Skip to main content

Huron, on Lake Erie, is a bird-watcher's paradise

Huron, on Lake Erie, is a bird-watcher's paradise

COLUMBUS DISPATCH
December 6, 2015

NATURE
Jim McCormac

HURON, Ohio — I recently traveled to the Lake Erie town of Huron, population 7,000. Huron, which was voted one of “America’s Coolest Small Towns” for 2015 by Budget Travel magazine, is the epicenter of Erie County bird-watching.

Our second-smallest county is probably best-known as the birthplace of Thomas Alva Edison and the home of Cedar Point. It also hosts a remarkable suite of Lake Erie bird-watching hot spots.

Bookending Huron is Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve and Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve. Three miles downstream on the Huron River is another state nature preserve, DuPont Marsh.

My destination was yet another hot spot, the municipal pier at the confluence of the Huron River and Lake Erie in the middle of town. The half-mile-long pier’s terminus puts observers in a fantastic location to spot birds.

November and December brings the most birds to Huron. The concentrations of red-breasted mergansers can be staggering. One-day estimates of these fish-eating ducks can range into the tens of thousands. Massive flocks resemble storm clouds scudding over Lake Erie.

The mergansers are joined by thousands of gulls, most notably Bonaparte’s gulls. They’re there for the fish, too. Lake Erie’s abundant fishery accounts for most of late fall and early winter’s avian bounty. Emerald shiners and gizzard shad probably form the bulk of the food base.

My fellow observers and I noted hundreds of common loons near the river mouth. They were accompanied by hundreds of horned grebes, another diving fish eater.

Birders love to find rare birds, and Huron has an amazing track record. At least three first state records have been found, and lesser rarities are almost to be expected on a good day.

My trip was successful on the rarity front. Best was a Pacific loon found by Robert Hershberger, an Amish optics vendor and ace birder. The first recorded sighting of the bird in Ohio was in this same spot in 1985, and only a handful have been reported since.

We saw three jaegers, which are Arctic-nesting gull-like birds that pirate fish from other birds. Both white-winged and black scoters landed nearby, offering good looks. Sometimes dozens or even hundreds of these sea ducks can be seen here. At day’s end, I found an eared grebe in the river. Only a few turn up in Ohio each year.

In terms of sheer spectacle, the red-breasted mergansers stole the show. At one point, a feed swarm numbering over 10,000 birds stretched for perhaps a quarter-mile just offshore. Many other flocks, large and small, continually passed by in the distance.

Lake Erie is an incredibly rich biological hot spot, and the birds bear this out. I hope we can do a better job of caring for it.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blog spot.com.

Comments

Bruce Lindman said…
I have Friday off, and the weather looks decent. I think this would be a good day-excursion.
Anything I should particularly look for when I'm up there?

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.


So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…