The forecast was for pleasant weather and the migrants were on the move, but where were all the Avid Birders? That was the only mystery of the day, as our party was just six people, surely an all-time low for our traditionally great end of April trip. Nevertheless, a great trip it turned out to be, as both the weather and the birds cooperated.
After meeting to carpool on the south side of town, we headed for our traditional haunt: Shawnee State Forest. Although this lovely area has seen some abuse in recent years in the form of unsightly and perhaps excessive timber cutting, it remains a tremendous stopover place for spring migrants heading north.
We started at the parking lot for the State Park golf course. (The State of Ohio is trying to sell this course; it will be interesting to see what happens here next.) Although the temperature was rather cool, in the upper 40s, the sun was shining brilliantly, brightening the trees near the parking lot and bringing out the birds that were ready to warm up. Baltimore Orioles are a traditional fixture in the trees near the lot, and one — amazingly our only one of the day — greeted us with a lusty song. A close relative, an Orchard Oriole, was spotted on the other side of the lot, a White-eyed Vireo announced his presence in the brushy understory, and a Brown Thrasher sent us a constant stream of double notes, squawks, gurgles and chatters.
Once underway, we headed into the forest proper, driving up Pond Run Road and looking for the warbler specialties of the area. We weren’t disappointed, soon finding Yellow-throated and Cerulean Warblers.
We then slowly worked our way up to “Picnic Point”. We don’t know if that’s the official name, but we often do eat our picnic lunches at this ridgetop, so “Picnic” it is. A good breeze was blowing up here, which made it feel a little cold, but that didn’t seem to bother the birds. A Prairie Warbler was a good find, but the highlight was a quadruple hit on vireos: Blue-headed, Red-eyed, Yellow-throated, and Philadelphia, the latter being an exceptionally tough bird this time of year. A talented turkey hunter fooled us momentarily with his imitation of a Barred Owl, and the racket of Bill’s car alarm going off threatened to scare away some birds (and birders), but we were pleased with our stop and started back down the hill.
None of us were expert on the layout of roads in the State Forest, so we feared that our descent along State Forest Road 1 had been a mistake. We were surrounded by signs of human habitation as soon as we left the forest proper. It turned out that we made the right choice, though, as we picked up another couple of great birds, including a much-sought Kentucky Warbler. Shortly before reaching State Route 52, we pulled off alongside the road to look for a Louisiana Waterthrush when we were approached by the property owner who said we shouldn’t park there. We thought that he was annoyed and wanted to shoo us off, but it turned out that he was concerned for our safety. He told us that people often came around a nearby blind curve at high speed and could run into our cars. He kindly suggested that we move our cars into his driveway where they would be safe, and even invited us to explore a trail on his property going up a nearby hill. We didn’t have time for that latter adventure, but some of us plan to take him up on the offer later. What a nice gentleman — thanks, John!
Happy with our results at Shawnee, we decided to head north. Another tradition for our April trip involves going to the Whit’s Frozen Desserts store in Waverly, which is along our route home. There are two reasons for this stop: one bird related (Eurasian Collared Doves are reported every year from this location) and one birder related (we have a bunch of ice cream lovers in the group). Alas, no frozen treats for us, as the store was closed because they were moving to a new location – and this was moving day. As a consolation prize, one of the resident doves landed directly in front of us, providing us with close-range observations.
We moved on to our final stop at Scioto Trails State Park where one of our group, Jennifer, knew of a good place to look for a Louisiana Waterthrush, one of the few Southern Ohio specialties that we had missed so far. Upon arriving at the campground area in the park, we were initially dismayed to see that the place was full of RVs, not mention plenty of people. Would all the activity scare off our birds? Our fears were soon put to rest as we had wonderful looks at our target bird along a creek immediately behind a row of campsites.
After a long day in the field, there was just time for one more quick stop at Charlie’s pond, also right along our route home. In a flooded field, we heard an American Bittern singing (if one can call it’s gurgling “ker-lunk” a song) and we heard at least three Soras, one of which was glimpsed by a few of us. A quick look at the airport turned up a Grasshopper Sparrow, but the hoped-for Vesper Sparrow did not show. Time to call it a day: we were quickly back on the road. Rain that had been threatening for the last hour or so finally started – how nice that it held off until we were done!
All in all, we had a good day. Our warbler total was a little low compared to previous years, but we did find are most wanted Southern Ohio species, and we enjoyed good weather and a good time together. Our enthusiasm was tempered somewhat by the low numbers of birds; this continues a disturbing trend of declining numbers of migrants such as our beloved warblers, a trend that has been going on for years. We all need to step up our avian conservation efforts!
The full list of species seen is below.
Great Blue Heron
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Green Warbler