NORTH RIDGEVILLE — The bird is the word.
To be more precise, the Eurasian Wigeon was the word … and the bird of the hour … once the word got out that the rarely-seen bird had paid a visit to the Sandy Ridge Reservation of the Lorain County Metroparks.
“This is a first for us,” Sandy Ridge Senior Naturalist Tim Fairweather said Monday afternoon as birders were in the second day of trips to the 310-acre Otten Road wetland and wildlife preserve in hopes of catching a glimpse of the waterfowl, which typically settles across a vast region of the world that includes the British Isles, Scandinavia, eastern Siberia, and northern China.
“We’ve already had a bunch of people here,” Fairweather said.
Bird lovers flocked to the park after the parks’ senior naturalist posted on Facebook his first sighting of the red-headed Eurasian Wigeon Sunday in the park’s marsh-wetlands area.
Bird-watchers traveled to North Ridgeville from the Toledo area, as well as the east side of Cleveland.
As he drove a reporter and photographer through the park’s wooded area in a golf cart to reach the marsh to see the duck, Fairweather shouted to a couple carrying camera equipment and bundled up in winter coats and boots against the day’s sunny but chilly 30-ish temperatures.
“Did you see it?” Fairweather asked in anticipation.
“We sure did,” the man answered back with enthusiasm. “It had a gorgeous head. It was like neon. It was shining so bright in the sun.”
Due to the presence of a female bald eagle whose nest sits about 40 feet up in a tree near the marsh, it was difficult to get a clear view of the bird.
“We try to keep (the eagle) undisturbed,” Fairweather said.
A gate was closed across a trail bordering the marsh to keep people from getting too close to the rare duck, as well as the nest of the eagle, Fairweather said.
“There have been a couple of sightings in Lorain County (over the years) but we’ve never had one here,” Fairweather said of the bright russet-redheaded male duck that is further distinguished by a white or cream-colored stripe on its head.
It is these markings that separate the bird — along with its gray back and sides — from its American cousin.
Females of the two species are more similar in appearance, according to authorities.
The Eurasian Wigeon is sometimes found along the East Coast of the U.S., and has been documented in such diverse climates as Alaska, Florida, Texas and Newfoundland, according to www.ducks.org.
“In Ohio it’s pretty rare,” Fairweather said. “If there are a couple of reports a year, we’re doing good.”
Sandy Ridge’s marsh is a magnet for bird-watchers, who come to photograph and document a growing list of species that now numbers more than 100 breeds, including 18 varieties of ducks as well as trumpeter swans, grebes, sandhill cranes and egrets.