Where there’s a will…

I’m in the midst of a Cuyahoga County big year. Last year, I had 240 species in the county (all time record, big year in honor of Dave Corbin, Larry Rosche and Jerry Talkington) and this year I’ve been making a strong fight to break that.

Cuyahoga County leads the state, along with Franklin and Lucas Counties, as the most heavily-birded and highest-diversity for species. However, Cuyahoga County completely lacks extensive wetlands and mudflats that Lucas enjoys, and large reservoirs and wetlands that Franklin benefits from. While we have the entire Lake Erie coastline, there are NO extensive and natural beaches for birders hoping for shorebird action. Edgewater State Park offers beachfront but this ground sees heavy traffic from Clevelanders, essentially making it the Miami, FL beachfront of Cleveland. Drop-in situations that happen at Conneaut are rare and extremely few and far between in this county. One would have to sit at Edgewater all day long in order to hope for a few shorebird species drop-ins. So, while Cuyahoga enjoys the Cleveland Metroparks system, an entire coastline and harbors for lakefront birding and lakewatching, a massive key to a big year is mudflats and beachfront, of which we have virtually none.

There is ONE single star in this black hole. Burke Lakefront Airport is known for having the occasional Snowy Owl, harriers, Rough-legs and Short-ears in the winter, the very occasional Black-bellied or American Golden-Plover, Whimbrel or Buff-breasted Sandpiper in fall, but it’s absolutely under-birded in the summer months. During lush years, parts of Burke are NOT mowed, allowing for breeding Savannah Sparrows, meadowlarks, Bobolinks, and American Kestrels. But what lies beyond the airport itself, to the north is a “mystery” unless you use a zoomed-in view on google maps. A HUGE impoundment, stretching the entire length of Burke, lies on the north side of the airport fields. This impoundment’s habitat is a mystery save for educated guesses of birdlife by watching, from a distance and a scope, what drops in and flies out from this mystery habitat.

This year, it can be assumed there is an incredible mudflat and wetlands in this north-side impoundment, based on many hours of scanning (with a scope and binoculars) this un-seen area from the pull-off points along Marginal Road, paralleling the length of the airport. All birds viewed are in flight, but the shorebird list is growing each time I set up shop and scan, repeatedly for hours, this mystery-impoundment.

Today, between 9:15 and 11:15 a.m., I had one of the most productive and cool experiences in Cuyahoga year listing yet. Scanning the northern end of the airport, over the impound, led to finding a stunning breeding-plumage AMERICAN AVOCET in flight, a STILT SANDPIPER with four Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers (plus a horde of Killdeer dropping in and out), a single LEAST BITTERN, Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Herons and a yellow-legged white heron that was almost certainly a Little Blue Heron.

Again, one cannot view the mudflat/wetlands/impoundment. But there must be _awesome_ mudflat/wetland habitat in the north impoundment at Burke, because today was simply stellar. Three additions to the list = 222 species for my county big year list.

MASSIVE thanks to Gabe Leidy for the tip.

best of birding and local-discoveries

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