This time of year is always exciting to me. It marks the start of seeing shorebirds on the beach at East Fork State Park. This unusually cool summer and the recent blue-green algae - microcystin bloom has lowered the amount of people using the beach this summer. This has allowed some shorebirds and terns to remain on the beach for a little while and allow people to see them. There is not much in the way of shorebird habitat in Clermont county, so it is nice to be able to show people birds fairly close without a scope. So far this season, I have seen or seen confirmed reports of Least, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Sanderling, Short-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Plover, Spotted and Pectoral Sandpipers.
I have met a few more people out watching birds in the last few days. One was an Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Watercraft officer, which is nice to see. I also met a couple of ladies who I noticed were watching the gulls on the beach. One was trying to get pictures of the Caspian Tern that was on the beach. The lady she was with had a small dog in her arms. They were walking up to the gull flock, putting themselves between the birds and the water. One of the women came to me and stated that she can't get any close up pictures of the tern. I suggested that for one she not walk between the birds and the water, they don't like that. Another suggestion I made, was that she try not to approach them with a dog in her hands. While this may sound like common sense, she made the statement that she never thought of that and that the dog would never harm them. I then asked her how the birds would know that? After her friend backed off with the dog, she was able to approach the flock to about 8 ft.
As many people are unaware, East Fork State Park is an Ohio Important Bird Area. It is important for both breeding birds as well as a migration stopping/refueling point. There is very little area that is suitable at the right times of year for shorebirds along the lake. This is mainly because of the fact that the shore is rocky and the water comes very close to thick forested vegetation. Being a man-made lake, the water level is pretty constant during fall migration. Most shorebirds prefer wide open areas, so that they can keep a weary eye to the sky for airborne predators such as falcons. There is just such a spot that exists to the left/west of the south public beach that contains shallow water and rocks that harbor food for shorebirds.
So, what are all the birds at East Fork squawking about??
Imagine my horror and surprise to see this sign erected by Ohio Department of Natural Resources today in this very spot!
This area is a very small area, but it has proven important to migrant shorebirds.
While I am not anti-dog, birding and off leash dogs just don't mix. I have been bitten before while birding at East Fork by off leash dogs. I did not feel it necessary to file a report (years ago now).
Here is a sample of the HOW and WHY I say this little area is very important for stopover shorebirds and even other migrants. Most of these birds didn't venture far from this little area.
AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER
While it is possible that these birds could use other areas of the lake, it also proves that they are willing to put up with human disturbance to continue to feed here. This says to me that this area is prime habitat. Even though it is a small area, it has proven to be very productive bird wise.
That is why I suggest that ODNR consider removing this area from a pet swimming area. There is also one of these signs on the other side (east/right) of the beach. While, I have seen shorebirds on that side, all of the above birds stuck strictly to the left side of the beach. The right (east) side also gets a good deal of disturbance from a private boat dock used for boat rentals. ODNR most likely doesn't have a clue to the importance of this area to migrating shorebirds. I know from being there that the Purple Sandpipers brought some birders from quite a distance. I also know many birders for which these birds were spark birds. Therefore, I would appreciate if birders who bird East Fork State Park would let the Division of State Parks know your concern for the birds that rely on this area for refueling during migration. You can do so by calling or emailing the contacts listed in the link above for East Fork. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you and I hope to see you at East Fork birding soon!
Thanks to the many birders that emailed ODNR, the sign has been removed and will not be returned. The area to the right of the beach will remain designated as a pet swim area.
A special thanks goes out to ODNR, Ohio State Parks and ODNR employees. Specifically Chad Smith and Martin H McAllister. Thank you for listening and caring for the birds!
On a side note, I am in brainstorming mode on a way that birders could hold a public event/program centered around birding/birds found at the park. Suggestions would be welcome.