Editor’s note: West Life welcomes James McCarty, renowned area bird expert whose birding column appeared for nearly two decades in The Plain Dealer. We are proud and happy (for all his faithful readers!) that he is now sharing his birding knowledge in West Life. Enjoy!
We’re still weeks away from the much-anticipated songbird migration of May. But I especially enjoy birding in April.
Spring’s arrival at the end of another long, cold Northeast Ohio winter brings a botanical awakening and the welcome appearance of short-distance migrants.
As winter visitors such as dark-eyed juncoes and tree sparrows depart for northern nesting grounds, they are being replaced by part-time migrants such as white-throated and white-crowned sparrows, as well as fox and Lincoln’s sparrows, and local nesters such as chipping, song and swamp sparrows, and Eastern towhees.
On warm, breezy days, the skies can become filled with migrating raptors and waterfowl.
Rainy evenings often trigger a cacophony of spring peepers, chorus and wood frogs, and a mass trek of frogs, toads and salamanders lured to vernal pools for breeding.
At dusk, American woodcocks can be heard calling from fields where they flock together to engage in aerial mating dances. In marshy habitats, Wilson’s snipe perform similar displays.
A walk through our area parks, forests and meadows often can provide a visually stunning experience. A panorama of blossoming spice bush paints a broad swath of vivid yellow through the woodland understory. The leaf litter of fall suddenly is coming alive with newly emerged trout lilies and ramps forming a bright green carpet.
The weeks prior to May’s explosion of growth provides ideal birding opportunities courtesy of the bare, leafless trees and shrubs. Listen closely, and you’re likely to hear the telltale songs of Eastern phoebe, golden- and ruby-crowned kinglets, blue gray gnatcatchers, and brown creepers. Hermit thrush and brown thrashers have begun to return, and Swainson’s, wood and gray-cheeked thrush will soon follow.
Northern flickers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers have returned, joining the year-round resident woodpeckers in a chorus of jungle-like calls and drilling echoing through the woodlands.
Our familiar backyard feeder birds, American goldfinches and house finches, are molting into their bright breeding plumages.
With patience and a little luck you could spot a Virginia rail, a secretive marsh species that recently made appearances at the Sandy Ridge Reservation in North Ridgeville, the Mentor Marsh and the ponds at the Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation in Cuyahoga Heights. Other stunningly plumed birds there include wood ducks, hooded mergansers and great egrets. Our beloved bald eagles are experiencing another successful breeding season, and usually can be observed either on or near their nests, incubating eggs or feeding hungry chicks at more than a half-dozen locations in the area.
For those birders seeking company and a guide, or for interested would-be birders looking to join the club, the Audubon Spring Bird Walks run through mid-May. I’ll be helping to lead a walk at the Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation’s Canalway Center. The nearest walks for West Siders are at the Huntington and Rocky River reservations.
For a full list of the walk locations, and for further information, go here: www.wcaudubon.org/spring-bird-walk-locations.html