Remember These Kids?
The Bird Nerds, as they are called, are middle school students from East Clark Elementary School in Cleveland, OH. Back in early June, we launched a fundraiser to score the kids their own #BirdOn T-Shirts and raise funds to help with transportation and other expenses. The fundraiser was a huge success! Afterward, their teacher and mentor, Richard “Buster” Banish, said that I really needed to meet the crew. This past Thursday I had the honor of meeting some of the kids and got to spend a few hours on the trail with them. Here’s a little bit about our day together, as well as their own adventures after we parted ways. (I should have stayed!)
Mohican State Park – Covered Bridge
The plan was to meet at the Covered Bridge at Mohican State Park at 8:00 AM. I left Columbus around 6:00 AM and headed north up I-71. Shortly after I hit the freeway, Buster messaged me to let me know that he had picked up the final kid and that they were on their way! A couple of gas station stops and clear roads got me there around 7:45. Buster and the kids were going to stop for breakfast so to pass the time I wandered across the bridge. This was all new to me. I had only been to Mohican once, back in 2014, to see an Evening Grosbeak that was visiting a feeder there.
I could tell right away that Buster had picked a great spot for our birding adventure. As soon as I got out of the car I could hear Eastern Phoebes, Red-eyed Vireos, and watched a Belted Kingfisher go cruising by under the bridge. Before the kids arrived I had tallied about 10 species, including a pair of Least Flycatchers and a pair of Louisiana Waterthrush. It was shaping up to be a good day! When the kids showed up a few minutes later, I knew it would be a great one!
Meeting the Bird Nerds
The energy that poured out of Buster’s car could power a city for a year! Six young birders bouncing around after a long drive, finding their bins, and then coming over to introduce themselves. A flurry of new names all at once.. Ianna? VJ? Wait… let’s do this again. I let the crew know that I’m a mostly-deaf birder and that they may need to repeat themselves a few times – masks really don’t help with communication when you’re hard of hearing. So we started over: Ayana, J.J., Angela, Isaiah, M’Kynzie, and Alicia – The Bird Nerds. Buster had brought his energy, too! Exclaiming “Northern Parula” as soon as he got out of the car!
Once everyone got their gear sorted out (and I sorted out their names), we headed to the covered bridge as a group to try to dig up some of the birds I had seen there earlier. The kingfishers were very active; their rattle call distinctive as they moved from perch to perch. One flew right at us as we stood on the walkway next to the bridge. I think if we hadn’t all jumped, it might have landed right on the railing! From the walkway on the other side of the bridge we found Eastern Phoebe, another Belted Kingfisher, and a very friendly Red-eyed Vireo.
Just before we left the bridge, I spotted a bird flitting around at the top of a sycamore tree. I casually called out to the group, “Yellow-throated Warbler”, and suddenly I was surrounded by all of the kids. “Where? Where?”
The warbler was a Lifer for all of the kids! We spent a few minutes chasing it around with our binoculars while it stayed high up in the trees. A second one joined it, and then for just a brief moment, one of them dropped down and gave everyone the chance to see its vibrant yellow throat. Lots of “oohs” and aahs” from the kids. I could have hung out on the bridge all day. There was lots of bird activity going on, and we hadn’t yet relocated the Louisiana Waterthrush – which would also be a Lifer for the kids. Instead, we walked back to the parking lot and headed up the trail along the river into the woods.
Mohican State Park – Lyons Falls Trail
Lyons Falls Trail runs along the bank of the Clear Fork Mohican River. This is where we would spend the bulk of our time as we had a couple of targets along the trail and, though we didn’t know it at the time, a few surprises in store! Before we started up the trail the girls decided to show off their moves a bit…
We made our way along the river trail, stopping anywhere that seemed interesting. Birds were everywhere and Buster was quick to quiz the kids on what they were hearing. An Acadian Flycatcher came in close and perched overhead, calling continuously. Many Red-eyed Vireos were also making their presence known. Off in the distance, we heard a faint musical and metallic warble – as though two birds were singing in harmony. Buster focused the kids’ attention on the sound and we all discussed the amazing voice(s) of the Veery. A Veery is a small thrush that can sing simultaneously with both sides of its syrinx (voice organ). So, this bird has two voices and it can control them separately! It was a joy to watch the kids animated responses to every bit of knowledge Buster would share with them. They asked intelligent, clarifying questions and often discussed the information between themselves to make sure they all understood.
Our next stop brought lots of excitement. One of the kids had a favorite bird that they had never seen in the field. For most new birders, this is the big thrill of birding. You see a bird in a field guide or on the internet and you think, “I really want to see that bird!”. When you finally get the chance, it can be very exciting. As we got close to where the trail turns toward the river we heard a bird sing: tawee tawee tawee-teeoo. Buster looked at me and then we both looked at J.J. This was his bird. Now we just had to find it. I scanned the trees on the river-side of the trail and found the Hooded Warbler in a tree about 15 feet away. It was only 10 feet up and mostly in the open, singing its head off. I pointed it out to Buster and then we worked on getting each of the kids on it. Random exclamations of “I see it!” interrupted a persistent and panicked “where? where?” from J.J.
I moved J.J. to the right a bit and just as I was pointing out where it was, the warbler moved completely into the open! The look of joy and wonder on J.J.’s face… a whispered, “my favorite bird.”
A first sighting of a favorite bird calls for a very special celebration.
At The River
After watching the Hooded Warbler and checking out another Veery that came in close, we made our way down to the water. Along the way I spotted what appeared to be a Louisiana Waterthrush hopping around a fallen tree. On the bridge, Buster said it was known as “The Bird that Twerks,” in reference to the way it is constantly bobbing its tail. When we got to the river all we could see near the fallen tree were Northern Rough-winged Swallows and a squirrel. No waterthrush. Buster told me it would have been another Lifer for the group, to which I replied, “then let’s go find one!” Off I went along (and into) the river to find our target. But we got distracted a bit on the way… I found a crayfish.
Back on the hunt for the Louisiana Waterthrush, we moved back down the river a little, climbed over the fallen tree, and a bird began to sing. While we were trying to figure out if it was the waterthrush or not, the answer was given to us when the bird popped up on the tree in front of us.
This time everyone got on the bird pretty quickly. As we headed back to the trail, the group gathered together for a photo on the beach.
The trail had been good to the group! In addition to the Hooded Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush, we also got to see the previously mentioned Veery and Acadian Flycatcher, as well as Red-eyed and Warbling Vireo, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Belted Kingfisher, Carolina Wren (teakettle teakettle teakettle), Great Crested Flycatcher, and we heard a Black-throated Green Warbler. We also had one more surprise bird along the trail. Can you tell what it was?
An amazing bird in Ohio in July! And a Lifer for all of the kids!!
Here are a few more images from the Lyons Falls Trail.
Mohican State Park – Campground B
Campground B is another great spot to fund birds at Mohican State Park. The kids were happy because they were able to change out of their hiking and tennis shoes and switch to sandals, as birding the campground mostly consists of walking along the roadside. While waiting for the others to get ready to go, Ayana and J.J. posed for a photo in the parking lot.
We picked up a few new birds along the road, such as Gray Catbird, Blue Jay, and Black-capped Chickadee (a year bird for me). The kids were treated to point-blank looks at a very cooperative Northern Parula and were serenaded by a very vocal Scarlet Tanager. The downtime between birds was filled with chit-chat and challenges. The kids were all very comfortable with each other and seemed to sincerely enjoy each other’s company.
We didn’t spend a lot of time at the campground, as we had other places to visit. Here are few images I captured before we left for The Overlook:
And backflips became a theme for the day…
Mohican State Park – The Overlook
The overlook offered an amazing view of the the Mohican-Memorial State Forest. One of the kids mentioned that they had never seen so many trees before! We didn’t really do any birding. We got some great photos (like the featured photo at the top of this post) and the backflips continued…
I also captured this candid shot of M’Kynzie – also known as “Tary” after her favorite bird, Prothonotary Warbler.
Mohican State Park – The Shrine
Our final stop for the day was an open space within the forest called The Shrine. From waymarking.com, “It serves as a memorial to all Ohioans who lost their lives in all wars and conflicts. The memorial is constructed of stone, and houses records of all of the names. Printed books are available to look through, and hand written books containing all of the names are displayed under glass.” The area is also great for birds! There are a number of Eastern Bluebird nest boxes in the front lawn and Chipping Sparrows all along the road.
Buster and I decided to get our scopes out and see if we could find any more new birds before we parted ways for the day. We added Indigo Bunting to our day list and the kids all got amazing looks at a male Summer Tanager.
And, of course, more backflips!!!
The End of My Day
After the Shrine, we parted ways. The kids needed to get some food in their bellies and I had located a source for the kids to get to (hopefully) see some Barn Owls – another Lifer for the gang. I gave the kids some stickers – though I really wanted to give them all the biggest hug in the world – and said goodbye. Each one thanked me for spending the day with them and for their soon-to-be-delivered #BirdOn shirts. I hit the road and headed for home…
I really should have hung out longer!
After we parted, the kids got some food and then got a collection of Lifers just west of Mohican near Amish Country in western Ohio. In addition to a King Rail (!), the group added Grasshopper and Savannah Sparrow Lifers, and J.J. and Ayana got their Lifer Bobolink! Oh, and yeah… they got these too:
My source came through and the kids got to see 4 baby Barn Owls – Lifer for all! So jealous! Then they ended their day at Lake Erie before getting dropped off back at home. It was an incredible day and I can’t wait to meet up with them again. Buster and I are trying to make plans for this week. Fingers crossed!
Thank you to Buster for providing this incredible opportunity to bird with his kids. Thank you to East Clark for supporting the program. And thank you to Swarovski for providing optics to make the kids’ experience unforgettable! That’s all… for now.
If you would like to make a donation to the Rogue Birders Bird Nerds fundraiser, we will have the donation link live for the next couple of days on the Ohio Ornithological Society’s website. This great organization always comes through to help us help other birders! Consider joining the OOS.