Unusually for an Ohio winter, the Avid Birders had managed to avoid significant numbers of gulls on our December and January trips. Mild temperatures early in the winter had minimized the ice on Lake Erie, in turn minimizing concentrations of larids along the northeast Ohio lakefront. But all this changed in February. The weather turned cold, the ice built up, and the Avids made our traditional winter pilgrimage.

Having heard reports of gulls and waterfowl at Eastlake, we decided to start there, getting the longest drive of the day out of the way first thing. Our decision certainly looked good when we arrived: a squadron of birders was already on site in the icy parking lot next to the power plant. The hot water discharge from the coal-fired generators at the plant keep a small area of water open and full of dead fish, perfect gull habitat. Sorting through the thousands of ring-billed and herring gulls, we soon found both lesser black-backed and glaucous gulls, in addition to large numbers of their great black-backed cousins. Waterfowl highlights included two scoters, a couple of canvasbacks, and even a lone – and very cold-looking – coot. Moreover, the weather was at least tolerable: although cold, the wind in our face was moderate and no precipitation was in sight.

We then headed west to our next major stop, the warm water outlet near the base of Cleveland’s E. 72nd Street power plant. The situation here is much as that at Eastlake, where the warm water discharge from the power plant keeps a small area near the shore ice-free and, as it happened this day, even more filled with the floating bodies of expired fish – perfect gull food.

Arriving around noon, though, we were dismayed to learn that large numbers of gulls that had been feeding in the open water earlier in the morning apparently had satisfied their appetites and flown away from shore. In fact, we could see huge flocks of gulls loafing on the ice hundreds of yards out, beyond identification range even with spotting scopes. Drat! Had we started in Cleveland rather than at Eastlake, we would have had a chance at these reported rarities.

Still, the thousands of birds still close by warranted and received our attention. We quickly found that all was not lost. An extraordinarily close glaucous gull was a beautiful sight, a few more lesser black-backed gulls popped into view (including one that could have been a hybrid less black-backed x herring gull), and we managed to identify a Peregrine falcon sitting well out on the ice devouring the remains of a Canada goose.

Local scuttlebutt indicated that lakeshore lookouts further west were iced in and unproductive, so we decided to head inland. Mohican State Park was on our way back to Columbus and held the promise of reported pine grosbeaks. When we arrived at the grosbeak location, though, we found that grosbeaks must be early risers: they were showing up at feeders in the morning and then dispersing rest of the day. Nonetheless, we were able to locate some of the more common winter residents.

A sad note at the park was seeing a bat fly almost directly over us in midafternoon. The temperature was hovering in the high 20s Fahrenheit, and we speculate that only white-nose syndrome would have brought a bat out of hibernation in those conditions. While not unexpected, the possible appearance of this dreaded fungus bodes ill for bat populations not only in the Mohican area but throughout Ohio.

Despite some frustration over the missing gulls, our trip must be counted as fairly successful. We picked up most of the expected seasonal species, with great looks at least a few, managed to stay reasonably warm, and enjoyed the usual Avids fellowship.

The list of 54 species encountered follows.

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Black Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Surf Scoter
Black Scoter
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Thayer’s Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Glaucous Gull
Greater Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Carolina/Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
White-winged Crossbill
House Sparrow