The Whimbrel “phenomenon” at Burke Lakefront Airport since July 31st continues. Sightings of between one and four birds (max) continue to be almost daily. Some views are distant, of birds in flight over the impoundment, while other views are point-blank through binoculars and scopes as one or more individuals forage on the grassy strips in-between runways. Tonight, just before dusk, I found and photographed yet another Whimbrel. Possibly a newly arrived migrant, or perhaps a bird that is staging and has been over the course of the past couple of days. Tricky to say. Either way, incredible studies of this species can be had here with some determination, LOTS of patience, and scanning and more scanning. As they forage on the grassy airstrips, they are primarily feeding on large insect prey such as grasshoppers. For the most part, they are not spooked by airport traffic, yet the best times of the day for observation are early morning and evening when traffic is at a low. A scope is nearly a MUST while one can still find and happily observe these migrants through binoculars, albeit at a distance through the latter. This is not a new phenomenon. Bill and Nancy Klamm, Larry Rosche, Vic Fazio, Jerry Talkington, Emil Bacik, Mary Gustafson, and many other Legend birders have recorded Whimbrel at Burke in the past 20 years. Yet, there has been a gap in birder presence at the airport in the past ten to twenty years, so sightings have slowed or completely halted till now, when hours of observation have rejuvenated. The fact is, based on the sheer size and placement, on the Lake Erie shore, of Burke, this is the SINGLE BEST location in the state of Ohio for finding Whimbrel in the Fall. Again, this takes dedication and multiple hours of observation and patience. But the rewards are great for the intrepid birder willing to put in the time. The unseeable 200+ acre impoundments and mudflat disposal site continue to offer incredible shore birding for those willing to withstand strong thunderstorm fronts and hours of scanning. This past Sunday produced flyby Whimbrel, a Willet, six American Avocets, Upland Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpipers, and a total of 14 species of shorebirds on a truly red-letter day of birding. Burke offers short grass habitat for Whimbrel, Upland Sandpiper, Killdeer, Black-bellied and American Golden-Plovers, and another most-wanted: Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Jerry Talkington has shared that in past years, large groups of Hudsonian Godwits have also been viewed foraging on the grassy air strips. We are always learning and re-learning something new. Burke Lakefront Airport is a MASSIVE gem for birding for those that are willing to put in the time and effort.
Whimbrel digiscoped with Leica Televid 82 and Leica D-Lux 5 at Burke tonight, August 8th before dusk. Other observers: Jim and Bret McCarty.