February is the shortest month of the year, but I still managed to add 18 species of birds — making 85 my total so far — and rescue two birds. I traveled 140 miles, and I had two encounters with local police while birding.
As we all know, the weather was just as bad in February as January.
With all of the snow, ice, cold and wind, many areas I would normally bird were just not accessible. So once again, the mouth of Cold Creek and the Castalia Duck Pond were two reliable sources for finding birds. Other areas I visited included Sheldon Marsh, Willow Point Wildlife Area, Castalia Fish Hatchery, Hoffman Metro Park, Huron Pier, Nickle Plate Beach and Oakland Cemetery.
Speaking of roads, my county map is getting a lot of use. I now can fold it up in one try.
I’ve traveled some new roads, and I have many more to go before I can say I’ve been on every road in the county.
I did find snow buntings this month. Sometimes the birds come unexpectedly, as in the case of owls. I drove around Resthaven one evening to listen for owls. Nothing. I returned home and my husband came in from letting the dog out. He said to me, “There is an owl calling out back”
Sure enough, it was a great horned owl.
Everything in nature is connected somehow. When I am out looking at birds, I try to observe everything going on around me. Must be the naturalist in me.
While at Cold Creek, for example, I could not help but notice the creek was thick with gizzard shad. And the gulls, herons and ducks were feasting on these fish. I’ve watched Robins feed on sumac and I saw many tracks in the snow of various creatures.
So even on slow days, when there aren’t many birds out, there is always something to see.
Many people have asked me how to get started in birding. You don’t need a lot of equipment, but binoculars are pretty important.
I recommend 8x42 sizes, and I also recommend checking out Eagle Optics for all of the options out there. They will find the right binocular for you. I could write a whole column on binoculars, but because of space I will leave it at that and just add that it takes some time to get used to binoculars.
Keep your eye on the bird and bring your binoculars up to your eyes. Practice, practice, practice.
You will also want to get a field guide to birds. Again, there are many choices. Each one has the basic information onidentifying a species, but each is unique in design. My favorite is the National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America. But I don’t think you can have too many bird books. (I bought two this month.)
Also, the available apps are very useful. I have iBird Pro and Sibley apps on my iPod.
There are many groups out there to help enhance your birding experiences as well. Nationally, there is the American Birding Association, while statewide, there is the Ohio Ornithological Society. Finally, locally I belong to Firelands Audubon Society.
All are great resources for learning about birds. Firelands Audubon will be doing a Birds of the Firelands birding class beginning April 3. They meet on Thursday evenings for classes and Saturday morning for field sessions. Email Carol Andres for more details: chickadee1956@ yahoo.com.
Another question I’ve been asked: How many birds do I expect to see this year?
While it’s not a race — it’s more of a scavenger hunt — I could easily see more than 200 species of birds in Erie County.
Back to the police encounters and birds rescues.
At Nickel Plate Beach, I was out of my car looking at a Peregrine falcon through my scope when a police car pulled up right behind me. He didn’t say anything or get out of his vehicle. I continued to look for a few more minutes, then proceeded to leave. The police escorted me out of the park.
The second police encounter was a little friendlier. I was parked on the side of Bogart Road, with my flashers on and was scoping a Snow Goose. The police cruiser stopped, and the officer asked if everything was OK. When I said I was just looking at a goose, he smiled and moved on.
Also, twice I have rescued Herring gulls that managed to get their webbed feet stuck between slats in the chairs on the dock at Cold Creek Trout Camp. Both were very happy to be released, and I was not injured in the process.
Some other highlights of birds sited this month: Eurasian Widgeon; Lapland Longspurs; Rough-legged Hawks; Red Shouldered Hawk; Pileated Woodpecker; and lots of Bald Eagle activity.
Thanks to Paul, Dave, Sheryl, Rick, Barb and Brad this month for their tips.
As March begins to thaw us out from winter, I expect to see lots of waterfowl, raptors and hear the “peenting” of the American Woodcock.
Until next month, happy birding!