Working a full time director job sometimes makes the time for birds very limited. Because of this, I will be sharing not only parks with trails, but also tips for those who need car-birding as an option. During migration in central Ohio, we not only get those little singing joys called warblers, but also get a variety of shorebirds and wetland species. Beaches, sky ponds, wetlands, and shallow ponds are great places to look for these large groups of birds.
For birders who do not have access to lengthy trails or have time constraints that allow only quick looks and checks each day, birding from your car works best. Every morning on my way into work in the spring-fall I can be found at either a park looking for warblers or at Alum Creek Beach. In the early mornings before the first dog walkers, divers, and runners enter the park you can find some great species. When short on time I drive through the parking lot and scan the beach. This is also great for those that cannot get around easily. It is important to scan the entire beach because small shorebirds can hide in the camouflage of the sand. Highlight species that I have found in this area include Western Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, American Avocets, Dunlin, and Ruddy Turnstone.
Sky ponds and shallow ponds are also great locations for those who rely on viewing from cars. A sky pond is a flooded farm field or a collection of water in a stripped field due to the level of the water table. Finding sky ponds takes investigation and understanding of your area. Heritage Trail in Hilliard is a popular location for a variety of shorebirds. The farm fields flood often and have had both waterfowl and shorebirds collect there. Some highlights include Long-billed Dowitcher, Willet, and many sandpiper species. To bird this location: park at the dog park and then walk west down the bike trail. On your left side you will see a large farm field where shorebirds gather when it’s flooded.
Wetlands are another great location to find shorebirds and other water-favoring species. One place I enjoy exploring wetlands is Battelle Darby Wetlands. Here I have had some great species including Wilson’s Phalarope, Long and Short-billed Dowitchers, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and many other sandpiper species. You can also get rails and Soras in great numbers. The key to this park is bring muck boots! The trails are often very muddy and wet. Where is the fun if you don’t get a little muddy?
To get a full experience of Battelle Darby, you are required to leave with at least one tick attached to your clothes! This is a warning that even in the summer you need to dress appropriately. The Teal Trail, Rail Way, and Harrier Loop are all great trails, and at times will have wetlands capable of hosting shorebirds. Also, make sure to watch the skies early in the morning, as some shorebirds may fly over and around looking for great places to land. Knowing the calls for the birds that lurk through reeds is imperative when you are approaching some species. Common Gallinule, Virginia Rail, Sora, Least and American Bitterns, and other wetland birds are often heard before seen and spook easily if you approach too quickly.
Regulating your pace is a great thing to practice when walking through wetlands. The slower you walk the more you will see. I have once stopped and sat on a trail and watched a family of rails run across the path. I’ve also seen a flock of Short-billed Dowitchers land within 10 feet of me. Those who fast-pace walk areas like wetlands often flush the birds and don’t get the opportunity to witness them feeding and moving through the grass.
Road Trip Birding
If you are a central Ohio birder looking for a road trip I recommend Howard Marsh! Located in Northeastern Ohio near the lake. This place has a HUGE variety of wildlife and is well worth the trip. Some highlight species I have seen there include Snowy Egret, Hudsonian Godwit, Black-crowned Night-heron, and Least Bittern.
Other Locations Around Central Ohio
Pickerington Ponds: Depending on water levels, this place hosts a variety of shorebirds
O’Shaughnessy Nature Preserve: Located in Dublin, Ohio. Depending on water levels, you can often get up close views of both Lesser and Greater yellowlegs in large numbers.
Check out other spring migrant hotspots here!