Monday, October 27, 2008

Mentor Headlands

While the birding was not so hot yesterday, and the weather was decidedly cool, I still had a great time afield with some northeast Ohio friends. I met up with Andy Jones, Jim McCarty, John Pogacnik, and Larry Richardson at the legendary Headlands Dunes in Mentor, Ohio. This small state nature preserve boasts an enormous bird list - it rivals that of the more famous Magee Marsh Bird Trail and vicinity - and has many other natural charms.

While our list was not enormous, it did include some quality beasts, and a number of interesting non-bird sightings. Following are a few snapshots of the day.
Headland's beach in the early morning, looking east towards the lighthouse. I never tire of being along the shore of The Lake. The day started out clear and crisp, nary a cloud to be seen. By day's end the wind had kicked up, clouds had rolled in, and rain spit at us. Stable weather is not a virtue of Lake Erie.
Yes, that's what it looks like. The surfer dudes were out, armored in wetsuits to ward off the now veering towards frigid water. I know a lot of people from beyond the bounds of our fair state skim this blog. Well, pass the word to the, like, totally rad, you know, surfer dudes in Malibu - they hang ten right here in the Buckeye State. Maybe not as exciting as 30-foot rollers in the Pacific, but it's a heck of a lot more manly. I've seen these guys out surfing on Lake Erie in December when it is downright freezing - air temps in the 20's, and the water temps probably in the 30's.

One of the trip highlights was large groups of "snowflakes"; Snow Buntings. Flocks of up to a few dozen cavorted along the beach, cavorting like Sanderlings.

These beautiful Arctic sparrows were smitten with the scruffy vegetation along the forefront of the dunes, picking seeds from plants as this bird is doing. I noticed they favored the fruit of the spiny-looking brownish plant in the lower right corner of the above photo. It is Russian-thistle, Salsola kali, which is not a thistle at all, but rather an amaranth. Mature plants develop an oval shape, and eventually the main stem becomes brittle and weakens at the base. A strong gust of wind will then snap it off, and the entire thing goes rolling down the beach a la tumbleweed, effectively scattering its seeds. Those that the Snow Buntings don't get first.

I was somewhat ridiculed for taking this shot. "That's not a bird, Jim" and other such stuff. No kidding. It's an Eastern Fox Squirrel, and quite a good looking beast. A lunker of a squirrel, our largest. Their orangish-brown plumelike brush of a tail is remarkable, bigger than the rest of the animal.

We ran into this outstanding clump of what I believe are Golden Pholiota mushrooms in the woods at Mentor Lagoons. I tried to get McCarty to eat one in order that the rest of the group could observe to see what side effects there might be. No go, he wouldn't do it. I don't think this is one of those killer 'shrooms, anyway.

Unfortunately, my camera was still set to macro from the mushroom photo shoot when this Red Fox trotted out onto the trail, hence the blurriness of the photo. It's always exciting to see one of these common but seldom seen mammals, and this one gave us all some great looks before turning tail and trotting off down the path.

This is the Wake Robin Trail at Mentor Marsh, owned and managed by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The museum, Jim Bissell, and his staff are to be commended for their fine restoration work here. The area aroud this boardwalk used to be a dense jungle of Giant Reed, Phragmites australis, which can still be seen on the left. Once this Eurasian grass takes hold, it chokes out most other plant diversity. Bissell et al have cleared out a big swath, allowing the natives to flourish. And with increased native plant diversity comes a big increase in birds and other animals. It was here that we had bird of the day, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

All in all, a great day.


Tom Arbour said...

Wow, I have never seen anyone surfing (except wind surfing) on Lake Erie. Very interesting and a little bit crazy.


Lisa at Greenbow said...

What an action packed day. From surfing to shrooming you had some intresting sights. I have never heard of this place in Ohio. It is interesting to see what it has to offer.

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