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Published: Sunday, 12/11/2011

COMMENTARY

Tundra swans fill skies over Lake Erie shoreline

BY STEVE POLLICK
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

Hundreds of tundra swans are being reported across the Lake Erie south shore in what always are impressive sightings of these great white arctic wildfowl.

Several reports of flocks of these big white, black-billed waterfowl, with wingspans to seven feet, have crossed the outdoors desk in recent days, the sites ranging from the Toledo area on east. Tundra swans nest in the high arctic as distant as Alaska and are migrating through this region en route to the East Coast. They winter principally along Chesapeake Bay.

Dave Sherman, a biologist at the state's Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station at Magee Marsh, estimates that up to several thousand swans may be found hereabouts this time of year as they stop over to rest and feed. Inland fields in eastern Lucas County and western Ottawa County often attract flocks of hundreds of these magnificent birds.

Their numbers in the last five to 10 years have continued to increase, said Sherman They may remain another three to four weeks, depending on the rate and extent of freezeup. So, for swans, 'tis the season.

Speaking of season, it also is time for the 112th Audubon Christmas Bird Count, the period for which begins Wednesday and continues through Jan. 5. Typically tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations.

Last year 2,215 counts were held in the hemisphere, with a total of more than 61.3 million birds and well over 2,000 species reported. Counts are held in all 50 states, all Canadian provinces, plus several Central and South American countries, Guam, the Marianas, Bermuda, Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

The effort, when compiled, helps bird scientists better understand how birds and the environment are faring and what needs to be done to protect them.

A count must follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile-diameter circle, and counters also can rely on home feeder-counts inside the circle. But all must occur in a calendar day. Following are some Christmas counts set for northwest Ohio and new volunteers are welcome:

Toledo, Dec. 18, compiler Matt Anderson; e-mail matt_anderson@andersonsinc.com, or 419-891-6532. This has been the top count for species in Ohio the last four years with 96 in 2007 and 2008 and 95 in 2009, and a record 99 species last year. Also, visit RareBird.org online.

Rudolph, Dec. 17, 6:45 a.m., Big Boy restaurant, East Wooster Street, Bowling Green; compiler Tom Kemp, e-mail andigena@aol.com or 419-356-5704.

Grand Rapids-Waterville, Dec. 30, 6:45 a.m., The Buzz restaurant downtown Whitehouse, compiler and contact, Kemp, as above.

Fremont, Dec. 31, 7 a.m., call Black Swamp Bird Observatory 419-898-4070 or e-mail staff@bsbo.org.

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Jan. 1, compiler, Tom Bartlett, email hthomas.bartlett@gmail.com or 419-447-0005.

Gypsum, Dec. 31, contact Bartlett as above for details.

Kelleys Island, Dec. 18, contact Bartlett.

Tiffin, Dec. 17, contact Bartlett.

Carey, Dec. 30, contact Bartlett.

On a related note, youngsters in Ottawa County grades three through six will be bringing home flyers about a "CBC 4 Kids" on Jan. 14 at Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The two areas are adjacent and lie along State Rt. 2 in Ottawa County between State Rts. 19 and 590.

"At that time they will be back in school and maybe getting a little cabin fever?" asks Mary Warren, Magee naturalist. "We'll bundle them up and bring them outdoors." She said that an adult must accompany each child. happen across America and are sponsored by Audubon. "This is an important citizen science project," the naturalist added.

A hot lunch will be provided by the Friends of Magee Marsh and Back to the Wild, the Castalia-based wildlife rehabilitation center. The center will bring some live birds for show and tell.

Advance registration is recommended by calling Warren at 419-898-0960 extension 31.

Last and not least is a wonderful note from fall field work from Mark Shieldcastle, research director at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, which has its offices and nature center at 13551 West State Rt. 2, Oak Harbor, on the Magee Marsh entrance road in western Ottawa County.

This fall during the southbound songbird migrations, BSBO's field research team recaptured a blackpoll warbler, the BSBO mascot species. By sheer, momentous coincidence, exactly five years to the day, the same bird, an adult male, initially was leg-banded by a BSBO team in the Lake Erie marshes near Davis-Besse. Amazing.

Shieldcastle, a persistent and hard-working field man for 40 years, checked the band, number 2400-042807, and was elated. BSBO placed it on the bird on Sept. 13, 2006. Major coincidence. The band number was recorded again and the old boy sent on his way south with a wish of godspeed.

A five-year-old warbler is in its twilight years, and what a gift it gave to those so dedicated to our remnant wilds and the birds that decorate them so beautifully. The blackpoll species summers in the arctic, maybe Alaska, and winters in the rain forests of South America. But at least twice, for sure, it found a little sandy beach-ridge along the southwest shore Lake Erie for some "R and R" along the perilous way.

"We estimate that this bird, weighing less than an ounce, has traveled at least 50,000 miles in its lifetime, a significant portion of those miles over the open ocean," said Shieldcastle. In the fall of 2009 BSBO banded its 500,000th bird, also a blackpoll.

Gee, and think - that beach ridge which is home to the BSBO field station near Davis-Besse could have been turned into yet another marina or schlocky condo-complex. Help BSBO do more of the above. Visit bsbo.org online or call 419-898-4070.

Contact Steve Pollick at: spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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