There is a different kind of March madness that happens this time of year. No I’m not talking about college hoops but the massive waterfowl migration! Here in Pennsylvania ducks, geese and swans begin to move through the area heading north to their breeding grounds and the peak time is right around the middle of March. So the avid birder that I am, I always find time this time of year to hit some lakes and wetlands to see what I can find. One of the best areas in Western PA is in and around Crawford County. The places I really like looking around at are Geneva Marsh, Conneaut Marsh, Conneaut Lake and Pymatuning. So yesterday I decided to go and see what I could find. I got up at the crack of dawn and headed northward. By 9am I was at my first location at Geneva Marsh. This is an incredible birding place and sits right on I-79, a little south of Meadville. If you’ve ever traveled this stretch of I-79 you no doubt have seen this place because it is huge! The very southern tip of the marsh is known as Custards and what makes this spot really nice is that the road cuts right across it, so if you’re lucky the birds can be right out your car window. And yes I had some luck with these Ring-necked Ducks that were just 15 yards or so from the road. My first ducks for the day!
Just a little further down the road and I came across another fine looking pair….Mr. and Mrs. Wood Duck!
Like so many species of waterfowl, Wood Ducks are highly skittish and it doesn’t take much for them to spook. Within a minute they had about enough of me taking pictures from my car window and decided to leave.
Looking out across the marsh were hundred upon hundred of various ducks, geese and swans. Those white blobs in the back is a huge flock of Tundra Swans!!
And here is a more focused shot of the huge flock with I-79 in the background.
I looked back at the bridge where I had crossed and saw some American Wigeons swimming in close. I put the car in reverse and pull up slowly to them. They stayed for a little bit and here I caught them as they lifted off.
Then I spotted a Pied-billed Grebe swimming in close to the road. I waited for him to submerge and I got out of the car and quickly headed to the guard rail and waiting for him to come up. He eventually popped up but looked like he was trying to imitate the Lock Ness Monster…haha!
The morning was moving along so I decided at that point to go further north and hit some more spots. Next was to McMichael Road which is on the edge of Conneaut Marsh, just above Geneva Marsh. I found lots more waterfowl there including Mallards, Green-winged Teal, Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks, Northern Pintails and American Wigeons. However the only things close enough for decent pictures was this beautiful pair of Northern Shovelers! Notice their very uniquely shaped bill.
It turned out to be one of my best days for finding lots of Shovelers! At my next stop at the Pymatuning fish hatchery I found a huge flock of them huddled on the ice resting.
Just then I looked up in the sky and spotted yet another flock of Tundra Swans. I hoped that they might land nearby where I could get some shots of them coming down, however they continued on, eventually going out of sight.
At this point it was nearing the noon hour so I headed over to the Pymatuning causeway which goes across the Ohio border. I was getting hungry so I pulled into the parking area there and took out my sandwich for a bite to eat. All the Ring-billed Gulls in the area must know when people stop there, there’s a good chance they have food and before I knew it my car was surrounded by dozen of gulls. This afforded me the opportunity for a close up portrait. And yes I shared a little of my sandwich.
And then there they were….my best duck of the day! Two Long-tailed Ducks swimming out from the causeway parking lot. I sat there waiting, hoping and praying that they would come closer. But NO!! They were not in the least interested in being cooperative birds for photos, so all I got was this very distant shot. But hey, it’s an awesome bird to at least see.
I then swung over to the Millers Pond area but unfortunately with the bitter cold, 90% of the ponds there were iced over with not much in the way of birds. I did see a Rough Legged Hawk there flying off and did catch these two Sandhill Cranes as they flew over.
It was now nearing the 1 o’clock hour and I still had lots of hours of daylight left so as a spur of the moment decision, I headed to Conneaut Ohio along Lake Erie to see what else I could find. After the 30 minute drive I got to the Conneaut Harbor and the first bird I see is a Common Goldeneye swimming right next to the deck of the harbor. I waited for him to submerge and then quickly got out of the car and hoped for a nice shot as he surfaced. He popped up but as soon as he did, the little bugger spotted me hunkered down on the ground and just like that he was off.
I then continued around the Harbor and then spotted something I was not expecting. The rarest bird of the day! A juvenile Glaucous Gull!! What a treat and he was sitting with a group of Ring-billed Gulls not more than 20 yards from the harbor!
The marina area was loaded with more ducks, the most abundant being hundreds upon hundreds of Red-breasted Mergansers. This one looked like he was walking on water.
I then stopped back at some of the places I had been earlier in the day. The ducks were still abundant everywhere I went. Back at Conneaut Marsh the ducks were flying around in hysteria and then I saw the reason why when eventually a Bald Eagle flew over. This is a Gadwall with Pintails in the back.
More Northern Pintails.
And here’s what spooked them all…
My last image of the day came from the same spot where I got my first picture of the day, back at Geneva Marsh at Custards. Here another Bald Eagle looks over a lake full of waterfowl.