Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lake Erie "pelagic" birding

Voyage II of the Lake Erie pelagic series sailed today, and I was on board. It was, to use an oft-abused word, awesome. Voyage I, which launched last Sunday, was a success but we one-upped 'em today.

Big kudos to Bob Faber of Discovery Tours and the crew at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory for putting these cruises together. They have been very well done and wildly popular, with both trips quickly booking. Our guides, John Pogacnik and Kenn Kaufman, were great, as was the captain and his sturdy vessel, the Holiday.

Part of the gang waits along the banks of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland for departure time. We had about 50 people on ship, and with all of those keen eyes not much was overlooked.

Not long after exiting the mouth of the Cuyahoga and entering Lake Erie's open waters, we encountered this beautiful Peregrine Falcon perched atop a breakwall. Chances are good that it is one of the birds that nests on the Terminal Tower, or elsewhere on one of Cleveland's big bridges. He's got a good spot - ducks and gulls abound.

Not far down the breakwall, some sharpeye spotted a Purple Sandpiper, and with a bit of maneuvering by the captain, I believe everyone on the boat got a good look. Purple 'pipers are not common at all along Lake Erie, and it was a life bird for many.

By spewing a constant stream of popcorn behind the boat, we kept a constant massive entourage of gulls in tow. Of course, we were hoping for a rarity such as a Little Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull or some such garbage-sucking gem to drift into the pack, but no cigar. Mr. Redenbacher's goodies pulled in plenty of Ring-billed, Herring, and Bonaparte's gulls, along with a Great Black-backed Gull.

There were plenty of uncommon birds, though: White-winged Scoter, Merlin, Bald Eagle, a beautiful dark morph Pomarine Jaeger that many got to see well, an unidentified distant jaeger that was likely a Parasitic, some Snow Buntings, and several Black-crowned Night-Herons.

Red-breasted Mergansers are building up on the lake, and we had perhaps 5,000, although their swarming circling flocks are devilishly hard to estimate. There were also plenty of Common Loons and Horned Grebes lounging about.

I've got plenty more photos and even some cool video to slap up here soon.

Thanks again to the leaders and organizers, and let's do it again!


Kenn Kaufman said...

Hey Jim, Thanks for being there and for lending your awesome birding talents to the trip. You were spotting birds and helping others to see them all day, being a de facto leader yourself. Much appreciated. Hope to sail with you again.

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks, Kenn. You and the crew did a marvelous job of organizing and running the cruise. I hope there will be more!