EVERY experience in nature is fresh and new, full of intrigue, wonder and discovery. Even the most seasoned enthusiasts will tell you -- "I learn something new EVERY day." The incredible diversity of species and habitats we have in the immediate Cleveland region is striking. Cuyahoga County is the most populated county in Ohio and our parks are surrounded by urban and suburban neighborhoods. But yet, large tracts of forests, fields, and wetlands are protected, loved and adored.
Visitors ALWAYS have something new to discover and be awed by. As a naturalist, I've spent thousands upon thousands of hours in the field, over the course of my lifetime. I can't get enough of the natural world - birds, reptiles & amphibians, insects, bogs, fens, mountain tops.... the list is very, very, very long. Birds are my lifelong passion, and every day, even before work, I HAVE to squeeze in some birding time. I've lead birding tours around the states and the world, and right here in the Cleveland region, a region that is a total jackpot for bird and nature enthusiasts. Within a few miles of downtown Cleveland, Lakefront Reservation -- Edgewater Park, Gordon Park, and other vital green spaces -- offer some of the most thrilling birding (along with some ace views of the city and stunning sunsets and weather photos!).
Just yesterday I led a birdwalk for 18 smiling, excited folks. We gathered by Gordon Park's ranger station under a gorgeous blue sky, striking sun, and crisp frost. For two folks, it was their first, or second time birding. Ever. A brand new experience!
Our goal was to seek waterbirds in the marina and open waters of Lake Erie, but we started off with a quick check of the pines and firs on the Gordon Park grounds. Red-breasted Nuthatches - attractive little sprites with orange underparts and striking black and white lines on the face - were making their tell-tale, nasal "ank ank ank" calls as they clung to pine branches, walking upside down in typical nuthatch fashion.
And then. It happened.
Looking up into the second pine tree I had walked under, BOOM:
"Oh MY, ok!, everyone...everybody walk back slowly. Quietly. Slowly slowly. This way."
Directly overhead, a tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl glared at us. With glowing yellow eyes. 20 feet up in a pine tree. Immediately when I spotted it we moved back to give the bird space. Pressuring any bird by standing too close is poor etiquette! I set up the spotting scope, and everyone lit up when they looked through and saw:
Barely larger then an adult's hand, this tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl, was exhausted from having flown over Lake Erie on its way south. Thousands upon thousands of dozens of species of birds cross over Lake Erie during spring and fall migration. The trip is often perilous, and for small birds, lakefront habitat is absolutely VITAL to their survival, as it is the first habitat that they see after making such a valiant flight.
"WOOOOWW!" and "THAT'S incredible!" were the most-used gasps by everyone viewing this incredible bird.
Owls are often very hard to find. In Cleveland Metroparks, three common species are regularly heard and seen: Barred Owl, Eastern Screech-Owl, and the massive Great Horned Owl. Migrant and wintering species of owls in the Cleveland region include uncommon and rare Northern Saw-whet, Long-eared, Short-eared, and very rarely, Snowy Owl.
This was a special experience indeed.
Owls pull our heartstrings. They are the stuff of legend, mystery, intrigue, haunting, awe and excitement. They are ambassadors for the natural world. Take a look in any social media -- Facebook, Pinterest. Or clothing designs. Harry Potter's owl. These spectacular, mostly nocturnal winged beings are known deeply within the world's many cultures.
For some folks on the bird walk, this was only the first or second owl they'd ever seen! The joy and excitement was so intense that we were nearly "entranced." We had to drag ourselves away to continue the hike.
Each day, discovery and thrill await. Join a naturalist on an Outdoor Education program, and you'll probably see something you've never seen before!
Naturalist, Rocky River Nature Center