About the Ashtabula Loop
The northeastern shore of Lake Erie is the most sparsely populated corner of Lake Erie in Ohio, and the section least visited by birders. Nonetheless, scores of rarities have turned up in the region and huge numbers of migrant shorebirds, gulls, and waterfowl pass through.
Tucked in the extreme northeastern corner of Ohio, this section of the Lake Erie Birding Trail features the least developed shoreline on the trail. Five sites are featured on this loop, and one of them, Conneaut Harbor, has produced in an inordinate number of very rare birds. The total species list for this loop is 313, and two of those – Red-necked Stint and Black-throated Sparrow – have only been found in this region.
What to Look For
This section of the trail is located in Ohio's extreme northeastern corner. Included are sites in Ashtabula County (Ohio's largest county), and neighboring Lake County (Ohio's smallest county). This region can produce outstanding birding and rarities seldom seen elsewhere.
Conneaut Harbor is legendary among Ohio birders and regularly draws people from all over the state. Conneaut boasts a lengthy list of rarities, and an impressive list of migrant shorebirds.
The best birding on the Ashtabula Loop is during fall migration. By early July, many species of shorebirds begin to appear in Ohio. These early returning plovers and sandpipers are all adults; probably individuals who failed in their nesting attempt. Most shorebirds seen in Ohio breed in the tundra, and the brief Arctic summer doesn't allow for a second chance if the first nest fails.
As fall migration picks up, wooded sites can be filled with migrating songbirds: warblers, vireos, flycatchers, grosbeaks, and others. Marshy areas are good for sparrows, rails, and herons. As late fall rolls into early winter, scads of ducks and gulls move along the Lake Erie shoreline.
Many exceptional rarities have turned up in the Ashtabula area. Some of the more noteworthy include King Eider, Barrow's Goldeneye, Northern Gannet, Brown Pelican, Piping Plover, Red-necked Stint (only Ohio record), Sabine's Gull, Black-headed Gull, Ross's Gull, and Cave Swallow. Some of the sites on the Ashtabula Loop are also excellent spots to find birds that are seldom seen in the state other than along the Lake Erie shore: Brant, all three scoter species, Long-tailed duck, Whimbrel, Red Knot, Red Phalarope, and Nelson's Sparrow.
All of the sites included in the Ashtabula Loop contain beach dune plant communities, a habitat that has become quite rare in Ohio. A number of threatened and endangered plant species occur at these sites. All of the five stops on the loop can also be very good for butterflies and dragonflies. Some of these insects are highly migratory, and just as birds do, tend to stop their northward flights when they meet Lake Erie. Lakefront habitats can be good places to look for unusual species such as the Striped Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea calverti). Many southbound Monarch butterflies cross Lake Erie and can collect in large numbers in September along the lake.