Avid Birder Gretchen Fluke surveys Wellington Reservoir

Like other birding groups and individuals, the Avid Birders have had a few trips “weathered out” over the years. Ice on the roads and blowing snow have prevented us from leaving the parking lot, much less seeing any birds. But what if the weather is too good? Do we call that “weathered in?” An old birders proverb tells us that “bad weather brings good birds;” is the converse really true?

Reports earlier in the week from Lorain had tantalized us with the prospect of a black-headed gull amongst the thousands of Bonaparte’s gulls inside the harbor break wall. Little gulls, too, had been reported, as had a leucistic Bonaparte’s gull. Others had seen these birds while peering into driving snow and freezing north wind; perhaps we would have even better looks.

Avid Birder Gretchen Fluke surveys Wellington ReservoirMild southerly breezes — if one can call air in the low 30s “mild” — wafted us toward our first stop at Wellington Reservoir. As is often the case this time of year, Wellington was chock full of waterfowl. Among the abundant Canada geese were a startling 13 cackling geese, surely a record for any Avids trip, along with a snow goose and a nice assortment of ducks for a total of 15 species of waterfowl. We next swung by the Oberlin Reservoir, which also held a decent group of waterfowl.

But our worst fears were confirmed when we arrived at the Lorain Harbor. A few lonely red breasted mergansers floated well out from the pier, accompanied mainly by a flotilla of decoys set out by hunters in one of the blinds on the break wall. Those southerly winds had pushed the gulls well out onto the lake and out of scope range.

We spotted some gulls both to the east and to the west, so moved over to Lakeview Park (otherwise known as Easter Basket Park), where a few hundred gulls were near shore; unfortunately, all were ring-billed and herring. We then inspected the docks to the east of the harbor, where we did manage to find a lesser black-backed gull among more hundreds of ring-bills.

The recent closing of power plants in downtown Cleveland and at Eastlake has deprived birders of traditional hot water spots where gulls congregate. We headed for the remaining hot water location at Avon Lake (the power plant there remains in operation), where we located a few additional lesser black-backed gulls, along with an immature glaucous gull. The surprise bird for this spot, though, was an amazingly late — and amazingly hardy — great egret. A peregrine falcon perched on a railing on the smokestack of the power plant provided a nice touch as well. A few waterfowl floating out on the lake completed the list for this site.

In all of these locations, we could see thousands of birds — mostly gulls but unidentifiable waterfowl as well — floating well offshore. Realizing that the weather had thoroughly dispersed the birds, and out of ideas for the lakefront, we headed for home rather early. Were we lucky not to have to contend with the miserable weather that sometimes plagues our winter trips? Or were we unlucky to find pleasant, mild weather that thwarted our great birding ambitions?  Judge for yourself — here is our list for the day:

Greater White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Canada Goose
Cackling Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall
American Black Duck
Mallard
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Canvasback
Redhead
Ring-necked Duck
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Northern Harrier
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
American Coot
Bonaparte’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Glaucous Gull
Greater Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
European Starling
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Sparrow