Our fearless forecasters had been intoning the same thing for two weeks now: “High about 90, low about 65, 30% chance of rain,” the sort of generic August forecast that can’t go too far wrong. Maybe the weather people were all on vacation, and left their lawyers in charge. As usual, it didn’t rain a drop on Saturday, and our band of 19 (tucked neatly into four vehicles) saw a lot of parched fields of corn on the way up to Lake Erie .

Despite about two and a half months of rainfall way below normal, the Lakeside spots where everyone hopes to find shorebirds over recent years—the chaussee at Sheldon Marsh, and the Crane Creek estuary at Ottawa NWR—had stubbornly held lots of water, their wide glassy stretches relieved only by small nondescript groups of mallards, lurking about as if ashamed of their drab eclipse plumage. A dismal scene indeed.

So our itinerary was a roll of the dice at best, but what else to do in August but chase those long-distance callers of the bird world, the shorebirds? There was little to do but assume, or even pretend, the “good spots” were indeed good. Birders, like birds, are creatures of habit.

We stopped first at Maumee Bay State Park , a place that can be great or dull. It was great just to clamber out of our vehicles, feel the rather stiff southern breeze in our faces, and sort through the big larid flock on the beach. It contained no special birds, and there were no buff-breasted sandpipers on the grass. The bathing pond had been pretty much emptied of birds by three weirdoes who waded around waist deep, wearing headphones and wielding some sort of equipment—metal-detecting freaks, we figured. But several of us did mention that we might have looked just as weird to the “normal” folks who were just getting out to jog their dogs.

Frankly, we had less than high hopes for the Ottawa Death March. Having been there recently, I anticipated a featureless expanse of water spangled with a few marauding terns. But morning light’s good there, and morning air’s cooler for the 3-4 mile walk, and—hey—there are always those wild trumpeter swans to admire. The air was cool, and the mosquitoes in abeyance, all because of the persistent southern wind. Our hopes soon rose beyond those for a good hike to hopes for some good birds, as when we reached the estuary some mud was exposed. Sure, most of them were a long way off, but we scoped them with care, and found sixteen species of shorebirds beyond the expected waterfowl, gulls, and terns. On the walk back, we chanced upon two more in a long ditch—a single juvenile Baird’s, and—for some of us at least—a neat half-dozen western sandpipers in almost perfect breeding plumage only 50 feet away.

We next went to Pipe Creek WA , where there seemed (to us at least) to be some shorebird habitat. The birds apparently didn’t think so, so after another mile-plus of walking we refreshed at an ice-cream venue. On the way, our carload cruised the old Cedar Point chaussee, and found to our delight that it was all of a sudden a nice mix of pools and channels and mudflats—just as it was last fall. We finally began to realize that luck had once again tapped us on the shoulder, and the southern winds were clearing the shorebirding spots. Medusa Marsh, a diked impoundment, was immune to this refreshing change, and we forged on to Pickerel Creek. Pickerel Creek WA , usually a dreary expanse of sterile impounded waters at this time of year, has had a single hot spot, and we spent a good amount of time there. In the hot wind (reminding me so much of the mistral of Provence, where I spent several months recovering from wounds sustained in the Atlas Mountains campaign during a stint in the French Foreign Legion), the hot sun was conveniently behind us as we spent an hour and a half studying at close range the various plumages—and they are various this time of year, with ragged adults reluctantly standing beside fresh juveniles—of a good variety of shorebirds. Most shorebirds have the good sense to abandon their young in the Arctic as mere rug-rats; they seem to do all right, and as teenagers find their way along the same migratory pathways to the wintering grounds.

One of our groups reached the shorebird pools a bit late, having encountered a strange sparrow that sounded like one of the rare Ammodramus ones in the marsh; seemed awfully early, but their descriptions were compelling. I’ll leave it to them to diagnose. Having completed our itinerary, and with a nice list of 21 shorebird species (admittedly, we never got into any other habitats, save for a couple of hundred yards of wooded trail at Pipe Creek), we called it a day. Perhaps some of our vehicles took the opportunity to bird elsewhere on the way back, and found some additions to the otherwise quite undistinguished list of 72 species that appears below, but if so they haven’t been heard from.

Avid Birders trip list 2002_08_17