Winter Birds to Watch For
By Lisa Brohl
Winter brings different birds to the island and is a time when we all have a little more time to sit and watch!
It is that time of year when migrating waterfowl come through and stay until the lake freezes. We are usually lucky to see Tundra Swans at Chapman’s Point or just off shore at the Scheeff East Point Preserve until it freezes here. If it warms up, they will leave and go back to feed on the unfrozen marshes on the mainland.
Diving ducks such as red-breasted and common mergansers, greater and lesser scaup, bufflehead, common goldeneyes are frequently seen feeding offshore until the lake is frozen with goldeneyes usually being the last to depart. Common loons and horned grebes can be seen in late fall as they migrate through. Occasional redheads, canvasback, and ring-necked ducks can be seen in the harbor and back monument bay.
The icy rocky flat shores of the eastern side of the island provide habitat this time of year for a hardy shorebird called the purple sandpiper. Look for it where the waves just lap onto the rocks, moving in and out to feed.
This will be a year to watch your feeders for more than the usual black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, northern cardinals and downy and red-bellied woodpeckers. We are seeing a slight increase in sightings of tufted titmouse around the interior of the island-first seen at Kit Knaser’s feeder. There have been many sightings of more northern birds such as evening grosbeaks, common redpoll, and pine siskins this year on the mainland and some here as well. Some years are known as an irruption when food sources are low and/or breeding populations have been higher than normal and the birds come further south looking for food-always a treat for bird-watchers. We usually see more red-breasted nuthatches in the winter but have enjoyed them all year this year.
We hear almost nightly the calls of great-horned and eastern screech owls as they finds mates and begin nest building in winter. Northern Saw-whet owls move around some staying for the winter-this small somewhat tame owl is great to see in cedar groves or tangles of wild grape vines. Tom and Paula Bartlett band these small owls at the Scheele Preserve and the North Pond Preserve on Kelleys Island. They have banded over 130 owls already this season.
When snow starts to cover the ground and wind whips over open areas like the monument grounds or airport, we start to see some other northern visitors like snow buntings. Sometimes when out on the ice you can hear buntings or horned larks flying over head. We can hear kinglets in tall evergreens sheltering from the wind or picking bugs out of old spider webs on buildings.
Our favorite winter treat is when a snowy owl is seen on the island. Some irruption years, they make a stop on the island and may stay a few days. They favor open areas similar to their tundra breeding grounds or high on a pole, wire, or roof top to hunt mice from. We do not have voles, moles, or shrews here on the island so often the owls do not stay long.
Another favorite spot in the winter is an area with lots of poison ivy. This is where you will find yellow-rumped warblers who switch their diet from insects to poison ivy berries in the winter! Woodpeckers relish the berries also in winter and can be seen in numbers where the poison ivy is thick. Even though we hate the plant, leave some off your yard or paths for overwintering birds.
Trees that still hold fruit in winter like hackberry or dogwood can be full of American Robins and Cedar Waxwings-nice bits of color in a gray winter sky.The chipping sparrows that nested here this summer have headed south and we know see American tree sparrows here from the north for winter.
If you are a new birder, you may want to get a good field guide like Sibley’s, Peterson’s, or a nice coffee table size like Crossley’s. If you prefer digital check out the Merlin, I-bird, or Audubon app. If you want to record your sightings, check out E-bird. A great way to see what others have seen in same place too. And the Ohio Bird List Serve. Cornell has a feeder watch and there is always the Great Backyard Bird Count and the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (Lake Erie Islands Count Circle December 20.) Please post photos of birds you have seen on our Lake Erie Islands Conservancy Facebook page or group page so that we know what you have seen in our preserves!
So get out and enjoy a winter bird walk at our preserves or enjoy the show at your feeder!