Lake Erie draws flocks of birds and birders – News-Herald.com

Andy Avram, Interpretive Manager for Lake Metroparks, checks a birding field guide while atop the observation tower at Lake Erie Bluffs in Perry Township.
Andy Avram, Interpretive Manager for Lake Metroparks, checks a birding field guide while atop the observation tower at Lake Erie Bluffs in Perry Township. Jean Bonchak For News-Herald

Lake Erie is more than a fairweather friend to birds. For many winged species it’s a favorite.

The Lake Erie Birding Trail stretching across more than 300 miles from Conneaut to Toledo offers bountiful opportunities for those who enjoy viewing the creatures, their habits and fanciful flights.

The trail is composed of seven loops which are similar in habitat type and landscape, according to information from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The loops are designated as Ashtabula, Cleveland area, Huron and Lorain, Sandusky Bay, Lake Erie Islands, Western Lake Erie Marshes and Oak Openings.

The Cleveland area loop (Cuyahoga and Lake counties) has 28 birding sites, marking the highest number on the trail. Among them is Lake Erie Bluffs, a portion of Lake Metroparks. The area is a popular spot for birdwatching.

Recently, Andy Avram, interpretive manager for Lake Metroparks, was on hand at the park to provide insights regarding how Lake Erie impacts the bird population.

“Most birding in Ohio is near Lake Erie, that’s how influential the lake is,” he said. “Almost any bird that moves through Ohio can be spotted on the lakeshore. On a good day you can see 60 to 70 species of birds, weather dependent. You want to be here in May when small, colorful migrant birds are going through.”

Although May is the peak season for visiting birders, spring migration is actually under way from mid-February to mid-June, according to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.

During that time waterfowl such as ducks, geese and loons make their appearance. However, Avram noted that if a particularly warm winter prevents the lake from freezing some species remain year round.

In early May weather conditions sometimes produce the first considerable arrival of Neotropical migrants which are birds that breed in North America but migrate to Central and South America or the Caribbean islands.

Information from Black Swamp Bird Observatory states that “In the migrant traps along the lakeshore, warbler counts may jump from about a dozen species to nearly 30 species literally overnight, and other Neotropical migrants will abruptly pick up in numbers and variety also. After this big wave, numbers of individual migrants will drop off between successive waves of arrivals, but diversity will remain high through most of May. Early migrants like Rusty Blackbird and Fox Sparrow are mostly gone before May 10th. Migration of raptors and waterfowl is winding down, but shorebirds are still building toward their peak.”

For some birds the lake serves as a stopping point during their travels. Particular species prefer not to fly over large bodies of water. Thus, they remain and are content to cruise along the shoreline.

Others use the lake as a pit stop. They pause to rest and fuel up on food before making their way to Canada and more northern locales.

Those seeking to catch a glimpse of rare birds near Lake Erie may do well to visit the Huron and Lorain loop of the Lake Erie Birding Trail. Scoters and long-tailed ducks are often found there, particularly in the Oberlin and Wellington reservoirs.

Paul and Susie Belanger, of Madison Village, are birders who frequently lead groups on bird watching hikes.

Paul noted that the hobby of birding presents a welcome challenge for some. He suggests that novice birders begin by looking for obvious elements such as color. Later, behavior and habitat help to provide hints when seeking to identify various types. Shapes of birds and how wings beat are other clues.

An abundance of birding information can be found on the Internet. People often snap pictures of interesting birds and immediately post them on various websites.

“If there’s a rare bird in Ohio I’ll know about it in a couple of minutes,” Avram said.

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