Bird-Enthusiasts Band Together In Search of Bobolinks
July 28, 2016 by Rose Nemunaitis

Washington Irving called Bobolinks "the happiest bird of our spring."A group of the conservation-minded people gathered Sunday amid Mother Nature's imperfect netting conditions to aid…

Washington Irving called Bobolinks “the happiest bird of our spring.”

A group of the conservation-minded people gathered Sunday amid Mother Nature’s imperfect netting conditions to aid these songbirds out of concern for their betterment and migratory mission nearly 5,000 miles away.

“It is a chance for the public to see an Ohio-listed species up close and in person,” said Tami Gingrich, Geauga Park District naturalist and co-event leader. “Hopefully they will appreciate how special it is that there is a location in Geauga County that is being managed with this particular species in mind.”

All ages participated in the park district’s Bobolink Banding program Sunday morning at offsite South Russell Village Park on the western edge of Geauga County.

“Having a bird-banding program through the Geauga Park District allows us to learn the facts about birds and specifically the Bobolinks,” said William Koons, mayor of the Village of South Russell. “Without the facts, we are just speculating on what is going on with birds in America. The knowledge gained today will allow us to help increase the Bobolink populations as well as help other birds.”

He called the village park “an 87-acre oasis for birds as well as people.”

Participants journeyed from the parking lot to a mini canopy-covered, survey-like station as Koons helped welcome everyone with bottles of water.

Gingrich kicked off with an educational introduction, ending with fond sentiments about Clyde Robert “Bob” McCullough, a former park board director and teacher, who recently died, who fostered her passion for the preservation of nature and “a majority of what I’m doing in my life.”

“Bob is here in spirit,” added Gingrich, a licensed bird bander for 28 years.

Matthew Cantor and his family stood nearby, ready to begin their adventure.

“We definitely like being outside and we hear a lot about Bobolinks in this park,” said Cantor, who lives in a nearby neighborhood.

Bobolinks are medium-sized grassland nesting birds and members of the blackbird family, with the spring male being “Ohio’s only bird that is dark below and light above,” according to The Nature Conservancy.

“In summer, Bobolinks feed primarily on insects, switching to grain crops as they migrate south. The female builds the nest on the ground, in which she lays five to six eggs that incubate for about 13 days,” according to the conservancy.

The species — which winters in the grasslands and marshes of South America (Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay) — is annually monitored by the North American Breeding Bird Survey and is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States and Canada.

“In May and June, they were everywhere,” said Linda Gilbert, park district naturalist and co-program leader.

According to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, “Bobolinks are a species of concern in Ohio. Like other grassland nesting birds, Bobolink populations have declined in part due to mowing and haying of grassland habitat during the peak of the breeding season in June.”

A program goal is to get people to understand the importance of managing land for these disappearing species.

“People who participate in a birding program receive education about birds, their relationship to the park and a better appreciation of nature,” Koons said.

“It’s absolutely the most exceptional field of the biggest nesting of Bobolinks in Geauga County or northeastern Ohio,” Gingrich said. “South Russell Park seems to be the location with the biggest population of Bobolinks in the county because the property is managed as a grassland. It is not cut until August or September.”

West Farmington’s Thomas Block helped lead the march across the shoulder-high grasses.

“Once you start walking forward, keep on going,” said Block.

“Oohh’s and aahh’s” soon sounded from the scattering of marchers across the Bell Road park as a large chain of Bobolinks swooped across, stirred by everyone’s movement across the field, although they were not close to the nearly 250-foot of netting.

“The wind makes the nets billow in the breeze, thus making them visible to the birds,” Gilbert said, looking at the expanding misting nets resembling sails in the distance. “There were a couple of birds that bounced in and out of the net, but it was really too windy for the nets to be effective.”

One participant tilted his head back, peering into binoculars.

“There goes a few of them,” another voice said, as a trio of high pitched chirping swallows also darted by. “That one was about to come up.”

Some people cheered.

“There were still a large number of Bobolinks (60 to 100) in the field in spite of not being able to net any,” Gilbert said. “It was a success in that the folks got to participate in the process as well as being able to see Tami actually band one bird, an immature Red-winged Blackbird.”

Other locations in Geauga for seeing Bobolinks include Frohring Meadows in Bainbridge Township, the Geauga County Fairgrounds Burton Township, and Observatory Park in Montville Township, which is also a migratory staging area for this species in late summer.