The weather forecast for 16 October 2004 was dire, but our dispositions sunny. No doubt, we told ourselves, unusual temps and winds—both in the 40s—would bring good birding, and if it rained, so what?—we could handle that. We leaders, in fact, acted as if this was exactly what we had in mind last April when we chose 16 October for this trip….just as when, after making a wrong turn and compelling all the other cars to turn around, we pretend we thought we saw a goshawk flying up that dead-end road. Saturday’s gale-force winds were predicted to be westerlies, and we headed west to face them head-on, hoping for good birds blown in from the left side of the map.

We often devote at least a part of our October trips to looking for hard-to-find sparrows like Nelson’s and Le Conte’s, but the winds predicted made them even less likely finds, so we went for bigger birds, and a trip through the reservoirs in Ohio’s western counties. Our first one, C.J. Brown, is so close we had to loiter over coffee till dawn broke before hitting the scene. Vague shapes, wheeling in the air, skittering along the beach, or darting in the shrubbery, gradually resolved with better light into fairly mundane species, and an osprey was the best of the lot. We went to the north end, and found a few shorebirds—the best a pair of stilt sandpipers–and glimpses of sparrows darting among the wind-whipped leaves; our first hailstorm persuaded us to head on.

Passing within sight of Indian Lake, we stopped in to scan the beach, and were rewarded with a laughing gull and a young common tern. By now we were standing, like the gulls, in a tight group for shelter from the shrieking winds. Grand Lake St. Marys was all whitecaps and no birds, but the impoundments at the fish hatchery sheltered, among the usual things, several late rough-winged swallows and a small flock of shorebirds: pectorals, dunlins, yellowlegs, a snipe and a nice western sandpiper.

Lima was next. Lost Creek Reservoir’s habitat looked good, but a lady with a dog had scared off everything but mallards, swans, and ring-bills, which she was feeding with stale bread.  Nearby Metzger Reservoir, whipped into a froth by winds, looked empty until we made out a raft of ~700 ruddy ducks against the far wall five hundred yards away; not much of a look even when your scope isn’t dancing.

By this time we had abandoned plans to go to the Lake Erie shore, where waterspouts had been predicted and the wind must have been even harder to deal with, and forged on to the Findlay reservoirs. Access to the stairs up the wall was blocked by a closed bridge, but we tiptoed over, picking up a few woodland birds in the riparian area sheltered by the up-ground reservoir wall, where, as we climbed the steps we could hear wind roaring over the water. Standing upright was hard to do on the dike, but since only a few wheeling ring-billed gulls were present, we didn’t need to stay long.

We made a quick phone call to see if any good birds had been reported on the internet; few birders had been bold enough to get out, and there was no news. Accordingly, we turned around, planning to look over the reservoirs at Killdeer Plains as a last stop. Rain lashed the windows on the way down, clumping very like snow, but we put that out of our minds. Out of our minds, indeed. At Pond 3 we had 45 pied-billed grebes and a raft of decoys, for hunting was underway. Red-headed woodpeckers were present, along with flights of goldfinches. Some raptors, but nothing remarkable, were riding the gale on our way to the last stop, Pond 27. Here, at the last impoundment, were distant waterfowl. But the sky darkened, and veils of rain turned out to be sharp hail driven like bird-shot into exposed flesh, and we surrendered gracefully.  We had, we estimated, the longest list for the state this day, 66 species, even though we won mostly through lack of competition. Here they are:

Canada goose
Mute swan
Blue-winged teal
Northern shoveler
Green-winged teal
Ring-necked pheasant
Wild Turkey
Pied-billed grebe
Double-crested cormorant
Great blue heron
Turkey vulture
Bald eagle
Northern harrier
Sharp-shinned hawk
Cooper’s hawk
Red-tailed hawk
American kestrel
Semipalmated plover
Greater yellowlegs
Semipalmated sandpiper
Western sandpiper
Least sandpiper
Pectoral sandpiper
Stilt sandpiper
Common snipe
Laughing gull
Bonaparte’s gull
Ring-billed gull
Herring gull
Common tern
Rock pigeon
Mourning dove
Belted kingfisher
Red-bellied woodpecker
Downy woodpecker
Northern flicker
Blue jay
American crow
Horned lark
Tree swallow
Northern rough-winged swallow
Carolina chickadee
Black-capped chickadee
Tufted titmouse
Ruby-crowned kinglet
American robin
Gray catbird
European starling
Cedar waxwing
Yellow-rumped warbler
Eastern towhee
Song sparrow
Swamp sparrow
White-throated sparrow
White-crowned sparrow
Northern cardinal
Red-winged blackbird
Eastern meadowlark
Common grackle
Brown-headed cowbird
American goldfinch