Saturday, December 3, 2011

Great Lake Birding

Ashtabula, Ohio found on the banks of Lake Erie and the river the Iroquois named Ashtabula: "River of many fishes."  Industry has been a major component of this port since the city's beginning in 1803.  It is still a bustling harbor, complete with ships, trains and many tons of coal and slag.

Ashtabula Harbor.

But this winter it has had a new component: Birders.  Lots of and lots of birders have been making their way to key locations since mid November to view Ohio's rarest bird, the Black-tailed Gull. 

 The bird is in here- mixed in with about a bazillion other gulls.  Although, we did get decent looks at it today, it is devilish hard to photograph from these distances.  To learn more about this gull- pop over to  Jim McCormac's Blog to get the complete low down and a photo.

The train yard is where my friends and I spent a good deal of our time today.  There have been several reports of not one, but two Snowy Owls hanging about this area.  Snowy's have long been known to winter on the Cleveland Lakefront, so this did not come as a huge surprise.  Accustomed as they are to daytime feeding on lemmings, other mammals, and even birds, these grand creatures were seen early today hunting in the grassy area.  They also have an affinity for break walls and water edges, not surprising as fish could be in their diet, according to Kaufman's Lives of North American Birds.

By the time we arrived the trains had been moving about, most likely scaring the birds out of the open yard.  We relocated one on the break wall (circled in red).  It wasn't a bad view from a scope, and one of the best part of birding for me is allowing other folks enjoy good views from our equipment.  We met several nice people that would not have seen anything but that white dot- had they not looked through our scopes. 

Snowy Owls are rarely easy finds in Ohio.  Most are given to airport runways and other large open (tundra like?) areas where they are difficult to get to.  However, a couple years ago, on a BSBO pelagic tour- we got our eye full of owl!

This young Snowy Owl was perched out in the open on the back side of Burke Lakefront Airport.  We had spectacular views from the water.  Most often Snowy Owls seen in Ohio are females or juveniles- which have dark streaking.  Adult males have all white plumage, like the one we saw in the harbor today.

Birding an industrial sight always leaves me in wonderment.  How many more birds might there be if the lake front was still a pristine environment instead of a coal yard?  Moreover, why are these birds attracted to such high traffic areas as airports and city harbors?  Maybe if we keep birdwatching long enough, someday we'll figure that out.

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