Winter on the Wing

April 11, 2014

Photos and Story by Marcheta Gibson

It is 27 degrees Fahrenheit on an early spring day in late March, and I am duck hunting on Amick Reservoir in Galion. Believe me, Elmer Fudd looks more fashionable in his Stormy Kromer hat than I ever will, but the ducks don’t care what I look like, they only care about getting as far away from the barrel of my Canon as possible. Despite the bitter cold, this year’s “duck season” is at its best, so I wait patiently for the waders, divers and fliers to forget that I am shivering behind a clump of red twig dogwoods, hoping that they will come nearer to shore and better shooting range. No, I haven’t broken any laws by game hunting on public property out of season; winter is on the wing, spirited away by spring migration and my mission (passion, really) is to record, via photography, the species that have graced these local waters that I have come to know well in my 30-odd years of nearly daily visits.

A visit to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge a week earlier looking for Tundra and Trumpeter swans was a total bust for me because even Lake Erie’s ice was still thick enough to support hundreds of ice fishermen. What was I thinking? I mean, even the lakes and ponds in our area still sported icy banks and ice floes in their centers. Because ducks and open water go together like biscuits and gravy, I reasoned that the increase in seasonal visitors this year is a result of those frozen waterways “up north”. A chance encounter with renowned bird expert Kenn Kaufman and keynote speaker during the Migration Sensation event in Shreve, Ohio, on March 29 confirmed my theory. Kaufmann also attributes the slow ice melt to species spending more time on the open waters south of Lake Erie’s marshes and ponds. In his Timing of Migration article on the Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s website, Kaufmann compiled a month-by-month list of species to look for. According to this list, during the first weeks of April, waterfowl migration will still be heavy. Which is a good thing for us duck hunters, now that the weather has become more cooperative.

So, what have I been looking at during wind and rain, wind and snow, wind and sun? Although I did not find Tundra or Trumpeter Swans on my visit to Ottawa, I did find hundreds of those graceful birds at Big Island Wildlife Area in Marion County, which moved the next day to nearby Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Wyandot County. Here, in Galion, I saw a few strays on a local pond. In other local ponds I’ve seen snow geese. Although I have not seen swans nor snow geese at Amick Reservoir, it definitely has the biggest variety of water birds which includes Northern Shoveler, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Horned Grebe, Coot, Common Goldeneye, Common Loon, Redhead, Mallard, Canvas back, Bufflehead, and others that I haven’t seen close enough to identify. If none of these names are familiar to you, I highly recommend that you grab a field guide and take a duck hunting trip of your own, not only to admire their beauty and diversity, but also to appreciate the natural habitats in our area that attract and support migrating wildlife.

Soon, these seasonal visitors will get back on their flyways and travel to their nesting areas, and I will miss them. But already the summer residents are showing up: I’ve already seen three great blue herons. Can belted kingfishers be far behind? Before we know it, shorter days of autumn will awaken the mysterious and beautiful phenomenon of bird migration and, if we are lucky, we’ll get another glimpse of travelers on their way to winter homes.

Amick Reservoir is located on State Route 309 south of Galion, Ohio.

Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area is located at 19100 County Highway 115, Harpster, Ohio. Phone (419) 496- 2254

Big Island Wildlife Area is located five miles west of Marion, Ohio on State Route 95.

Black Swamp Bird Observatory is located at 13351 W. State Route 2, Oak Harbor, Ohio, 43449. Phone (419) 898- 4070; website:

The Village of Shreve, Ohio, hosts Migration Sensation each March. The event includes workshops, speakers, vendor marketplace, food, and maps to locations that have on-hand experts.

A good website for learning about birds is The Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds: