SIB Travels: Christmas Birding in Frigid Ohio

This year’s visit to Ohio for Christmas was COLD to say the least. The HIGH temperature on Friday, December 23 was -1 degrees with 30 mile per hour winds. Not good conditions for birding. I was able to work in some birding by car before the front came through and continued birding from the comfort of my sister-in-law’s great room.

American Tree Sparrow (All About Birds)

As we drove into town on Wednesday, we detoured through the St. Mary’s State Fish Hatchery. I was able to get a group of American Tree Sparrows at this known site. I had seen them here on prior years but had not seen them anywhere in 2022 so it was a good sighting. The fish hatchery is at the end of Grand Lake St. Mary’s, a feeder lake for the Miami Erie Canal. Last year, when the temperature was a warmer 50 degrees with open waters, I got a Trumpeter Swan on one of the ponds. The frozen ponds this year only yielded the expected hundreds of Canada Goose. (I conservatively reported 250).

As I drove through the flat country, I was able to get the expected Red-tailed Hawks, European Starlings, and Red-winged Blackbirds. I’m still surprised when I frequently see Great Blue Herons, Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls. The gulls seem to like the Walmart parking lot in addition to lake banks.

Horned Lark (Monica Hall Photography)

After finishing my Christmas shopping, I drove the south side of the lake, stopping at each of the local hot spots. It had started to mist as the front approached so there wasn’t much visible. When I stopped at the Mercer Wildlife Management Area, I again encountered primarily Canada Goose (this time I reported 300 but was probably closer to 500). My highlight was when a flock of Horned Larks flew into the area. These were also the first of the year for me. Unlike last year, there were no Bald Eagles, White Pelicans or Sandhill Cranes.

At the Montezuma Boat Ramp, a group of Mallards were hanging out. There was also a domestic white duck and two mystery ducks. They looked very similar to the Mallards but their chests were white rather than the usual chestnut. Since I couldn’t identify, I initially didn’t report them. After I got home and was reading Mom’s Birds and Bloom, there was a brief article (https://www.birdsandblooms.com/birding/bird-species/ducks-and-geese/domestic-mallard-ducks/) with a picture of a duck just like I saw….a hybrid of a domestic duck and a Mallard. So I was correct in not reporting it.

House Sparrows in Bush (Dean Morr)

By Christmas day, the temperature had warmed to a “comfortable” 15 degrees. The bushes at the end of the street had numerous House Sparrows looking like ornaments on a Christmas Tree. When we got to my sister-in-law’s house, she reported her feeder had been busy. At one point, I counted 27 House Finch on or below her feeder. A Downy Woodpecker was in the nearby tree. I was happiest when the four Dark-eyed Junco visited the ground below the feeder. My pictures through the window were worthy of the trash bin but at least I was able to enjoy them from the warmth of her home.

Dark-eyed Junco (Project FeederWatch)

Overall, the trip wasn’t a great bird experience but it was productive considering the inclement weather. If you have a birding experience while traveling, please share with us so we can enjoy vicariously.

Submitted by: Judy Morr

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