Avid Birders brave the cold overcast at Lorain Impoundment

A small turnout of five participants turned out to be an advantage for peering over one another’s shoulders as we scoured wetlands along Lake Erie, looking for rare Ammodramus sparrows passing by on their way from the Canadian prairies to the southeastern US. Anticipation was high after we got a call en route informing us that a Sabine’s gull had been found at Huron harbor, then dipped when another call followed immediately; the gull had flown off, and never returned.

Our first stop was the Wake Robin Trail, a boardwalk into a narrow experimental tract in the huge Mentor Marsh. Apparently the marsh is the site of the largest stand of phragmites in the US, and the experiment was apparently intended to show what a marsh with native plants might have looked like fifty years ago, as nearly all the invaders had been removed from the immediate vicinity. A very birdy spot, and a crush of migrants. Many sparrows were seen, however briefly, but none that might have been of the sharp-tailed variety lingered for a look. We found at least three Virginia rails before it started to rain. The temp was in the high thirties.

Avid Birders brave the cold overcast at Lorain ImpoundmentHeadlands Beach SNP was only a few miles away, and we got there in time for rain so heavy that almost anywhere else began to look pretty good. In fact, we could see cloudless sky out over the Lake, as well as a few miles to our south, and began to wonder if this leaking cloud was going to follow us all day long. A stop at Fairport Harbor was unavailing, as the few waterbirds there were in shadow and backlit by Canada’s cloudless day; perhaps a pelican sp. could have been identified, perhaps not. We decided to head west.

It is hard to drive by Eastlake this time of year without checking the power plant out, and when we did we found hundreds of gulls of the two commonest species, and none others, and a few hundred more cormorants. A surprise was a peregrine falcon occupying–alone, of course–a perch in the middle of the cormorant multitudes, and a mockingbird singing in the parking lot. East 72nd looked empty, so we forged on past highway construction to Lorain. Out here, some blue sky greeted us. Gulls and waterfowl seemed pretty skimpy as we drove down into the impoundment, which now is looking like Dike 14-a once-glorious wetland now gone over to phragmites and loblollied dry pools, with a few willows and cottonwoods at the margins. Dredge spoil seeks its own level, after all.

Avids leader Brad Sparks demonstrates carbirding at its bestThere were lotsa sparrows, though. Flocks scattered in scores, even hundreds, as we approached. They spilled into the ten-foot-tall stands of phragmites, or into browning fields of smartweed, mostly disappearing. Along the dirt road we could more easily see hundreds more, mostly white-crowned and white-throated sparrows, with half a dozen other species less frequent. Only once did we see one with the buffy-orange rump in flight that can signal a sharp-tailed, and that one dived into the undergrowth. It was windy enough that other migrants, fairly numerous the previous Monday, were tough to find.

Sad finds were a couple of ruby-crowned kinglets, a male and a female, that had gotten tangled up in the numerous burdock burrs and died in the struggle to get free. These little bits of gaily-colored fluff were no match for this common weed. We were cold and getting pretty tired, but had to visit Lorain’s main piers and the “hot waters,” a name that has survived for a place where the waters haven’t been hot for a quarter-century. We saw a few Bonaparte’s gulls-a welcome sight since few had shown up thus far this fall, and a couple of terns-a common and a Caspian-willing to caucus with the usual crown of ring-billed gulls. Otherwise, birds were few, and on we way back we contemplated stopping at a few reservoirs to fluff up our meager list for the day, but having already heard from friends what species (maybe 10 new ones) were there, we decided to raise our core temperatures instead by heading home. As for that list, here it is, a total of 59:

Canada goose
Wood duck
Blue-winged teal
Red-breasted merganser
Pied-billed grebe
Double-crested cormorant
Great blue heron
Great egret
Turkey vulture
Bald eagle
Northern harrier
Cooper’s hawk
Red-tailed hawk
American kestrel
Peregrine falcon
Virginia rail
American coot
Bonaparte’s gull
Ring-billed gull
Herring gull
Common tern
Caspian tern
Rock pigeon
Mourning dove
Belted kingfisher
Red-bellied woodpecker
Downy woodpecker
Blue jay
American crow
Horned lark
Tree swallow
Brown creeper
Carolina wren
Winter wren
Golden-crowned kinglet
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Hermit thrush
American robin
Northern mockingbird
European starling
Orange-crowned warbler
Yellow-rumped warbler
Common yellowthroat
Eastern towhee
American tree sparrow
Field sparrow
Song sparrow
Lincoln’s sparrow
Swamp sparrow
White-throated sparrow
White-crowned sparrow
Northern cardinal
Red-winged blackbird
Common grackle
Brown-headed cowbird
American goldfinch
House sparrow