Up in the sky....

As winter’s woes wink out, we like to reach out to welcome again the birds who passed up a chance to shiver with us during the season. In recent years we’ve found it a restorative to head down to the bottom of the state to spend some time with the earliest of them, and so we did in 2013, planning a rendezvous at Shawnee State Forest. Twenty-three of us spent much of the day exploring this ragged remnant of Ohio’s hardwood forest, and were not disappointed. As usual, part of the group spent part of the previous day and evening (for nocturnal birds) as the avant garde.

Up in the sky....As word gets around, we find more and more humans on these trips. This time, we encountered at least two groups of bicyclists, a couple of smaller organized birding groups, determined walkers, and a few bemused hunters along the way to a productive day of birding. The weather quickly grew warm and sunny, and an array of wildflowers, including an unusual plethora of trilliums, adorned the forest floor. Our original plan had involved starting at the higher-elevation spots, where migrant birds headed farther north were likelier to touch down to feed, but scouting the day before persuaded us that a fair number of neotropical migrants had yet to arrive, leaving the summits pretty quiet, so we concentrated on the mid- and low-level elevations, where the many local neotropical breeders had arrived and were in full song. In these spots, we reunited with old friends—ovenbirds, waterthrushes, blue-winged/yellow-rumped/black-throated green, yellow-throated etc. warblers, vireos, thrushes—had returned once more, as well as the permanent haunters of the forest. Missed, probably because we just were a bit too early this year, were nearly all the flycatchers and thrushes, and both orioles.

Yellow-throated Vireo starting a nestEven some of these regular denizens were somewhat harder than usual to find, but every stop led to welcome views and songs, and few expected species were missed. Thickening clouds did not discourage the singers among them, and gave us better looks at the ones singing from high in the trees. Rumors we’d heard about appalling-looking recent harvests in the Forest by loggers proved to be true, as several new large swaths of treeless areas were obvious from several vantage points. Among Ohio’s publicly-owned forest sites, only a few small segments are protecting from logging for profit. From our selfish point of view, logged sites with regrowing vegetation do provide habitats for birds who would not inhabit more mature forest locations, but certainly old-growth woods are the rarest forest sites here, the habitats of species now extinct. Parts of the Shawnee may still at times suggest the majesty of such vanished places.

Looking over the valleyOur April trips are often sprawling affairs, with sub-groups working the territory the previous day, and others—we ended our Shawnee trip in early afternoon as usual—seeking birds in other areas, so a truly accurate communal list of birds observed is impossible, but the following list of 88 species contains at least those mentioned to this reporter.

Canada goose
Wood duck
Blue-winged teal
Hooded merganser
Ring-necked pheasant
Wild turkey
Double-crested cormorant
Great blue heron
Great egret
Green heron
Turkey vulture
Sharp-shinned hawk
Broad-winged hawk
Red-tailed hawk
American kestrel
Spotted sandpiper
Semipalmated plover
Solitary sandpiper
Greater yellowlegs
Lesser yellowlegs
Rock pigeon
Mourning dove
Yellow-billed cuckoo
Chuck-will’s widow
Chimney swift
Red-bellied woodpecker
Downy woodpecker
Northern flicker
Pileated woodpecker
Eastern wood-pewee
Eastern phoebe
White-eyed vireo
Yellow-throated vireo
Blue-headed vireo
Red-eyed vireo
Blue jay
American crow
Horned lark
Tree swallow
Northern rough-winged swallow
Cliff swallow
Carolina chickadee
Tufted titmouse
White-breasted nuthatch
Carolina wren
Blue-gray gnatcatcher
Eastern bluebird
Wood thrush
American robin
Wood thrush
American robin
Gray catbird
Brown thrasher
European starling
Blue-winged warbler
Northern parula
Yellow warbler
Yellow-rumped warbler
Black-throated green warbler
Black-throated green warbler
Yellow-throated warbler
Pine warbler
Prairie warbler
Cerulean warbler
Black-and-white warbler
American redstart
Worm-eating warbler
Louisiana waterthrush
Kentucky warbler
Hooded warbler
Yellow-breasted chat
Scarlet tanager
Eastern towhee
Chipping sparrow
Song sparrow
White-throated sparrow
Northern cardinal
Indigo bunting
Red-winged blackbird
Common grackle
Brown-headed cowbird
Purple finch
American goldfinch
House sparrow