Monday, April 29, 2013

Return to Ohio's "Little Smokies"

American Woodcock bathing in Upper Twin Creek, Shawnee State Forest Wilderness Area. Image by Julie Davis.

Golden ragwort, blooming abundantly along roadsides and creeks.

Lousewort, another fairly common roadside flower.

Eastern redbud mingles lavender highlights with the white highlights painted by flowering dogwoods along roadsides and edges of forest openings

Flowering dogwood, common roadside highlights.

Shawnee State Forest, Scioto County, Ohio is a traditional birding hotspot, a forest full of diverse breeding birds and a stopover magnet for weary migrants bound for points north. The botany is beautiful, too. Spring wildflowers are worth the trip to Ohio's Little Smokies even if you forgot your bino's. We time our annual birder migration to deep southern Ohio to coincide with that of early warbler waves surging north into Ohio during late April, while shorebirds are still on the move, making our travels a combo trip, an opportunity to see a lot of avian diversity in one packed weekend in beautiful wild landscapes of Ohio's southern Allegheny Plateau. At least that used to be so.

These days, the trip seems a little like Forest Gump's metaphorical box of chocolates, you just don't know what you're going to get during the last of April--it's the weird weather. Two years ago, 2011 was a record wet spring, and migrating warblers were few and far between. The next year, 2012, was a record warm spring, and dry, like visiting the forest weeks later in the season. This weekend, the last of April 2013 was much cooler than usual, and very few northbound migrants were passing through on their way to Canada. Even so, the locals, the local breeding birds by themselves, are an avian adventure in song and color animating the hilly landscape among fresh greens of trees' delicate new leaves and the flowery forest floor.

We found many local breeding birds and a few migrants, too. Colorful Yellow-rumped Warblers and American Redstarts were abundant. Emphatic singing Ovenbirds were the most common territorial defenders. We found them working hard as night approached, too. We enjoyed a walk through several territories as darkness dissolved the shadows and Thoreau's Night-birds delivered their ecstatic crepuscular displays.  The American Woodcock pictured above was using our favorite mid-day lunch spot. We stopped short to wait for it to complete its ablutions but it was rudely interrupted by an ATV splashing through the stream ford that served as its bath pool.

Delicate fresh leaves of red maple, an abundant tree species.

Red maple samaras, flowers and fruit precede fully emerged leaves.

Chestnut oak, common along ridges and upper hill slopes.

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