Thursday, November 20, 2014
I traveled to the Cleveland area and specifically Holden Arboretum yesterday, to give a program for the Blackbrook Audubon Society. The subject, fittingly, was "Birding Ohio's North Coast", and the talk largely outlines the Lake Erie Birding Trail guidebook, which was released earlier this year.
The program was in the evening, but I went up early to meet with Brian Parsons, the Holden Arboretum's Director of Planning and Special Projects. The arboretum is engaged in some very exciting work, and Brian was good enough to give me a tour. More on that in a later post.
As fate would have it, Eastlake was only 20 minutes from the site of my talk, and I had a bit of time in between things to run up there and do some gull-watching. The weather was tough. Gale-like winds raged, and the temperature was in the teens. These conditions transformed the lake into a raging cauldron, with big rollers forming and atomizing against piers and breakwalls as seen in the photo above. Many people came and went while I was there, to stare at a formidable and angry Mother Nature from the safety and warmth of their cars. It's hard to make decent photographs from a car, so I spent my time outside behind the tripod, dodging spray from waves crashing against the seawall twenty feet away. By the time I left, my car was frosted in a thin veneer of ice.
Ohio Ornithological Society, which will feature field trips to Cleveland hotspots, and a talk by legendary birder/photographer Chuck Slusarczyk, Jr. Chuck will be focusing on, appropriately enough, gulls. All the event details are RIGHT HERE.
There is more to gulls, such as the interesting identification challenges and the hybridization issues, but the other major reason I enjoy watching gulls is their behavior. In the photo above, a fracas breaks out between two first-year Herring Gulls over a tasty gizzard shad or some such morsel. Other Herring Gulls speed to the scene, some caught with mouths agape as they loudly bugle their thoughts. A congregation of gulls is generally a lively place.
If a large gull such as a Herring Gull makes it to its fourth year and the attainment of complete adult plumage, it may well have a very long life ahead of it. Gulls can live for many decades.
This is a small gull - dwarfed by the preceding species. It takes a Bonaparte's Gull only two years to achieve its adult plumage. Adults are easily identified by the bold black, gray, and white wing pattern. The only species close to it is the very rare (here) Black-headed Gull, which has sooty black underwings, among other differences.
The offshore waters of Cleveland and vicinity support an enormous concentration of Bonaparte's Gulls in November and December. One-day estimates in excess of 100,000 birds have been made along Cleveland's lakefront. This part of the lake is a vital staging area for the small gulls, and seeing them at their peak numbers is one of the great spectacles of Nature in this part of the world.