chilly predawn hours, our friend moves quietly through the house, checking last minute
preparations. Gloves. Hat. Down vest. Coffee. Flashlight. Binoculars. Field Guides. Maps.
Our early morning enthusiast is off to enjoy one of the fastest-growing recreational
activities in America: birding! His car takes him down deserted rural roads to an unmarked
dirt path that comes to a stop a few hundred yards from a marsh bordering a large
reservoir. If reported sightings are accurate, he should shortly be adding a
"lifer"a bird he had never seen beforeto his list.
Turning off the ignition, our friend is surrounded by silence as the
"ticking" of the cooling engine slows to a stop. Natures night sounds
carry news of life in the yet unseen marsh; the scurrying rustle of small feet through the
cattails, a chirp from an awakened sparrow, the distant hooting of a great horned owl.
Relaxed moments pass. A maroon-red begins to tinge the eastern horizon, evolving into a
warm orange, then yellow, clouded sky. A pheasant squawks. Three doe white-tailed deer
noiselessly seek cover in the woods bordering the marsh. A cardinal calls clearly. But no
sandhill cranes. These enormous wading birds, standing nearly four feet tall, had been
reported at Deer Creek State Park earlier in the week, but had employed that most unique
avian featuretheir wings! Having wings, birds are, as they say, "where you find
them." Our friends cranes had "flown the coop."
Was our friends time wasted? No way! Birding enthusiasts realize many benefits in
pursuing their sport: exercise, fresh air, camaraderie, relaxation, peace and quiet, and
spiritual revitalization. Many birders express a renewed sensitivity to their environment,
while involvement with birding clubs or organizations helps them to unplug the pressures
and worries of their daily lives.
Perhaps birdings greatest appeal is its diversity. Birding pleasure can be had
from a little or a lot. It can run the gamut from near wilderness-survival intensity to
quietly observing a bird feeder from a wheelchair, from a few brief moments glancing out
the window to a weekend excursion. Birding opportunities can be customized to suit your
own individual requirements.
"Where would I begin?" you might ask, since the novice may feel
overwhelmed with the variety and numbers of birds. Most everyone is familiar with our most
common birdssparrow, robin, pigeon and crow. A knowledge of these species provides
us with a convenient approximating device. Birds can be categorized
accordinglysparrow-sized, robin-sized, etc. Next notice colors and obvious features.
These, as well as song and behavior, are called field marks. Thus, a red, robin-sized bird
with a crest and black mask is readily identified as our state bird, the cardinal. A field
guide is an excellent beginners helper, pointing out these field marks. Many state,
county and metropolitan parks offer introductory birding programs that will help you
improve your birding skills and meet fellow birders.
The importance of a good pair of binoculars cannot be overemphasized. A 7x35 binocular
delivers an image seven times larger than the naked eye. Obviously this greatly enhances a
birds field marks, and enables you to get a closer look without scaring the bird
into flight. But be prepared! Realize there will be a learning curve; it will take some
time to get comfortable finding the birds through the binoculars. Patience is mandatory
and frustrations inevitable, but the rewards will be worth it!
Due to their specific food and habitat needs, the occurrence of a particular species
can be predicted with some accuracy. Many species of birds are insect-eaters. Because of
this and other dietary needs, and despite numerous obstacles, most birds travel to warmer
climates to find food unavailable to them in Ohios cool falls and cold winters.
These movements, called migrations, produce some of the most exciting birding activities
of the year.
As birds move back north in the spring, they apparently navigate using stars and
familiar landmarks, as well as sensitivity to gravitational forces. Periodically, weather
systems can wreak havoc with these internal guidance abilities. Combined with unseasonable
warm or cold, their northward journey can be halted, overflown
or blown off course. Unlikely rarities can result.
When the allure of birding begins to call, the value of publicly-owned lands becomes
apparent. Open expanses of water, large, uncut woodlands, grasslands or marshes are not
available to most Ohioans on private property.
Ohio State Parks offer thousands of acres of diverse bird habitat including lakeshore,
river and stream corridors, wetlands, meadows and grasslands, and woodlands. Even better,
there are hundreds of miles of public hiking trails to use. With 72 state parks available
year round, it is but a short drive for most birders to arrive at a quality birding site.
Jim Glover, Design/Illustration, Public Relations Group
"Top Ten Birding Hot Spots"
1Crane Creek State Park. Crane Creek, along with the adjacent Magee Marsh
Wildlife Area and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, are exceptional sites to visit in
the spring as birds are migrating north. The first or second week in May is the best time
to plan a trip, when it is possible to observe 100 or more bird species in a single day.
Birders who walk the Division of Wildlifes boardwalk trail, which begins at the
Crane Creek beach parking lot, are sometimes rewarded by seeing 30 or more species of
2Hocking Hills State Park. Many neo-tropical birds that spend their winters in
Central and South America can be found in the late spring and summer nesting in the dense
forests of this park in Hocking County. Birders should have a good chance of seeing
black-throated green, pine, northern parula, and worm-eating warblers in addition to
summer and scarlet tanagers. These are birds that are uncommon and can only be found in
forested habitats like Hocking Hills.
3Mohican State Park. The Mohican River's Clearfork Gorge offers excellent birding
at any time of year. Within the hemlock-forested gorge, many of the thrushes can be seen
and heard, including the wood thrush, hermit thrush and veery. During the winter the gorge
may reveal evening grosbeaks, pine siskins, winter wrens, red-breasted nuthatches, and
white-throated sparrows; birds that come down from the north to a more temperate climate.
4Maumee Bay. A nature center, raised boardwalk through the marsh, Lake Erie and
grassland habitats provide a great variety of birding possibilities year-round.
Short-eared and snowy owls are sometimes seen during winter months.
5East Fork. Here, too, the variety of habitat is the key
element in the large number of birding opportunities. The reestablishment of a remnant
prairie to support a population of wild turkey has also improved the chances of seeing the
rare Henslow's sparrow.
6Hueston Woods. Highlights of this diverse park include Acton Lake and the
beech-maple forests, the home of pileated woodpeckers. Dont forget to visit the
Nature Center, which rehabilitates raptors and other injured animals.
7Lake Hope. A peaceful lake with resident beaver surrounded by wooded hills are
the drawing cards of this birding destination. Red-shouldered hawks are frequently seen
soaring overhead, and warblers fill the summer mornings with song.
8Salt Fork. The sheer size of this enormous park and its adjacent wildlife area
encompasses great habitat, and a variety of birds. Watch for osprey, or fish hawks, which
have been reintroduced in the area.
9Headlands Beach. This small park links with Headlands Dunes
State Nature Preserve, the last remaining sand dunes along Ohios lakefront.
Endangered piping plovers are seen occasionally, well hidden by their sandy coloration.
Just next door is Mentor Marsh, another nature preserve wetland.
10Shawnee. The rugged, heavily-wooded hills of Shawnee State Forest cradle this
scenic park perched above the Ohio River. Nearby, the Adams Lake region hosts the blue
grosbeak, blck vulture and chuck-will's-widow (birds typically found much further south).
Feel free to develop your own "Top 10" list!
Howard Gratz and Jim Glover