In winter, look for gulls, ducks, mergansers, and other waterfowl at this Lake Erie hotspot.
By Jim McCormac | Published: 12/22/2010
Some of my coldest, most memorable birding has been along the icy shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland. If you are a gull enthusiast — nut? — this is the place to be. When extended cold snaps lock our fourth largest Great Lake in ice, the warm water outflows of the power plant at East 72nd St. create unfrozen leads — and productive birding. It’s a gullapalooza, as scads of Herring, Ring-billed, and jumbo Great Black-backed Gulls converge to feast on dead gizzard shad. The Big Three are joined by ghostly Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, and sharp-eyed birders routinely pick out Thayer’s Gulls. In all, 19 gull species have been recorded in the Cleveland area, making the region one of North America’s premier gull hotspots. Rarities have included Black-headed, Mew, California, and Ivory Gulls.
Ducks also abound, often at your fingertips. Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Canvasback, and the occasional scoter occur. It was in this area that Ohio’s only Tufted Duck appeared, and there are records of Barrow’s Goldeneye and King Eider. Peregrine Falcons nest on the power plant and make occasional grabs at waterbirds. — Jim McCormac
Jim McCormac is the author of Birds of Ohio. He writes the blog Ohio Birds and Biodiversity. He also wrote about Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area, Hotspot Near You No. 23, The Wilds, Cumberland, Ohio, No. 55, and Scioto Audubon Metro Park, Columbus, Ohio, No. 73.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Open waters of Lake Erie.
Pancake flat; you’ll be standing on sidewalks or level ground and doing very little walking.
Regular in winter: Canvasback, Redhead, both scaup, scoters, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Common, Red-breasted, and Hooded Mergansers, and Little, Bonaparte’s, Ring-billed, Herring, Thayer’s, Iceland, Lesser Black-backed, Glaucous, and Great Black-backed Gulls. Occasional: Purple Sandpiper, Red Phalarope, Pomarine Jaeger, Peregrine Falcon, Snowy Owl, Cackling Goose, Harlequin and Long-tailed Ducks, Common Loon, Black-headed Gull, Snow Bunting, and Winter Wren.
When to go
Early November, when huge numbers of Bonaparte’s Gulls arrive, through February.
Restrooms. Restaurants and hotels nearby.
State park. No entrance or parking fees. Open during daytime hours. Not accessible from public transportation.
Dress warm! Winter along Lake Erie is cold and often windy. Temperatures plummeting to single digits or below is not uncommon, and wind chills make it seem much colder. Oftentimes, birds are so close that you’ll need only binoculars, but a scope is strongly advised for scanning distant birds. Nearby breakwalls are worth watching for Snowy Owls and roosting gulls.
For more info
Eastlake Power Plant
About 18 miles northeast of Cleveland Lakefront State Park at the end of Erie Rd. Gulls, mergansers, scoters, scaup, and other ducks.
Avon Lake Power Plant/Miller Park
About 27 miles west of Cleveland Lakefront State Park at Hwy. 6 and Miller Rd. Another winter spot for gulls, plus Tufted Titmouse, Snow Bunting, Red-headed Woodpecker.