Ridiculous looks and numbers of Iceland Gulls from the old coast guard station at Wendy Park/Whiskey Island this afternoon. Waterfowl were just lusting to be photographed with hundreds of point-blank flybys of mergs, Redhead, scaup, and Cans throwing themselves at us. And the fastest Ruddy Duck and Horned Grebe on earth, bulleting past. Victor Fazio IIIand Chuck Slusarczyk Jr were just throwing their cameras everywhere. The fattest Pomarine Jaeger in the Great Lakes continues its goal of gluttony with lazy 30-foot-overhead-passovers. Just stunning birding. A few White-winged Scoters present. Diversity and numbers spectacular. The perfect mix of open water and ice. Absolutely crippling looks at everything. photos by J Brumfield
Headed out to Huron Pier in hopes of relocating the Eared Grebe reported yesterday by Dave Clark. Out at the lighthouse, I was confronted by scalding cold and savage winds – the type that make picking out a darker, pointier-headed grebe from the rest next to impossible. There were 12 Horned Grebes in a tight bunch at the end of the pier – all with their heads tucked, spending most of their time out of sight in the troughs of three-foot waves. It’s very possible the Eared was amongst these but as my scope covered, then froze over, with sea spray, I turned my attention elsewhere.
“Hey, that stick out on the ice is shaped like a Red-necked Grebe.” I put my bins on it for kicks, and sure enough, there was a Red-necked Grebe, hunkered down on the ice of the frozen impoundment.
Grebes and loons are notorious for mistaking wet parking lots and roadways for open water, and crash-landing in places they can’t fly out of. That definitely seemed to be the case with this bird, as soon it began taxiing across the icy runway on NBA-sized feet in a futile attempt to get airborne. This happened several more times as I watched. The good news for this guy is there are plenty of dead fish for him to eat on the ice, if he so chooses.
Also present at Huron were a third-cycle “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gull and an adult Glaucous Gull.
I headed back west, canvassing unknown backroads in search of goose flocks, mostly. No luck in that department, but a light-phase Rough-legged Hawk was found along Frailey Rd. in Vermilion – about a mile south of SR-6, just south of the railroad tracks.
A stop along the Black River in Lorain netted a Great Black-backed x Herring Gull (third-cycle). This massive gull with slate-grey mantle definitely had a good dose of GBBG badass-ness. I watched it for several minutes bully every much-smaller Herring Gull on its floating ice island.
Last stop, Avon Lake Power Plant. I was greeted by a male Greater Scaup sitting in the parking lot. It definitely is a bit of a downer to watch so many of the birds we know and love suffering this winter.
The ice moved in greatly since last night. I took a quick jaunt to the end of the pier, where there were six White-winged Scoters in close, but no grebes. A good number of ducks and a few more scoters were further east, with an adult Iceland Gull in their mix. At this point, I decided to let the galeforce northeast wind push me back to the car.
Three Red-necked Grebes remained off the pier at Avon this afternoon. The scoter and gull flocks have largely dispersed, with open water now abundant offshore. I walked the beach, and counted ~50 deceased waterfowl washed up onshore. Red-breasted Mergansers were the major casualty, along with Redhead (4), Canada Goose (3), Greater Scaup (2), Lesser Scaup (2), Canvasback (1), and White-winged Scoter (1), and half a dozen Ring-billed Gulls. There are also still some ducks in the area that are clearly not up to par healthwise – even the long-staying Red-necked Grebes seem a bit lethargic.
Red-necked Grebe finally showing well
Dead Canvasback in the shadow of the power plant
This Greater Scaup was hanging on the beach, and clearly not doing too well
An excellent article in the Chicago Tribune recently regarding this winter’s deep freeze effect on wintering waterfowl.
In short, it’s been one heck of a two month struggle for even the hardiest Great Lakes wintering divers – mergansers (mostly Red-breasted), scaup, Redhead, Canvasback, scoters (White-winged) among others – because of extremely cold temps holding a deep freeze and consistently frozen lake. Lake Erie’s wintering birds have not been spared, save for those that found refuge on a few open stretches of the Cuyahoga River and small slivers of open water on the Lake and coast guard ice-breaker leads in harbors.
The sight is gut-wrenching to witness, even for those that fully understand “survival of the fittest” in all of its real & present natural beauty, necessity and utter brutality.
The following photos, taken today off the East 9th street pier in downtown Cleveland, are just a small look into the sheer numbers of birds that have struggled and expired from the winter 2014 Lake Erie deep freeze. In one small stretch of lakefront from Wendy Park to East 9th, 143 dead mergansers and 76 dead American Coots. Gabe Leidy reports another 50+ dead mergansers and a White-winged Scoter from Avon Lake Powerplant today. Photos by Jen Brumfield, March 15, 2014.
I’ve attempted to document some of the scoter throng habitating power plant in Avon, today. The dark blobs are scoters – 121 was my high count this morning. This brutal, sustained winter throughout the Great Lakes has definitely made for some abnormal avian action locally. Also, included are a shot of two (of the six) Red-necked Grebes present, and a shameless male Canvasback,