Plover Patrol Effervescence

Plover Patrol Effervescence

OOS Northeast Regional Director, Diana Steele, monitors newly banded piping plover chicks

during a volunteer shift 7/15. “PIPL HQ” is visible in the background. Photo by Mandy Roberts.

A July 10 New York Times article, “There’s a Specific Kind of Joy We’ve Been Missing,” finally put a name to the nearly inexplicable joie de vivre that I’ve been feeling lately: “collective effervescence.” As writer Adam Grant explains, “peak happiness lies mostly in collective activity.” During the pandemic, the synchrony we feel when we come together to share a purpose, dance in rhythm, or laugh with strangers, was nearly entirely absent from our lives. I couldn’t name it, but felt the lack of connection deeply.

The opportunity for the birding community of northern Ohio to unite together around a common purpose arose suddenly and without premonition. Coinciding with the lifting of coronavirus restrictions in Ohio in early June, a pair of piping plovers began nesting on Ohio’s North Coast for the first time in more than eight decades. Few people alive today remember the last time a piping plover family successfully raised chicks in Ohio. Undeterred by this history, a pair of plovers set up housekeeping at Maumee Beach State Park in late May, and on June 1, laid their first egg on the inland beach.

Piping Plover at Maumee Bay State Park – Photo provided by Luke Chapman

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and Black Swamp Bird Observatory sprang into action to cordon off a protected area and train and muster an army of volunteers, dubbed the “Plover Patrol.” A disused concession stand became “PIPL HQ.”

As a writer who deliberately keeps a light schedule in order to be flexible for just such opportunities as this, I dove in to plover monitoring at full speed. I was prepared to be delighted by the tiny plovers as they ran up and down the beach, and even imagined what it might be like to watch the antics of the chicks—who when they are first hatch look like toasted marshmallows running around on pretzel sticks.

The famous Piping Plover chicks – Photos provided by Mandy Roberts and Mark Hainen

But I wasn’t prepared for the “collective effervescence” that arose among the Plover Patrol as we—many of us previously strangers to each other—came together around the common purpose of keeping the plovers safe and monitoring their behavior.

It may seem silly, but I was nearly moved to tears by the calm professionalism of my new friends as we learned the ropes of scientific note-taking and walkie-talkie operation together, joyfully brainstorming and problem-solving on the fly. With the pandemic easing and fears of contagion waning, sliding into this shared rhythm was not just joyous but breathtaking.

Giggling together over the chick that could never seem to get under the parent to brood, or bounced off in a back flip, grew into giddy hysterical laughter. Each morning checking in to the Facebook group to learn the 6 a.m. plover count became a shared ritual. And there were hugs, lots of hugs.

The innumerable volunteers keep track of the eight daily two-hour shifts on a shared Google doc. As the hatch date approached and after all four chicks successfully emerged on July 1, the number of volunteers on each shift kept doubling from two, to four, and then eight. One magnanimous soul, Jack Burris, took over the monumental task of coordinating all of the others, freeing BSBO staff to concentrate on the jobs they already had. Beyond that, the collective is self-organized on each shift.

Diana Steele, Mandy Roberts, and Karen Zach monitoring the Piping Plover family

If at least two of these chicks fledge, they will increase the average over the number needed to sustain this critically endangered population. If three or four fledge, our little plovers will have succeeded beyond expectation and play a role in potentially expanding the population beyond the current estimated 75 breeding pairs, numbering barely 200 birds throughout all of the Great Lakes.

Even if this pair never returns to Ohio—but of course, I hope they will—this collective joy has lifted the pandemic gloom from all of our hearts. As Grant writes, “You can feel depressed and anxious alone, but it’s rare to laugh alone or love alone. Joy shared is joy sustained.”

Where We Are Birding – July

Where We Are Birding – July

Each month, our OOS Regional Directors are sharing their favorite birding hotspots in their respective regions – and beyond. These include some well-know destinations, specialty spots for specific species, and their own secret, treasured local patches. Have a favorite birding location? Reach out to your OOS Regional Director and let them know!

Melissa Wales – Southeast Regional Director

Infirmary Road – Vinton County

July brought me back to Infirmary Road, which is in Vinton County just west of the town of Zaleski. It’s a gravel road that goes through hilly, high grasslands and is a great spot for Short-eared Owls in the winter that some members of OOS ventured out to enjoy. I went there this month looking for grassland species and it did not disappoint! I saw Bobolink, Dickcissel, Grasshopper Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Eastern Meadowlark and I heard the cricket chirps of Henslow’s Sparrow. This spot makes for good car birding in the hot weather as the road gets very little traffic and there are pull offs in front of gates. Just be mindful of the farmers and don’t block traffic or road access to fields. Passersby seem not to mind birders being there.

Amy Downing – Northwest Regional Director

Springville Marsh – Hancock County

As one of the largest inland wetlands in Ohio this 200 acre marsh is wonderful in all seasons, but in summer it’s spectacular.

Summer specialties include Flycatchers, Marsh Wrens, Swamp Sparrows, Sora and Virginia Rail. With patience and lots of bug spray one can hear and photograph the Swamp Sparrows within a few feet of the winding boardwalk. For the slower birding hours you may also enjoy a wide variety of native wildflowers drawing countless bees, butterflies, dragonflies, moths, and other important pollinators. 

Although there is a winding boardwalk throughout the wetland it does not have side rails so caution and birding partners are recommended for those on wheels. The paved parking lot provides excellent birding and other nature enjoyment for those not venturing far.

Jon Cefus – East Central Regional Director

Kokosing River – Knox County
This month, I will be birding at Fry Family Park in southern Stark County.  Fry Park was a private residence and farm that has been converted into grassland habitat and has in recent years played host to nesting species that include Grasshopper and Henslow’s Sparrows, Bobolinks, Yellow-breasted Chats, and Prairie Warbler.  For more information, see the Birding in Ohio Website.

 

Tyler Ficker – Southwest Regional Director

Gilmore Ponds Metropark – Butler County

Gilmore Ponds Metropark (Butler County) in July is full of herons and egrets! The rookeries there allow for large numbers of Great Egrets, Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, Double-crested Cormorants, a few Black-crowned Night-Herons and recently, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron has visited every summer!

Where We Are Birding – June

Where We Are Birding – June

Each month, our OOS Regional Directors are sharing their favorite birding hotspots in their respective regions – and beyond. These include some well-know destinations, specialty spots for specific species, and their own secret, treasured local patches. Have a favorite birding location? Reach out to your OOS Regional Director and let them know!

Melissa Wales – Southeast Regional Director

Moonville Ridge Trail – Vinton County

The Moonville Rail Trail can be accessed from the Hope School House on Wheelabout Road in Zaleski State Forest near Lake Hope State Park. Walking south along the Raccoon Creek, you will pass a heronry off to the east as well as 42 Prothonotary Warbler nesting boxes all along this portion of the trail (16 monitored active nests confirmed as of this writing). This trail is excellent for many SE Ohio breeding warblers (Hooded, Cerulean, Ovenbird, Northern Parula, American Redstart), Red-headed Woodpecker, and Great Crested Flycatcher. There is also an active Bald Eagle nest with one eaglet currently that is easily observable from the trail.

Amy Downing – Northwest Regional Director

Maumee Bay State Park

Who in our Ohio Birding family hasn’t at least heard of Maumee Bay State Park and its very birdy beach and boardwalk? Not too many! Of course I had to go see our famous Nellie and Nish, the nesting Piping Plover pair this past week and will definitely return closer to hatch time end of June. But some other great sightings in June history have been Semi-palmated Plovers,Ruddy Turnstones, American Avocets, and my 2017 photo, the Red Knot. This is definitely a scenic beach visit with rocky stretches and room to search for brief sightings of rare birds. Take a cooler stroll through the marshy boardwalk and the visitors center. Much of the property has access by smooth blacktop and sidewalks for those with special mobility needs.

Jon Cefus – East Central Regional Director

Fry Family Park – Stark County
This month, I will be birding at Fry Family Park in southern Stark County.  Fry Park was a private residence and farm that has been converted into grassland habitat and has in recent years played host to nesting species that include Grasshopper and Henslow’s Sparrows, Bobolinks, Yellow-breasted Chats, and Prairie Warbler.  For more information, see the Birding in Ohio Website.

 

Tyler Ficker – Southwest Regional Director

Edge of Appalachia Preserve – Adams County

The early summers at Edge of Appalachia Preserve in Adams County are some of the most birdy and peaceful mornings I’ve experienced. The hike up the Buzzard’s Roost Rock trail allows for prairie and deep woods that provide homes for Blue Grosbeak, Prairie, Kentucky, Cerulean, Worm-eating, and Hooded Warblers! At night, you may even be fortunate enough to hear a Chuck-wills-widow singing with the chorus of Whip-poor-wills!

Kandace Glanville – Central Regional Director

Deer Creek Wildlife Area – Fayette County

Deer Creek Wildlife Area in Fayette county is an incredible grassland summer oasis where you can find some of the trickier Ohio breeding birds like Dickcissel, Blue Grosbeak, Bobolink, Grasshopper Sparrow, Yellow-breasted Chat and Bell’s Vireo. Deer Creek WA is a huge place with plenty of opportunities for exploring and birding!

Where We Are Birding – May

Where We Are Birding – May

Each month, our OOS Regional Directors are sharing their favorite birding hotspots in their respective regions – and beyond. These include some well-know destinations, specialty spots for specific species, and their own secret, treasured local patches. Have a favorite birding location? Reach out to your OOS Regional Director and let them know!

Kandace Glanville – Central Regional Director

Glen Echo Park – Franklin County
Glen Echo Park in Franklin county is the place to be to look for migrants in May! It’s a small city park in Clintonville, with a ravine that provides good food and habitat for migrants. It’s a small park that only takes an hour to walk, but can yield 20+ species of warblers in May!
 
There are no bathrooms in the park, but a lot of the park is a paved pathway. 

Amy Downing – Northeast Regional Director

Cricket Frog Cove – Slippery Elm Trail in Wood County

In mid-spring migration my only secret to finding large pockets of warblers (besides luck) is daily birding no matter how much time you have. Go to your hot spots and waterways close to home one or two times a day at dawn and late afternoon to catch their prime feeding times. All day birding is even better! One of my favorites is Wood County’s Slippery Elm Trail which is a reclaimed railway; along this trail I specifically enjoy Cricket Frog Cove. Blue-winged, Common Yellowthroat, Ovenbird, and Chestnut-sided Warblers among many others have been seen recently, but in the meadows and along the trails into later spring and summer I hope to see Dicksissel, Savannah Sparrow, and I’m hopeful for Henslow’s and LeConte’s Sparrows in this prime sparrow habitat. The Slippery Elm Trail is 13+ miles and beautiful throughout with smooth-paved parking and wide/even blacktop trail, and the optional side paths like Cricket Frog Cove are compacted dirt or stone with some paths being uneven grass for a more challenging hike. 

Two word take away in May: Daily Birding!

Jon Cefus – East Central Regional Director

Various Jefferson County Locations

This month, I will be birding in Jefferson County, which is in eastern Ohio and is bordered by the Ohio River.  I will be birding two areas that are adjacent to each other.  For grassland species like Henslow’s and Grasshopper Sparrows, I will be exploring Mingo Grasslands.  Just north of Mingo, is Fernwood State Forest with trails through woodland habitat in a reclaimed mining area.  In 2008, the first confirmed breeding record of Common Ravens in Ohio was discovered at Fernwood State Forest! At one time, Common Ravens had been extirpated from our state.  For more information, check out the Birding in Ohio website.

Tyler Ficker – Southwest Regional Director

Indian Creek Wildlife Area – Brown County

While May can be very good in most parts of Ohio, I was thoroughly impressed by the diversity of Indian Creek Wildlife Area in Brown County! One morning in peak migration yielded 95 species in just a few hours. This park has a nice mudflat area that draws in shorebirds as well as great wooded and grassland area, making the bird diversity excellent all spring!

Melissa Wales – Southeast Regional Director

Cucumbertree Trail – Athens County

This is probably my very favorite place to bird in Athens County in spring, because – Cerulean Warblers! Inconspicuously located just off the main commercial district, it’s a hidden gem – especially for neotropical migrants and residents in spring! Take E. State Street to the Walmart stoplight and turn left (unnamed street by the Ohio University Credit Union and Friendly Paws).  Follow this road until it dead ends at a small public parking lot. You’ll see the trail head with a No Hunting sign. Entering the trail, listen for White-eyed, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireo, and Yellow-throated Warbler and keep your eyes and ears open for possible migrants like Nashville, Tennessee, and Canada Warbler as you move along. Soon you will hear Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, and Louisiana Waterthrush along with American Redstart, Cerulean Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Northern Parula, which can be found in greater numbers further along the trail, especially if you end up at the big bridge and continue left up the hill to the Rockhouse/Trace Trail. This trail system is connected to Strouds Run and you can continue in many directions for Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Scarlet Tanager, and so much more! This trail is not accessible for those with mobility concerns, but even sitting in the parking lot can yield some excellent birds. Happy Spring Migration!

Where We Are Birding – April

Where We Are Birding – April

Each month, our OOS Regional Directors are sharing their favorite birding hotspots in their respective regions – and beyond. These include some well-know destinations, specialty spots for specific species, and their own secret, treasured local patches. Have a favorite birding location? Reach out to your OOS Regional Director and let them know!

Amy Downing – Northwest Regional Director

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge – Ottawa County

It’s early migration, and I am dreaming about birds nightly, both real and dream-created birds! Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Oak Harbor holds my attention with American White Pelicans, Sandhill Cranes, Trumpeter Swans, and Great Egrets by the dozens but also new Great-horned Owlets and remaining Long-eared Owls. There are accessible sidewalks and boardwalks, soft walking trails, lake inlet paths, and grassy swamp/marsh areas to be explored in the overall 10 miles of hiking. The visitor’s center has facilities, benches, and shelter to view their many bird feeders, Purple Martin gourds, Bluebird and Tree Swallow houses, and sweet-smelling trees flowering for great birding.

Melissa Wales – Southeast Regional Director

Poston Plant Lands ​- Athens County

Poston Plant Lands is American Electric Power reclamation land a little over 2 miles west of The Plains in Athens County. Take SR 682 to Poston Road near the SR 33 interchange and head west. At Industrial Drive, turn right and keep right to follow the gravel road to a gate where you can pull off and park. The gravel road is flat and pretty even, but the gate is usually closed to car traffic and access for birders does involve traversing some uneven and not very accessible ground around the right side of the gate.

In April you will find Brown Thrasher, Field and Song Sparrows, White-eyed Vireo, Eastern Meadowlark, Prairie Warblers, and Yellow-breasted Chat. In the evening, you will hear and see the displays of the American Woodcock and might even hear a passing through Whip-poor-will. Around a mile in, you will enter a mix-forested area that becomes the Athens Conservancy Bluebell Preserve (yes, take time to enjoy the wildflowers), and will find Yellow-throated Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Parula, Cerulean Warbler, and American Redstart. In about another mile, this road ends up at the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway.

Do be mindful of hunting season.

Kandace Glanville – Central Regional Director

Slate Run Metro Park – Pickaway County

Slate Run Metro Park in Pickaway county is a huge park with a wide variety of habitat that offers a good diversity of birds in early migration. The mature forest and scrub-shrub habitats yield early warblers and other migrants, there’s water birds at the wetlands, and also late winter birds like Brown creeper, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Dark-eyed Juncos. There’s restrooms, lots of trails of varied difficulty including some easy boardwalk hikes, as well as a living historical farm you can visit!

Diana Steele – Northeast Regional Director

Vermilion River—Bacon Woods – Lorain County

Where you’ll find me in April—Looking for warblers in the Vermilion River Reservation, Bacon Woods—part of the Lorain County Metroparks system.

Down in the valley of the Vermilion River a leafy glen invites unusual nesting species for Lorain County and northern Ohio. One of the earliest species to return in April is yellow-throated warblers, which sing loudly from the tops of sycamores lining the river. Later, cerulean warblers, blue-winged warblers, and redstarts set up their nesting territories; while rarer warbler species, like golden-winged, occasionally drop in during migration.

For the best birding, turn north of North Ridge Road into the Bacon Woods section of the Vermilion River Reservation. Drive to the north end of the parking lot, and you may hear yellow-throated or cerulean warblers calling before you even get out of the car.

A wide, flat, packed-gravel path, popular with dog-walkers, heads north through the deep woods, with bluebells lining the path. This .85-mile-loop Bacon Woods Trail is easily traversed, while further paths that wind around a field (.7-mile-loop Bluebird Trail) and deeper into the woods (1.4-mile-loop Coopers Hollow Trail) are sometimes muddy. The trails are consecutive, so to walk the entire Cooper’s Hollow Trail, one also walks the Bacon Woods and Bluebird Trails, for a total round-trip of nearly 3 miles.

An unofficial “fisherman’s trail” hugs the riverbank and can be good for birders in April and May. It’s sometimes tricky to walk because it’s not maintained, and downed trees, mud, and steep portions can be an obstacle to some.

Restroom facilities are available at the parking lot.

Jon Cefus – East Central Regional Director

Conesville Coal Lands – Coshocton County

This month, you will find me birding at the Conesville Coal Lands in Coshocton County.  Many Ohio birders have made the trip to this area in hopes of hearing Ruffed Grouse drumming.  Ohio’s Ruffed Grouse population has been declining steadily for decades now.  The Conesville Coal lands is a reclaimed mining area.  Unlike some of the reclaimed areas further south in Ohio that feature large grasslands, this area is heavily wooded with many streams and ponds.  For more information about birding this area, go to the Birding in Ohio website.

Tyler Ficker – Southwest Regional Director

East Fork State Park – Floodplains – Clermont County

The Floodplains on the western side of East Fork State Park (Clermont Co) bursts with life in April when large numbers of Grasshopper Sparrows and Prairie Warblers return to breeding grounds! The forested edge to the area can provide great numbers of other migrating songbirds!

Tykee James and Bird Nerds Panel Event

Tykee James and Bird Nerds Panel Event

Watch the full video here:

 

Tykee James is the government affairs coordinator at the National Audubon Society, Co-Chair for the National Black and Latinx Scholarship Fund, and sits on the board of directors of the DC Audubon Society, Wyncote Audubon Society, Audubon Maryland-DC, the Birding Co-op, and the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University.

After moving to DC almost two years ago, he became grounded in his special role: organizing bird walks with members of Congress and congressional staff! Tykee has built residency in this work from his experience in Philadelphia, his hometown. His first job was an environmental educator and community organizer in his own neighborhood. Tykee would also serve a State Representative as her environmental policy advisor. He continues to develop himself as a leader through his membership in the Environmental Leadership Program and the Green Leadership Trust.

Tykee has been part of the birding community for almost a decade. Most recently, he earned international recognition as one of the organizers of the first #BlackBirdersWeek in 2020. 

In his personal time he is the audio producer for Wildlife Observer Network, a wildlife media project he started with some wildlife-friendly friends in Philly. Tykee hosts two podcasts: Brothers in Birding and On Word for Wildlife.

Website: WildlifeObserverNetwork.com 

Twitter: @Tykee_James

Instagram: @TykeeJames 

 

The East Clark Bird Nerds is birding club at East Clark School in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. It is comprised of students in grades 6-8 with one alumni member still active. The purpose of the club is to learn about, and appreciate, birds and the great outdoors.

The club was started in the fall of 2018 by Richard “Buster” Banish who is a teacher at East Clark School. He has been a birder for 30+ years and in 1986 he started taking 4-5 students birding for a day each May during Cleveland’s Audubon Spring Bird Walk Series. He still keeps in touch with a few of the students who went on the first birding adventure, and many others from the years after that. Many have told him that it was the best day they had up to that point in their lives, and it created a lifelong love of birds.

In the fall of 2018, Mr. Banish decided to create a birding club for students at his school and named the club the Bird Nerds. He asked students who showed an interest in birds write an essay on why they would like to join the Bird Nerds. He selected 15 students to be in the club and they held their first meeting in October 2018. The club met every Tuesday after school for an hour. During club meetings, Mr. Banish taught the students about birds and had local birding experts come and speak to the club. He also took them birding around the Cleveland area so they could practice identifying birds in the field.

Mr. Banish sought, and received, a grant from a company that his brother-in-law works for to take students to The Biggest Week in American Birding festival in May 2019. Using the grant funds, Bird Nerd shirts were purchased for each student and the trip to the Biggest Week was planned. Mr. Banish is a field tech for Swarovski Optiks and asked if the club could borrow binoculars since none of the students had them. Swarovski generously provided binoculars for each student to use.

Mr. Banish asked the Ohio Young Birders to assist as guides on the trip and one enthusiastically agreed. This allowed the Bird Nerds club to divide into two groups for the day. All 15 students participated in the trip to the Biggest Week and after a long day full of adventures, the Bird Nerds returned back to East Clark School exhausted and thrilled to have been part of the group that netted 88 species, including a Kirtland’s warbler and 17 species of warblers.

Over the past two years, the club has been on many more birding trips all across northern and central Ohio including a pelagic on Lake Erie. Club members have spoken to many adult birding groups, were interviewed on a local television program, and have been featured in several social media posts and birding publications. The have enjoyed birding with many “expert” birders such as David Lindo and several of Cleveland’s finest. The local birding community has been very generous in supporting the Bird Nerds and raised significant funding for future birding trips, last count has them visiting 50+ parks and natural areas in search of birds and adventures.

The COVID pandemic and closure of the Cleveland schools, has required that weekly meetings be held via video conference for the past year, but Mr. Banish still takes small groups of students birding whenever possible. He and the Bird Nerds can’t wait until they can start attending birding festivals and meeting with other birders again.

 

 

 

 

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