Bald eagles aren't the only target birds at Sandy Ridge

Common yellowthroat/Gary Meszaros

Birders venture to Lorain County for avian beauties

There’s a wonderful wetland habitat in Lorain County that is familiar to birders and hikers, but a mystery to many people outside of the North Ridgeville area.

The Sandy Ridge Reservation is a 310-acre wildlife preserve that’s been open to the public for 20 years, sitting like a hidden oasis of woodlands, ponds and meadows, surrounded by a burgeoning sea of new housing developments.
Wood ducks/Daniel Hazard

During the waning weeks of the summer doldrums, when other parks in Northeast Ohio are quiet and uninviting as the birds seek shelter from the blistering sun, Sandy Ridge remains active and one of the most rewarding destinations for birders and nature walkers in the Cleveland area.

The wetlands are easily navigable via a network of flat, gravel paths atop raised earthen dikes. The trails pass through wide expanses of marsh grasses, shrubs and wildflowers, primarily swamp and common milkweed, wild monarda, Joe Pye weed, ironweed, sunflowers, and button bush, many hosting monarch and tiger swallowtail butterflies. Dragonflies buzz about, painted turtles bask on logs and bullfrogs croak their basso summer song.
Adult eagle with juvenile/Tim Fairweather

Regular visitors to Sandy Ridge usually can count on an encounter with the park’s resident bald eagles, which have been nesting there since 2002. On my most recent visit this past week, I initially was disappointed to find the eagle nest empty. But scanning the horizon, I noticed a large raptor approaching the ponds. It was an adult eagle carrying what appeared to be a rabbit in its talons.

What I had failed to notice was a juvenile bald eagle perched on a fallen log in the pond. The young raptor screeched in anticipation as the adult landed and dropped the prey at its feet on the log. The hungry youngster immediately began to devour the prey.
Seven trumpeter swan cignets/Tim Fairweather

The eagles are the stars of Sandy Ridge’s avian offerings, but they have plenty of company for avid birders. More than 100 species of birds have been documented nesting at the preserve, including a pair of sandhill cranes for more than a decade.

This year, a pair of trumpeter swans are raising seven young cignets that are almost as large as their parents, and are easily viewable feeding on vegetation along the trail.

More than a dozen great egrets can be observed wading throughout the wetlands, often in the company of great blue herons. Large families of wood ducks are scattered in the ponds, and swallows are everywhere, with purple martins, barn, tree and rough-winged species darting and strafing the air in pursuit of flying insects. Belted kingfishers can be seen kiting over the water, preparing to dive for unsuspecting fish.
Tree swallow/Bret McCarty

Follow your ears and you’re likely to spot indigo buntings singing from the treetops, or common yellowthroats, swamp and song sparrows singing from perches in the marsh grass. Several willow flycatchers were seen feeding hungry fledglings. Yellow warblers were gleaning insects from the tree foliage, although they seemed to have stopped singing. Prothonotary warblers nested in a box in the woodlands, but they were missing as their young have fledged.

Sora rails are common at Sandy Ridge, and earlier in the summer a rare king rail was being seen and heard there, although it apparently could not find a mate to nest there.

In the coming weeks, large flocks of shorebirds will gradually return to the wetlands while on their southbound journey to their winter habitats. Beginning Sept. 4, and every Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. until Oct. 30, senior naturalist and park manager Tim Fairweather will lead bird walks through the park. The walks are ideal for veteran birders and new arrivals to Sandy Ridge, alike. I hope to see you there.

Sandy Ridge is located at 6195 Otten Road, North Ridgeville.


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