In amongst my last minute rushing around trying to get ready to leave, I managed to remember to get in touch with a birder in the town my Grandparents live in, on the offchance that I might have a chance to get out for few hours. As it happened, what with one thing and another, that opportunity didn't come until the day before I was going to leave, but Marty was free, and picked me up right on time.
I had last seen him in the spring of 2008, so pre this blog, when on another family visit. That time I had managed to blag my way onto his local Audubon chapter's annual visit to Magee Marsh on the shores of Lake Erie. Somewhat fantastic birding, and if you haven't read enough of me recently, a trip report can be found here. Pickings in mid-January are somewhat slimmer, but Marty was the man with local gen, and so he put together a simple itinerary that would hopefully get us some good birds, which started with an Eastern Screech Owl roosting in the duck boxes in Oberlin Cemetery.
Our first proper stop was the feeders at Carlisle Reservation, the largest and most popular of the Lorain County metroparks. The birds come in really close, and despite shooting through glass, I managed some OK shots of common species that I had not managed to obtain at my Grandparent's house. Mega after mega came in, it was superb. Birding abroad, especially if you are a twitcher (which I'm not, obviously) can invoke strange feelings. The Dark-eyed Juncos had me thinking about Dunge, the American Robins, Devon, and the Blue Jay, well, I'm sure Dom will find one at Rainham soon!
Our next stop was Sandy Ridge, only a short distance away and another Metro Park. Again Marty had excellent gen, and we were able to pick out the exact field being favoured by a Northern Harrier. After two looks at the bird currently in north-west Norfolk, I was extremely keen to see one of these in the USA, and happily it was also a juvenile. Same underbelly colour and density of colour, same dark back and contrasty hood, same hunting style as well. Makes the Thornham bird look pretty good doesn't it?
We enjoyed this close-range spectacle for a while before heading off to find a funny bird with a white head. Took ages to find as it was absolutely tiny, but we finally nailed it perched in a small line of bushes. I've been searching the passerine section of my Sibley without success.....
Moving into the reserve proper, our target was a Great Horned Owl that had been reported as having a day-roost in a certain section of the forest, and if we were lucky, viewable from the path. We were lucky! We walked the path one way with no joy, but on the return leg I picked out a lump that wouldn't have been visible coming the other way. Describing where it was (in the tree next to that other tree!) was the stuff of nightmares, but I got there in the end. Massive. Smaller in height than Great Grey Owl, but about twice as heavy - a bulky and substantial bird, second only to Snowy Owl in this region. It eats Buffalo.
Time was against us, the light was now noticeably dimming, so we hurried on to Avon Lake, photos of which I posted a couple fo days ago. The power station keeps a small section of water open, but otherwise it is ice as far as the eye can see. Very impressive, and a reminder that it is truly cold up here. The free water had attracted a lot of waterfowl, and amongst 80+ each of Lesser Scaup and Canvasback were several Redheads, upwards of twenty Bufflehead, a few Common Goldeneye, and an out of place Pintail.
Satisfied we had seen all we were going to see, Marty turned his car for home in the gathering gloom before we froze to the pier. So an excellent afternoon where we saw pretty much everything we were looking for. Marty, if you're reading, thanks a lot for taking me out, it was great. If you ever come to England it could be quite manic!
Next up, Waxwings. Oh yeah!