From Andy Sewell: The January Avids trip is one that is usually well-anticipated, representing the first trip of the year and a chance to get out and add birds to the ol’ year list. However, Mother Nature threw a bit of a monkey wrench in our plans, with a winter storm forcing a postponement of the original trip. Postponing a trip always seems to result in lower attendance and squaring off against an OOS trip to the Wilds didn’t help. Still, the January Avids trip was special.

Five avid birders, including three new birders, met on a somewhat balmy Saturday morning. With the exception of the intrepid leader, the group consisted of southwestern Ohio birders, from as far away as Cincinnati.  The enthusiasm of the new Avids was such that the driver had no qualms about driving everyone on limited sleep (with no adverse effects, it must be said with admiration). All snugly ensconced in one minivan, the group headed north to Cleveland.

Tucked into dense branches and vines, a barely visible Saw-whet Owl snoozes.

Our first stop was the Cleveland Lakefront Preserve, where after about an hour of searching (and some help from a local birder), a sleeping Northern Saw-whet Owl was quietly observed. Despite later email reports, the Avids did not notice any inappropriate behavior or habitat alteration around this owl, which according to locals has been steadfastly ignoring the admiring observations of birders for about a month in the same location. The park offered some good list additions besides the owl, including Wild Turkey, Carolina Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, and other birds not easily found at other planned stops on the itinerary.

Next up was Wendy Park for gulls and waterfowl. Normally hopping with birds this time of year, a thaw that began the previous day had begun to disperse ice cover. Gulls and waterfowl were present but not in any diversity or numbers. An immature Bald Eagle on the ice was a nice consolation prize, however.

Consulting recent reports, the group decided to check a couple of spots down the Cuyahoga River. Heritage Park was nearly birdless, but Scranton Flats offered some good birds up to make up for a lack of gulls, with Black-crowned Night Herons, a Peregrine Falcon, and a Cooper’s Hawk. Then a report came in of a Long-tailed Duck at Avon Lake. Seeing as that was the next stop anyway, we packed into the minivan and made our way west.

A sharp Black-crowned Night-Heron hides in the vines along the Cuyahoga River

Avon Lake has a reputation as the coldest spot in Ohio, and even on a day with above freezing temperatures, the wind made it feel about 12 degrees colder. The Avids easily ignored the weather, as Avon Lake offered up a bounty of good birds. After some searching, we found the Long-tailed Duck, and other waterfowl was plentiful, with Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead, Mallard, and Gadwall present. Gulls were well represented with Herring, Ring-billed, and Great Black-backed, with at least four Iceland and four Lesser Black-backed Gulls as well. The park itself was quiet in terms of land birds, but a nice flock of Dark-eyed Juncos was a bonus addition to the trip list.

The clock was ticking on daylight for the trip, so we made a last stop at Lorain. We found a lingering Common Redpoll and stood amazed at the masses of Red-breasted and Common mergansers. Searching gulls only yielded a couple of Great Black-backs and a Lesser Black-backed Gull among the squabbling Herrings and Ring-bills. Scanning the breakwalls for Snowy Owls, one young bird was finally located, sitting not on the wall but far out on the ice in the middle of the harbor.

Feeling well-satisfied, and the newer birds feeling perhaps even somewhat awestruck, we headed home, having notched a respectable list of 50 species for a January trip. We felt lucky to experience a two-owl, five-gull day, and start the new year off right for the Avid Birders!

Trip list:

Canada Goose
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Wild Turkey
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Cooper’s Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Snowy Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Peregrine Falcon
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
American Robin
European Starling
Dark-eyed Junco
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Common Redpoll
House Sparrow