Monday, December 1, 2014

Black-Legged Kittiwake in Central Ohio!

I'm sorry for the short absence. I've been preparing for finals week, and then, more importantly, getting it over with. But now that finals week is finally over, I finally have a chance to breathe, relax, and blog!

During the week of Thanksgiving, Robert Royse found and reported a juvenile Black-Legged Kittiwake at Deer Creek State Park, specifically the section that lies in Fayette County. Black-Legged Kittiwakes, a species of gull, are a rare visitor to Ohio. Most of the ones that do end up in Ohio show up along Lake Erie, but occasionally you'll get one that shows up in an inland reservoir. This individual was one of those few that showed up inland. To make it even better, it showed up at a park only 30 minutes away from my hometown, and luckily I was there on break. Before returning to Ohio University on Sunday morning (Nov. 30), I ventured out in search of the then-continuing Black-Legged Kittiwake. As with many rarities, dozens of other birders had already made the trip to "chase" the bird, and dozens more would chase it on the day I went.

Deer Creek State Park
The kittiwake was said to be hanging around the upper part of Deer Creek State Park, right where Long Branch (a creek) feeds into the man-made reservoir. As I pulled over to park, the site above greeted me. You might ask where's the lake, and that's a good question. Every winter they lower the reservoir by about 14 feet. Since this part of the reservoir is where it begins, draining the lake by that much is enough to reduce the water to a small stream and leave expansive mudflats behind. The lake still remains if you head to the beach or other parts of the reservoir though.

There were already three birders present by the time I arrived there around 8:40 AM. They were scanning as I was getting my gear out, but they hadn't relocated it yet. It's always a gamble when it comes to chasing continuing rare birds, especially when you go early in the morning; it might have been there for a week straight but decided to leave the night before you went. Anxiously, I joined in and scanned the horizon, only to find a handful of Bonaparte's Gulls. Suddenly, we saw a small gull flying in from down the reservoir. Holding our breaths, we turned to the gull...

Black-Legged Kittiwake Flying
And lucky for us it was the kittiwake! I quickly tried to snap at least an identifiable photo, which is pictured above. So why are Black-Legged Kittiwakes, Rissa tridactyla, so rare in Ohio?

Range map created by Terry Sohl at South Dakota Birds and Birding. Go check out his wonderful photography!

A quick look at a range map should give you a pretty good idea as to why Black-Legged Kittiwakes are rare in Ohio. Black-Legged Kittiwakes are a true "sea gull." They nest on sea cliffs in northern Canada and all around Alaska before heading out to sea to spend the winter. Occasionally a young bird, like the one at Deer Creek, will wander inland during the winter. Adult visitors to Ohio are much, much rarer (but have still been recorded).

Black-Legged Kittiwake Ohio
After some hunting, the kittiwake decided to rest and preen on the rock above, which was its favorite roosting place (as evident from the white-wash on the rock). It really is a gorgeous gull, which are birds that many people pass by. A day or two after I visited it, it decided to head out and hasn't been relocated since. Hopefully it ventures back out to sea.

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