Distant Adventures: A Self-Guided Birding Experience During Social Distancing

At Western Reserve Land Conservancy, we are driven by a vision of thriving, prosperous communities nourished by vibrant natural lands, working farms and healthy cities. With this in mind, we understand that nature can be a healing and peaceful place during these uncertain times. We hope that while practicing social distancing, we can continue to honor our mental and physical health by getting out into nature whether through birding, hiking, walking our dogs, biking trails, or sitting on our front porches. As our guided birding events have been canceled for the time being, we hope you will consider a self-guided birding adventure.

Gear Suggestions

Basic gear can include:

More advanced gear can include:

  • A spotting scope
  • A digital camera and journal to capture what you find

References for bird types and sounds:

Some people prefer to hold their reference in their hand. For this we suggest David Allen Sibley's Field Guide to Birds and his Guide to Trees (if you are interested in trees, be sure to check out our Tree Steward Training Program). If you are more interested in a digital reference that you’ll always have with you, check out these smartphone apps. All allow you to search birds by size, color, flight pattern, habitat, etc. to find out what birds you are seeing, as well as hear the sounds those birds make:

    • Audubon Bird Guide app
    • eBird app (or go to this link)
    • Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab app (or go to this link)

Places To Go

Although you can bird almost anywhere, and some of us do, there are certain places that will have more action than others. You can find recent sightings of species near you on the apps listed above. You can also check out some of our work first hand while birding. Western Reserve Land Conservancy is instrumental in creating public parks and preserves. We collaborate with many partners and leverage our expertise in real estate transactions, conservation easements, legal work, and fundraising to do this important work. To date, we have helped to create more than 170 parks and publicly-owned preserves around the region. Many of these are open to the public, while others will open to the public at a later date. Click here to view our virtual map of public parks and preserves. Here are our staff favorites for birding:

  • Harbor View Park - Owned and managed by the City of Vermilion. 480 Main St., Vermilion, Ohio 44089 (the driveway is located around the corner off of Huron Street) or from the parking areas on Main Street where it dead-ends at the beach
  • Lake Erie Bluffs - Owned and managed by Lake Metroparks. 3301 Lane Rd., Perry OH 44081 and 2901 Clark Rd., Perry, OH 44081
  • Red Brook Metropark - Owned and managed by Ashtabula County Metroparks. The park can be accessed from the Martinis Restaurant & Lounge parking lot at 4338 Lake Rd. W, Ashtabula, OH 44004
  • Turkey Creek Metropark - Owned and managed by Ashtabula County Metroparks. The northern portion of the park can be accessed from the corner of Lane Road and State Line Road in Pennsylvania. The southern portion of the property can be accessed from the northern end of Thompson Road. There is currently no infrastructure or improved access roads in the park.
  • Orchard Hills Preserve - Owned and managed by the Geauga Park District. 11340 Caves Rd., Chesterland, OH 44026
  • Hell Hollow Wilderness Area - Owned and managed by Lake Metroparks. 14437 Leroy Center Rd., Thompson, OH 44086
  • South Russell Village Park - Owned and managed by the Village of South Russell. Parking at 1000 Bell Road, Chagrin Falls, OH 44022 or on the north side of E. Washington just west of Savage Road

*Be sure to check the park websites to verify they are open

Please remember to practice social distancing even when outdoors, and remember these simple guidelines:

  • Stay home if you are sick or have symptoms
  • Wash your hands often, carry and use hand sanitizer
  • Cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing
  • Maintain 6 feet of distance from others and avoid congregating closely in parking lots or parts of the trails
  • Bring your own water bottle, do not use drinking fountains

You can find more information on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines at cdc.gov/COVID19

Other Important Information to Remember When Birding

It is currently nesting and fledging season which means forcing birds out of their nests can be dangerous for them and their eggs or newly-hatched babies. Here are a few simple rules of thumb:

  • Do not play bird song to attract birds or call them from their nests
  • Step careful and keep an eye out for ground nests
  • Keep dogs on a 6 ft leash
  • Avoid loud sounds or sudden movements
  • You should only intervene if you find a baby bird with no feathers outside of its nest by calling a licensed wildlife rehab center
  • Do not get too close to a bird, use binoculars to avoid this

Bird Habitat Types

There's a reason we don't see every type of bird everywhere we go- like people, different birds prefer different places. Each bird species responds to different objects within a landscape, such as trees, grass, or shrubs, and the objects a bird prefers can depend on what it eats, where the objects are in relation to water, what it needs for nesting, protection from predators, etc. There are three different bird habitats: forest (areas mainly covered with trees), non-forest (areas covered with grass or shrubs), and aquatic (areas that are permanently or seasonally covered by water). Here are examples of what you can find in different habitat types:

American Woodcock, also known as Timberdoodles

Woodcock return to Ohio early in the year and prefer young forest habitat (thickets, shrubs, and brush). They camouflage well against leaf litter with their brown mottled plump little bodies, walking slowly along the forest floor probing the soil with their long bills in search of earthworms. They are known for their mating displays which include loud, nasal peent calls, a bobbing walk, and a beautiful spiral flight at 200-350 feet.

Bobolink

Bobolink's prefer non-forests, specifically grasslands, and their species name oryzivorus means "rice eating" because they prefer rice and other grains found in grasslands. They are known for being the only North American bird with a white back and black underparts (some call it a backwards tuxedo). They can be found in spring and early summer by listening for the male singing a long, blurbing song punctuated with sharp metallic notes. The male is also recognized by its flight behaviors, flying in a helicopter-like pattern, moving slowly with his wings fluttering rapidly.

Yellow Warbler

It's Warbler season! North America has more than 50 species of warblers, making them hard to identify, but the Yellow Warbler can be more easily picked out by their warm yellow tones, unmarked faces, and black eyes. You can find them singing in wet woods, thickets, or streamsides, as they are one of the mostly commonly heard warblers in the spring and summer.

Common Merganser, also known as Sawbills, Fish Ducks, or Goosanders

Like the Sandhill Crane, the Common Merganser prefers an aquatic habitat. But instead of wetlands, they prefer lakes and rivers. You can find them in large flocks mixed with other ducks. The males have a sharp dark-and-white contrast and the females have a crisply defined rusty head. Although they spend most of their time in bodies of water, they nest in natural tree cavities, rock crevices, holes in the ground, hollow logs, old buildings, and chimneys.

Common Merganser, Photo by Ryan Milhouse
Common Merganser, Photo by Ryan Milhouse

Other Critters to Look Out For


Amphibian Eggs

Any vernal pool (small shallow bodies of water filled up by rain or snow melt) could have amphibian eggs by spring in Ohio, such as frog eggs or salamander eggs. We can also start to hear frogs calling in wetlands.


Salamanders

Red-backed Salamanders are one of the most common salamanders in Ohio. They commonly come in two color morphs - red-backed (red) and lead-backed (gray). Some fun facts about salamanders are that their offspring are not necessarily the same color as their mom, and they exchange air through their skin so they have no lungs!

Small Mouth Salamander Eggs
Small Mouth Salamander Eggs
Red-Backed Salamander
Red-Backed Salamander
Wood Frog Eggs
Wood Frog Eggs
Lead-Backed Salamander
Lead-Backed Salamander

Other Activities

If you prefer to stay at home, there are many activites you can still do to engage with nature and our local wildlife, here are a few ideas:

Western Reserve Land Conservancy's Spring Kids Scavenger Hunt

Audubon's Guide to Make a Bird Feeder Out of Recycled Materials

Backyard Birding

Credit: National Audubon Society