January Stroll at ONWR

created on Jan 10, 2017

I walked around Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge from 11:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. on Sunday, January 8, 2017.

The weather:

On the previous evening, 1/4- to 1/2-inch of fluffy snow fell, giving the bare, frozen landscape a bit more of a wintry look.

I will list bird sightings and other notes from my notebook in raw form and edited for sentences. I took notes, using a mechanical pencil and a Field Notes ruled notebook that was inserted inside Wright and Rede leather cover that I bought at the 2014 419 Day in Toledo, which featured artists and craft people at the Handmade Toledo building, located in the Uptown Area of downtown Toledo.

I bundled up well with long jons, flanneled-lined blue jeans, wool socks, small boots, short sleeve t-shirt, long-sleeved thermal shirt, wool sweater, hooded sweatshirt jacket, wool winter coat, a small alpaca beanie underneath a wool-acrylic beanie, small alpaca cowl under a wool scarf, and thicker, warmer version of the dark brown cotton gloves. I was never cold. In protected areas inside a woodlot and along the southeast edge of a woodlot, I didn't need gloves. But in the open areas, I needed to have limited exposed skin. I crocheted both beanies, the cowl, and the scarf.

I started at the ONWR visitors center. I walked on the little bridge boardwalk through the small ponds at the north side of the visitors center, and I entered the nearby woodlot. I followed the path east through the woodlot. Then I took the path back along the south side of the woodlot and back to where I entered the woodlot. Then I followed the path north and exited the woodlot at the northwest corner.

I followed the ONWR road to the west and then a little to the north to another woodlot area. I call it the northwest woodlot. I walked west along the south edge of the woodlot, entering the woodlot at the southwest corner. I followed the trail east - northeast through the woodlot, exiting into the open at the northeast corner of the woodlot.

The rest of my walk was in the open areas, walking on the dike roads that separate the large, rectangle, water-controlled "ponds" or wetland areas. I walked north to the last east-west dike, which bordered the natural estuary. Then I walked east along the estuary and the followed the dike road to the south to the old ONWR public parking lot.

I wormed my way back along the south side of the woodlot that I visited at the start of my walk. This led me back to the visitors center.

I walked slowly, stopping at times to watch birds, to listen, and to enjoy the weather and scenery. All the water areas were frozen, except for one area that had some slivers of open water that I assume was due to a spring, but I'm unsure. The light snow cover had been blown across the ice. The vegetation located in the water areas was colored tan and burgundy.

I never encountered another human during my walk. I saw humans inside the visitors center after my walk.

Except for the birds and the wind blowing, I heard nothing else. It was comfortably quiet. Fantastic solitude. No boat noise, obviously. Most of Lake Erie in the western basin was ice-covered. I couldn't hear the road traffic from Route 2 for some reason. Maybe that was due to being bundled up or the wind. Regardless, it was peaceful out by the estuary. I stood at that spot for a long time. I didn't want to leave.

Raw notes:


23 Sandhill Cranes (SACR) flew from the south to the north, decently high up, west of me, standing near the north side of the ONWR visitors center. The cranes appeared to drop down at northwest part of ONWR. I heard them first before seeing them flying. Great sound.

ETTI - brief song

Good activity along the south edge of the northwest woodlot. This area was protected from the wind. This woodlot contains a BAEA nest that has existed for several years. I'm unsure if it's active. The nest was located in the tallest tree in the woodlot, at the northeast corner of the woodlot.

Saw two ETTI forage low along the south edge of the northwest woodlot. One ETTI foraged on the ground. I have never seen an ETTI along the boardwalk near the Lake Erie beach at Magee Marsh, but ETTI can be found a short distance inland.


BAEA, young-ish, flying low over the northwest woodlot, west edge. Bird plumage was nearly full adult. It had a white head and tail or mostly white. But it still had some white on the underside.

A different immature BAEA perched on the edge of the nest located at the northeast corner of the NW woodlot. This eagle had a darker head and more white underneath when I saw it flying. I don't think that this means the eagle or eagles are using the nest. At one point as I walked through the NW woodlot, I saw two eagles flying low, close to each other along the east edge of the woodlot.

After leaving the NW woodlot and watching the eagle perched on the nest for a while, I walked north on the dike road. I sat for a bit on a small Aldo Leopold bench that faced west into the wind. Briskly comfortable. I need to make a couple of these for our backyard. After sitting for a little while, I continued north.

I flushed 12 to 14 Great Blue Herons that were apparently huddled around the small bits of open water, maybe the only open water that I saw. The herons flew up from the northwest corner of the rectangle "pond". I assume they were huddled against the bank, out of the wind.

I saw two more BAEA nests, located to the north and northwest.

I walked east along the dike road that borders the southern edge of the natural estuary. All water was frozen except for the GBHE spot.

I stood for a while at the northeast corner of this part of the refuge, along the southeast corner of the estuary, as far north as possible on the trail that runs straight out from the old ONWR parking log.

Seven Sandhill Cranes flew up from the northwest corner of the refuge, well away from me.

While out by the estuary, the weather was partly to mostly cloudy. Flat, wide cumulus clouds. Breezy. Virga or snow falling over Lake Erie, north - northeast of my location.

13 Sandhill Cranes lifted off from the northwest side of the estuary, beyond the estuary at another part of the refuge. The cranes flew southwest, and they called.

Cerulean blue sky, except greenish-blue sky near the horizon.

Sounded like Tundra Swans calling. Then I saw a few flying overhead, high up. The swans flew east to west over the estuary area. Bright white plumage against the vivid blue sky between the clouds. 10 Tundra Swans flew in two groups. One group of 6 and one of 4.

I took a few photos with my cell phone during the first part of my walk. But my phone "died" shortly after leaving the NW woodlot, around the time I sat on the Leopold bench. I kept the phone in a front pocket in my jeans. The phone was nearly charged when I left home. The cold caused the battery or the phone to shutdown. It would not restart while I was out.

I wished that the phone work to allow me to take photos of the streaks of snow falling over Lake Erie. About a half dozen fingers of snow showers or squalls over Lake Erie, each looked similar to a water spout or funnel cloud. White-ish fingers against a grey-blue background of clouds. Excellent sight. Snow moved slowly, it seemed, to the east - southeast.

I left the estuary area and walked south to and through the old parking lot and then along the south or southeast woodlot that I walked through at the start. I arrived back at the car around 2:15 p.m.

I ate some snacks, and then I went inside the visitors center to use their restroom and to browse and shop at their little store, which always contains interesting books.

I spent $44 on four books. A little Charlie Harper book, a book about Green Birding, a tiny flower-related book, and an artistic nature explanation book.

I noted other books that I might want to purchase at some point.

When I exited the visitors center, I saw an NOHA, flying low, wafting and wobbling in the air, a few feet above the ground, along the pond edge across from the visitors center. That was typical foraging behavior for the NOHA. I don't know how they manage to stay in the air with little to no flapping and barely moving. It's a fun behavior to watch. The bird was either an immature or a female. It was not the grey ghost of the adult male.

Back in the car, I snacked a bit more and drank some tea. I left ONWR at 3:10 p.m.

Before leaving home, I brewed loose leaf white peony tea that I stored in a small thermos. I left the thermos in the car, during my walk. The tea was still warm but not hot. Good enough.

On the drive out, I stopped at the gas station, located at the intersection of Route 2 and the road to Maumee Bay State Park. I bought a small bottle-shaped can of Coca Cola, a bag of pretzel rods, a Three Musketeers bar, and a package of Archway iced oatmeal cookies. I was hungry even though I ate breakfast.

I ate the candy bar and drank the soda on the drive. I ate a couple cookies at ONWR before walking. I didn't eat nor drink anything during my walk. I devoured snacks and drank all the tea after my walk.

Fun day. It has been a long time since I last made a long walk at ONWR and definitely a long time since I walked at ONWR in the winter. The last time was probably when I participated in a Christmas Bird Count where I walk ONWR with Tom Barlett. The last time that I did that was probably late last decade or maybe around 2010.

When the ground is firm and the weather is in the teens or single digits, I need to get out more on the weekend, besides walking Barney around our neighborhood. Sometimes in the winter, Deb and I walk Barney at Woodlawn Metropark, which is fun. But a long walk without the dog would be fine at Oak Openings Metropark too.