Lake Erie may be a massive roadblock for migratory birds, but it creates a spectacular opportunity for bird watchers seeking glimpses of colorful migrating songbirds, majestic shorebirds, Bald Eagles, waterfowl, and raptors. Located at the junction of two major migratory flyways, the Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail links nearly 50 birding hot spots with a surprising mix of unique habitats.
From Lake Erie shoreline beaches to shaded wooded ravines, sun-baked prairies to isolated islands, this natural diversity means you’ll find a variety of bird species as well. Bird watchers can expect to find nearly 350 bird species during peak migratory periods by visiting a mixture of different sites. The “early birder” catches the best views, so plan on getting to birding sites very early.
Each season creates new bird watching opportunities. Spring migration along Lake Erie provides excellent opportunities as birds pile up on beaches before crossing. When birds restore energy by feeding and resting, they continue their journey by either flying around the lake or by island-hopping across the lake. The key to spectacular bird watching along the Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail is to follow weather forecasts. Watch for low-pressure cells building up in Arkansas, good southwest winds, and increases in temperatures as the front moves into the area.
Fall migration doesn’t offer the brightly colored hues that adorn spring migration; however, it does give bird watchers more time to enjoy the migration season. Fall migrations are more drawn out; migration starts as early as July and ends as late as early January. Look for northerly winds and Canadian cold fronts. These cold air masses bring lower temperatures, winds coming in the direction of migrating birds, and clear skies. Winter is a good time for spotting waterfowl, gulls, owls, and raptors, while summer months are excellent times for spotting shorebirds, rails, terns, flycatchers, swallows, and nesting vireos and warblers.
Sand beaches, remnants of a prehistoric Lake Erie that once extended further inland than Lake Erie does today, form the basis of oak savanna habitat found at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark in Toledo. Unusual prairie plants, rare butterflies and dragonflies, and migratory songbirds are common. Look for Lark Sparrows, the re-introduced Karner Blue Butterfly, and warblers.
Consistently ranked among the top 10 birding sites in North America by Wild Bird magazine, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge encompass nearly 10,000 acres of coastal wetlands. Bird watchers from all over the planet flock to these natural areas to witness spectacular spring and fall warbler migrations. Approximately 37 different warbler species visit these marshlands, uplands, and forested wetlands, often in great numbers. Bald Eagles, shorebirds, and raptors provide additional treats for bird watchers. Bird sightings are posted at the Sportsman’s Migratory Bird Center at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center. This 3-story visitors' center features wildlife exhibits, information about the history of the Great Black Swamp, which once covered this part of the byway, and a bookstore.
Some of these birds cross the expansive waters of Lake Erie by hopping from one island to another. Birding sites exist on South Bass Island, Middle Bass Island, and Kelleys Island, where you may also witness the September monarch butterfly migration.
Back on the mainland, Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve in Huron is a freshwater estuary that attracts birds, including nesting Bald Eagles. Lorain Harbor offers an urban setting excellent for viewing fall and winter gulls and waterfowl. During invasion years, this is an excellent spot to locate Snowy Owls.
Continuing east on the trail, you’ll enter downtown Cleveland. Just south of the Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail, you’ll encounter Cuyahoga Valley National Park along the banks of the Cuyahoga River and the Cleveland Metroparks chain of natural areas connected by a multi-purpose trail. Together, these organizations preserve nearly more than 50,000 acres of wooded and wetlands areas.
Mentor Lagoons Nature Preserve and Marina encompasses some 750 acres of natural beach, swamp forest, upland forest, and bottomland forest. A National Natural Landmark, Mentor Lagoons is a perfect spot for experiencing neotropical migrants and an occasional Bald Eagle.
Known as a shorebird mecca, Conneaut has massive mudflats that attract both shorebirds and those who seek them. Ruddy Turnstones, Baird’s Sandpipers, American Avocets, and willets are some reported visitors in recent years.
- Copyright © August 2005 Leslie Dellovade.
- Public domain. Photo by Rona Proudfoot
- Copyright © October 2007 John Patterson.
- Public domain.
- Public domain.
- Public domain.