Aerial View Redux: The joys of birding the Spring Migration

Cerulean warbler

The melodic sounds of spring migration return to Northeast Ohio

As we transition from the spring migration to the summer breeding season, it’s a good time to look back on one of the most exciting months of birding in Ohio in memory.

After 27 years at The Plain Dealer, I was liberated from the 40-hour work week following my retirement March 1, which provided an unprecedented opportunity to birdwatch and to help others seek birds during what most consider the best birding month of the year.
Kentucky warbler/Jerry Talkington

Blessed with a newfound luxury of free time, I didn’t confine my birding to Northeast Ohio, which unfortunately experienced a delayed songbird migration due to cool, wet weather and the absence of beneficial southerly winds.

My longtime birding buddy Jeff Wert and I kicked off the season at Shawnee State Park, a magical forest located along the Ohio River in Scioto County, where spring typically arrives a month earlier than in the Cleveland area. Included among the 99 species and 23 warblers we observed were several seldom seen on our home turf, such as worm-eating, Kentucky and prairie warblers, yellow-breasted chats, summer tanagers, and blue grosbeaks. A wave of cerulean warblers appeared in unusual numbers, topping 15 on a single afternoon.

I hardly had time to re-acclimate to the cold and windy climes of the North Coast before I was busy guiding five van trips during the Biggest Week in Birding, an annual 10-day event that attracts birders from across North America and beyond to the migratory magnets of Northwest Ohio. Surprisingly, the most productive locations I experienced were found in the Toledo Metroparks, especially the Pearson, Wildwood and Secor parks. Wildwood produced a fallout of nearly two dozen scarlet tanagers, plus a summer tanager, and a nest of noisy barred owls with two chicks.
Yellow-breasted chat/Gary Meszaros

As a newly installed volunteer for the Cleveland Metroparks, I had the pleasure of co-leading nature walks with parks naturalist Jake Kudrna and historical interpreter Karen Lakus at the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve and the former Astorhurst golf club in the Bedford Reservation.

But the best day of the month was the 19th at the Headlands Beach State Nature Preserve, where Wert, Larry Rosche and I joined a group of the state’s best birders and spotted 66 species, featuring 20 species of warblers, including a Kentucky warbler and an eye-popping five mourning warblers. Earlier in the week, birders there found a flock of five black-bellied whistling ducks and at least one Connecticut warbler.

During the past week, Wert and I birded the Oak Hill trailhead in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which was alive with the “bee buzz” songs of blue-winged warblers, the high-pitched whistled notes of indigo buntings and the chatter of a yellow-breasted chat. A follow-up trip to the Bath Nature Preserve produced Henslow’s sparrows, bobolinks and a Canada warbler. On a previous day, Wert and his wife, Missy, found a black-billed cuckoo at the preserve.
Mourning warbler/Tom Fishburn

Another notable species for the month was a male painted bunting seen for three consecutive days on the campus of Kent State University.

My total warblers for the month was 34 species, likely the most I’ve ever seen during my birding career in Ohio. Take it from me, retirement can be a wonderful experience when you invest your free time in the birds.

Aerial View Redux story update II:

The inspirational tale of the Ohio City kestrels turned the page on a new chapter this past week, as a nest-cam recording the progress of the small falcon pair with five chicks provided several episodes of excitement. I was watching the video feed on YouTube when one of the adults brought a bird kill into the nest and proceeded to rip it apart, serving pieces of meat to each of the young until the prey was consumed.
Blue-winged warbler/Gary Meszaros

By Tuesday, May 28, three of the chicks appeared to have flown from the nest, leaving only two chicks behind.

The success of these raptors can be attributed, in large part, to Walt Gachuk, project manager for the Snavely Building Group which is in the process of restoring the historic Forest City Bank building at the intersection of Detroit Avenue and West 25th Street in Ohio City. Gachuk halted repair work on a hole in a roof soffit after he discovered the nest of American kestrels with five eggs hidden inside.

Gachuk’s decision to delay that section of the $11 million construction project proved to be a Public Relations bonanza, as local television news crews and national media outlets have produced feature stories on the kestrel nest. He also set up a web site with links to the stories and broadcasts, plus a link to the nest-cam. Check it out: You may be watching as the last two chicks fly out for the final time.


  1. Dear Jim,
    I am writing to you on behalf of Shaker Lakes Garden Club. Over the years your articles on environmental issues and concerns have been much admired. At our Annual meeting on June 25, we would like to present you with a Commendation Award from the Garden Club of America. The meeting will occur at Caroline Borrow's home in Shaker Heights at 12 noon. The address is 17600 Parkland Drive, Shaker Heights OH 44120. This is a luncheon meeting and we hope you will join us for the luncheon. Please contact me at 216-342-4111 or via email ( to let me know is you are able to attend . If you are unable to attend, is there an address where we may send your award?

    Most Sincerely,

    MaryBruce S. Rae-Grant
    President of Shaker Lakes Garden Club


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