Blacklick Woods (photo Connie Mastenbrook)

Waterlily - Photo Jace DelgadoMention “Blacklick Woods” to most central Ohio birders, or even non-birders, and they’ll immediately think of the swamp forest and associated Nature Center. It’s a natural response, since that’s where most of the trails and picnic areas are located, and where most of the Metropark programs occur here. There is however, more to the park area, including a large golf course and a ½ mile stretch of Blacklick Creek, with some associated riparian strip and meadows. It’s this second part that should perk up birders’ ears.

Most of our wild areas around Columbus are located along creeks, and the city and its suburbs have been rather good about preserving these areas. Blacklick Creek is a bit different, however. Large stretches of it are in private hands, and parks are spotty along its length. Most of the parks here are narrow riparian strips (like Huber Park) or recovering farmland (like Reynoldsburg Civic Park). There’s little space for the entire spread of habitats, except at Blacklick Woods. Here, a large natural area stretches west from the creek, through riparian woods and meadows and small forested ravines, all the way to the Nature Center. Check out this park map to see just how large is this eastern portion of the park: Blacklick Woods Map

I took a bit of time on June morning to focus on this section of the Park. I started visiting the area for the OBBA2, and slowly realized how different it is from the rest of the park. For one thing, it has a large loop of the MultiUse Path, and this circle can be accessed from 2 points: the Nature Center or the Tussing Road entrance of the Blacklick Greenway. I actually came in from Tussing this morning, riding a bike, and knew it would be an interesting time when the first 2 birds I heard were a Yellow-throated Warbler and a Yellow-breasted Chat. The former I was expecting; this is one of the few places in Blacklick Woods that is reliable for them. The latter was a special treat; they’re only sporadic breeders here. Not only was he singing, but he was doing small display flights between the branches of a small maple and a sumac. Chats are really neat warblers, but they can be very elusive and hard-to-see unless they are displaying.

This was not the only good bird of the hour that it took me to nose around the loop. Just a little further along, a female Black&White Warbler was foraging in a small boxelder. She didn’t seem frantic, so I doubt she was feeding a nestling. Black&Whites are becoming more regular in Columbus in the summer, but they are nowhere predictable. I had seen a singing male at the other end of the park, around Ashton Pond, about 8 days earlier, and had found them in more places than usual so far this Summer. That jibes with a few trips to Clear Creek, where they usually nest. This year there seem to be unusually high numbers of them there, so Columbus may be receiving the ‘slop-over’ of excess birds.

But wait, there’s more. Just a bit further around the circle, I heard an unfamiliar warbling high up in a locust. It sounded like a Blue Grosbeak, and I was finally able to see a brownish-blue finch high in the locust. Blue Grosbeaks can vary in how much blue the males show, and this one wasn’t showing very much. It sang for a few minutes more, then flew off to the east. I’d never seen one at Blacklick Woods, but Blue Grosbeaks have been straying to south Columbus much more regularly over the past few years. Walnut Woods and the Walnut Creek area down around Groveport and Canal Winchester have hosted several pairs over the past few years, and a male was found in the old dump along Claycraft Road north of Reynoldsburg the past few Summers.

Good birds like these jazzed me for the rest of the morning. I continued on around the trail, and found many good residents, including Brown Thrasher, Common Yellowthroats, and Field Sparrows (rare in other areas of the park). A Warbling Vireo was singing along the creek, probably the only place you’d expect them in the park. Toss in a few of the normal forest birds – Acadian & Great Crested Flycatchers, Red-eyed Vireos, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks – and you can see that this unusual non-wooded east end of Blacklick Woods is not a place to be easily ignored. It’s worth a trip almost any time of year.