Wait, It’s Where?
Early in September, my friend Buster invited me to join him and the East Clark Bird Nerds at Lake Erie Metropark for a hawk watch later that month. Because Buster and the kids live in Cleveland, and the park is called Lake Erie, I assumed somewhere near Cleveland would be my destination. It sounded like a lot of fun and not too far to go to see the kids and enjoy some birding. I probably should have looked up the park then instead of the evening before the trip. I hadn’t realized it was in that state up north. Don’t they know that Lake Erie is Ohio’s lake?
Regardless of the extra drive time, I was excited to get out and join the kids for what would be a great day of birding and hawk watching.
An introduction to Lake Erie Metropark
Being my first time at Lake Erie Metropark, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. The park is located south of Detroit, where the Detroit River meets up with the lake. “Detroit” put images of a city park in my head. Basketball courts, playground equipment, questionable bathroom facilities. When I arrived, I was really surprised to be asked to pay $10.00 to visit the park (we don’t have such fees at most Ohio parks). It was worth it to hang out with the kids, but I was doubtful that it would be worth the price of admission otherwise.
Boy, was I wrong! What a beautiful park! If I were somehow cursed and had to live up there, I would make Lake Erie Nature park my regular go-to birding location. It’s big enough that I got a bit lost trying to find Buster and I spent an hour driving around the park looking for them – not that I was lost for an hour, but I couldn’t stop stopping every couple of minutes to admire how pretty the place was and all of the birds that were there.
My first attempt to find Buster led me toward the marina and the beach. Along the way there were hundreds of swallows; mostly Tree Swallows with some Northern Rough-winged Swallows mixed in. Boardwalks and marshes were everywhere you looked. All filled with ducks, Mute Swans, Pied-billed Grebes, and Common Gallinule. There were also a number of Eastern Bluebirds and a tree seemingly filled with Yellow-rumped Warblers.
Eventually, I tore myself away from the birds and called Buster to find out where they were. I got directions and headed for the spot. I spotted Buster and the kids as I pulled into the only available parking spot. Apparently, the hawk watch is a rather popular event. Folks were hanging out in folding chairs or at the picnic tables, scopes at the ready, waiting for something to come over the river.
Buster had brought two of the Bird Nerds with him to the hawk watch, Isaiah – who I’ve met before and really enjoy talking to, and Kimberly. It was my first time meeting her, but I could tell right away that she was a good kid and a solid birder. After introductions, Buster handed me a pair of the new Swarovski NL Pure 12×42 Binoculars. It was my first chance to try out these new bins. I’m not a Swaro guy, and we aren’t receiving any benefit from the company, but I have to say, they were really nice! When I first saw the forehead rest, I thought it was a silly addition that would somehow just get in the way. I was wrong. Because it’s adjustable, you can set it at a position that is comfortable for you. It seems to relieve some of the effort of holding the bins close to your eyes by being able to rest the bins on your forehead.
After looking through them for a bit, I decided to try bin-scoping with them. Holding my cell phone camera up to the eyepiece, I snapped a shot of a gull on a channel marker. It was easy to find the view of the gull through the eye piece, and though it was very harsh light, the image still turned out pretty good.
Birds and Nerds
We all did some sky watching for a while, seeing a couple of clusters of Broad-winged Hawks and a LOT of Turkey Vultures. The suddenly, a beautiful adult Bald Eagle came soaring over, soon joined by two more. Everyone was ooh-ing and aww-ing as they dove close to the birders on the bank of the river. They were flying so low and so fast, it was hard to get the entire bird in a shot. I did manage to capture one without clipping its wings in the photo.
That was really exciting! A short time later, Buster and I thought the kids would enjoy a hike through the woods and along the river to see if we could find some new birds and see more of the park. Shortly after we started down the trail, we came across a pair of Ruby-crowned Kinglets. There were some other birds higher up in the trees, but they were well-hidden and moving too fast for us to identify. We continued further down the trail to the boardwalk.
On our way to the boardwalk, we added Palm Warbler, Eastern Phoebe, and a Blackpoll Warbler. Chickadees frequently came close to see what we were up to as the kids and I searched for more species to add to our list. We were hopeful we would see something new along the boardwalk.
The boardwalk area was beautiful. Blue skies and darker blue water contrasted and complimented the green vegetation. We spent a lot of time watching young Common Gallinules feed in the marsh and guessing where diving Pied-billed Grebes would resurface. We watched a few Caspian Terns patrolling along the river looking for a meal. It was a lovely way to waste some time.
We hiked a bit further but didn’t find anything new, so we decided to head back to see if there was anything exciting happening with the hawk watch. Just as we walked out of the woods, an Osprey came screaming over the trees. Though a very common species in the midwest, it is always exciting to see – especially as close as this one was flying over.
We met back up with Buster and continued scanning for migrating raptors. We had a large kettle of Turkey Vultures and Broad-winged Hawks, as well as a regular procession of Sharp-shinned Hawks moving south. It was about time for me to head out, but then Buster mentioned lunch! While he made a run for food, the kids and I chatted a bit about the challenges of attending school remotely, their favorite birds (Kimberly – Northern Parula / Isaiah – Indigo Bunting), and how much they like their #BirdOn shirts. Isaiah revealed that he had his on under his Bird Nerd hoodie. Kimberly had recently worn hers so she didn’t have it on that day. (#SoProud)
We had lunch…
Then we needed to do one more thing before I headed south like the raptors…
It was a wonderful day with some amazing kids and their incredible mentor, Buster. Looking forward to our next adventure together! Here are a few more photos from the day.