Oak Openings– one crazy habitat

[dc]O[/dc]n our second full day in Ohio, we decided to head to Oak Openings Metropark, a spot west of Toledo with a unique set of habitats and associated birds. The combination of sand dunes, prairie and savannahs provide suitable breeding habitat for Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Red-headed Woodpecker, and our target– the Lark Sparrows.

We had barely entered the park before we saw a group of cars pulled over along the road and birders with a line of scopes and cameras looking for birds. We hopped out and immediately had a Summer Tanager singing nearby. It wasn’t long before we saw a pair interacting and got good looks at what is generally thought of as a southern breeder. A bonus was an Olive-sided Flycatcher calling repeatedly in the distance.

Summer Tanager - male (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

We then headed down the road to a more open spot where the Lark Sparrows breed. A guy with a huge lens indicated that they weren’t being very cooperative and hadn’t been seen recently, so we spread out and walked up and down the roads looking for activity. While searching we got some great views of Red-headed Woodpeckers which seemed to like the fire managed savannas.

After 20 minutes or so, Justine pointed to a sparrow sitting on top of a short conifer in the grassy field and asked, “Is that it?” We waved Alex and Anna over and slowly the sparrows became more active with at least 4 in view at one point. They flew back and forth across the road and around our cars before slowly moving back away from the road again and becoming harder to see. These were the first Lark Sparrows Justine and I had seen since camping at Teddy Roosevelt NP in North Dakota in 2005.

Lark Sparrow - Oak Openings (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

The sparrows are color banded as part of an ongoing study, and the researchers have discovered that these sparrows have incredibly high site fidelity, returning to the same area year after year. In all honesty, it is not too surprising as they are an isolated population, with few other suitable sites nearby to spread through.