If you’re reading this, chances are good that you’re sitting indoors at your computer or laptop, in a warm environment that stands in stark contrast to the cold outside. It’s not just the cold that makes lateFall-earlyWinter birding challenging; it’s the bitter wind that comes with it. This is a time of year (along with March-April) when cold fronts and warm fronts slug it out for supremacy over the midwest. Wild swings in temperature, cloud cover, and wind speed are the result.


How can birds survive this onslaught? By finding ‘ bad-weather refuges’, areas where the wind and temperature are not so fierce. As birders, we need to think like birds if we want to take advantage of these weather systems’ ability to concentrate birds in good ‘wind-shadows’. We need to seek out these sites, and that’s where we’ll find large groups of birds and increase our chances of finding unusual or rare birds.


What are the best ‘wind-shadows’ in Columbus? It depends on what you’re searching for. For waterbirds, the key elements are both open water and protection from the wind. Since it’s too early for lakes to freeze over, these birds can still congregate on open areas , but with some protection from the west or northwest winds that come with cold fronts. Look for rafts of ducks in the lee of islands (like on the east end of Oxbow Island in Hoover) or steep western shorelines (off the Maxtown ramp at Hoover or north of the Home Rd bridge at O’Shaughnessy or the State 229 bridge at Delaware lake) or wind-blocking causeways (like the Sunbury Rd causeway at Hoover or the Cheshire causeway at Alum Creek Lake). Generally, waterfowl are a lot more tolerant of lousy weather than landbirds, but these spots will keep you out of the teeth of the gale.


What about landbirds? For most of them, food as well as some unfrozen water becomes crucial. Wind protection is even more of an issue for them, since they’re smaller amd less well-insulated than waterbirds. The result is that they’re much more picky about some of their protected locations. Here’s a list of some of the best spots, in no particular order, that I’ve found for hunting lurking landbirds during those blustery days of late Fall-early Winter.


  1. Hoover spillway – the deep gorge below the dam, especially around the athletic field on the west side, can be one of the most productive wind-shadows around. Not only do the steep west slopes here offer great wind protection, but the bottom has both the new and old channels of Big Walnut Creek and a healthy population of fruiting honeysuckle bushes. Recently I stopped there on a frigid, windy December morning and found large flocks of Robins, Starlings, and Cedar Waxwings nestled among these berry-bushes. It’s also unusually easy to find woodpeckers, chickadees, and other flock birds around the wood edges here, even on the worst weather days.

  2. Kiwanis Park – this is the heart of the Scioto gorge in Dublin, and the boardwalk trail takes you down to river level and out of the wind. Tiny seeps here stay open all winter, so there’s always flowing water, even if the river freezes. An added bonus is that the nearby Qaurry Park office complex has several birdfeeders that keep finches and sparrows in the vicinity well fed. This is a great spot for Winter Wrens and winter sparrows, including Song, White-throated, Swamp, and Fox.

  3. Berliner Park – this park below Greenlawn dam south of Scioto Audubon MetroPark is well-known as a Spring migrant trap. Less well-known is that it’s a good protected winter area for lots of landbirds. You need to take any of the footpaths off the levee-top bikpath to get down to the sheltered river shore. On several occasions, I’ve had large mixed flocks of landbirds, including lots of Brown Creepers, foraging in the sheltered woods along the river while high winds raged up along the bikepath 30 yards away.

  4. Portman Park – this small park along the Blacklick Creek bikepath is situated so that its riparian strip acts as an effective wind-screen. I spent one extremely cold Christmas Bird Count here (cold enough to crack my car’s windshield) marveling over a large flock of mixed sparrows feeding along the bikepath in the lee of a bitter cold wind. It’s still a great spot to find winter sparrow flocks, although creeping suburbanization has started to encircle it.

  5. Cobshell-Indian Ridge Trails, Battelle-Darby MetroPark – The Darby Creeks have a beautiful slot gorge around their confluence, and these trails get right down into it. You can park at either Cedar Ridge or Indian Ridge picnic areas, and catch the trails to the west that lead down close to the creek. Just as with many of the trails mentioned above, these areas close to the creek offer both wind prtection and unfrozen water, so quite a few birds accumulate here in bitter cold weather. The scenery here along the Darby is also great, from the steep side canyons around Cedar Ridge to the towering railroad trestle that spans the creeks just at the entrance to Indian Ridge. You can follow the Terrace Trail and the trail of the Ancients further south, so that you get almost a mile of sheltered creekbottom.


All of these spots offer some weather protection for both you and the birds. I’ve visited them during some gruesome weather and still had good mornings’ birding. The birds can certainly survive it, so chances are that you can as well.  Dress warmly!