. Carolina Wren
45. Eastern Bluebird
46. American Robin
47. European Starling
48. American Tree Sparrow
49. Fox Sparrow
50. Song Sparrow
51. White-crowned Sparrow
52. Dark-eyed Junco
53. Northern Cardinal
54. Red-winged Blackbird
55. Common Grackle
56. American Goldfinch
57. House Sparrow