Birding By Kayak

Kayaks in formation...sort of (Photo courtesy Mike Maier)

When you think about it, kayaking and birding seem to be an odd couple. After all, kayaking is a water sport, while the birders tend to stay well away from an element that could turn their birdwatching equipment into a soggy (or shorted-out) mess. But the Twin Lakes in Powell, Ohio are home to many species of water-loving birds, and the best way to get up close and personal with these creatures is to approach them from the water, rather than from the land. So in early June, the Ohio Young Birders Club teamed up with The Adaptive Adventure Sports Coalition (TAASC) to go on a “Birding by Kayak” trip. Several volunteers, students (including myself), and parents participated. Altogether the experience was great fun, and we got to see a fair number of different species of birds. Among the birds we spotted were a Baltimore Oriole, a Prothonotary Warbler, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Kayaks in formation...sort of (Photo courtesy Mike Maier)The day started off rainy, the leftovers of a storm that had been churning the entire night before. Undeterred, the young birders headed out on the kayaks at around 8:30 a.m. Although the rain had abated by this time, and was little more than a drizzle, the sky was still gray and cloudy, and not particularly welcoming. The gray soon cleared up, however, and the rest of the day was more or less bright and sunny.

We started off from the TAASC Adventure Center and set out in our kayaks. As we passed under the bridge connecting the two lakes, we were saddened to see that nests of the Rough-winged Swallows had been flooded, due to high water levels. Other birds, however, had had more success and, in the first cove we entered, we were able to observe a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers nesting in a dead branch overhanging the water. After spending a few minutes there, we headed to the next cove where one of the volunteers spotted a Prothonotary Warbler. We had seen the more common Yellow Warbler a few times, but the Prothonotary Warbler was an exciting find. At the next inlet, we observed the Prothonotary Warbler again, but this time we were in for a bigger surprise. As we left the inlet, we spotted an Osprey sitting on a dead tree with a fish in his talons. As he flew away with the fish flapping from his folded talon, we were awed by the power and grandeur of this water bird.

The biggest difference between birding on land and birding by kayak is the ability of the birder to keep his or her binoculars trained on the bird. On land, this means that the birder must have a steady hand and have two feet firmly on the ground. In a kayak, however, it’s not easy to have either one. There’s no firm ground to put feet on, and a kayaking birder’s hands are rarely steady, having to juggle both binoculars and a large paddle. I figured all this out in the next area of the lake that we visited. Two Baltimore Orioles were spotted, nesting in a tall sycamore tree, concealed by the leaves. To try to get a better view, I pulled my kayak under the tree. Staring directly up into a tree through binoculars while in a kayak, I discovered, is not a good idea. Dizziness soon sets in and the kayak begins to wobble. Although I survived un-drenched and with the paddle still in the boat (mostly), it was a rather disconcerting experience, and probably not something every birder wants to deal with.

When we got back to shore after two and a half hours of birding on the water, we attempted to assemble our kayaks in an orderly manner on the water, so that we could have a group picture taken. This was harder than we thought, and with the current and wind fighting against us, we eventually ended up in an amorphous blob of kayaks. After disembarking from the kayaks, we banded a few Tree Swallow nestlings from the bird boxes that had been set up in the area. A television crew was also along, documenting our exploration for Wild Ohio TV, and they filmed our event coordinator, Darlene, banding the baby birds. The day ended with a picnic lunch and a game of hacky-sack. Although I’ve been both birding and kayaking separately before, I never realized how much fun the two could be together.

Alexander Martin was an OYBC guest for the trip.

The following list of birds seen was compiled by Aaron Tayal, OYBC member and frequent contributor to this Web site.

Hi Everyone!  This is the bird list for our kayak trip.  We saw 59 species, if you count the Barred Owl that we (Clare, Nick and I) saw on our way home.  It was near Clare’s house in the ravine.

Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
Canada Goose
Mallard
Osprey
Bald Eagle
Cooper’s Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch