We don’t always get the best wildlife photos. Today we missed the fawn leaping across the road. Other days, as I fumbled for my camera, the young fox stared at us, turned away, and bounded into the bushes. Jonathan saw a badger peeping at us over the top of a mound of dirt. By the time I looked, it was gone. There’s lots of wildlife in Ohio, I just can’t quite get my camera lens on it all.
On the other hand, some wildlife freezes when it sees you, and then we get a shot, like a squirrel in a tree, or the cute toad that I held for long enough to take its picture. So cute, in a tiny toad sort of way. A week or so later, we found even tinier toads hopping around in the Peet Camp park.
Birdwatching has been good here, with lots of colorful birds visiting our bird feeder, like goldfinches, cardinals, and orioles. I had to take down our oriole feeder because the squirrel learned that though he couldn’t get into our squirrel-proof feeder full of seeds, he could put his face right into the jelly in the oriole feeder, and once that was gone, he could eat the oranges for dessert. I was worried he’d become diabetic! lol.
I was surprised to find bald eagles are relatively common along the shore of Lake Erie, fishing, and eating fish. They perch on stone jetties, or in the trees. We occasionally see them overhead, patrolling for a snack, their white heads and tails showing they are not the more common turkey vulture.
Before we get to beachcombing, let’s talk about the beaches in Ohio. When we arrived, I was chagrined to find that most of the lake shore consists of low bluffs that drop 10-40 ft. to the lake. That means the shore is inaccessible or consists of cliffs in most places. Where you can access the shore, there is no sand! Beaches are usually gravelly. Bring your water shoes! How can beachcombing be a big deal when a) there are hardly any beaches, and b) they are rockslides, not beaches?
Only Ohioans know that beachcombing along the shore of Lake Erie is as rewarding as along any beach in the world. The basic equipment necessary for collecting beach glass here is simple. It’s a ziploc bag. Why? Because here in Ohio, everyone collects much smaller pieces of beach glass than anywhere else I’ve been. Some of the tiny bits will fall through a mesh pocket lining, hence the plastic bag. We’ve seen more people on the beaches, and I mean every, single, beach, than anywhere else in the world. I am speaking as a dedicated beachcomber, too. Honestly, more people visit every beach in Ohio, every day, than we’ve seen from Aruba to Australia. I’m impressed. Also daunted.
When you look at Facebook sites dedicated to Lake Erie beachcombing (there is more than one), you see photos of all colors of glass. More blue glass can be found here than anywhere, and people show off lovely pieces of red, orange, and yellow glass that are rarely found anywhere. In comparison, I have one piece and three crumbs of red glass after six years of beachcombing. It is possible to find marbles along the shore here, too, though I have not found any red, yellow, orange glass, or a marble, in a month of looking. Along the shore of Lake Erie, some people swear by digging in the gravelly shore, others gather glass by visiting isolated beaches by kayak. There are lots of dedicated searchers, including one who posted a photo out his car window at six a.m. as he waited for the town park to open.
At dawn every day, beachcombers get going. By the time I take a stroll down to the tiny beach at the foot of 80+ stairs by our house, there are footprints from previous visitors. Fortunately, the Lake is constantly washing more bits and pieces up on the shore. Whenever I go for a walk on the beach I can find something.
Over the course of our month here, I have accumulated enough glass to begin making earrings and necklaces again. Our biggest haul came from the morning we spent at Edgewater Beach, just west of downtown Cleveland. When we arrived, I looked at the long, smooth shore and despaired of having driven more than an hour. As we walked, though, we found beach glass mixed in the crushed shells along the shore, in the sand, and washing up out of the lake. We came home with an excellent collection and far more than we collected anywhere else in a single visit.
Ohio, I salute you! There is no more avid group of beachcombers anywhere in the world. You may not have an ocean, but Lake Erie is the Mother of all Beach Glass.
Where does all the beach glass come from? Cities including Cleveland disposed of their garbage in the lake for many years. Factories, too, used the lake as a trash can. A General Electric plant that made glass insulators is said to have emptied the leftover molten glass into the lake at the end of every shift. I collected pieces of this “black” (actually dark purple) glass to experiment with.
I believe there are people who put glass into Lake Erie to try and amplify the supply, but there would have to be a bargeload of glass dumped in every year to take the place of all that is collected.
After this, you’ll call it a nightmare of carp. We visited another strange wonder, the Spillway in Linesville, PA. There is a parking area, a concession stand that sells cups of grain to feed the fish, and a long railing marked with red tape “X” marks every six feet (that most people ignore). Though just down a few hundred yards from the Linesville fish hatchery where they raise walleye, the feature here is carp. Fish gather along the spillway waiting to be fed. These aren’t minnows, or pond-size koi, but huge, overfed monsters, many weighing ten pounds or more. And these are the ones you can see easily on the surface!
The fish gather at any shadow cast on the surface by visitors, tilting their bodies upward, opening their big circular mouths that look like the opening of a bottle, and undulating slightly in the water. The little tendrils that project from their mouth (barbels) give them a bit of extra creepiness.
As visitors throw pieces of bread or sprinkle grain from their cup into the water, the fish pack together as tightly as they can, trying to get to the food. The surface writhes with fish, flopping on their sides to try and get to the food. The water looks like it’s boiling. Eeew, it’s gross and fascinating.
Ads for this location say, “Where the birds walk on the fish!” Sometimes the carp are so thick that the birds have to walk on top of them. Geese and ducks flock on the water just beyond the carp, hoping that a morsel of bread will get tossed their way. Gulls line the spillway watching, and waiting to swoop in and grab some bread.
We were amazed by the quantity of bread people brought to feed the fish. A family parked beside us and got out with a huge carrier bag. Each of the six members of the group (Grandma, parents, older children, younger child) got at least an entire loaf of white bread to feed to the fish. We watched a young man standing along the rail take halves of hamburger buns and throw them as far out as he could, to watch the geese fight over them. I wondered how a goose could swallow something that large in one gulp.
Hundreds and hundreds of geese and ducks circulated along the rail, then out into the reservoir. Small flocks flew to the shore some distance away as though waiting their turn to get into the water and beg. We even did a little birdwatching, looking for different species among the mob of mallards and Canada geese. We spotted a black duck, a ruddy duck, and across the reservoir, a bald eagle sat in a tree, perhaps digesting a recent meal of fresh carp.
What makes Ohio different from other places we’ve visited? There are a few things that have impressed and surprised us. One is grass–there are huge lawns around many houses, and tracts of open land covered by grass without a house nearby. These are often lovely, but who mows all that acreage? True, there are lots of gray-haired guys on riding mowers–is it really that much fun?
We were impressed by another natural feature, rhododendrons! Huge, enormous rhododendrons, as big as, no, bigger, than the side of a house.
Quirky places are everywhere, including here. We liked the roof without a house:
Our current home is just a couple of miles from the Pennsylvania border. In the town of Meadville is the amazing PennDOT Crawford County office. There’s a garden of oversized Seussian flowers and plants on the corner by the stoplight. Along the side of the depot is a remarkable mural panorama of Pennsylvania icons. The mural is bolted to chain-link fencing extending down the road for hundreds of yards. A steady trickle of people visit. No one was there when we arrived, then a couple stopped, took a photo and left. We walked down the edge of the highway looking at the mural, and when we returned to the parking lot, a family was exploring the sculptures.
Knock-your-socks-off effort went into making the mural, yet there is no onsite information about this extensive installation. Fortunately, the Uncovering PA website tells the story. Led by a professor from Allegheny College, the sculptures and mural were designed in 2000 and built over ten years, with lots of inspiration and suggestions from students and local residents. So many signs, so many bolts! The material, old road signs, means this is a heck of a durable piece.
The sections show local landmarks, the changing weather, trucks on the highway, and even Lake Erie.
The ferris wheel was missing a few of its seats from wear and tear, but the hot air balloons still looked pretty sturdy. I wanted to go for a ride but I didn’t quite fit into the basket.
Meanwhile, Jonathan hid behind a turkey so that he didn’t have to help with the raking.
This was one of our favorite field trips so far. We even saw some of the animals from the mural. On our route going to Meadville, a fox crossed the road in front of us, while a fawn leaped into the road in front of us on the way home. It was never in danger from the car, and it’s always fun to see the resident wildlife.
We’re looking for more distinguishing characteristics–they don’t seem hard to find.
Symbols on a local tourist map turned out to be covered bridges, and on a perfect sunny afternoon we set out to see three that are all very near Conneaut.
Whizzing by on the highway, Ohio is flat and featureless. The creeks that wind their way into Lake Erie are invisible. In contrast, covered bridges predate the interstate, along roads that follow the contours of the land, skirting fields that alternate with stands of woodland, gently curving around low hills. The road dips down toward the creek, turns to cross perpendicular to the stream, then straightens out again and climbs up to the level of the fields.
Farmland now competes with housing, creating a suburban/rural combination that is new to us. Our speed dropped as we navigated the country roads and took time to pull over and admire the sights. We were never more than a few miles from the center of Conneaut, yet the landscape was entirely different. Adjacent to Conneaut Creek are vineyards, part of the local wine industry. With everything closed, we have not been able to taste Ohio wine yet.
Between stops on the covered bridge trail, we passed a huge octagonal barn, a wonderful structure that isn’t built any more. Beyond the next bridge, the map on my phone showed Bear Creek Waterfall, so we stopped. A broad sheet of water runs across the rock, pooling part way down before flowing into the creek. Imagine this as the centerpiece of a vast Japanese garden, water flowing across the rock, serene and constant. We watched the flow of the water for a few minutes before continuing on to the next bridge. At the end of our tour, we were at the opposite end of town, still only a few miles from home. All this in one afternoon!
The more we explore, the more we find. Along our route among the covered bridges, we found the Clara D. Peet Preserve, a grassy trail into the woods that we plan to walk another day. Online, I discovered a map of Ashtabula County parks, including at least two others we’ll enjoy exploring during the remainder of our month here.
This month we are in Ohio, enjoying the shore of Lake Erie. Conneaut is pronounced “CONeeOtt,” and our house is a lake cottage that has just had the final touches of renovation added, so everything is new and comfy. The interior paint work is particularly nice, changing from robin’s egg blue to pale mint green with the light (also painted different shades on different walls). It’s a lovely effect.
The weather is nicer than that of the Chicago area. It is hot and humid some days, but not as humid as Lombard was. Other days are delightfully sunny and warm with some breeze off the lake. We did have a day of wind and rain, and the lake changed from clear and flat calm to a constant crash of turbulent brown water. When the weather is good, boats of people going out to fish leave from landings all along the shore. Most of the edge of the lake is a bluff 20-40 ft high, so any spot that is low enough to provide a bit of beach and a boat landing is either a public park or marina.
Our first efforts at birdwatching took us to the OH/PA border where there are State Hunting Lands. Though we didn’t see a lot of birds, we saw some of the local wildlife: a woodchuck, deer, turtles on the path, and frogs in the swamp. Birds hide quite successfully in the now fully leafy trees, and we are often frustrated in trying to find them, even if we’ve just watched a bird fly straight in to a particular branch. Fortunately, there are a lot more spots to visit.
Beachcombing is touted on some Facebook pages as a great diversion here, but there is a down side! People have had so much time on their hands during the past weeks of isolation and social distancing that the beaches have been combed and combed. Finding beach glass may once have been easy, but now there are a lot of people spending a lot of time on the shore.
I walked down the 87 steps from the bluff nearest our house to the shore and found a man lounging in his kayak after having walked our tiny stretch of beach. He said he’d found a few pieces, but the lake shore this year is much smaller than last year, so not only are there more people trying their luck at finding beach glass, there is somewhat less shore to search. That’s ok, I always find something. See the pebble that looks the “The Scream”?