Sharon Woods: Urban Edge Oasis of Autumn

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OK, the main rush of landbird migration is winding down. Those 15-20 warbler days at Blendon are a receding memory, and now you’re pondering your next options in Fall migration. Yes, there are still some shorebirds to be had, particlarly as the upper reaches of Hoover & Alum lakes dry down, but most of their migration is closing up as well. The main bulk of waterfowl migration is still weeks away. May I suggest a trip to Sharon Woods? Here’s a link to a map of this MetroPark to jog your memory: http://www.metroparks.net/parks-and-trails/sharon-woods/park-map/   Yes, it’s the most-used Park of the MetroParks, due to its central suburban location. But it’s also a great migrant trap near the base of the Alum Creek corridor; you just need to re-think what kinds of migrants on which to focus.

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I’ve often found that this younger sibling to Blendon Woods (opened in 1964, vs. 1950s for Blendon) becomes better in the later parts of Fall migration. This past Sunday, I spent a quick hour hiking around the park and came away with an impressive list. I parked in the Apple Ridge picnic area, and almost as soon as I left the car began hearing and seeing good birds. I first hiked the limb of the Spring Creek trail just west of the picnic area. Here it runs through a large goldenrod field with a few trees, and it was jumping with Field Sparrows and Palm Warblers. Also, several Song Sparrows sang, Flickers called, and Common Yellowthroat betrayed its presence with its husky chip.  A large flock of Common Grackles leisurely flew across the field from the picnic area. As it approached the edge of Shrock Lake, I ran into mixed migrant flocks, adding Ruby-cr.Kinglets, more sparrows, Yellow-rumped & Magnolia Warblers, and a Scarlet Tanager. The pond didn’t have much on it, but the surrounding fringe of alders was loaded with Catbirds, kinglets (both kinds), sparrows (mostly Chipping and Song), and Goldfinches. Even more were lurking in the small prairie planted just east of the Lake; 1-2 Lincoln’s sparrows were a highlight here. A big flock of geese lounged on the lawn of the Shrock lake picnic area, while more Chipping sparrows flew between the trees. As I looped around the southern edge of the Lake, there were 1-2 Towhees and a skulking Thrasher in the weedy edge. A short stretch in the woods pulled in the common woodland birds, plus a late-ish Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Cutting back along the link trail led me through more fields with sparrows and other field birds; a Swamp Sparrow that popped up to pishing here was a welcome bonus.

Notice the types of birds that I mentioned; almost all of them are late migrants or edge/field species. These are almost one-and -the-same category; nearly all later migrants are field or edge species This is where Sharon Woods seems to have a leg up on its older sibling. Blendon has most of its fields scattered in small plots, surrounded by its magnificent woods and ravines.  Sharon has almost all of its field habitat in one large chunk, stretching from the edge of Spring Hollow down past Shrock lake to the Park entrance. And if there’s one thing we know about field-loving birds, it’s this: habitat size matters. Plenty of experience and studies show that the bigger a field, the more likely it is to draw in field birds.

Also, it pays not to think of fields as one-size-fits-all. In fact, fields come in almost as many varieties as woodlands. Along the stretch of “field” that I described in Sharon Woods are goldenrod fields, restored prairie, wet meadow, and clover meadow, not to mention manicured lawn. Throw in pond edge, hawthorn scrub, and woodland edge, and you have a field- and edge-bonanza!  All of these habitats are within a short walk of one another. Also, this habitat diversity has allowed me to find unusual field- and edge-birds here that one wouldn’t expect so close to the city. Lincoln’s, Swamp, Fox, and White-crowned Sparrows are regular here in migration, as are Orange-crowned Warblers, E.Meadowlarks, Rusty Blackbirds (around Shrock Lake), and Purple Finches. There are also records of Dickcissel, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, and Bobolink. All this in a park in suburban Columbus/Westerville, so close to the Outerbelt that you can hear it from Shrock Lake. Perhaps the name is the stumbling block; maybe we should re-name it Sharon Woods & Excellent Fields. In any event, it’s definitely worth a trip in October.