The first in a series of urban bird walks, co-sponsored by Western Cuyahoga Audubon and Tremont West Development Corporation, took place on Saturday, May 22, 2021. The Towpath Tremont Trail is adjacent to the Cuyahoga River and plenty of “wild” places along railroad tracks, and not-so-vacant, vacant lots.
Towpath Trail Tremont Bird Walk Report May 22, 2021
By Nancy Howell, Leader
The first in a series of urban bird walks, co-sponsored by Western Cuyahoga Audubon and Tremont West Development Corporation, took place on Saturday, May 22, 2021. One objective of the bird walk series is to get urban residents out birding and finding that it IS exciting to bird watch in a cityscape. The Tremont neighborhood is adjacent to the Cuyahoga River, the Cleveland Metroparks Towpath Trail, and plenty of “wild” places along railroad tracks, and not-so-vacant, vacant lots.
Our group met at the Towpath Public Parking off of Abbey Avenue and we were greeted by birds adapted to an urban habitat, European Starling and Rock Pigeon. No need to be discouraged by city birds as we watched the male starling “sing” and flap his wings as another starling, more than likely a female, flew in. They had a nest in a nook under a bridge. Similarly, pigeons nest on man-made structures - just think of the behavioral adaptations that have taken place with these species to use these structures as their own. Nearby, singing from a small group of trees, a Yellow Warbler, a Tennessee Warbler and a Red-eyed Vireo, were heard by the group. This is what makes urban birding interesting as one never knows what will be seen or heard.
The Towpath Trail took us beneath noisy highway bridges and railroad tracks. Fields and shrubby areas provided sightings of resident species like American Goldfinch, House Finch, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, and American Robin while migrant Gray Catbird, Red-winged Blackbird and Brown-headed Cowbird also were seen. Northern Flicker, a type of woodpecker, and Baltimore Oriole were heard in the distance but not sighted right away. All of these are species that use fields, shrubby areas and small stands of trees, so it is perfect for them. The trail took us down to the Cuyahoga River toward Scranton Flats. Being next to the Cuyahoga River is a bonus as several species that use aquatic habitats were seen. Ring-billed and Herring Gulls were sighted perched on piers, flying over the river, or swimming in the river itself. Flying insects attracted Northern Rough-winged and Barn Swallows and later on the walk, Tree Swallows were using an old nest box. Those on the walk discussed the differences in the swallow’s shapes, colors and flight patterns. A couple of very urban birds that can be found by bodies of water, Canada Goose and Mallard, gave us good looks. We enjoyed the geese as they had fuzzy goslings in tow. An unusual duck, a Lesser Scaup, that has been noted in the Scranton Flats area for a couple of years was found. He even has a name, “Lester”. Lesser Scaup do not normally stay in the area during the spring or through the summer so it appears that it may be injured in some way and cannot fly. Being a diving duck, the scaup can get food below the water’s surface and otherwise appears fine, but he may be lonely.
With so many habitats in the area the birders scanned the skies, the water, the shrubs, trees and grass. A Great Blue Heron flew low over the water’s surface and landed along shore. Rowers on the river may have scared it from one part of the river to where we could view the bird. Looking up, a small flock of migrating Blue Jays were heading east. They often skirt the shores of Lake Erie rather than crossing the large body of water. Birders not only look for birds, but also listen and a Northern Mockingbird, along with Baltimore Oriole and Warbling Vireo were heard. We were able to spot the mockingbird as it perched high on a bare branch not only singing its song, but also mimicking some songs and calls of other species. Mockingbirds are fairly common in urban areas. Besides being loud singers, they are fairly obvious in flight due to white patches in the wings when they fly, and a long tail that they often cock upward when perched. Killdeer, a shorebird that is often not by any shoreline but in gravelly patches and short grass areas, is also a loud bird that is commonly heard and seen in urban areas. Killdeer call their name, almost incessantly, “kill-dee, kill-dee, kill-dee.” Chimney Swifts are a very urban species using chimneys for nesting and roosting. Several old, brick chimneys are in the area and more than likely used by the swifts. Chimney Swifts are aerial insectivores, spending nearly all of their lives on the wing catching insects, drinking water, and bathing. The only times they land is when nesting and roosting. Two species of flycatchers caught our eyes and ears and added a nice surprise. Eastern Kingbirds, three of them, chased one another around an abandoned building and landed on power lines so we could get great views. A Willow Flycatcher, with its raspy, “fitz-bew” call was hard to find at first, then perched on a dead twig over the river and did some of its typical flycatching. Perched, then flying out to catch an insect on the wing, then returning to its perch.
When the group turned around at the fire station to make the return walk, we added a few more species. Mourning Dove, Common Grackle, and House Sparrow were noted. The Cuyahoga River attracted another surprise - Spotted Sandpipers. They camouflaged well against the river’s shoreline. Trying to tell people in the group where to look was difficult, except for some of the trash that was against the shoreline. Our conversation went something like this, “Look beneath the shrub with white flowers right along the water’s edge, near the pieces of white styrofoam”. Not the best way to describe a bird sighting, but it worked. Nearing the lot where we started, Turkey Vultures soared overhead and a Common Yellowthroat, a species of warbler, sang from a thicket. A very long and loud train on nearby tracks drowned out the yellowthroat’s song.
At the parking area we went through the checklist of species and below is the list from the day.
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