The Avid Birders are explorers on the avian frontiers of Ohio, seeking out both the common birds and the rarities, and finding new and exciting destinations for Central Ohio birders.
Except that sometimes we do exactly the same things in exactly the same ways. So it was on this trip: we did an almost exact reprise of our August trip, although the birds were somewhat different. Why the lack of creativity? Well, sometimes you just gotta go with what works.
Actually, the day did start a bit differently than our previous trip. In August, we only had a few people; on this trip we had ten spread across four cars. (We do carpool, but the tenth joined us in another car en route.) And on this trip, the weather was even more wonderful than in the previous month: very comfortable temperatures through the day, and partly cloudy conditions providing enough sun to make for a lovely day but with just enough passing clouds to reduce any glare once in awhile.
Our first stop was at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in a rather boring but well-justified way: we hung out along the road not far from the entrance. This is where a Limpkin, a spectacular rarity in Ohio, had been seen earlier in the week. Sadly, no luck, but that’s not surprising: Magee Marsh is an awfully big place with plenty of hiding areas for Limpkins or anything else.
We next hit the famous Magee boardwalk. Last month, the place was nearly devoid of birds, but this month it was hopping with southbound migrants, especially warblers. Moments after starting down the boardwalk, we were hearing Warbling Vireos on all sides; at least one was within earshot for our entire visit. We also were seeing a mix of warblers including those notorious fall “Baypolls”: hard to separate Blackpoll and Bay-breasted Warblers. But separate them we did, also finding Cape May, Black-and-White, Chestnut-sided, and Magnolia Warblers, along with Red-eyed Vireos. We looked longingly at a few flycatchers in the Empidonax genus, but these are not just difficult to separate, they’re downright impossible, especially in the fall, unless they’re vocalizing — but they didn’t feel like talking.
Having tired ourselves out with the effort of identifying those confusing fall warblers, we headed for Howard Marsh Metropark, where we could spend some time identifying confusing fall shorebirds! The mix of bird species had changed substantially from last month, but we still found a few Common Gallinules and American Coots, as well as at least half a dozen Snowy Egrets. How times change: a mere few years ago, finding a Snowy Egret on the Lake Erie shore was a very big deal. Now they actually breed in the area. Climate change has altered the habits of these and so many other birds.
We found only a couple of species of waterfowl, but that included over a hundred Blue-winged Teal, as well as a few Ruddy Ducks. Our shorebird list was considerably shorter than last month’s, possibly because large numbers of many species had already passed through Ohio. We did turn up a few Stilt Sandpipers, along with Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and a few Pectoral and Least Sandpipers.
We knew, though, that there were still shorebirds left in the state, so we headed for the old peat fields found along Wilderness Road in Holmes County. One of our cars took US 250 rather than OH 4: US 250 must hold some kind of record for the number of traffic lights installed in about 10 miles of rural highway. Nevertheless, we all finally converged in the appointed spot and had plenty of shorebirds to study. In fact, we had quite a discussion about whether one of the birds we were looking at was a Red Knot, finally coming to a positive conclusion. Things were a little easier with species such as Semipalmated Plover and Sanderling. Small flocks of Sandhill Cranes flying about and making their bugling calls were a wonderful treat, and at least four Bald Eagles loafing around the area were fun as well.
By now it was late afternoon, time to start the long drive home — but the occupants of two of our three cars were distracted by a report of a not-too-far-away Franklin’s Gull at Pleasant Hill Lake. On arriving in the parking lot, they found Cinderella in a vaguely pumpkin-shaped coach, being pulled by two horses. Little princesses were milling around the parking lot and getting rides with Cinderella. No, it wasn’t heatstroke, but our group avoided the children’s party, fearing men and women with binoculars might not be accepted. At the beach, our group observed over 100 gulls, looking for the one that did not look like the others. No Franklin’s Gull, but something almost as exciting: an immature Laughing Gull! In the process, our gang learned a bit about the differences in the immature phases of these two gulls, both of which are unusual in Ohio.
Counting the late additions from the Pleasant Hill Lake crowd, we ended the day with a very respectable 83 species. And on such a wonderful day, it was impossible not to have a wonderful time.