A Big Day with big, renewing results

prothonotary warbler, warblers
Male Prothonotary Warbler at Magee Marsh. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Even in my semi-retirement, I’m a busy person. Keeping active and involved in the community has been a priority and passion my entire life.

That lifestyle takes a personal toll, however. From time to time, I need to recharge my body, mind, and spirit. I step away from my daily routine and spend some time just enjoying life.

I have found that immersing myself into nature is the salve that soothes the soul. I love the outdoors and all the beauty that she offers.

A Big Day does that for me. In the birding world, a Big Day is an entire day devoted to nothing more than counting all the species of birds that you can identify by sight or sound.

Folks do Big Days in groups that cover a given territory. Or they are done by simply staying put in one spot and counting all creatures avian seen or heard. That is appropriately called a Big Sit.

My Big Day, however, wasn’t either one of those. Instead, with the warbler migration in full swing, I knew the various locations I wanted to visit in northwest Ohio to view the returning and transient birds.

Traveling alone to different birding hot spots allowed me to go at my own pace, and to absorb fully all that I experienced.

Spring birding near Lake Erie means dressing for all seasons. I was glad I had.

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The steady, stiff northeast wind off of the lake brought out the winter duds in most birders on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh, my first destination. Being bundled up didn’t deter either the active bird observations or the usual universal geniality of most birders.

The boardwalk was packed with birders young, old and in between from around the world. Warblers and other birds flitted everywhere.

Even though I had gone by myself, I clearly wasn’t alone. Among the hundreds of birders at Magee, I only knew one, my friend and expert birder, Greg Miller, of ‘The Big Year” fame. The rest weren’t strangers though, helping me to locate and identify 23 warbler species. Their kindness meant more than the day’s species numbers.

Later, when I drove the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge road and then hurried to see some other rare birds, I found the same excited congeniality. Sullen grumpiness isn’t part of birding ethics. Beautiful birds and friendly birders cohabited.

(Click on the photos to enlarge them)

With the day quickly waning, I headed east to the Marblehead Peninsula. I wanted to enhance my day with a brief visit to the Lakeside Daisy Nature Preserve to view the flowers in their prime. Though the day was mostly cloudy and cool, the little buttery daisies warmed my soul with their lusciousness.

After a quick supper, I hustled to my favorite spot in Ohio, Marblehead Lighthouse. The setting sun cast long shadows of trees onto the historic white lighthouse. Its red top, where the beacon blinked for sailors, was bathed in creamy, warm light.

A handful of other photographers celebrated with me. I can’t speak for them. But with each click of the camera’s shutter, my soul felt lighter, cleansed, fulfilled.

I hurried to nearby Lakeside to watch the sunset’s golden evolution. The day was complete.

Such are the positive consequences of observing, listening, contemplating, reflecting and sharing with humankind amid the earthly creation for which we all are charged to preserve. My Big Day finished bigger than I could have ever imagined.

Joy abounded all around in regeneration. Isn’t that the real reason for spring?

Lakeside sunset, sunset
Lakeside sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Lighted Lighthouse

Marblehead Lighthouse, lighthouses
The Marblehead Lighthouse, Marblehead, OH. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The Marblehead Lighthouse, Marblehead, OH is one of my favorite places to linger. Winter, summer, spring or fall, it doesn’t matter. I love to linger on the lighthouse grounds, enjoying the view, the passing boats, the birds, and the folks I meet there. Most of all, however, I just like to sit on the hard limestone outcroppings and look at the lighthouse. Last evening, I visited my old friend after a day of birding along the Lake Erie shore in northwest OH.

I arrived at the lighthouse near sunset. As soon as I drove into the nearly empty parking lot, my face lit up. As the sun neared the western horizon, it broke through a layer of clouds. A soothing golden light magnificently illuminated the top of the lighthouse. I thought it rather poetic that the natural light bathed the source of the artificial beacon that the historic lighthouse would soon produce.

“Lighted Lighthouse” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Generation Next embraces a family vacation tradition

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The Lakeside pavilion, framed by holly hocks. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My parents took my brothers and sisters there. My wife and I took our daughter and son there. And now, our daughter and her husband have taken their three children there, too.

“There” is Lakeside, Ohio. Nurturing body, mind and spirit, it’s an ideal family vacation destination. Activities abound for youngsters through oldsters, all under the umbrella of the Chautauqua community’s four pillars, religion, recreation, arts and entertainment, and education.

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The fountain in front of historic Hotel Lakeside. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Of course, my wife and I were excited to have our daughter and her family, and her husband’s mother, too, join us for our annual Lakeside retreat. The last few years we had accompanied them to their beach vacations. I hoped the grandkids, ages 10, eight and four, would take to Lakeside the way they took to pounding waves on ocean beaches.

Located on the south shore of Lake Erie on the Marblehead Peninsula, there is plenty of water, just not much sand at the little Lakeside swimming area. There would be no challenging the waves this year, or so I thought.

Another concern was that Lakeside thrives on traditions of the past, when times and communication were both slower and life seemed simpler. I wondered if the kids would miss their high-tech toys in the quaint town, founded in 1873 as a Methodist Church camp.

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Even at their ages, our grandkids are no different than any others. They can run iPhones, iPads and iPods, and I can’t. I hoped they would embrace Lakeside’s wide variety of low-tech opportunities.

Boy did they ever, partly because some of the educational and recreational activities involved technology. Kids and their parents, or in come cases grandparents, built Lego robots. Faces flashed accomplishment when their robots responded to command.

The four-year old painted a beach bucket in an art class. She also easily made friends playing in the sand with little girls she had never met.

(Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

While adults attended classes and lectures, the boys each had more fun building toy boats. When completed, they held their maiden voyage in the children’s pool.

Under the abundant shade of the giant hardwoods, the kids wore out the miniature golf course. It was in the same grove of trees where I had picnicked with my family decades ago.

Our grandkids discovered a Lakeside treat. They downed fresh donuts, made daily at an iconic seasonal restaurant. However, what

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Flowers and rock sculptures brighten the shoreline in Lakeside. © Bruce Stambaugh
really got our daughter’s family’s attention were the shuffleboard courts. Too concerned with watching boats and birds, I had never paid much attention to the game even though national and international shuffleboard tournaments are held at Lakeside.

Thanks to my grandchildren, daughter and son-in-law, that changed. I learned more about shuffleboard in one morning than I had ever known before. They shuttled the disks down the well-maintained courts until it was time to head out. In other words, they had a blast.

No Lakeside vacation is complete without at least one round of dominoes. The grandkids learn to play that game, too. I have a feeling the dominoes will click the next time we gather.

I was wrong about the waves, too. When the northeast wind kicked up large whitecaps on the lake, the kids stood at dock’s edge hoping to get spritzed. At the famous Marblehead Lighthouse nearby, they successfully dashed from one rock ledge to the other, teasing the waves.

It was great to see our family’s next generation enjoy Lakeside so much and in so many ways. It truly was what Lakeside is all about.

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Dodging waves on the rocks at Marblehead Lighthouse. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Taking time to really see

Marblehead Lighthouse by Bruce Stambaugh
Clouds sail by the historic Marblehead Lighthouse at Marblehead, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The day after my favorite resort town, Lakeside, Ohio, ended its gated season, which was Labor Day, I began to see the place in a different light.

Like Cinderella’s carriage, the town had transformed into its natural state overnight. Streets that had bustled for weeks with pedestrians, bicycles, golf carts and motorized vehicles suddenly became quiet. Lakeside’s population had dropped faster than the stock market.

Cottages that had housed happy families all summer were now boarded up for the winter. Businesses once crowded with customers were also shuttered for the season.

Lakeside signs by Bruce Stambaugh
Maintenance workers gathered up traffic signs used during the gated season.

Maintenance crews made their rounds undoing what they had worked so hard to ready three short months ago. They picked up the traffic and parking signs needed to control the passage on the narrow streets with limited parking.

The workers seemed to be in no hurry whatsoever. Perhaps sensing the newfound quietness themselves, they soberly went about their business, the crackling of their portable radios occasionally breaking the hushed spell.

Their pace could have been from the day’s extraordinary heat as much as it was lack of ambition. The land wind wasn’t much help, blocked by the combination of the southerly rise of the peninsula itself, the town’s closely packed cottages and buildings and the giant hardwoods that overshadowed everything.

Fishing at Lakeside Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
Fishing off the dock at Lakeside, Ohio is a popular pastime.

The only relief, if there was any to be had, could be on the dock, which protrudes a football field length into Lake Erie. Normally crowded with sun worshippers, fishermen, and people just wanting to soak in the scene, I nearly had the cement pier to myself.

The afternoon sun blazed away, and the wind was fierce, but cooler than in town thanks to the lake. I faced my folding chair east away from the wind. I was glad I had.

Freighter at Marblehead, Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
A freighter took on stone at Marblehead, Ohio.

I had taken both camera and binoculars to while away the time. I enjoyed just scanning the broad horizon that stretched from the islands to Marblehead, where a huge freighter was moored at the stone quarry.

The strong westerly wind whipped the waves furiously. Anchored fishing boats bobbed like fishing line bobbers.

Ring-billed seagulls found security from the wind in the lee of the dock. One played King on the Hill. It had landed on a slightly submerged rock, and lorded it over all the other gulls that floated in the choppy water.

Osprey over Lakeside, Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
An Osprey sailed over the dock at Lakeside, Ohio.

High above, another bird caught my eye. An osprey sailed with the wind, searching the shallow waters near the shore for unsuspecting fish. Its mate soon joined the hunt. They circled and hovered but always wind-driven east were soon out of view even with binoculars.

I put the glasses down and quickly noticed smaller, streamlined birds dive-bombing the water. They zigged-zagged and glided, then rose up and hurled themselves into the lake like rocks, but only for a few seconds. The small flock of migrating Common and Forster’s Terns put on quite a show in filling up for the long journey south.

Suddenly the stack of the freighter let loose sooty puffs of diesel smoke. It had taken on its load and was ready to sail. Even though I was upwind and a mile away, I could hear the huge, powerful props churn the water as the massive boat slipped away.

Common Tern at Lakeside, Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
A Forster's Tern readied to plunge into the lake at Lakeside, Ohio.

In less than 20 minutes, it had turned northeast for deeper water, destination unknown to me. I, however, knew mine. I returned to our hospitality house for dinner, glad I had taken the time to observe Lakeside in a slower, even more peaceful mode than usual.