Birdwatcher Tracks Species Along NE Ohio Trail

AKRON, Ohio (AP) — It is not much of an exaggeration to say that Douglas W. Vogus knows almost every colorful bird along the Towpath Trail.

He has seen such species as blue-headed vireos, golden-crowned kinglets, black-and-white warblers, red-shouldered hawks and yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

Vogus, a 47-year-old Akron resident, regularly hikes 13 miles along the trail from Akron north through Cuyahoga Falls, Boston Township and Peninsula to Sagamore Hills Township to identify birds by sight and sound. He’s quite good at his craft.

Vogus makes one trek each month of the year. The hikes along the Towpath Trail start at sunrise and can take up to 10½ hours to complete — with constant stops to check on sightings with binoculars and to listen to bird calls.

May and October hikes, when birds are migrating, take longer, he said.

In his nearly 4½ years, Vogus has logged 163 bird species along his route, most of which is within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

To date, that has required 156 miles on foot annually over the years and an estimated 390 hours — more than 16 full days — in the field.

He spotted 133 species in 2010, 129 in 2011, 127 in 2012, 127 in 2013 and 63, to date, in 2014.

His counts are the only monthly bird censuses in the Cuyahoga Valley.

Vogus’ record high is 90 species in one day, in May 2011, and his low is 30 species in one day on two occasions.

He might count as few as 524 individual birds in one month — that’s his low, from September 2011 — to as many as 5,796 birds, his record high from October 2010. That included a flock of 4,000 grackles at Jaite. A typical monthly count is about 1,400 birds.

His results, he said, are pretty much what might be expected. “There’s really nothing out of the ordinary,” he said.

“There is never a dull moment when you’re out on the trail,” Vogus said. “It’s a chance to be outdoors and collecting what could be useful information. It’s a challenge, but there is a joy to it.”

Such censuses are valuable because they show trends in bird populations, especially if the counts continue for years, he said. He has no intention of ending his Towpath counts anytime soon.

Vogus, a lab technician at Eagle Elastomer Inc. in Cuyahoga Falls, is super meticulous with his records. He keeps track of on-the-trail sightings with a clipboard and organized note cards.

“I’m a chronic lister,” he said.

Data later are compiled by his wife, Michelle, onto computer spreadsheets and onto reports that are shared with other birders.

Counting birds along the Towpath is a labor of love, Vogus said.

“It’s a nice hike. It’s a chance to see peregrine falcons, bald eagles and river otters,” he said, noting that he also has logged 17 species of mammals on his hikes. “It’s amazing what’s down there in what’s nothing more than a river bottom.”

Vogus, a longtime local birder, began his counting project in January 2010 as a one-man operation. Since 2012, he has help: co-worker John Henry of Barberton offers help, support and companionship.

“Extra eyes help,” Vogus said. “Sometimes you feel like your head is on a swivel.”

His reason for choosing the Towpath Trail was simple: It’s flat and easily accessible, he said.

But the trail can still be tough to hike. February’s hike was on heavy ice with no snow and little traction. It was not easy, he recalled.

Northeast Ohio’s brutal winter is showing up in Vogus’ data, too.

Carolina wren numbers are down sharply because the Arctic-like temperatures in January and February killed the birds. On the other hand, diving duck numbers are up. The ducks that typically would hang around Cleveland harbor were forced by the cold to head south on the Cuyahoga River to find open water and food, Vogus said.

Vogus has logged six new species, diving ducks and gulls, this year. One of his new species was an Iceland gull found in the Cuyahoga Valley because of the cold.

Vogus’ favorite spot along the Towpath Trail is the Beaver Marsh in Cuyahoga Falls. His favorite birds are the belted kingfisher, a flashy blue bird found around water, and the pileated woodpecker, a crow-sized woodpecker, the largest found in Ohio.

“And I’m really big on hawks,” he said.

Vogus admits he still has nightmares over trying to positively identify a rare blue grosbeak in 2011 north of Peninsula that he viewed in bad light.

He has worked on the Greater Akron Audubon Society’s Christmas bird count since 1980 and on twice-a-year censuses in the Cuyahoga Valley since 1980. He is also part of an ongoing census at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, east of Toledo on Lake Erie, since 2002.

His bird watching goes back to his late father, Jim, a onetime ranger with Metro Parks, Serving Summit County. The younger Vogus met retired chief naturalist and veteran birder Bert Szabo in fourth grade and helped longtime Akron birder Marie Morgan band bluebirds when he was 12 years old.

“Bird watching is just who I am,” he said. “I grew up watching birds.”

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Information from: Akron Beacon Journal,

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