Grasslands in Harrison County

Perhaps it was the weather forecast with its threat of high temperature, or perhaps it was the lure of spring family activities. Perhaps it was the cool, clear morning that invited the prospect of lazily oversleeping. Or perhaps it was just coincidence. Whatever the reason, only five intrepid birders turned out for our June trip. But those five were rewarded with superb views of infrequently-seen species on a warm but breezy day.

June birding trips can be tricky. Woodlots may still resound with bird calls, but visual identifications in the dense foliage can be difficult. Moreover, many nesting birds have abandoned their showy efforts to proclaim territories and are instead quietly feeding their young, and as we get into late June, fledglings may have abandoned the nest altogether and started to disperse. As for waterfowl, forget it: most have long ago headed north. Gulls, too, are long gone, while shorebirds have passed through Ohio, with the earliest returns another month away.

Grasslands in Harrison CountyThat leaves grasslands as especially inviting destinations. This time, we elected to return to the site of previous triumphs, heading for the reclaimed grasslands of Harrison County. Strip mined for coal many years ago, many of the rolling low hills have been returned to grasses interspersed with small patches of trees. These grasslands harbor several species of sparrows, the much sought after Bobolink, and a remarkable number of Upland Sandpipers.

Bobolink, Harrison CountyOur first stop was the Harrison County Airport. We were doubly fortunate today in that Scott Pendleton, local veterinarian and guru of Harrison County birds, joined us. Scott has been monitoring grasslands near the airport several times a week for nearly two years, and is intimately familiar with the nesting species there. Walking a gravel road immediately yielded not one, not several, but dozens upon dozens of Bobolinks, many carrying food items to nests hidden in the grasses. Grasshopper and Savanna Sparrows inspected us from fencepost after fencepost, while Henslow’s Sparrows called repeatedly from their hiding places deep in the grasses, revealing themselves only a few times. Just as we wondered whether the Upland Sandpipers already had dispersed into the distance, we heard it: the rising repeated call of this target species. We spotted an elusive one in a hayfield, then heard another over a ridge, when suddenly there were five circling and calling above us.

Scott led us to another gravel road that we walked toward a couple of small ponds. One or two immature uppies stuck with us much of the way, repeatedly flushing and flying nearby. Groves of trees harbored a few Orchard Orioles, a White-eyed Vireo, and an uncooperative Blue Grosbeak that sang but simply would not show himself. Vesper Sparrows, though, were everywhere, showing off their white outer tail feathers as they flew at our approach to hide, not too successfully, in small trees.

Upland Sandpiper, Harrison CountyLunch at the ClinicSavanna Sparrow, Harrison County

After gobbling down our packed lunches at Scott’s mercifully air-conditioned clinic, we headed to Tappan Lake. The outflow area of the lake was wisely acquired by Harrison County some years ago and remains in a natural state. We hiked across a an open section of marsh, attended by a flock of Swamp Sparrows, and into a bit of true, first through a portion covered with buttonwoods and then into a mixed forest ending in a patch of dead trees. As expected, birds were calling everywhere but they were difficult to see; a few cooperative woodpeckers showed themselves, as did a lovely Wood Thrush.

Walking the Marsh at Tappan Lake, Harrison CountyBy this time, we had reached midafternoon. The birds, in their usual fashion, were settling in for a siesta, while the heat, moderated earlier by continual cooling breezes, was mounting. After thanking Scott for showing us around, we headed for home and the luxury of cool showers.

We accumulated a list of 58 species; not a huge total but one that included life birds for several participants and reminders of truly wonderful experiences for all.

Canada Goose
Great Blue
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
Cooper’s Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Spotted Sandpiper
Upland Sandpiper
Mourning Dove
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Great Crested Flycatcher
Acadian Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Horned Lark
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Brown Creeper
House Wren
American Robin
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Henslow’s Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow