The wildly swirling edges of Hurricane Sandy rolled through Ohio last week, and really put the wallop on Lake Erie. This storm is probably the strongest hurricane fallout that we've experienced, at least in recent memory. With hurricanes often come wayward birds, blown far off course, and I most definitely planned to take off a day and try to get to Lake Erie. Last Tuesday was just too rough - waves pushing 20 feet!!! were slamming the Lake Erie shoreline, and the rough seas in conjunction with driving rain and high winds wouldn't have made for good viewing conditions.
So, I waited until Wednesday before jumping in the car at 5:15 am and heading north to Lake County. My first stop was John Pogacnik's house, which overlooks the lake and offers a commanding view of a nice swath of water. Because of his location, and the fact that John stocks his yard with scores of feeders, and he watches the lake closely, his yard list must be the largest in Ohio. I think he's seen over 250 species from the property, including lots of odd and rare bedfellows such as Green-tailed Towhee and Long-tailed Jaeger.
Other highlights from the Pogacnik "yard" included 119 Brant, 2 White-winged Scoters, 32 Black Scoters, 3 Harlequin Ducks, 61 Common Loons, and four birds that were probably Red-throated Loons. Believe it or not, this was slow compared to what John and some of the other veteran Cleveland area lake-watchers were seeing in the two days prior.
Fairport Harbor yielded more scoters, of all three species. This group is comprised of three White-winged Scoters on the right, and two Surf Scoters on the left. As always, click the photo to enlarge and see more details.
Conneaut Harbor, which is as far east as one can go on Lake Erie without entering Pennsylvania. The weather was rather inhospitable, as described previously, and as the gate was shut we had to walk a fair piece through the damp sand to reach the observation platform. Once there, we hunkered under the tower's modest shelter, and saw a fair number of interesting birds. About 20 Dunlin - one of our hardiest sandpipers - hunted the shoreline, and they were joined by two rather late Sanderlings. We were quite pleased when a Red Phalarope, pictured above, rocketed by and settled on a small pond not far away. It bathed and preened for a few minutes, then flew back out over the lake, That's typical of Conneaut Harbor - birds pop in and out constantly, and often don't linger for very long.
Note the flock of four Brant in this photo contains two adults, and two juveniles. The youngsters can readily be told by their strong white "wingbars" and the lack of white on the neck.
Fairport Harbor, and were greeted by 50 more Brant on the beach. John and I darted under the protective shelter of a building's alcove, which also acted as a blind. Something flushed the flock at one point, and they wheeled around and settled in right in front of our hideout. It was neat to hear the flock's collective low chuckling honks, and watch them bicker among themselves like old maids.
By now, I suspect these Brant and most of the ones that we saw last Wednesday have made it to the sea, which is their true domain. After all, the Brant's scientific name is Branta bernicla: the specific epithet means "barnacle". So tightly wedded to the sea are these small geese that legend has it that they hatch from barnacles. Their peregrinations into freshwater habitats are rather rare and brief, and it was our good fortune to experience such an unprecedented albeit brief invasion of these marvelous little geese.