.......and Reflections

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vermilion River, Lorain County, Ohio

The Vermilion River isn't very long. It traverses but only two Counties on its way to Lake Erie. But it is a gem. Worthy of "Wild and Scenic" designation, this is the western most river in the central basin of Lake Erie. The land west of the river drops in elevation to just above the Lake level. But the Vermilion River valley is cut by this river that rages in the spring and trickles by late summer.

This cutting through higher ground above Lake Erie is typical in the Central and Eastern Lake Erie basins. These deep cut valleys provide unique habitats similar in many ways to southern Ohio because the rivers are glacial remnants that offer interesting north and south facing slopes as they wind their way to the Great Lake.This geography determines specific and varied habitats that set them apart from other areas in this region.

I love to bird this area because it provides a chance to observe birds otherwise quite some distance to the east and south. Some of the birds here include Cerulean Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-winged and Hooded Warblers, Orchard Orioles and White-eyed Vireos. Occasionally I have found Yellow-breasted Chats, Golden-winged Warblers, Brewster's Warbler and even a hopeful, singing male Clay-colored Sparrow.

I keep going back to the Vermilion River Reservation of the Lorain County Metro Parks mainly because it is a beautiful and dynamic place. Over the last 20 years varying habitats are competing and working to grow into climax forest and riparian habitats. Along with these changes in flora so goes changes the fauna and specifically nesting birds. Surveying birds in any area is an excellent way learn its natural history. And it is important to remember that natural history is forever ongoing. Nature study is a reflection of the past, a snapshot of the present and provides clues to the future.

The Vermilion "hollow" attracts many spring migrants and offers food and shelter for a variety of songbird species. Spring wildflowering is often spectacular. Butterflies and dragonflies patrol the meadows, forest and river bottoms through the seasons. So I took a hour and a half walk through Bacon Woods on the west side of the Vermilion River that cuts through the park yesterday and had yet another interesting morning.

Right now is a good time to bird this park. Some later songbird migrants are still moving through on their way up north. A handsome male Mourning Warbler was a pleasant, unexpected  bird sighting. Many other bird species are nesting and others are setting up, or competing for territories. It can be a buggy place and mosquitoes love the vernal pools and oxbows left by retreating waters into the main channels of the river. Early wildflowers are finished or nearly so, although a few Bluebells and Jack-in-the-Pulpit are clinging on to blooms.

Other flowering plants are full steam ahead. On this day, the trails were flanked by Cow Parsnip, Dane's Rocket, Wild Iris, White Violets and May Apple. The mighty Elm trees are not fairing so well. Many have leafed out for the last time and show the ravage of Emerald Ash Borers that are sweeping through our region. The bark of these elms have been flaked off by a flourishing Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy and Pileated Woodpecker population that will gladly take advantage of the invasion opportunity.

I identified 58 species of birds on my walk. It wasn't a great day but a good one typical of this place in time. Some of the nesting birds are totally engaged in that process, and consequently less obvious than they can be. So some things that are there will not reveal themselves. That is part of the character of this magical place.

On the other hand, I heard dozens of Yellow-billed Cuckoos and saw  a couple of the less common Black-billed Cuckoos. Acadian Flycathcers and Eastern Wood Pewees joined the Red-eyed Vireos in chorus throughout the forest. Indigo Buntings are abundant as males and females jockey for nesting sites and others prepare to move on to greener pastures (or bottom lands) elsewhere.

Spring migration in Northern Ohio is often frantic and chaotic. The weather is ever-changing. The migrating birds come is mysterious waves and slip away as if by magic. From late April to late May birding is fabulous but very intense. I had 11 days with more than 100 species of birds this May. That is simply a reflection of the immensity of bird migration through this region.

Yesterday was a wonderful opportunity to relax, enjoy a place, and all that it has to offer. It is time to begin to observe the Vermilion River and many of the other special places near and far. Every visit offers a serendipitous experience and often a lesson or two. A friend described my birding as an addiction. This was not just an observation but a medical opinion.

Yes, I am a nature junky and birding is a habit that I can not, nor would I ever consider giving up. I can think of no better therapy than the beautiful Vermilion River and other places "in the middle of nowhere"!
For more info on the Vermilion River Reservation and Lorain County Metro Parks just google the same for directions, trail maps, activities and history of this and the other fine parks in this Park District.

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