“On The Road”

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

Yesterday started out like most late fall mornings, gray and overcast with a forecast of snow flurries throughout most of Ohio. However the weather wasn’t going to stop my last trip to the coast of Lake Erie with my best friend Phil do get in a little birding. But this wasn’t just any birding adventure, we had planned this trip around the last auto tour that the refuge was having for the year. And despite how many times I’ve driven or walked over these same gravel roads and trails, I always look forward with much anticipation my time there. And this time it was the latest in the year I’ve been there. On other occasions I’ve gone on the October one, but things came up and the November date was the one we settled on.

Phil and myself hit the road promptly at 7 o’clock am with a good 3 1/2 to 4 hour drive depending on how traffic was this quiet Sunday morning. Well it was a great drive up. We chatted, listened to my I-Pod and counted Red-tailed Hawks as they surveyed the open farm land of central Ohio. We made one pit stop before getting of at the exit just after Bowling Green Ohio, and started working our way East and North towards the lake. Now you’re really in farm country as you substitute big rigs on the interstate, with extra wide tractors as they move about the back roads. But in spite of the moving farm implements, it’s better to go this way then work my way through Toledo, even on a Sunday morning.

When we pulled into the visitors center for one last pit stop before we started the auto tour, it couldn’t help but notice the lack of people. Sure there were a few stalwart individuals like ourselves, but I really was expecting more than we actually saw.

IMG_1595This was pretty much how the day looked. A real blessing was that the wind was pretty quiet for being so close to the lake.

As we drove we couldn’t help but notice our way was blocked by this grounded murmuration of Starlings.

IMG_1597And as you crept closer they finally took off. Despite my disgust of these birds on a whole, I will admit that when they form into a huge bio-mass it is a sight to behold. Just as long as they don’t poop on the car.

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As you visit Ottawa during the different seasons you can’t but notice the diversity of birds that come here all through the year. Granted Spring time is exciting what with all the migrating Warblers and other song birds, but Fall and Winter can be just as much fun as duck and other waterfowl fill all the unfrozen water.

IMG_1616Impoundments like this one held thousands of different waterfowl, from Gadwall. American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, to American Coots.

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However one of the real treats were the Swans, particularly the Tundra Swans which were plentiful. It seemed where there was any open water there were Swans. Which is pretty fantastic since they are such a massive bird to begin with, and just so cool to watch.

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As a bird watcher have you ever been out birding and wondered why you haven’t seen this particular bird? Could it be because we were driving we missed certain species? Absolutely. But one particular bird was missing from the whole day. Normally found this time of year feeding along the edges of a road, and scattering when you approach with a flash of white of their tails. Juncos! However there were plenty of Tree Sparrows to make up the difference as these 2 approachable fellas will tell you.

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And anytime you visit up here remember to keep your head on a swivel and always try to look up every now and then. Bald Eagles were plentiful as usual, and a real treat was a hovering Rough-legged Hawk looking for dinner. A cruisin’ Merlin over the causeway going to Magee Marsh is always a good sighting. But until you experience the “chortle” of Sandhill Cranes as they come in to land, or as they pass overhead, you’ve missed a magical moment.

IMG_1602We didn’t see loads of Sandhills, but you don’t have to, to enjoy their beauty.

IMG_1624Tundra Swans on the wing. Poor photo. I really struggled with the camera today.

As we finished up the auto tour, and before we headed off to port Clinton for a bite to eat, we made our way over to Magee Marsh for a quick stroll around. As we pulled into a near empty parking lot I can’t help but look back at the time i was here in the Spring time when parking was at a premium, and the boardwalk was, pardon my vulgarity, “nut-to-butt”. Then as we walked out there yesterday afternoon we’re greeted with emptiness.

IMG_1627On any other day in the Spring this section will be a mass of humanity, now the only thing that was moving was a lone Downy Woodpecker. It seemed that the whole boardwalk was sleeping. Waiting for the arrival of warmer weather and migration.

As we drove out of the park we pulled over to scan this lake Phil had seen something on. As he looked in one direction, I looked the other and found a nice flock of Rusty Blackbirds, my new favorite bird. As they change into their non-breeding plumage, they take on this nice brown coloration that is almost nicer than their breeding colors.

IMG_1628I really tried to get a little closer so I wouldn’t have to use my digital zoom for a better quality picture, but they were a skittish bird and not easily approachable.

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So we left Magee Marsh behind and made our way to Port Clinton to one of our favorite fish restaurants, the Jolly Roger and some incredible Perch (the Perch Tacos were great) right from Lake Erie.

It was during our return trip back home when the weather turned ugly in a big way. Construction, coupled with too much traffic, with a heaping amount of snow, made for some interesting driving. Now there’s a kind of stress I can do without, especially when I have to go to work the next day. But we made it back safe and sound with a pretty nice list for the day.

  1. Bald Eagle
  2. Rough-legged Hawk
  3. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  4. Cooper’s Hawk
  5. Red-tailed Hawk
  6. Merlin
  7. American Kestrel (probable)
  8. Northern Harrier
  9. Pigeon
  10. Mourning Dove
  11. European Starling
  12. Northern Cardinal
  13. White-throated Sparrow
  14. Fox Sparrow
  15. American Tree Sparrow
  16. House Sparrow
  17. Red-winged Blackbird
  18. Common Grackle
  19. Rusty Blackbird
  20. Sandhill Crane
  21. Tundra Swan
  22. Great Blue Heron
  23. Mallard
  24. American Coot
  25. Gadwall
  26. American Wigeon
  27. Northern Pintail
  28. Bufflehead
  29. Northern Shoveler
  30. Ruddy Duck
  31. Canada Goose
  32. Cackling Goose
  33. Common Crow
  34. Ring-billed Gull
  35. Herring Gull
  36. Bonaparte’s Gull
  37. American Goldfinch
  38. Blue Jay
  39. Northern Flicker
  40. Downy Woodpecker
  41. Red-bellied Woodpecker
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