Avid Birders scan the Lorain Harbor

A small band of half a dozen met for a trip to Lake Erie, anticipating a rush of wildfowl after north winds, then the arrival of south winds and with them chances at seasonal goodies like cave swallows. Hope springs eternal. A busy sky with an occasional short shower and blustery winds awaited us for a stop at Huron harbor, a traditional November starting-point. Here loons and gulls as always were the stars, along with long skeins of passing red-breasted mergansers, and we saw plenty of them, led by several thousand Bonaparte’s gulls. Our hopes for something less expected usual—a little gull among the Bonies, a purple sandpiper along the breakwall—or even something like some snow buntings or a lesser black-backed gull, were misplaced.

Avid Birders scan the Lorain HarborA few miles west we sidestepped to drive the chaussee along Sheldon Marsh. The road was mercifully deserted, and we were able to pull off. Our arrival startled several hundred nervous tundra swans, who took off in a blizzard of white with bleats of protest. Some mud flats had emerged, and killdeers and dunlins fed there. Ducks were hard to find though, and we went on to pass the deserted amusement park, noting a small gathering of great black-backed gulls and companies of cormorants on the way back to the mainland. We proceeded across the traditional series of fall/winter birding spots. Medusa Marsh, barely visible through the least dense wall of phragmites, had a few swans and scattered ducks, and did not hold our attention long. Bay View was nearly devoid of water birds. We had news confirmed the day before of a northern shrike at Magee Marsh, and wanted to poke around the bird trail for rusty blackbirds and saw-whet owls, but the road in was blocked to all but hunters. We hoped it would open up again at noon, but were told it would be closed all day to birders.

Ottawa NWR, we found out next, was to be closed all weekend likewise due to a youth deer hunt, ending our hopes for a walk to the estuary for shorebirds, a glimpse of a pair of glossy ibises, or the simple pleasure of seeing and hearing huge aggregations of tundra swans. A desperate lunge to Metzger Marsh, which was open, provided a handful of ducks among a sooty raft of coots, but little more. At last we decided to head back east to look at some more harbors.

The way to Lorain harbor was enlivened by several sightings of great egrets, scattered singles and pairs and one large white cloud of 35+, all running on a rather late schedule. A stop at the east side, along the marina, was rather lonely, with a vista of construction equipment and churned-up earth in the dredge-spoil impoundment, but we could see white clouds of gulls over the river to the west. Thither we hurried, finding immense numbers of dainty Bonaparte’s gulls—we estimated over ten thousand—breasting into the wind upriver, then dashing back the other way, all pretty close. Deploying our scopes, we studied the white throngs repeatedly, morally certain that such numbers must surely contain a little gull, a black-headed gull, a kittiwake, even–we kidded ourselves—a Ross’s gull. Surely the birding gods owed us something! Instead we found a few herring gulls and good numbers of ring-billed gulls in mostly discrete flocks. Finally, an Franklin’s gull in sooty winter plumage stood out.

A few of the thousands of Bonaparte's gulls in the Lorain HarborIt had grown wetter and darker, and we satisfied ourselves by planning a stop at Wellington Reservoir—usually a sure-fire refugium for waterfowl—on our way home. As it happened, we drove, absorbed in conversation, right by Wellington without noticing it. We had planned our day to avoid the nearly seven hours involved in driving to and from Ashtabula in what seemed to have become a fruitless search for a black-tailed gull reported there two days earlier; no one had reliably seen it since, and a mistaken ID posted on the mailing list seemed to confirm it. As it was, it was only when we reached the Worthington Mall at the end of the day that we got a note that the black-tailed gull had finally been refound as it went to roost at the end of the day. Had we gone to Ashtabula to find it, would we have stayed that long, after three hours of driving there, eight fruitless hours of looking for it, and facing another three-hour drive back to Columbus to arrive at 8:30? I doubt it, but we’ll probably be haunted by it anyway. Our list for the day was uninspiring, with only 49 species, but it was great for white birds—swans, gulls, egrets—whose numbers reached well into five figures…

Canada goose
Mute swan
Tundra swan
American wigeon
American black duck
Northern shoveler
Green-winged teal
Lesser scaup
Hooded merganser
Red-breasted merganser
Ruddy duck
Common loon
Pied-billed grebe
Horned grebe
Double-crested cormorant
Great blue heron
Great egret
Turkey vulture
Bald eagle
Red-tailed hawk
American kestrel
American coot
Franklin’s gull
Bonaparte’s gull
Ring-billed gull
Herring gull
Great black-backed gull
Rock pigeon
Mourning dove
Belted kingfisher
Blue jay
American crow
Horned lark
Black-capped chickadee
European starling
American tree sparrow
Fox sparrow
Song sparrow
Dark-eyed junco
Northern cardinal
Common grackle
American goldfinch
House sparrow