Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Shoreline Stopover

Photo by Jeff Traipale
A Place to Relax & Recharge 
by Ann Bugeda, Chief of Interpretive Services

Fall skies, shorter days, cooling temperatures and winds from the north trigger the ongoing cycle of migration. It’s true—bird populations are in movement year round—changing seasons alert us to the passage of many species on their southbound journey. Eagles, ducks, hawks, swans, falcons, shorebirds, songbirds— all moving from summer places to wintering grounds.

One of the best places to witness fall migration is along our lakeshore. If I had to pick my favorite for migration watching on a fall day, I would pick Lake Erie Bluffs. Improvements to this park include a new trail and shelter that provide great opportunities to relax, walk, enjoy the view and share space with the tiny travelers of fall migration. The variety of habitat and natural beach are relaxing to us and important for the local wildlife. Other scenic shoreline Lake Metroparks sites east to west are Arcola Creek Park in Madison Township, Lake Shore Reservation in North Perry Village, Painesville Township Park in Painesville Township, Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park in Fairport Harbor and Lakefront Lodge in Willowick.

Photos by John Pogacnik, Biologist
During the late summer and fall, many birds that nested and raised their young in Ohio and farther north (like New England and Canada) begin to feel the urge to move. These birds will soon journey to warmer climates, enjoying abundant food supplies and milder temperatures.

Many kinds of songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, hawks and falcons navigate along Lake Erie’s coast—some even fly non-stop from Canada, out and over Lake Erie’s open water. Some rely on the updrafts of warm air currents created by elevation changes along our coastlines and ridges where rising warm air provides a boost for soaring. Some travel only at night, when the weather is calm and there is less danger of predation.

Photos by John Pogacnik, Biologist
When we travel from home for work or vacation, it’s likely we will need to stop for food or fuel. The same thing is true with animals in migration. Green spaces like Lake Erie Bluffs, provide valuable “stopover” habitat. Food (including insects, fall fruits or nectar sources) and shelter (trees, shrubs and grassy spaces) are essential. It’s not exactly a cheeseburger and fries, but without a place to rest and refuel, many will have a difficult time on their journey.

If you visit the lakeshore in September, smaller birds like hummingbirds and warblers will be passing through. By October, sparrows are on the move, and turkey vultures can be seen drifting southbound. By mid October, ducks will start to gather on inland lakes and ponds like Granger Pond at Veterans Park in Mentor.

November brings chilly north winds, when tundra swans pass; listen for their wild and beautiful calls with the first real cold front. Loons and other diving birds can be spotted on the open waters of Lake Erie. From November  through April, thousands of red-breasted mergansers gather in Lake Erie. Up to 150,000 or more birds may be present during the winter months, a large percent of their entire population. They fly back and forth, diving and fishing and following the open water as the lake begins to freeze. The near total ice coverage of the lake these past two winters made for difficult conditions for them (as well as us!). Remembering last winter reminds us that now is the time to enjoy a fall walk, some lake watching and nature in all its glory.

Photo by Greennite

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