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Lake Erie Islands Loop

Greater Yellowlegs along the Lake Erie Birding Trail

About the Lake Erie Islands Loop

The East Sandusky Bay Metropark is an assemblage of four contiguous but separately named parks that collectively total about 1,200 acres. Huge numbers of waterfowl use the area in migration, including counts of Tundra Swans that can number into the thousands.

There are 28 islands in Lake Erie, 16 of which are in Ohio. Of those, three are readily accessible, at least in season, by ferry or airplane: Kelleys, Middle Bass, and South Bass islands. Unlike some of the other islands, which are uninhabited and inaccessible rocks, these three offer a diversity of habitats and an infrastructure by which the islands can be explored.

Ohio’s Lake Erie islands are part of a limestone archipelago and feature seventeen islands, not all of which are accessible. Three of the readily accessible islands are featured in this loop; each of them is serviced by a ferry. Visiting the islands is a very different type of adventure than birding the other loops on this trail and one should set aside at least a full day to explore them. The total species list for this loop is 294, and two of them – Great Gray Owl and Baird’s Sparrow – have only been found in this region.

Explore the Map

What to Look For

On a great day in May, migrant songbirds can fill the trees. Every regularly occurring species of warbler, flycatcher, vireo, thrush, etc. can be expected, and nearly all can be recorded in a single morning. September—the peak month for fall songbird migrants—can bring even greater numbers and diversity, but many species are in muted basic plumage and not singing.

While many raptors skirt around Lake Erie, a significant number of Broad-winged, Cooper's, and Sharp-shinned hawks, along with lesser numbers of other species, "island hop" across the lake. Rocky island shorelines can be good for resting shorebirds and gulls and terns. Near shore waters are also frequented by large numbers of Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and both Common and Red-breasted Mergansers in late fall into winter.

Noteworthy Rarities

While the potential for rarities is probably as great on the islands as anywhere along Ohio's Lake Erie shoreline, birding coverage is considerably less than at mainland hotspots. After all, it requires either a boat or airplane trip to reach the islands and that cuts down on visitation. Nonetheless, many great finds have been found over the years. These include King Eider, Northern Gannet, Purple Sandpiper, Sabine's Gull, Parasitic Jaeger, Great Gray Owl, Boreal Chickadee, Kirtland's Warbler, and Baird's Sparrow.

Natural Features

The Lake Erie islands are an interesting destination in their own right. The best way to reach them is by boat, and such a trip offers and interesting perspective of the lake, and the opportunity to find unusual waterbirds. The scenery in transit and on the islands is always spectacular, and the overall feel is quite unlike mainland sites. South Bass Island boasts the 352-foot tall Perry's Monument, a landmark visible for miles. Visitors can ascend to the 317-foot level, which offers an unrivaled vista of Lake Erie and its islands.

Kelleys Island has the greatest diversity of habitats of any of the islands: woods, marsh, sand beach, open quarries, and rocky wave-washed outcrops known as alvars. Nearly one-third of the island's 3,000 acres is protected by a conservation organization. A number of rare plant species occur on the island. The total bird list is in excess of 250 species, including many unusual finds.