Olentangy Valley News

A walk in the park

Migrating birds use Ohio as rest stop


The first week of September brought a taste of autumn to central Ohio, and the cooler nights and sparkling days usher in my favorite time of year. But more than a mere temperature change arrived: The northwest and northerly winds accompanying the cold front carried in a wave of migrating birds. As the seasons turn to fall, each influx of cool air will bring another wave of migrants, making this an exciting time of year for birders.

In central Ohio in general, and in Preservation Parks in particular, we're starting to see nonresident birds moving through.

Let's start with shorebirds. Seeing these is especially fun for us, because we are spotting them in areas that formerly would not have attracted them. Until recently, Gallant Woods Preserve, just northwest of Delaware, was composed mostly of meadows and woodlands. However, Preservation Parks staff members have restored several wetlands in the park, and the shorebirds are taking note.

We've seen several varieties of sandpipers -- greater and lesser yellowlegs, pectoral sandpipers and least sandpipers -- stop at the wetlands on their way south.

All four of these species spend their summers in Canada and Alaska (the arctic region, for the pectoral sandpiper), and they winter along the U.S. Gulf Coast and/or northern South America. During migration, we'll see them in area mudflats, grassy pools, open marshes and ponds.

Both yellowlegs species are slender birds, with checkered black, gray and white backs; they stand on long, bright-yellow legs. The other two sandpipers are stockier, with feathers of a rusty brown tone. All four birds have long, pointed bills that help them pick their meals out of the water's edge; they eat primarily invertebrates, such as worms, mollusks, crustaceans, insects and spiders.

The voices these birds bring to the park are new, too, from the high "creep creep" of the least sandpiper, to a call that can only be described as piercing from the greater yellowlegs. To listen to the calls, and learn more about these birds, visit allaboutbirds.org.

While I love the shorebirds -- especially since they now visit us at Gallant Woods Preserve -- the warblers, also starting to head south, inspire many birders to wax poetic. And why wouldn't they? These birds are some of the prettiest to pass through our area, and a few have been spotted in central Ohio in the past week or so.

The chestnut-sided warbler is easily recognizable as the only warbler with a yellow-green cap, white breast and reddish stripes down the sides. The Blackburnian warbler is absolutely beautiful; the male's head is vibrant orange with black stripes and its back is shiny black with white stripes. Wilson's warbler is yellow and gray with a black cap, and the Canada warbler is gray and yellow, with a necklace of dark-gray spots across its chest.

Warbler voices, as their name implies, are melodic and -- just pretty. There's nothing raucous about these birds!

For the next couple of months, bird-lovers will aim their binoculars at the treetops as they try to catch sight of these small songbirds winging their way from the tundra and boreal forests of Canada to Central and South America.

This next bird deserves a mention, even though it actually breeds and lives in Ohio during the summer. It will migrate out of the state, not through the state. But it's special, because it's more often heard than seen.

It's a yellow-billed cuckoo, and one of the Preservation Parks staff viewed two of them from the wildlife blind at Char-Mar Ridge Preserve. This bird hides out in the forest, and I've never seen one. But after listening to its call on the All About Birds website, I realize I've heard it a few times, and will have to keep my eye out for it. Although this medium-sized bird is mostly drab brown and white, it is distinguished by large white spots at the edges of black tail feathers, and -- of course -- its yellow lower bill.

Fall migration is just beginning and will continue well into the fall. Whether you enjoy getting out on the trails with binoculars, or would rather watch birds from an easy chair indoors, Preservation Parks is the place to be.

Our miles of trails are full of possibilities for viewing migrating birds in various habitats, and the bird viewing areas at Hogback Ridge and Deer Haven Preserves are ideal places to see feeder birds. Visit preservationparks.com for nature center hours. We'll provide the windows, binoculars, scopes, bird guides and chairs. Nature will provide the rest.

Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.