February 7, 2014

A Cold, Snowy, Rainy, Fun Weekend in Northeast Ohio

We haven't done much exploring in northeastern Ohio, so when friends suggested that we join them for the weekend at an inn near Chardon we readily agreed. They were hoping to spend time cross-country skiing, while we planned to do some hiking in area parks and preserves. Steady rain on Saturday meant that we ended up with a great group of 10 hikers and despite the weather all had a good time.

Our adventure began on Friday afternoon with a hike at The West Woods, a 900 acre park managed by the Geauga County Park District. We were quite impressed with their park system--many nice and varied nature preserves, a wonderful pocket-sized brochure for each park with an excellent trail map, and lovely nature centers. West Woods features hemlock groves and many large ledges of Sharon Conglomerate

that in one area make a formation called Ansel's Cave, which purportedly was used during the Civil War for munitions storage and to shelter runaway slaves.

Note that the icicles here go both up from the ground and down from the ceiling of the cave--icy stalgmites and stalactites! 

According to park signage, Sharon Conglomerate was deposited about 320 million years ago, but the sand and pebbles in it are 1.1 billion years old and their nearest source is in Canada. Some people call the rounded pebbles "lucky stones":

After our hike we warmed up in the nature center, which featured windows looking out onto a very active bird feeding area. Tree sparrows, mourning doves, white-throated sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches, downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers and many more were feasting on the seeds and suet. Pretty soon along came a Virginia opossum to get in on the action, eating the seeds that had been dropped by the birds:

In addition to their cuteness, 'possums are interesting mammals that we don't see very often except as roadkill. They are mainly nocturnal but obviously can also be active during the day, and they are the only native North American marsupial. They don't hibernate so even in a cold winter they have to find food whenever and wherever they can. Their coats are relatively thin, and their feet, nose and ears are bare, making them quite vulnerable to frostbite. Although they don't live much longer than two years, they are able to make it through the winter by storing fat in their tail and under their skin. Love those pink feet!

Saturday was pretty much all about hiking in the rain (and having a really good lunch and dinner). We visited two preserves, Big Creek and Penetentiary Glen. We loved the hemlock groves and a tiny frozen waterfall

and had a laugh at this sign:

While we didn't see many animals, evidence of wildlife was all around us including tracks in the snow and these pileated woodpecker holes:

These huge birds drill into tree trunks to get to carpenter ants, among other insects. 

Sunday we woke up to steady snow and falling temperatures. Our friends headed for some skiing while we drove west to Cleveland to meet Jen Brumfield, one of Ohio's most experienced, fun, and informative birders, who was scheduled to lead a walk along the lakefront. We hadn't been to this area in many years so we were pleased to have the opportunity to check it out; it is typically one of the most productive and exciting winter birding areas in the state. Extremely uncomfortable weather typically adds to the "excitement", with snow, ice, and wind creating pretty miserable conditions. Fortunately, this time we just had 2 out of 3 since the wind was pretty quiet.

This is the scene that greeted us at our first stop, a park at the end of East 72nd Street:

Wherever there is open water along the Lake Erie shore, ducks from the north tend to congregate in large numbers. Often they are accompanied by huge number of gulls, and sometimes very rare ones can be found among the ring-billed and herring gulls. In a cold winter like this one, open water near the shore is hard to find, except where a power plant discharges the warm water that has cooled its turbines. This is the power plant that provides the discharge at this spot; an added benefit of it was that it is a favored perch of peregrine falcons and we were fortunate to see one!

While we didn't see any rare gulls, we did see a lot of ducks, including all three North American merganser species. Here is the male hooded merganser with a female red-breasted merganser,

the spiffy male red-breasted merganser

and the elegant common merganser with a female of the same species.

Notice how their bills are hooked, and if you could see the bill close up you'd see that it has tiny teeth or serrations, characteristics that are quite helpful for catching fish. They were joined by mallards, both lesser and greater scaup, and these redheads that are in the foreground:

At another spot along the lake, but beyond photography range, were huge numbers of canvasbacks and some common goldeneyes. As we were scoping these ducks a gorgeous adult bald eagle flew by. 

With dropping temperatures and increasing ice formation we were ready after a couple of hours to head south to central Ohio. Although the weekend weather was uncomfortable at times and we never saw the sun (obvious from these pictures!), we were well-prepared and able to enjoy beautiful winter scenes like this:


  1. You took excellent photos and your commentary on them is literate and fun to read. Also refreshing to see a nature documentary with good things to say about power plants.

  2. We have what appears to be a mating pair of red-breasted Merganser this past month here in coastal Mississippi. If I identified them correctly, that is. Usually, by summer (it's June 7th today) they ought to be winging toward their summering grounds in Canada.