When I became a birder, I was also on a budget being right out of college and living on my own with bills and starting job pay. This caused a restriction to bird local and to learn my way around Columbus. Discovering new exciting places and rediscovering some I had been to hundreds of times. There are two groups of migrating species that show great presence in Central Ohio in the Spring and Fall. These spring migrants are songbirds and shorebirds (I know very generalized groupings).
Here is what I have learned about birding in Central Ohio, and some of the great locations I have found or been shown:
Spring Migrants – Sunny Day Songbirds
Warblers, vireos, and other migrating songbirds spend the morning hours as the sun breaks to feed on insects before the heat and sun is too intense.
This first location is where I spent most of my Saturday mornings growing up as a kid. The location is Highbanks MetroPark in Lewis Center, OH. I call this place my “Magee Marsh of Central Ohio” for these migrating songbirds. At sunrise, starting in the beginning to mid-April, you can hear the birds beginning their morning rituals. Following these routes on a cloudy or sunny day can help you to achieve large numbers of migrating species in Central Ohio.
To start your day at Highbanks, park at the Nature Center and take the Multi-Use trail to where the first tree stands tall on the left. This is where the sun first hits in the morning and where the warblers and vireos collect. Scan high in the trees here, or listen closely for their songs and chip notes. You will soon see them start to disperse and that’s when you should follow the trail down past the wooden fence on your left. Here you will get to an area where you have thick foliage on both sides about 300 feet from the fence. From there to where the path takes a sharp right is where the warblers and vireos come alive next. Keep your ears and eyes open for movement and calls. If you continue to where it opens up before the sharp right you will see a tree taller than any other on your left. It has a massive circumference and seems to span a distance. I have nicknamed this tree, “The Tree of Life”! In a single day we had 12 species of warblers, vireos, tanagers, and grosbeaks collectively in that tree.
Once full daylight has hit this spot the birds start again to disperse for their day. At this point you can take two different paths depending on your interests for the day. If you are looking for the high-hanging warblers and vireos (Blackburnian Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo) or Louisiana Waterthrush, you should take the Dripping Rock trail behind the nature center. I walk out to the wooden overlook right behind the nature center and this is where I find my high hanging songbirds right after that full sun hits the multi-use trail. If you walk the Dripping Rock trail to the north side you will get to a set of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs there is a bridge over a creek where Louisiana Waterthrush has nested multiple years in a row.
My other route in the mornings, if I am looking for mid to low-hanging migrants, is to explore the Scenic River trail. I drive to the back of the park and down the big hill. At the bottom of the hill there is a little parking lot on the left before you get to the Big Meadows Picnic Area. Park there then walk across the wooden bridge. Next, take the path to the left and start your search. You will eventually come to a 4-way intersection. One path leads to the beach, one leads to the grassy field, and one continues forward. The beach in the morning has been great for Yellow-throated, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, and the occasional Bay-Breasted Warbler. Where the intersection meets is a notable location where both Mourning and Connecticut Warblers have been found in the past. If you continue the path forward to the next right, you will arrive at what I have named, “The Northern Parula Section”. This is where I met my closest birding friend, Michele Thompson. The Northern Parula hang out very low and they are very vocal.
If you take the path to the field instead and start walking the edgeline on your left, this is where the birds are frequently dripping from the trees. If there is still condensation on plants when you arrive, you may have to wait a little longer for the sun, as that has been my guide for when they start appearing there. Walk the edgeline all of the way down to where the building is at the end of this edgeline, scanning as you go. A birder friend of mine who birds later in the day, often finds the warbler species in heavy concentration at the path that cuts to the main road between the next field. The highlight time is between 2pm to 4pm for this spot.
Here is a map of Highbanks Metro Park. I have marked all the referenced locations:
Purple Circled= starting location
Blue Circled = Option 1 – Overlook and Bridge
Grey Circled = Option 2 – Beach, Grassy Field, River Trail
Black Circled = Afternoon Warbler Spot
Spring Migrants – Rainy Day Refuge
On rainy days I go to a place that some call “The Mecca of Warblers and Songbirds”: Blendon Woods MetroPark.
When rain has breaks and there is two minutes of no rain the concentration of migrants is astounding and easily condensed into one spot. These birds have shown me, in the 4 years I have been birding here, that they have a pattern. The birds travel along the trail from the nature center to the two blinds at the pond at the end. Traveling back and forth on rainy days.
Start at the nature center and go out to the covered porch on the back. The trees to the east and south are where I have seen a wide variety of species. If it’s a slow day there I rush to the blinds at the end of the path to search there. If it is lightly raining, stay dry by watching through the feeder blind and the window blinds at both locations for what species are around. When there is a break in the rain, hurry to where the path meets the two blinds. This is where the migrants collect! I have even spotted a Cerulean Warbler in this area on a rainy day. One of the best parts about a rainy day is the reduced foot traffic! You can have the birds mostly to yourself.
Other Notable Locations
Here are a few other locations that can offer high counts of migrants yet are rarely crowded:
Kiwanis Riverway Park: Views off the main boardwalk at sunrise
Battelle Darby MetroPark: Hawthorn Trail for Golden-Winged Warblers
Glen Echo Park/Ravine: This place resembles HighBanks Metro Park in behavior but is very active in the evenings as well as mornings. A great location for Northern Waterthrush!
This list can go on and on but I wanted to highlight the places I bird most often for these sought after species, and which I have had great opportunities for visuals and photos.