Great Cormorant Photo Keith Murdock

As usual, we met while it was still dark to make the trek to Lake Erie. Temperatures were in the 30s with 10 to 20 mph winds, which sounds tough but really was not bad for March in Cleveland. Breaking with tradition, we stopped at Burger King before heading for the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport where Snowy Owls had been reported.  The airport was quiet and we dipped on the owls, but we did see single Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks sitting in the grass. Then it was on to our main target: the Great Cormorant that had been discovered two weeks previously, a first for the great state of Ohio. We had not seen any reports of the bird the day before our trip, but it was a new bird for all participants, and everyone wanted to try to see it.

Great Cormorant, Cleveland OH 2016 - Photo Andy Sewell
Great Cormorant, Cleveland OH 2016 – Photo Andy Sewell

On arrival at the coast guard station at Wendy Park, we found an empty parking lot — not a good sign for a popular birding spot, especially one potentially hosting a bird from the East Coast. Nevertheless, we headed out to check the breakwall. On the way, we experienced the windy conditions for which the area is famous, and we spotted several hardy groups of people in skiffs practicing sculling, complete with loudspeakers — would this help or hinder our search? A Herring Gull posed for us as we walked out and there were hundreds of Red-breasted Mergansers floating in the water near the shore, while a few Great Black-backed Gulls loafed on the rocks along with some Double-crested Cormorants and hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls. After unsuccessfully scanning the breakwall for THE cormorant, one couple decided to return to their warm car, waiting for the rest of us give up. Although we questioned their avidity, we promised to call them if we found our target bird. Fortunately, they were still within shouting distance when we spotted the Great Cormorant straight ahead on the break wall, its white hip patch unmistakable. High fives all around! Our straying couple returned, warmed up by preforming the life bird dance, and gazed admiringly at the Great Cormorant with its gray bill. We posted the finding on the Ohio listserv (the birding email system), and cars were pouring in by the time we left.

After such a sighting, a brief walk through the woodlot seemed anticlimactic and turned up only a few Robins, along with a Northern Mockingbird along the fence. We suspected that the windy conditions had the birds seeking cover. We also stopped at the East 55th Marina, staying warm while birding from the cars, but again birds were few.

Next stop: Lakefront Reservation/East 72nd street. Here we found a small flock of birds, including Fox Sparrows, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker and more Robins. Conditions on the lake were very choppy, so we decided to head inland for the Funk Bottoms area. By popular demand we stopped at a McDonalds — some traditions die hard. We also made an emergency dumpster stop, due to an exploding Coke can. I’m always prepared, and I do get teased about bringing so much stuff, but towels, washcloths and a bottle of water came in handy. Earlier this person said he was glad my new car had cup holders, so he didn’t have to worry about his drinks.

Water levels in the Funk area were very high. We saw large flocks of Ring-necked Ducks, Pintails, Mallards and Redheads. A few Sandhill Cranes flew overhead, as well as five Bald Eagles. We saw a few Rusty Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Song and Swamp Sparrows, and scoped Lesser Scaup, American Black Ducks, Gadwall, Coots and American Wigeon.

Breaking yet another Avids tradition, we were home before 5:00 pm. We ended up with 55, not bad for the day before the official start of spring.

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Red-breasted Merganser
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Cormorant (not a typo)
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow