Late fall and winter are best times for waterfowl watching in Ohio: OH

Article Posted: November 08, 2005

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Late fall and winter are best times for waterfowl watching in Ohio

Dozens of species of ducks and geese now migrating through the state

or arriving for their winter “vacation”

COLUMBUS, OH - Ducks and other waterfowl are currently amassing along Ohio’s waterways, resting and refueling for their annual migration south or preparing to winter over in the Buckeye State itself.

“Ohio’s strategic position along both the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways makes it a great place to observe migrating waterfowl in the fall and early winter,” said Jim McCormac, avian specialist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. “Some species gather in great numbers along the Lake Erie shore - presenting a spectacular sight to both veteran birdwatchers and casual observers.”

Forty-two of North America’s 50 waterfowl species have been sighted in Ohio over the years. Seventeen of those species have nested in the state.

Some less cold-tolerant species of ducks, such as the northern shoveler and blue-winged teal, have largely passed through Ohio this year on their way from the Great Plains of central North America to warmer open water in the southern United States.

However, other ducks such as gadwall, American wigeon, common goldeneye and green-winged teal are now gathering in numbers along the western marshes of Lake Erie and other wetlands across the state. Some, such as the common goldeneye - named for its distinctive yellow/gold eye - will remain in the area as long as open water is available.

“These ducks are very hardy and are usually the first to push through to their northern nesting grounds in the spring,” McCormac said.

Among the hardiest of ducks that appear in Ohio during the fall, are the buffleheads. Large numbers of these small, rotund ducks begin congregating in the waters just off Kelleys Island in Lake Erie in November. Even after the lake is mostly frozen over, buffleheads can be found diving and feeding in the pools of water that remain open.

One of Ohio’s most spectacular natural events occurs from mid November into December when hundreds of thousands of red-breasted mergansers stop to rest and feed on the Lake Erie shoreline between Huron and Cleveland on their way to the mid-Atlantic Coast. As many as 250,000 of these birds, with their distinctive slicked-back crests and red eyes, have been recorded in the area in a single day.

Other November visitors include loons and grebes. These water birds are fascinating to watch as they search the depths of lakes and reservoirs for their fare - usually small fish and amphibians.

While loons - both the red-throated and common - are not usually seen in great numbers in Ohio, they are most likely to be found in November along western Lake Erie and on the larger inland lakes such as C.J. Brown Reservoir in Clark County and Alum Creek Lake and Hoover Reservoir in Delaware County.

Other late fall migrants are horned grebes which can be spotted in many of the Lake Erie bays (and many larger, deeper inland lakes) in late November.

Pied-billed grebes can be found commonly along Ohio waterways in the fall as they prepare to migrate south. Called “helldivers,” these animals sometime swim with only their eyes showing above the water. However, they are rarely seen in flight, since they migrate mainly at night.

Much more plentiful (and visible) are Canada geese. Ohio now has a large resident population of these once-rare birds. However, many “wild” Canada geese still migrate through the state in fall and their distinctive “honk” overhead is one of the true sounds of the season.

Much less plentiful in the state are snow geese with their black wing tips and beak markings. They migrate along both major flyways from the breeding grounds in the Arctic to the southern United States, occasionally stopping during November and December in small numbers in the western Lake Erie marshes, along the Ohio River and on some larger inland lakes and wetlands.

The Lake Erie shoreline is also a stop-over point for brant on their way from the high arctic to the Atlantic Coast in November and December. These small, brown, black and white geese are closely associated with the sea, eating primarily eelgrass.

“Birding in the fall and winter can be very rewarding - if you know where to look and what to look for,” McCormac said. “Ohio’s diverse water-based habitats are great places for bird watching - whatever the time of year.”


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