Saturday, August 23, 2008

Best current shorebirding in Ohio

Late August is a great time for shorebirding in northwestern Ohio if you can find areas of good habitat. A lot of shorebirds are using habitat in the state Wildlife Areas and the Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge near the lakeshore, but access to the best spots is difficult. Right now the easiest shorebird viewing is a little farther south -- south of Sandusky and east of Fremont -- in areas of flooded farm fields just west of Bellevue, along the Seneca - Sandusky county line.

Here are notes on some specific spots, with notable birds that I observed at these places on Friday, August 22 (I saw a total of 16 shorebird species and well over 1000 individuals). To find these spots, consult any detailed road atlas, such as the DeLorme Atlas for Ohio. All observation should be from the road shoulder, since all of these places are on private property.

Seneca County, pond on the north side of C34 between T79 and T80, a mile south of the county line: the pond is some distance away from the road, so a telescope is essential. Parking is a challenge as well, since the road shoulders are narrow; exercise extreme caution here. The water level is a lot lower from last week but on 8/22 the pond still had 163 Killdeer, 71 Lesser Yellowlegs, 4 Greater Yellowlegs, 4 Pectoral Sandpipers, 2 Short-billed Dowitchers, about 20 Least Sandpipers, and one Baird's Sandpiper.

Seneca County, pond on east side of T80, half a mile south of the county line: again, water level is down, but the pond had a surprising 9 Stilt Sandpipers on August 22. Other birds included 14 Pectoral, one Solitary, 2 Spotted, one Semipalmated, and 28 Least Sandpipers, 41 Killdeer, and 6 Lesser Yellowlegs. One female Yellow-headed Blackbird was with the starlings and Red-wings on the shore.

Sandusky County, flooded area on both sides of the railroad tracks on T292 (Riddle Rd) just north of the county line: The "road closed, high water" signs are still there, but there's no longer any water across the road south of the tracks, and only a narrow strip across the road north of the tracks. Off to the sides, though, there is still a very large flooded area, with hundreds of shorebirds present. On August 22, highlights at this spot included a juvenile Wilson's Phalarope, 2 adult Black-bellied Plovers, and several Semipalmated Plovers. In one section I counted 57 Stilt Sandpipers, a great concentration any time for Ohio. (Only two of those were adults, the rest juveniles.) A couple of quick sample counts indicated that there were well over 300 Lesser Yellowlegs and over 200 Pectoral Sandpipers here, over 200 Least Sandpipers, and at least 150 Semipalmated Sandpipers. The numbers of shorebirds were in stark contrast to their scarcity of the previous Saturday, when repeated passes by a young Peregrine Falcon apparently had moved some things out. This area continues to hold many Pied-billed Grebes and a variety of ducks, including a bedraggled Bufflehead, a species that rarely summers in Ohio.

Sandusky County, flooded area on 205 (Bonham Rd) between 296 and 288, north of US 20: no shorebirds here except a few Killdeers and a Solitary. Still a lot of water. This area still held American Coots, Common Moorhens, and many ducks; it seems like a place where some really odd rarities could show up.

Sandusky County, flooded area on 175 (South Ridge Rd) east of 278, or about 2 miles east-northeast of US 20: Most of the water is gone, but the remaining four patches of water and the surrounding flats were crowded with birds, including a beautiful juvenile Red-necked Phalarope, 5 juvenile Baird's Sandpipers, one adult White-rumped Sandpiper, and 3 adult Black-bellied Plovers. Other birds there were 5 Semipalmated Plovers, 100-plus Killdeer, 4 Spotted Sandpipers, 3 Solitary Sandpipers, 100-plus Lesser Yellowlegs, 50-plus Semipalmated Sandpipers, 100-plus Least Sandpipers, 100-plus Pectoral Sandpipers, 42 Stilt Sandpipers, and 18 Short-billed Dowitchers.

The numbers and variety present right now make this the best current shorebirding in Ohio. It should continue to be good until the water dries up, which may happen soon at a couple of these sites if we don't get more rain. In the meantime, though, I expect there's daily turnover, and some of these spots would be worth checking every day for some exciting studies of migratory shorebirds.

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