Birding Tour USA: Ohio Day Tours
Birding Tour USA: Ohio Day Tours
Birding Ecotours has an office in Columbus, right in the middle of Ohio. This gives our US-based staff excellent access to the whole state, as all four corners of Ohio can be accessed within about 2.5 hours of driving (or less) from our office in Columbus. We also have guides in other cities around Ohio (e.g. Dayton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo, etc.). The following text just provides “samplers” for birding day trips around the state, briefly mentioning some of the birds and sites that can be visited across Ohio.
Starting in north-western Ohio, Magee Marsh (the venue of the Biggest Week in American Birding) is famed for its spring migration spectacle, when myriads of spectacular, brightly colored wood warblers and other migrants can be seen and photographed at eye level. These birds forage madly to accumulate adequate energy stores to make the big crossing over Lake Erie to Canada, Michigan, etc. Most eastern warblers can be seen here during spring migration. Kirtland’s Warbler is the rarest of them, and if missed here (during migration) it can be seen (usually easily) in adjacent Michigan on its breeding grounds in late spring and early summer. American Woodcock, roosting Whip-poor-will, and Common Nighthawk are often seen at close quarters here.
As an aside (as this text is about our 1-day trips in Ohio), our new Ohio full-length birding tour, which includes brief forays into Michigan (to near-guarantee Kirtland’s Warbler) and West Virginia (for Swainson’s Warbler) is something you might consider, as we have a realistic chance of seeing all the eastern warblers (and stacks of other birds) on this tour.
Back to describing possible places to visit on a 1-day trip, north-western Ohio is not only about Magee Marsh. This part of the state also boasts a lot of other famous birding sites, so at very least one full day of birding is warranted in the Toledo/Oregon/Port Clinton area. The Ottawa auto drive, the brand-new Howard Marsh Metro Park, Pearson Metro Park, Metzger Marsh and woodlot, and Maumee Bay State Park (which usually boasts red and gray morphs of Eastern Screech Owl and lots of migrant activity) are just a few of the spectacular and famous birding sites in this area, not only for wood warblers, tanagers, cuckoos, orioles, and other terrestrial migrants, but also for shorebirds and all kinds of other species, such as Trumpeter Swan, Sandhill Crane, and many others. While we’ve been emphasizing spring migration here in north-western Ohio, this and other parts of the state are very well worth a day of birding at any time of year. Summer is of course good for breeding birds, fall migration sees a stack of shorebirds, rarer sparrows, and others, and winter is good for owls that can often include the adorable Northern Saw-whet Owl and winter ducks and gulls along the lakeshore. The areas further east along the shores of Lake Erie around Sandusky and Cleveland are also phenomenal for a plethora of winter gulls, ducks, Snowy Owl, and so many others. Near Cleveland, where there are lots of birders, rarer birds tend to be well staked out. Conneaut in the extreme north-east of the state is known for local rarities that “drop in” along the beach there.
Shorebirds, including Buff-breasted Sandpiper, can also be prevalent at various sites much further south within Ohio, such as Findlay Reservoir, Indian Lake, around Columbus and Dayton, at Big Island and Killdeer Plains, and at many other statewide sites. Columbus itself, right in the middle of Ohio, has so many first-class metro parks (all of them free!) that it’s really tough to get to know even a small proportion of them very well, even if you’re a local. On our day trips around Columbus we often visit the wetland section of the huge Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park for American Bittern (one of the best places anywhere for this skulking heron), Least Bittern (with luck), Sedge Wren (spring and summer), Virginia Rail, Sora, Henslow’s Sparrow (spring and summer), Nelson’s Sparrow, Le Conte’s Sparrow (these two during a brief window in the fall), Short-eared Owl (mainly in winter), Northern Harrier (mainly in winter), winter ducks, and many others. Woodland sections of this same park, and other sites like Blendon Woods, Highbanks, and Blacklick Woods Metro Parks, are great for migrants and breeding birds such as warblers, tanagers, a host of woodpeckers (including the massive Pileated Woodpecker), and lots of others.
The hilly southern parts of Ohio should not be neglected and are really good for Worm-eating Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, and many other birds not very often seen farther north except as “overshoot” migrants. Places such as Lake Hope State Park within Zaleski State Forest, Shawnee State Forest, Clear Creek Metro Park, and so many others are legendary among birders. Cincinnati, picturesquely situated on the scenic Ohio River, which forms the border with Kentucky, definitely warrants a bare minimum of one full day of birding.
If you’re an Ohio “year lister” wanting FOY (First of Year) species, or a visiting birder from a different state, you should equally enjoy one of these Ohio day trips with us. If you’re a foreign birder (and that could include the Western United States, ha ha!), you’re in for even more of a treat, as so many (if not most) birds will be new for you here in Ohio…!
1-Day Northwest Ohio Trip Report, May 2021
15 MAY 2021
By Jacob Roalef
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This rare female Kirtland’s Warbler was a top highlight of the day (photo Kathi Hoffman)!
Kurt and Kathi decided to visit northwest Ohio for several days before heading north to Michigan for more birding fun. We were lucky enough to link up for their first full day of birding here and what a day it was. While they have been to the region in previous years, the birding is so amazing that it is certainly worth repeat visits. During our day together, the birding was fantastic, and we only made it to two locations because of that! We birded the morning at Magee Marsh and the afternoon was spent on the auto-road of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. We ended our day together with 86 species and lots of laughs!
We managed to see several Bay-breasted Warblers throughout the day.
Day 1, 10th May 2021.
After picking up Kurt and Kathi at 7am, we decided to head to Magee Marsh as our first birding stop of the day. Although the famous boardwalk there had limited access during this time, the surrounding trails and even the parking lot can offer some great birding and we certainly weren’t disappointed. Right away we were treated to a nice migrant flock along the parking lot edge. The birding was so good that we were glued to one spot for almost an hour as some birds left, different ones just came in to replace them. Highlights included Bay-breasted, Magnolia, Palm, Blackpoll, Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue, Nashville and Chestnut-sided Warblers plus a very cooperative, Black-billed Cuckoo which flew in for a moment before carrying on. After reading the above, one can understand why it was so difficult to leave this spot and continue venturing onwards.
The striking white eye-ring of a Nashville Warbler really tends to stick out.
Eventually we made it out onto the Estuary Trail where we were treated to two more Black-billed Cuckoos; what an incredible cuckoo day! We also heard a Northern Waterthrush singing, and had views of a beautiful Northern Parula and a glowing Red-headed Woodpecker, not to mention about a dozen American Yellow Warblers. We started to make our way back to the car and passed the entrance to the boardwalk. Luckily, as we were passing by, we overheard some workers talking about the possibility of them allowing walk-ons at this time so we asked and next thing we knew, we were on the amazing Magee boardwalk! This place is amazing for birds, and it wasn’t long until magic struck with a jaw-dropping female Kirtland’s Warbler making an appearance! We enjoyed this sighting with several other excited birders, and one could really feel the joy of birding in the air. The rest of the boardwalk was of course enjoyable with species like Prothonotary, Nashville, and Cape May Warblers, White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, Great-crested Flycatcher and Swainson’s Thrush.
After a nice picnic lunch, we started our journey along the 7-mile auto-road tour in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. The beginning sections featured more water bird species and we enjoyed species like Trumpeter Swan, Great Egret, Sandhill Crane, and Common Gallinule. As we continued along into the more exciting second half of the drive, we were treated to some really nice views of both Dunlin and Least Sandpiper. We even managed to get onto a distant Sora that was foraging in and out of the reeds there. Finally, we came up to a small woodlot located along the road which again had a fantastic flock of migrant songbirds in its branches. One of the first species we saw after getting out was a brilliant Canada Warbler, which is always a real treat to see. Other birds included Magnolia, Blackpoll and Chestnut-sided Warblers, Indigo Bunting, and American Redstart. We finally rounded the corner and headed for the exit on what was certainly a fantastic day of birding! Warblers stole the show on this particular day, as they tend to do, and we tallied 19 different species on this trip before we said our goodbyes and put a cap on a great day trip.
While warblers often steal the show, there are other beautiful species to see such as Baltimore Oriole.