Swine Creek Reservation -The Hidden Gem for Bird Watchers
Ever since I was a kid, I have loved birds. I loved to listen to their songs, I loved to watch their aerial dances and acrobatics (I would later learn that this was courtship), and loved their bright colored plumage. While at 6th grade camp, we had an ornithologist from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History come out every day and take two groups a day on a bird hike. Mine was the last hike on the last day, and we saw more birds on my hike than she had on all the others. That same afternoon, she came out with a naturalist who brought out several species of birds of prey. I was naming the birds before he could get them out of their cages. He had the teachers pull me aside after his show, and we talked for a while. It was a lot of fun. I am still just as enthused with birds today as I was then, maybe even more so.
On May 21, I went for a walk at Swine Creek Reservation, as I do quite often, and could not help but think of what a gem that park really is. There are a variety of habitats there where so many different species of birds can be found or heard. On my walk, I heard a northern oriole (Baltimore oriole), an orchard oriole (I have still not seen one yet), cardinals, warblers, a downy woodpecker, and my favorite, the pileated woodpecker, the largest in North America.
Around the pond with the playgrounds, you will find red winged black birds, ducks and geese, several species of sparrows and wrens, and warblers. Just behind the pond and to the north, there is a field that is perfect for meadow larks, bobolinks, sparrows, thrushes, finches, and buntings. Along the wood lines you can find thrashers, eastern bluebirds, kingbirds, kinglets, the orioles, cardinals, cedar waxwings, and phoebes.
As you venture into the woods along the trails, you should hear the great crested flycatcher high up in the tops of threes. The scarlet tanager is a resident there as well as the rose breasted grosbeak, often heard, but seldom seen. The red bellied woodpecker is another common resident in the woods there, as well as the downy woodpecker. Swine Creek is also home to ONE pair of pileated woodpeckers. These very large and beautiful woodpeckers have an enormous territorial range of more than 1,000 acres. Their calls are often mistaken for common flickers which can also be found there. Common flickers are the only woodpeckers that spend almost as much time on the ground as they do in trees.
In the woods along the valley trail coming up the hill on the other side of the creek, you can find American red starts, and Carolina warblers, the only place I have seen them in the park in three years of going there. Just up the trail, you can find the black capped chickadee and nuthatches, although you can find chickadees and nuthatches just about everywhere. On the side of the park with the lodge, you will find the eastern blue birds, the indigo buntings, the gold finches, and purple finches, and the eastern king bird. I love watching him hover over the pond.
Unfortunately, there are many species of birds that used to be very common in Geauga County but are now extremely rare. This is due to the disappearance of habitat. These birds are the sand hill crane, the yellow bellied sapsucker, the red headed woodpecker, the meadow lark, the horned lark, and the American kestrel just to name a few.
One thing that makes the Geauga Park system different than the Lake Country Metro Parks, is that you can hike the trails until 11:00 pm. So you can even go owl hunting if you have a good flash light. Right at dusk you may be able to catch a glimpse of the night hawk (not a real hawk – it is in the whippoorwill family) with its outstanding display of aerial acrobatics.
If you would like to experience the beauty and wonder of some of these birds, I suggest that you go to Swine Creek Reservation either early in the day from 6:00 am until about 11:00 am when the birds are most active, or later in the afternoon from 5:00 pm until dusk. The latter part of spring and very early summer are the best times to catch the widest variety of birds.
Here is an idea that could be a lot of fun for kids as well as adults. Go out to one the many parks in Geauga County with a notebook and a field guide for birds. Write down as many birds as you possibly can that you spot on your trip. Try to make a note of where you saw them; in a field, near a pond, in the woods, or in a tree line. Then try to visit a different park with your notes and see if you can spot the same birds in the same types of habitats, or see if you spot new ones. Let us know what you see. Who knows, you may get real lucky and spot one of those rare or well hidden species that no one has laid eyes on!