When I first started birding several years ago, I used to get confused or bewildered responses from people when I would tell them about how much I enjoyed it. But I’ve noticed that happening less and less frequently over the last two years or so. Now when I mention birding, I tend to get pressed for more information or asked questions about when the person can join me on a bird hike.
Having witnessed this sort of subtle shift in my own personal experiences meant I was not surprised to find out recently that birding is the one of the fastest growing outdoor-based recreation activities in the country. It’s especially easy to get going here in Cleveland if you’re interested in trying it out.
We’re fortunate here in Northeastern Ohio to be among some of the best birding locations in the Midwest due to our location along the southern edge of Lake Erie. Spring and fall migration puts us directly in the path of more than 100 different species of waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds and songbirds as they make their way to their traditional wintering or summering grounds. You don’t have to go very far to find prime habitat right in the heart of the city for both migratory birds and our own native seasonal residents.
One spot I often recommend to beginners is Wendy Park on Whiskey Island, part of Cleveland Metroparks Lakefront Reservation. At just under 25 acres, Wendy Park is a very navigable size so you can concentrate on birding and not on whether or not you’re in the “right spot,” or risk getting lost because you’ve been looking at the trees and up in the sky as opposed to watching the trail.
For being such a small area, Wendy Park produces an amazing array of different birds almost 250 different species have been recorded there! In the spring, warblers headed north to their summer homes in Canada descend on the small stands of cottonwood trees in spectacular numbers. In the fall and winter, waterfowl and gulls flock to the open areas of water behind the protected breakwall at the marina and on the Cuyahoga River on the park’s eastern boundary.
Barn and tree swallows dart over the open mowed grass fields and elusive American woodcocks can be seen skulking around on the ground near the wooded edges.
Despite its proximity to downtown, plenty of area residents are unsure of how to find this tiny gem of a park, not realizing that if they can find their way to the much larger Edgewater Park, they can get to Whiskey Island. From Edgewater, all you have to do is drive east along the road that goes toward the wastewater treatment plant which makes a sharp curve behind the building and proceeds down Ed Hauser Way straight to the park. The short drive gives an excellent view of downtown and some of Cleveland’s industrial infrastructure as it takes you past a rail yard and piles of iron ore waiting to be loaded or unloaded onto a Great Lakes freighter.
Even if it turns out that birding’s not really up your alley, you’ll have figured out how to find one of Cleveland’s coolest parks, and that’s always time well spent.