It was August, so the Avid Birders were on the hunt for shorebirds. Based on reports from across the state, our first destination was Wilderness Road in Wayne County, where a peat production area held not only peat but also oodles of shorebirds. (Thus the horrible pun in the title of this report!)
Traditionally, an August Avids Trip involves a death march through late summer heat and humidity. So it seemed quite odd when eight hardy birders showed up at our traditional meeting place, Worthington Mall, in fleece jackets. An overnight low of 54° will do that, though. The forecast was for daytime temperatures in the mid-70s with no rain in sight, truly a lovely day to look for shorebirds.
During our drive north, the temperature dropped even further: if our car to thermometer was to be believed, we passed through areas as low as 48°. That’s unusual for August around here to say the least! More worrisome was fog that we encountered near our destination. But by the time we arrived at the Wilderness Road site, the fog was lifting. We were looking at clear skies, pleasantly cool temperatures, and – as expected – plenty of shorebirds.
Our first sightings, though, were not of shorebirds but of waders. Within the first few minutes on site, we counted 89 Great Egrets and 44 Great Blue Herons. While these summer species are expected, it certainly was impressive see that many at once.
As we started walking the construction roads through the site, our shorebird tally mounted rapidly. We spotted some Spotties (Spotted Sandpipers), along with the usual suspects such as Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Pectoral Sandpipers. We were delighted to find at least 16 Stilt Sandpipers, an extraordinary total for any one location in Ohio. We eventually ran across two Baird’s Sandpipers as well, always difficult birds in our home state. Even a lone Bonaparte’s Gull was an interesting find, slightly unexpected at this time and place.
Things only got better as we searched the mudflats. We had heard the bugling of Sandhill Cranes in the distance earlier in the day; in late morning, several small flocks of these magnificent birds took to the air and soared past us. Shortly after that, nine American Golden Plovers showed up – and showed off various stages of molting to winter (nonbreeding) plumage. And as we slowly worked our way back to the road where we had left the cars, we were delighted with spectacular close-up looks of shorebirds in a wet area beside the road. Even the most common shorebirds look really lovely from about 20 feet!
After several hours, we finally felt that we had scoped out everything there was to see, so we headed for the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area. Here, our short walk to the active wetland did not yield much. The birds that we could see were quite distant, and the ones we could identify were the more common species that we had already seen. But we did score a couple of Common Gallinules (formerly known as Common Moorhens), along with an Eastern Phoebe that hid among the branches to confuse us. We were too patient for that Phoebe, though, and the bird finally showed itself properly for a definitive ID.
After a brief conference, we decided to return to the Wilderness Road site for one more brief look, then head south to Big Island Wildlife Area. Why return to where we had just been? Well, you never know when something new might show up! Sure enough, we had a few moments of excitement when a large shorebird sitting in an odd posture facing away from us made us think Willet – until it stood up, revealing its true identity as a Greater Yellowlegs. With that, we departed at last for points south and west.
We had reports of two rarities at Big Island: Buff-Breasted Sandpiper and Western Sandpiper. Upon arrival at the three ponds on LaRue-Prospect Road, we found several other birders already on the Western Sandpiper. We scurried out the dike to have a look for ourselves and were quickly rewarded for our efforts. The Western, along with a number of other shorebirds, was playing hide and seek around tufts of tall grass, but we all got good looks within a few minutes. We also located another collection of Stilt Sandpipers, bringing our day total to something over 25. To put this into context, most Ohio birders would feel pretty good about finding 25 Stilt Sandpipers over the course of several years; for a one-day total, it’s amazing.
We also spotted a few new birds, including Northern Shovelers, silhouetted against the glare of the afternoon sun in the west. By now, though, we were anxious to do some serious searching for that Buff-breasted Sandpiper. We had a precise location from someone who had seen the bird only two hours before, so we mounted a stakeout. Alas! An hour of waiting and scanning produced nothing.
All good things must come to an end. We pointed the cars toward Columbus and headed back, quite satisfied with our impressive tally on a beautiful day with beautiful birds. Our list of 66 species seen is below.