"Our plan was to first walk the roads within several hundred yards of the parking area, looking into the marshes for wading birds and waterfowl. Within the first few minutes, we were observing dozens of swallows around and landing on structures. Mostly Barn Swallows, they were joined by a handful of Tree Swallows and one or two Bank Swallows allowing comparisons of plumage and size." ~ Tim Colborn, Field Trip Leader.
Event: Field Trip to Howard Marsh Metropark
Date and Time: Sunday, August 4, 2019 at 8:00 a.m.
Location: Howard Marsh Metropark, 611 S. Howard Rd. Curtice, OH 43412 Map
Leader: Timothy Colborn
Target species: Migrating Shorebirds
Results: 11 Birders and 42 Species
Our plan was to first walk the roads within several hundred yards of the parking area, looking into the marshes for wading birds and waterfowl. Within the first few minutes, we were observing dozens of swallows around and landing on structures. Mostly Barn Swallows, they were joined by a handful of Tree Swallows and one or two Bank Swallows allowing comparisons of plumage and size.
A further section was busy with mature and juvenal American Coots. The heavy rains and flooding from spring led to many waterbird species delaying their nesting. This resulted in several species hatching their young much later in the summer than we might normally find. We observed several other families throughout the morning including many Pied-billed Grebes (with their cute stripe-headed young) and a group of Common Gallinules (two adults tending three nearly full grown “chicks”).
While observing the Coots, we saw a small warm brown colored wading bird moving along the outer edge of the cattails and reeds. The diminutive size and habit of perching with its feet clutching two separate reeds suggested correctly that we were watching a Least Bittern. These oft secretive waders had been seen regularly in the Marsh over the past week or more. We discussed the possibility that these birds were being more conspicuous as they were anxious to feed in anticipation of their fall journey south. After a few minutes of following the bird in and out of the edge, another of our group had located a different bird just up ahead. When we arrived, we found a third bird and, to our delight, it alighted and flew in front of us allowing for terrific views of its beautiful plumage. As it turned out, this was just the beginning of our Least Bittern experience.
As we moved west across the road, we noted about 25 Caspian Terns resting in the marsh. This has become a reliable place to find groups of these large gull relatives, their gray and white bodies offset by a black cap and bright red-orange bill. While viewing the Terns, four Black-necked Stilts flew into our view and landed in front of us. Adjusting our scopes, we realized that three of the birds had a distinctly brownish hue to their black backs and wings, denoting that these were also juvenals. Two pairs of Stilts nested here this spring further supporting the reputation of Howard Marsh as a true haven for water birds. They fed briefly and then alighted, flying off to another area beyond our view. The other bird of note here was a Greater Yellowlegs that initially provided an ID challenge.
We then headed back in the direction of the parking lot, toward the northeast corner of the marsh. Again, we needed only to move within a couple hundred yards of the parking lot to have wonderful birding. A small mudflat had formed directly north of the eastern most section of the lot and we added a couple shorebirds here including Semipalmated Plover and Least Sandpiper, showing off its diagnostic yellow legs. A discussion ensued between several of us regarding the meaning of the word “semipalmated.” The word means toes that are partially webbed – not an easy field mark to see on shorebirds!
As we worked our way east along the main path, we added a couple of Pectoral Sandpipers with their strongly patterned “bibs” as well as another Semipalmated Plover and a Lesser Yellowlegs. Behind us, the marsh held reed beds that drew our attention and, sure enough, we found several more Least Bitterns. They were active here as well and we observed at least two more birds taking flight across the marsh. While one or two of our group indicated they believe they had seen more, I felt confident we had seen a total of at least seven separate birds.
Our last target for the day was King Rail, another successful nester this year at Howard. We spent plenty of time looking for them but only one of our group, who had smartly moved ahead of us earlier, was able to see them. She briefly observed three of the young moving stealthily through the tall grasses and reeds. Most of the rest of us had to be content with a quick but nice look at a Sora as our consolation prize.
More than three hours into our walk, the heat had risen and several of the group began to depart. While a few of us stood vigil over the Rail area, a pair of birders walking by mentioned that they had just seen two Black-bellied Whistling Ducks around the corner from where we were. They provided a description of the site and we proceeded post-haste to the spot. And there they were, resting in the marsh! These ducks of the southern Atlantic coast and Texas have surprisingly been seen in many northern Midwest and Northeast states this year, allowing many to add them to their life and/or state lists. Four of our group made the trek and were able to see these chestnut, black and white bird with their brightly colored legs and bills.
On exiting the property, I encountered a young Cooper’s hawk lazily circling and being harassed by one or two swallows. I regretted that the group was not there to share the sighting. The total for the morning, including the Whistling Ducks and the Cooper’s Hawk, was 42 species including 7 shorebirds. ~ Tim Colborn, Field Trip Leader.