Birdwatching Notes - Sun, Nov 17, 2019

Hundreds of Tundra Swans and a Limpkin

For my first stop, I arrived at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area at 12:00 p.m.

During the drive to Magee, I saw a group of Tundra Swans in a farm field along the south side of Route 2, about a half mile west of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge entrance. It's hard to guesstimate count while driving, but the number had to be at least a few hundred.

The pond by the BSBO was mostly frozen over with a thin layer of ice. A small area of open water existed, and it held approximately 20 Mallards and a couple Gadwall ducks.

The water in the marsh along the causeway was mostly frozen over with thin ice too.

The weather at Noon was sunny with scattered cirrus clouds. The wind was light. Temp was 35 to 40 degrees. Quiet.

I parked near the west entrance of the boardwalk. The warbler deck was still mostly snow covered from last Monday's snowfall of 2 to 4 inches.

The boardwalk was also snow covered with at least 2 inches of crunchy snow. The water along the boardwalk contained a thin layer of ice.

Can hear distant Tundra Swans chatting. It sounds like a lot.

Today was probably the first time that I have been on the Magee Marsh boardwalk in November with snow on the boardwalk. We don't receive this much snow every November, and we don't receive it this early.

Sometimes, snow might be on the boardwalk in March. I rarely visit the boardwalk in January.

It was odd hearing the sound of running water like over a tiny waterfall or water falling into water. Maybe some snow was melting from the boardwalk into the water that existed underneath the boardwalk.

I walked around the big loop of the boardwalk and back to the west entrance. Not much bird activity existed.

The boardwalk was slippery. When I walked too a little faster, I slipped a couple times, but I did not fall. I slowed down. The crunchy snow on the boardwalk made it hard to hear bird notes. I needed to stop and listen every so often.

At least two trees or large branches had fallen along or onto the boardwalk, since my last visit a few weeks ago. I did not realize that we had any large wind events, although I know that we had a few windy days in late October and early November.

One branch rested on the railing, and it covered most of the boardwalk, but it appears that it did not damage the boardwalk. I could walk around it.

I was back at my car at 1:14 p.m.

On the drive out, I stopped at the Maumee Bay gas station/convenience store, located along Route 2, and I purchased some snacks: goldfish crackers and Fig Newtons. I made white peony tea at home that I brought along in a thermos. I drank tea and ate snacks before and after the boardwalk visit.

While driving south on the Magee Marsh causeway, I had to swerve around several woolly bear caterpillars that crawled across the causeway. I helped one across the road, since it was located in the middle of the road.

I did not see anyone else on the boardwalk. A few people were out driving around at Magee Marsh.

The woolly bears don't mind the chilly air. It was sunny though.

At 1:34 p.m., I was parked in the lot next to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge visitors center. I made a short walk on a trail north of the visitors center.

The Tundra Swan banter was continuous to the north.

I saw two deer bounding through the woodlot with their large white tails on display.

From my notebook, another mention about the Tundra Swan sounds north of visitors center woodloot:

Man, the Tundra Swan chatter is amazing in the distance. May need to hustle over to the other parking lot.

The sound of numerous Tundra Swans is of my favorite experiences in nature. It reminds me of hawk watching in March from the tower in Magee Marsh, during the aught years.

The Tundra Swan chatter sounded like distant crowd noise at a sporting event stadium.

1:53 p.m. driving over to the old ONWR parking lot. On the drive to the old lot, a water area exists along the east side of the road. This marshy spot contained approximately 90 Tundra Swans and a few Trumpeter Swans. Many of the Tundras were immature with grey bodies and pink-red bills.

The old parking lot contained several vehicles, which seemed interesting.

I walked on the dike trail that went straight north from the old parking lot. Tundra Swan chatter existed to the west and the east, especially to the east. Constant chatter. Big numbers of Tundras were in the ONWR and Magee marshes.

As I continued to walk north, I had a better view of a pool to the west, which contained at least 400 Tundra Swans. The water was part open and part ice-covered. I could hear the occasional Trumpeter Swan, mixed in with the Tundras in this west pool.

I wondered if the group of Tundras that existed in the farm field along Route 2 were still in the field or if those birds had moved to one of these wet areas.

I could not see the group of Tundras to the east. The group sounds big, probably at least a few hundred, maybe several hundred.

Woolly Bear caterpillar moved across the dike trail. I helped it to the other side.

I was mostly cloudy at 2:19 p.m. due to altocumulus clouds.

This north bound trail is bordered by a canal or channel along the east side of the dike. Three diving birds were in the channel. They were female Hooded Mergansers.

The channel of water was 100 percent open for some reason. The pools, however, were mostly iced over with a thin layer of ice.

More Tundra Swans were scattered to the west in another pool and Tundras flew around in small groups. These Tundras totaled at least 100.

Man, the group to the east is a constant sound.

It was amazing, the constant sound of hundreds of Tundra Swans chatting to the east-southeast, somewhere between ONWR and Magee.

Continued to walk north. A pond to the east held approximately 200 Tundra Swans. This was NOT the big noisy group that was unseen to my southeast.

Adult BAEA flew over me, low-ish.

Two Trumpeter Swans honked flying by me low-ish too.

2:32 to 2:34 p.m. - Big group of Tundras up from the pool to my southwest that contained approx 400 swans. The big group of swans up flying also contained a lot of Trumpeter Swans that were honking.

From my notebook:

What a sight and sound !!!


Dozens of ducks, Tundras, and many Trumpeters up moving in all directions and the swans calling. Small groups and big groups.

The swan lifted up in large groups and then the groups fractured as they flew in all directions. I wished that I had a video camera with good audio pickup to record the experience.

Hundreds of Canada Geese were around too, and they were up flying about at times as well.

Great Blue Heron flew by.

A few American Coots were in the canal/channel.

At 2:52 p.m., I was at the natural estuary pool, located at the north end of the dike that runs from the old park lot. This pool contains Crane Crake, which dumps into Lake Erie. The level of water in this pool depends upon Lake Erie. Naturally, it contained a lot of water today.

At least 400 more swans were in the natural estuary pool. I needed my scope, which I left at home because I did not plan to walk out here at ONWR.

A handful of American Goldfinches landed in the trees and shrubs, located along the dike at this interesection.

DOWO flew in too.

Pied-billed Grebes were in the estuary pool. Also, male Hooded Mergansers were in the pool. We did not see Hoodeds back in the spring. These are the first Hooded Mergs that I have seen this year.

Three Bald Eagles perched in trees around the estuary pool perimeter. It's a relatively large area.

Water in the estuary pool was mostly open and approximately one-third ice covered.

I also saw in the estuary pool: Bufflehead, Mallard, Double-crested Cormorant, and more ducks that were too far away.

3:06 p.m. reluctantly headed back to the old parking lot. Sky was now cloudy. It felt colder. It's late in the day for mid-November and the sun was gone.

I wore a wool beanie hat and a wool scarf, both crocheted by me. I also wore my wool felted shoulder bag that I crocheted. I carried an old Peterson field guide in the bag that I referenced multiple times today.

While walking back, I heard an odd rhythmic, repetitive sound. I turned around and saw two Mute Swans flying west to east low nearly over me. Their sound was foreign to me. I was unsure if their wingbeats made the sound or if the bird vocalized the sound, which was an up-and-down, short stroke sound. Wavering or undulating sound, somewhat fast.

Mute Swans are a rare or a fairly uncommon sighting in the Metzger Marsh, Magee Marsh, and ONWR areas. The last time that I saw Mute Swans was probably back around 2010-2012. Mute Swans are aggressive, non-native birds. Trumpeter Swans are native to this area. They disappeared from Ohio around 1900 or so. Trumpeters were reintroduced to the northwest Ohio Lake Erie shoreline area in the late 1990s. Mute Swans are "managed" away from this area.

As I approached the woodlot by the old parking lot, I noticed two Sandhill Cranes, close, walking on the ice in the pool that butts up against the west side of the old parking lot woodlot.

I turned around and looked to the north. A long line of Canada Geese flew west to east.

I wanted to a better look of the Sandhill Cranes therefore I walked the road that splits the woodlot, located along the north side of the old parking lot. This is an area that I usually birdwatch in the fall, but I skipped it today.

When I walked north on the dike from the parking lot, I notice two or three photographers and/or birdwatchers looking at something from the road that splits the woodlot. I ignored them and kept walking north.

At 3:30 p.m., I walked the road that split the small woody area. I walked west. Four birdwatchers were standing near each other. I asked one birdwatcher what they were looking at, and he replied, "The Limpkin."

A Limpkin has been seen multiple times since at least August in the BSBO - ONWR area. I have heard about the bird, but I have never actively searched for it. For a while back in August and/or September, the Limpkin was seen in water along the road between the BSBO and the Magee Marsh Sportsmen's Center.

I don't use social media. I don't follow any websites that mention rare birds. I don't chase birds.

I asked the guy how long had the Limpkin been seen at this spot, and he said that he saw the first mention of it at this spot on Facebook around 1:00 p.m. today. The people I saw at this location when I arrived a little before 2:00 p.m. were looking at the Limpkin as I walked north to the estuary.

I easily spotted the Limpkin at 3:30 p.m. These are my raw notes from my notebook:

3:30 p.m. - on road between woodlot by old parking lot. People photographing. Saw people here earlier and thought it odd. Also parking lot was crowded. Now I know why - Limpkin !!

Close too.

Limpkin ~60 feet away. Foraging. Finding snails and pile driving the snail onto a rock or tree root.

It's in shallow water among trees. Small trees.

It raises its head and neck upward and slams the snail down, straight down, fast and hard. Can hear the sound of the pile driving.

Large bird. Wader.

Long, slightly down-curved bill.

Dark end half of bill. [front half of bill was dark]

Pale orange back half of bill.

Black and white checkered pattern on back of neck.

Dark brown-olive body with large white speckles. Dark olive-brown [body].

White speckling on front 1/2 to 2/3 of body. Back 1/3 to 1/2 is plain dark.

Dark legs.

Top of head mix of light and dark olive-brown hash marks.

Nearly entire neck is a checkered mix of black and white or charcoal and light grey.

Underneath seems plain dark olive-brown by legs.

Body color amazing. Olive green layered on top a dark, near-black, cool brown or charcoal color.

Slowly wades thru slushy water, mix of ice and open water and snow on ice.

Probes its long bill into the water.

Finds food nd pile drives down onto something in water. This behavior is fun to watch and HEAR. Can hear the crunch or strike.

4:10 p.m. Limpkin has moved around only a small area but it finds food often. Numerous times I've seen a penny- or nickel-sized oval morsel in its bill.

4:15 p.m. Limpkin moved closer, only 40 feet away.

Wading thru wet, grassy area. Humps of toppled grass and vegetation. [still among small trees]

Probes [in water along] grassy hump edges for snails.

Saw [it] poke into and pull out meaty part of snail. Awesome.

The Tundra Swan noise to east is incredible.

Trumpeter Honks mixed in Tundras.

Loud Tundra noise amazing to the east.

What a sight [Limpkin foraging]. Light green and beige grasses humped over.

Scattered snow piled on the grass.

Some open water spots.

A lot of ice.

Some snow on ice.

Limpkin wading in water, on [top of] grass, and on ice.

It's not pile driving the snail with the snail in its bill.

It places the snail on a firm spot and then it pile drives its [closed] bill straight down into snail.

The sound of two rocks banging is its bill striking the snail.

Love watching the foraging techniques of birds.

And this Limpkin was fun to watch forage. It ate a lot during the time that I watched it, which was a little over 60 minutes. It reared its head/neck up and slammed down quickly its bill into the snail, resting on the ground somewhere. Then it poked around inside the snail and shook the snail, trying to get the meat out from inside the shell. Fascinating.

More of my notes:

4:33 p.m. Leaving Limpkin. Great bird to watch.

It finds a lot of snails.

Tall, chunky bird needs to eat a lot.

Saw Karen Z in parking lot. Walked with her back to Limpkin. Watched for a few more minutes. Limpkin walked [on] and slid some across an icy stretch. Long toes, big feet.

4:42 p.m. at car. East Tundra group prob a thousand-plus still making chatter. Loud and constant. No let up.

I watched the Limpkin for about 70 minutes. During that time, numerous people came and went. Most snapped photos. I took notes. I overheard a few people say that they had "chased" this bird multiple times over the past few months, and now, they had finally been successful at seeing it.

One guy said that he had chased this bird five or six times, and he could have traveled to Florida with the miles he put on his vehicle chasing this bird.

I inferred that some of the visitors had traveled one to two hours or more to see this bird.

Okay. Different strokes.

When driving toward Route 2 between the ONWR old parking lot and Route 2, the marshy habitat, located along east side of the road captured my eye. This marshy watery area contains numerous, maybe dozens of tall muskrat huts. The huts might stretch three to four feet above the water line. The huts were somewhat cylinder, dome-shaped, not spread out wide.

But what I noticed leaving that I did not notice when driving in from Route 2 is that when I left, I drove south, and the north sides of all the muskrat huts were covered with snow while the sun-facing south sides were devoid of snow.

Since the huts were made with branches and other vegetation, the huts appeared dark, nearly silhouette-like in the low light, and the snow cover on one half of the huts provided stark contrast to the other half of the huts. Dozens of muskrat huts half dark and half light.

On my way home, I did not drive through Howard's Marsh, since it was getting dark.

I arrived home at 5:20 p.m.

Tundra Swans and the Limpkin were the obvious highlights today. I always enjoy strolling at ONWR year-round.

Today, I went birdwatching with no expectations other than to enjoy being outside. Pleasant surprises occur nearly every time I approach birdwatching with a blank slate.

Obviously, I'm aware of what birds might be present, based upon the season and location. In mid-November along the Lake Erie shoreline, Tundra Swans are more likely to be seen than Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Duh.

But I did not know how many Tundra Swans were in the marshes today before leaving home. And I did not know that the Limpkin was still in the area.

That's why I don't chase birds. I want to make my own experiences and not piggyback off of the findings of others.