Winter is a time for birdwatching
By DAVID J. COEHRS
Ryan Schroeder calls springtime the Christmas of bird-watchers, but said not to discount winter as another prime viewing time.
The manager of Goll Woods State Nature Preserve said, in fact, winter birding has certain advantages, and allows veterans and amateurs alike to catch sight of species that take up residence in the area only during winter months.
The 321-acre preserve, located on Township Road 25 1 1/2 miles north of Archbold in Fulton County, is one of several area venues that attract bird enthusiasts year-round. Although traditionally a warmer weather avocation, birding is not limited to spring and summer.
Goll Woods has no formal birding program, but the preserve attracts a variety of bird enthusiasts, Schroder said.
Area bird-watchers are attracted to species that visit only during cold-weather months. They include the red-breasted nuthatch, a special attraction that migrates south from Canada for the winter.
Other species on view specifically during the winter are the pine siskin, which feasts on pine cone seeds, the white-winged crossbill and the snow bunting, a mostly-white sparrow-type bird.
More common are the barred owl, the wild turkey and the red-headed woodpecker. Birders also can see the black-capped chickadee, the white-breasted nuthatch, the red-shouldered hawk, the Cooper’s hawk and the crow-sized pileated woodpecker, the sixth largest woodpecker species in the world.
“Winter time is probably the best time for amateurs to start learning,” Schroeder said. “The birds are easier to see. In summer there are more birds, so sometimes identification is more difficult.”
He said the preserve’s dawn-to-dusk hours bring many casual observers who walk the trails, some armed with binoculars. Schroeder advised a standard beginner’s pair with 7-by-35 magnification, but said binoculars aren’t needed to enjoy viewing.
Due to an irruptive migration this year, in which birds migrate south due to food shortages, birders at Oak Openings Preserve in Swanton may encounter species not typically seen in the area.
Naturalist Karen Menard said the entire state is currently experiencing a winter finch invasion. She said the species does not typically nest in this area, but has arrived in search of pine cone seeds. The finches can be seen in the nearly 5,000-acre Oak Openings Preserve around evergreen and conifer trees.
Other varieties to look for include the red crossbill, the white-winged crossbill, the evening grosbeck and the common redpoll. “There’s a good variety. You get the chance to see different types,” Menard said.
She has seen winter birders at the preserve on a regular basis, at all times during the 7 a.m. to dark hours. “It’s kind of fun to go to the park and explore. You can go any time of day and have the chance to spot one,” she said.
Menard advised birders to wear comfortable, warm footwear, such as hiking boots. She also recommended binoculars or spotting scopes for better views.
Oak Openings will host a raptor research project Feb. 16 in an effort to survey hawk and owl nests. Naturalist Steve Lauer will give a presentation, and volunteers are welcome. Go to metroparkstoledo.com and click on “Programs” for more information.
In addition, the Black Swamp Audobon Society based in Defiance conducted its Christmas bird count at the preserve Dec. 15. Volunteers broke into groups to count by walking and by car as many birds as possible within a 15-mile radius.
“People often ask how we know that we aren’t counting the same birds more than once. Of course there is no way to be certain that we don’t but the law of averages say we will miss more than we see,” said spokesperson John Diller.
The counts were organized as an alternative to bird-hunting on Christmas Day.
Further away, in Ottawa County between Toledo and Port Clinton, birders flock to Magee Marsh year-round as well. The 2,000-acre wetland at Lake Erie on West State Route 2 in Oak Harbor offers trails and a visitor’s center.
“People are here throughout the year for birding,” naturalist Mary Warren said.
Enthusiasts can spot winter-only inhabitants such as the northern shrike, a small black, white and gray predator that scavenges for food.
There is also the northern harrier, a hawk that flies low to the ground searching for a meal.
Magee Marsh also features short-eared owls and adult bald eagles, which don’t migrate in cold weather.