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Buff-Breasted Sandpiper

The defining feature of the Oak Openings is sand. This unique region is situated on the former shores of preglacial Lake Warren, modern day Lake Erie’s much larger predecessor. As Lake Warren receded, it left its dunes and beach ridges in its wake, and these sands are now carpeted with oak savannas, dry prairie, and wet sedge meadows in low-lying areas.

What to Look For

The Oak Openings buffers the western end of Lake Erie, and lies just west of Toledo. The sandy prairies, wet sedge meadows, and oak savannas of this highly specialized ecosystem once covered about 300 square miles; today, only about 130 square miles remain. This region contains the best habitats to be found in the northwestern corner of Ohio, and many bird species breed in the Oak Openings that are difficult or impossible to find elsewhere in this region. The Oak Openings is also known for its fall hawk flights. Raptors streaming around the western end of Lake Erie funnel through this area, sometimes in large numbers. The largest kettle of Broad-winged Hawks recorded in Ohio was seen near Perrysburg – about 20,000 birds on September 18th, 2002.

Noteworthy Rarities

A number of species breed in the Oak Openings that are a challenge to find elsewhere in northern Ohio, such as Eastern Whip-poor-will, Summer Tanager, and on occasion, Blue Grosbeak. The premier breeding rarity is the Lark Sparrow; the Oak Openings population is the easternmost in this species’ range. Other western species, such as Clay-colored Sparrow and Western Meadowlark, have bred or attempted to breed in this area as well. Golden Eagles are regularly spotted in migration, and good numbers of winter finches can occur. The last Ohio record of Pine Grosbeak came from the Oak Openings, in winter 2007-08. The total species list for the loop is about 300, and three of those – Atlantic Puffin (only Ohio record), Black-billed Magpie, and Mountain Bluebird – have been found only in this region.

Natural Features

The Oak Openings is legendary for the diversity of rare plants that occur here. The highly specialized habitats that comprise this ecosystem support more species of state-listed rare plants than any other region of Ohio. A great diversity of animals lives in these plant communities. Spotted turtles, blue racers, and blue-spotted salamanders are just a few of the unusual animals that can be found. The poster child for rare Oak Openings animals is the tiny Karner blue butterfly, a federally endangered species. It depends in part on rare wild lupine plants that flourish in the Oak Openings savannas.