Friday, April 12, 2024

NY - Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge: Totality

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge protects 10,000 acres of bogs, wetlands, and freshwater marsh that was once the northern extension of Lake Cayuga, one of the deepest of the Finger Lakes in New York. Here in the Ontario Lowlands, surrounded by open skies over a glaciated landscape, we waited for the April 8, 2024, total eclipse with about 1,000 birders, sky watchers, and friends of the refuge. 

The Montezuma Marshes

We arrived early at sun rise and took some time to explore. We hiked a few trails, stopped in at the Visitors Center a few times (my young grandson loved it), and climbed into the observation towers. An eagles nest with a nestling peeking over the edge forced the closing of one popular trail, but we watched an adult eagle dip and dive into the marsh to collect sticks which he carried back to the nest. Every time the adult eagle flew over the marsh all manner of ducks would launch into the air; Northern Shovelers, Cinnamon Teal, Pintails, Black Ducks, Mallards. The refuge is home to over 300 species of birds including Sandhill Cranes which I really wanted to see. I didn't have to wait long!

GBH Rookery Sculpture

The best place to see Sandhill Cranes is at Montezuma Marsh NWR and as the crowd of birders grew larger and larger on the observation deck and on the towers, the birds arrived to the thrill of everyone. This species, one of the oldest living species of birds, has been around for 2.5 million years and now that habitat improvements and conservation efforts have made it possible for us to see them again in such large numbers, I can't help but remember Aldo Leopold's "Marshland Elegy" essay of the 1940s when he was sure we'd never see them again. At that time, Sandhill Cranes were headed towards extinction.

Trail to an observation area

Thanks to early and rapid enforcement of national and state hunting bans and immense wetland restorations across the Upper Mid-West in the 1930s, numbers of these birds have been steadily increasing such that their range is now expanding further east to places that saw their decline and disappearance in the Mid-Atlantic a century before Wisconsin's brush with extinction. New York began loosing its once robust population of Sandhills due to the draining of marshes while the Erie Canal was being built in the early 1800s through the early 1900s.  But now hundreds of Sandhills either migrate through, stop over for winter, or nest here. It was such a thrill for everyone out that early to see the morning crane routine of dispersing across the vast wetlands, trumpeting and "holding the wind" as they dropped into pools to feed.

Frosty thistle

It was cold but as the sun rose above the marsh everything covered in frost began to glisten and shimmer. We dug our hands in to our pockets and took in the shifting clouds and their shadows.  Each time we turned to look back at the parking areas and ring road, the numbers of cars seemed to double. By lunchtime, the refuge had reached capacity and the entrance officially closed. By 1pm everyone was keeping a close eye on the building cloud deck. 

Cloud deck thickens...

US Fish and Wildlife rangers came to the center green and led a crowd in stretches and yoga.  My favorite scene was of fifty people striking the "Dancing Crane" pose and listening to the birders and families applaud. It was such a nice crowd. The rangers and refuge staff made this such a family-fun event that we couldn't help but smile all day long. We made new friends with birders tail-gating on either side of us. Picnics were spread out. Still, the clouds thickened.  By two-o'clock we were only seeing blue patches of sky here and there. As the moon began its passage across the sun, we only captured a very few pictures between fewer and fewer breaks in the grey overcast. 


By the time the total eclipse was due, I looked around at my astrophotographer son who was clearly disappointed. A neighbor began putting his own camera and tracker away. The clouds were as thick as they would get all day. The gloomy sky above us had, however, a complete surprise in store as the moon began its full coverage and though I felt terrible for the sky watchers, I was bowled over by what happened next.

Our second glimpse

All at once every Spring Peeper in the marsh began to sing with such urgency that it was near deafening. Insects buzzed. Swamp Sparrows called the dusk into night. Redwing Blackbird tootled and o-lee-ayed with such force that for a second I had no idea what they were! Great Blue Herons cackled and began to fly to their roosts. Swallows, just back from winter migration swirled overhead in a great vortex, sweeping into their night roosts. Blue Jays scolded and scattered. Toads trilled and nearly drowned out the Peepers. And all the people who had just been laughing and cheering as we had our last glimpse of the moon and sun all went quite. Everything went pitch black, pitch deep black - no sky or earth or stars or any light whatsoever except for the thin slice of flame orange on the horizon that marked the edge of the shadow of the moon. It was totality unlike anything I had ever experienced. 


As the shadow of the moon raced at 1,500 mile per hour along its path, we stood in complete and utter blackness for all of three minutes. Nothing moved. Nothing made a sound. Around me stood about a dozen other birders just a few feet away and I could not see them nor hear them. Everyone held their breath. It was an intense moment of being completely present to the darkness I'd ever felt. And then...

Moon shadow races away to the northeast

...the light returned all at once and I'm not sure who started it but everybody - people included - was trumpeting, cheering, peeping, calling, hollering, singing, buzzing, and even dancing. The Sandhill Cranes on the pool in front of us began to dance and sing their staccato songs while unseen in the cattails and rushes for a mile out, other Sandhill Cranes answered across the expanse. I turned to my neighbor who hadn't even gotten his binoculars up to his eyes before the tears came so hard I thought he'd have to sit down. Then of course I had to cry. Then everybody was crying. I sobbed my way back to the truck where my disappointed son was waiting by his unused camera set up. "Mom, are you okay?" he asked. All I could say was "...the cranes..."

Tailgating while the sun still shined

I know not everyone was happy with the way things turned out, but I feel like our choice of spending the day on the Montezuma Marshes at the refuge provided the most amazing outcome for this birder. The only other time I've ever cried while birding was also at the sight of cranes in 2012 when I visited the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge and came upon the very first nesting pair of endangered Whooping Cranes in the wild in Wisconsin. I stood in the observation tower sobbing my eyes out for almost an hour. 

American Robin 

I'm really sorry the day did not turn out for family and friends who had their hopes dashed (wherever they were) under clouds. But I came away I think a little humbled by my experience of the extra dark totality and for having witnessed the racing shadow of the moon across the marsh. Add to that the minutes-long cacophony of song and dance and celebration that reduced me to tears and I think I'll remember this day for as long as I live.  I was totally awed. 


All About Birds (Cornell) on Sandhill Cranes. Note the breeding range that now extends in PA and NY where only fifty years ago, there were no Sandhills to be seen in either state.

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge was amazeballs!

Monday, March 18, 2024

MD - Sand Flats on the Blue Ridge: A Spring Pilgrimage

In our current state of short attention spans and over-committed lives, it is hard if not impossible to break away from the busyness of the day-after-day-after-day self to commit to a single practice of building awareness and focus. Yet it is this very practice, no matter the method or style, that brings us home to ourselves and offers the chance to clear our minds and rejuvenate our spirit. 

Smooth Alder with cones, catkins, and flowers

In the revered tradition of spring pilgrimage, I took this circuit hike as a slow walk to mark the change of the seasons on the mountain and in the heart. With dear friends, we followed a figure-eight path on a wet walk full of spring ephemerals, spring peepers, woodcock (!) and vernal pools clotted with clumps of amphibian eggs. No social media to distract us. No conversations about the state of the world. In fact, we hardly talked at all. We were so uncharacteristically quiet that we could actually hear the snow melt percolating into the ground. 

Flooded trails in the drainage basin

Our figure-8 loop followed two connected trails that encircle ecologically unique areas. The Sand Barrens are relic fields of the Ice Age era when freeze-thaw cycles at the highest elevations reduced large boulders to grains of sand. The catchment valley ponds downhill from the sand barrens collect run-off from rain and snowmelt that has drained through the porous sands to a lower basin. Almost all of the water heads downhill to fill streams and rivers and reservoirs. But some of the water is collected as temporary vernal ponds that are critical to amphibians. We hiked through one of several protected landscapes that make up the Frederick Municipal Forest watershed, the source for drinking water for the city of Frederick, Maryland. These two ecological areas are interconnected by a shared hydrology. One cannot be without the other and the city cannot have its water without either of them. 

Dry trails up on the sand barrens

We walked dozens of yards apart so that we were less likely to chat (it worked!) yet within sight of each other if we wanted to wander off to look at something or sit awhile. That tactic, however, did not prevent others from coming up to us to ask what we were looking at and of course we chatted with them. I walked up on an older gentleman laying belly-down in a field of wet green moss taking close up pictures of a set of tiny felted mice (in real armor!) he'd made for his grandkids. Of course I had to ask him about that and thus broke my vow of silence a little too enthusiastically. Redwall fans - his work is amazing. Luke the Warrior lives!  

Tiny yellow blossoms of Spicebush shrub

Spring comes slowly along the Blue Ridge even as down in the valley our gardens are already in full bloom and neighborhood trees are budding out into that green haze of early canopy. Our pilgrimage on the mountain made it possible to revisit the process that is maybe two weeks behind the valley due to altitude and that maybe our busy lives have let slip through. There really is nothing to beat the sound of Spring Peepers on a pond that has just lost its ice or to glimpse a Mourning Cloak butterfly coasting through a leafless oak forest. The air was cold, the wind was blowing, and yet the Bloodroot was happily turning its hundred white blossoms to track the sun across the sky.  

Journal 3/17/2024

Bloodroot (and dreaded Japanese Ivy) 

In several faith traditions where pilgrimage is practiced, sites connected to water are important. We kept this in mind as we walked. Springs, seeps, and underground rivers are metaphorically important for traditions that include elements of redemption, renewal, or rebirth.  Flowers hold representational value for certain holy figures or saints. Even our little spotted salamander that we all watched ford a flooded trail to a vernal pond nearby could be leading us to a nursery of dragons! We had a lot of fun adding stories and sketches to our journals as we encountered these icons of spring. 

Spring Peeper and Wood Frog eggs here...

...Spotted Salamander eggs here...


... Leopard Frogs calling here...

... Wood Frogs and Red-Spotted Newts here. 

The Blue Ridge Mountains run Northeast/Southwest and make up the front line of the Appalachian Mountains in Southern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. It's a complex of very old mountain "nubs" in advanced stages of erosion that some jokingly call hills. But as any out-of-breath hiker can confirm - these are still very much mountains! The Blue Ridge is made of tough, hard Cambrian quartzite that during the cold Quaternary period eroded severely into sand, boulder, and cobble. Those cobbles are what give the Blue Ridge trail system its challenges as anyone trying to hike across ankle-twisting, leg-breaking freeze-thaw alluvium and plunging talus slopes can tell you.  Luckily for us on our spring pilgrimage we stayed on the flattish high water gathering sand barren terrain in a dipping synclinal valley between resistant outcrop ridges.  All we had to worry about on this hike was remembering to wear waterproof boots or to bring dry socks to change into at the end. This time of year it's very wet up there. 

The view down to Frederick

As we completed our figure-8 slow walk I noted that we did a full three miles at the blazing (not) pace of an hour and fifteen minutes per mile. We all took big deep breaths as we approached our cars and truck knowing that as soon as we started the engines, the "real" world returns. But as we said our goodbyes and returned to the road, I was so at peace with myself and the world that the drive home was just as pleasant as the hike. I took in everything and was thankful for all we were able to witness in this gift of a second spring emerging on the mountain. 


Thanks, dear readers, for making your way through another adventure - albeit a really slow one. I appreciate every one of you who take the time to read.

That said, I have decided to limit the Comments section to those only with Google accounts (gmail) due to some annoying spam and not a few unnecessarily cruel messages. This will help screen and prevent spammers. I don't know why people feel the need to take such jabs or why they feel it necessary other than to fulfill some empty spiritual hole or reinforce ego with attitude.

On the subject of pilgrimage - which apparently triggers a few readers with strong feelings about "religion" -  and since pilgrimage research is my other life, I decided to open a Substack dedicated just to this field of practice and history. You can find my publication "Uphill Road" over at  

Sunday, February 25, 2024

PA Presque Isle: All But Gull Point

One of the reasons I love winter hiking is that I can really see the structure and heart of a landscape.  What makes one kind of place entirely inhospitable to certain flora and fauna may be the reason it is ideal for others. Presque Isle is a large curving sandspit that juts out into Lake Erie. It was great fun to explore in winter and to see how this unique place "fits the curve."  Amos and I did a six mile loop hike through the interior sandspit under snowy/squally/windy skies. 

Big winds drive sand over snow

Despite being a southern hound, Amos absolutely loves the cold, the windier the better. He's never enjoyed hiking in hot weather but here on our second day in February exploring Pennsylvania's 47 miles-long coast, he was absolutely smitten. He pranced, jogged, wagged, and sniffed his way from beach to bog, forest to sand plain. Only at the end of our hike did he finally sit down. He's livin' the winter life!

The sandspit that forms Presque Isle is a dynamic landscape feature that pushes out into Lake Erie a full two miles. It's built by longshore currents which keep the whole structure moving steadily north - despite engineering attempts to contain it. Gale force winds had blown through the night and upon our arrival to begin our hike, it was clear that a two-mile walk out on the exposed Gull Point would be uncomfortable for both of us so we began at the end and we did our hike in reverse. Sand blew steadily about on the exposed beaches across palustrine sand plains that emerge or submerge with fluctuating lake levels. It was amazing to hear the sand moving over snow.  We then hiked into the forest to see what the interior held.

Presque Isle Lighthouse

We hiked into a sheltered forest that borders an extensive Alder and Buttonwood swamp. Named the Sidewalk Trail, we followed the path that originally linked the Presque Isle Lighthouse to the once busy boathouse and life-saving station on the interior of Misery Bay.  This site connects to the current U.S. Erie Coast Guard Station today. The scent of recent beaver activity excited Amos so much that he hollered a few times over the silent, frozen ponds. This shrubby wetland complex harbors hardwood edge forests of large Red Maple and mature Black Gum, fringed with Paper Birch, Black Oak, and Pitch Pine. Despite the driving winds on the beaches, the snow that had fallen during the night still laid gently along limbs and branches undisturbed by the morning gusts. 

A gusty, cold day

From Pope & Goreki (1982) 

As we hiked towards the Coast Guard Station, the wetlands changed in variety and size from shrub swamp to tussock marsh to bog and shallow ponds. A Red-Tailed Hawk soared over the floating cottages and another one hunted from the top of the station's entry gate. Beaver lodges stood high above the frozen pond surface with plenty of evidence of their winter work all around. The winds continued to roar over our heads while the rhythmic sound of lake waves crashing onto the shore surrounded us. But we were still protected from the wind. Blue skies opened then closed. Snow squalls enveloped us then moved on hide the City of  Erie across the bay. Everything was in motion except for the quiet still wetland ponds and the paths we took behind the shoreline.

Big lake skies and wind

Lighthouse supply path "Sidewalk Trail"

The tussock sedge marsh communities something to see, patterned with snow and the lay of the sedges according to the prevailing winds. Someone in a recent workshop said that she loves exxploring Pennsylvania because there is so much here and I couldn't agree more. As we continued to wander all the interior trails I made a note in my sketchbook about not getting out to Gull Point and that if I wanted to this year, I'd have to make plans to return soon as the park will close the sandspit to humans when shorebird nesting season starts up again in April.  

Tussock marsh

One of many great conservation success stories is happening out on Gull Point.  The endangered Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) is staging a comeback on the Great Lakes, and here on the point and two pair of Piping Plovers established nests in 2017 - the first return to Pennsylavnia's shoreline since 1955. They've been back to this wide, sandy hook every year since and biologists are cautiously optimistic that with continued efforts to restrict access to the point during nesting season with trail closures our first recovered population will continue to grow.

U.S. Lighthouse Service Path

Gull Point is the only Pennsylavnia breeding area for this once abundant Great Lakes species. During the 1950s and 1960s  as massive housing and industrial landscape transformation impacted Lake Erie's sandy and pebble beach shores, populations of Piping Plover dropped from hundreds of pairs on Lake Erie alone to just fifteen pairs for all of the Great Lakes region and those found only on Lake Michigan shores. 

Northern hardwood edge - White Birch

In 2010 and 2011  the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, PA Game Commission, with other state and federal partners funded a two-year restoration of Gull Point at Presque Isle that included managing access to the point of beachgoers and boaters.  By 2015, birders out on the Erie Bird Observatory (EBO) noted that Piping Plovers had returned to the sandspit to forage and have a look around. By 2017, they had established two nests! Now, hundreds of people excitedly await news of each year's current breeding/nesting status, though this past year was a REAL nail-biter!  (See Notes

Sand Barrens

The interior trails closest to the leading edge of the curving sandspit featured many beautiful sand barrens and I'm sure when it warms up, there will be plenty of ground nesting bees to observe here. At one point we were the ones being observed as a Merlin perched in a stunted pine gave us a loud kee-kee-kee! This fierce little falcon was particulalry rankled that I stoppped to admire the field. At one point he rocketed straight up and hovered over the grass. With that, he plummeted down and snagged a sparrow! Oof! Time to move on so the Merlin could pluck his supper in peace. 

Palustrine Grassland

Another mile and we re-emerged at the parking area to Gull Point. The wind was still raging and even though we could have walked to the point, a large snow squall was about to engulf us. Back to the lighthouse we went, leaving Gull Point for another time.  Hat tip to the EBO who keep such good wacth over Gull Point and are working to help re-establish the Great Lakes Piping Plover population in Pennsylvania.  

Sand over snow

Happy and tired Amos


Presque Isle is an ever-changing landscape feature no matter how hard we humans want it to stay put:

Pope & Goreki (1982) "Geologic and Engineering History of Presque Isle, PA" 

The 2023 Gull Point Nesting Report was a real nail-biter!  See this 2023 report by the Erie Audubon and Erie Bird Observatory (EBO) by Mary Birdsong, "The Agony and The Ecstacy"


The Erie Bird Observatory does some really amazing work in coastal PA with their monitoring and surveys. Thanks to all the birder volunteers who do this critical work. 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

PA Erie Bluffs

Mid-February here in Pennsylvania is usually considered to be the apex of winter. On my trip out to Lake Erie I was expecting the year's most expansive cover of ice, but it wasn't to be. In fact, it was nothing, just wide open wavy water as far as the eye could see. With the hope of maybe a little steelhead fishing, I found the creeks to equally empty of ice - no shelves or pans, not even slush. My cold water waders never left the duffle bag. 

Amos comes to meet the Lake.

Keeping my waders company were my snowshoes and winter gloves in the back of the truck. Though it was super windy on the bluffs over the lake, the woods were pleasantly cold, not piercing or frigid. Mind, I do love winter. Way fewer people and virtually no bugs. And, it's a good thing I really like earth colors - but I did miss snow and ice on this trip to the northwestern corner of the Commonwealth. 

Black Oak savanna 

We were out at sunrise which was hidden by a watercolor sky of snow squall clouds zooming in from the north. Break-thru sun persisted throughout the day as we covered miles of savanna and woodland trail. The park is undergoing a long period of restoration to bring back (hopefully) the now rare Black Oak Savanna (BOS) in Pennsylvania, and to some extent, the use of fire as a rejuvenator of managed prairie plots and edge woodland. We walked through burn areas, tracks of woodland that have seen selective removal of tree species, and fully restored BOS sections as well as tracts of forest where invasives reign over everything. 

Amos enjoying the Big Bluestem

The Erie Bluffs

We made our way along a bluff trail and stopped to admire the gunmetal grey lake, whipped up with waves and whitecaps. Without the protection of a shoreline ice shelf, angry winter waves bash right into the base of the sand and glacial till escarpment furthering the erosion that eats away at the Pennsylvania coast. The weather forecast was calling for gale force winds that night so I was excited to see and hear the changes bigger winds would bring tomorrow. 

Trail atop a fossil dune ridge

Down from over fifty million acres of prairie-meets-deciduous woodlands with less that 30,000 acres surviving, BOS can only be found now in protected landscapes in Ohio and Pennsylvania, just 2 percent of its once historic range.  Part woodland, part prairie, this open woodland savanna is unique to Lake Erie shores and contains great biodiversity that represent Great Lakes coastal hardwood forests with the tough Black Oak (Quercus velutina) dominating over open-glade ground cover of native grasses, wildflowers, clubmoss, lichens, and heath shrubs. 

Fire-tough Black Oak sapling in a burn area

Black Oak (Quercus velutina

On this trip I'd see two of those protected landscapes, both being actively managed to conserve this rare ecosystem in PA's Erie Bluff State Park and Presque Isle State Park. A visit to the North Kingsville Sand Barrens in Ohio is on my list to see this summer, hopefully with a swing back through these two PA parks to see the prairie and sand barrens in full bloom along with their pollinators. 


Elk Creek

The BOS saw its greatest decline as agriculture, large-scale logging, and industrialization came to Lake Erie's shores during the 1800s.  Adding to the drastic changes was the loss of lake wind driven fires that came to the wooded savanna every few years and the introduction of aggressive invasive plants, some native, others not, that quickly overtook the region's remaining woodlands. I wondered about how our prescribed fires today compare with the lake wind fires of hundreds of years ago. In my humble opinion, and not being an expert of fire management, I venture a guess that controlled burns of today are nothing like the sweeping prairie fires witnessed by first Erie People.  Black Oak is a very tough tree, even young saplings can withstand heat and flame. Without these intense fires, however, other species - especially invasive native Black Locust - will shade out the prairie glades. I saw lots of surviving Black Locust saplings on the control burn areas and wondered about the effectiveness of low intensity fires.

Red Osier Dogwood swamp

We wandered into a frozen Red Osier Dogwood Swamp and rather than sinking knee deep in cold water we were able to hop from frozen grass hummock to frozen grass hummock without getting wet. The color of the Red Osier stems reminded me of the famed "dragon's blood" pigment described in  Kassia St. Claire's The Secret Lives of Color (2017) as having been an "exclusive pigment from before the time of Christ" until it was discovered in the 16th century that dragons didn't actually exist and that the color was derived instead from a similar swampy plant sourced from India. Without a belief in dragons to sustain it, writes St. Claire, the deep red pigment faded into obscurity.  

River Birch

Fossil dune and the mouth of Elk Creek

Back through the woods I made some quick sketches of places where restoration has taken place. Open canopy with understory and shade-loving competitor trees removed, large swathes of forest floor are now semi-grassland exposed to more sun and wind than the dense forest elsewhere. Patches of amber and yellow grasses create open glades along the top of a relic dune. Carpets of Striped Wintergreen and Clubmoss poked above thin layers of oak leaves. I pocketed a few acorns as I admired many of the old Black Oaks that were growing on the steep slopes of sand and till. 

Mouth of Elk Creek

While wind blew hard over the bluffs, I counted three immature Bald Eagles cruising the coastline. Out on the open water there was a raft of Long-Tailed Ducks, Arctic visitors who fish for mollusks and clams and love periwinkle snails plucked from marsh grass. We made our way down a well-worn trail to the shingle beach at the mouth of Elk Creek and the Lake. A deceased Long-Tailed Duck on the shore revealed its toothy bill designed for holding and crushing mollusks. Too cold to sketch, I took a series of reference pictures to sketch from. Small flocks of Bufflehead and Scaup winged past at a distance while Black Ducks and a single Loon bobbed in choppy waves closer in to the escarpment. Canada Geese sheltered in the cove while Red-Headed Mergansers hugged the edge of the shingle and tree debris.

Shingle beach

The waves pounded against the base of the bluffs and while I stood there in the full blast of wind, a small section of frozen sand slid from the top to the brushy bottom. Eleven periods of glaciation have impacted these shores, making and remaking them as dunes, carved valleys, and vast wetlands. In between times of ice, the waves have reclaimed the front dunes and banks of glacial till, adding sediments to the lake bottom where aquatic grasses anchor in sand and silt. These are important nurseries for freshwater fish. I watched long and hard at the mouth of Elk Creek for any sign of Steelhead but only saw one, belly up rolling against the bank already having spawned and died upstream.  Amos was very interested in retrieving it, but we needed to move back into the shelter of the oak forest. 

Driftwood banks

Toothy bill of a Long-Tailed Duck

As we climbed the escarpment I heard cackling calls of the Long-Tailed Ducks floating in their big raft about two hundred yards offshore. These are the most abundant of the Arctic ducks wintering on the Great Lakes and surely the most talkative of all the Arctic bird visitors. In summer, they nest on open barren ground along the edge of land but mainly spend their time on open cold waters. Though still very abundant, their populations are trending downward. Climate change and industrial fishing are thought to be the two main culprits and are raising concerns among Arctic conservationists. Without sea ice to protect vulnerable open ground for nesting colonies, nesting sites are flooded and washed away forcing birds to choose sites where more predators lurk. Large trawler fleets that can make their way deeper and deeper into now ice-free Arctic waters often haul in huge numbers of drowned Long-Tailed Ducks with each haul. It is now a species considered vulnerable and threatened.  

This was the extent of ice on my visit. 

On way back to the hotel in Erie, we made one more stop at a community park where cameras mounted to trees are positioned to watch the ever-eroding bluffs. I met up with a park employee who showed me a picture of the park thirty years ago to compare to the what I saw today.  "Without winter ice, this erosion will only eat away faster more of the bluff and there's nothing we can do about it," he said.  In the past two decades, the length of his career with the township, he has watched this park slump into the lake at a rate of ten feet a year. Under threat now is a park road, a picnic area, and a pavilion. Gone already is the bluff edge forest that once buffered the park from wind and a trail that accessed a small shingle beach. "It's like in my one lifetime so much has gone. How much longer before we will have to abandon the park?" 

Actively eroding bluff

One more look at the lake from the edge.  It's strange, I thought.  I described childhood visits to family and friends who lived near both Lakes Erie and Michigan and recalled how thrilling it was to see the ice stretching as far as the eye could see. Ice fishing, ice boat sailing, and winter birding were some of my favorite memories of spending time with my U.S. Navy uncle and his family near Chicago in the 1970s. On our way to and from Chicago, we'd stop along the Erie coast to see the big laker ships in winter layover or in the channels hauling ore and coal. He described ice fishing and skating as his favorite winter pastimes and having grown up not far from here, how "the lake might as well be family."

Lake Erie - ice free


February 16, 2024, report by NOAA about our nearly ice-free winter.

NOAA  "Ice Cover Nearly Non-Existent."

Fact sheet by DCNR  on the Black Oak Savanna Restoration at Erie Bluffs  

Winter is no time to camp near Lake Erie so I found that Sleep Inn (a subsidiary of Clarion Hotels) happily welcomes pets. Amos had a great time. First floor rooms with easy in and out, pet friendly staff, and even a doggy gift bag to welcome him!  Affordable and comfortable when all you need is a warm room and a nice hot shower and a comfy place to rest your chilly bones. We stayed at the Sleep Inn on Peach Street in Erie. It was a great first hotel experience for Amos and he was a very good boi.