Last Saturday, I made my umpteenth million trip to Lake Erie, that great water body that sits about two hours to my north. The lake is an irresistible draw, especially for one who is deeply into birds. Of the 420+ species that have been found in Ohio to date, well over 400 have occurred along Lake Erie.
Many of my excursions to our 4th largest Great Lake (by far the smallest, by water volume) have been in winter. Conditions can be brutal, but if you're willing to tough it out, the rewards are often great. I had no doubt that this day, January 6, would be a bit nippy. At one point on the drive up, near Lodi, the mercury registered - (minus!) 11 F!
No matter, I spent two hours at the end of the pier watching the avian show. Lots of the true feathered tough guys gamboled about as if on a Floridian spring break. Herring gulls were abundant, having usurped the ring-billed gull's normal rank as commonest gull, as is always the case when true winter sets in. Lots of giant great black-backed gulls were about, looking nearly eaglesque from afar. A few ghostly arctic larids made the scene, a pair of glaucous gulls and an Iceland gull. There were scores of mergansers, both common and red-breasted, and many common goldeneyes. The latter is sometimes known as "whistler" due to the distinctive quavering sound produced by their wings in flight - a sound I was treated to on several occasions. As nearly always, a rogue American coot was toughing it out - world's toughest rail!
Upon arrival to Lorain Harbor, I noticed a sizable elongate dark smudge on the ice, as seen in the above photograph. A polynya - packed with fowl! Aside II: "Polynya" is a Russian word that refers to an open water patch among sea ice. It's a great word that was brought into the birder lexicon when it was discovered in 1995 that spectacled eiders, whose whereabouts in winter was previously a mystery, were overwintering on polynyas in the Bering Sea. I see no reason why it can't be adapted to freshwater conditions.
I spent quite some time watching this amazing frenzy of life in an otherwise frozen landscape. Birds were always coming and going - how do they take off and land in this crowd?! - and I bet the underwater view of the feeding birds would be incredible. There's a challenge for a serious aquatic videographer!