Explore the national park in our backyard for fabulous birding

Yellow-billed cuckoo

Looking for summer birds? Check out Ohio's only national park

When I was a student at the University of Akron, I launched a writing project about a dream plan I had heard about that required me to interview my congressman, U.S. Rep. John Seiberling of Akron.
Eastern towhee

Seiberling had a vision for a federal land grant that would preserve a green buffer zone between Cleveland and Akron, protecting the 33,000-acre Cuyahoga River corridor from almost certain development.

Today, 45 years later, Seiberling’s dream is a reality: the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, an environmental treasure and one of the best birding destinations in Northeast Ohio.

So when my son, Bret, recently came home for a visit and suggested we spend some quality time birding, it was only logical we would head out for the CVNP.

Bret has been my birding partner since he was 12, and is one of the best birders I know. He graduated from Columbia University, and is preparing to begin his second year at the New Jersey Medical School, so our birding opportunities are limited. Which made this day all the more special.
Hooded warbler/Gary Meszaros

It was a magical day, sunny and breezy, with the air filled with song and flying creatures. Not just birds, but butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, too. There were more tiger swallowtails than I had ever seen before, joined by monarchs, black swallowtails, even several hummingbird moths working the wild bergamot blossoms.

There must have been multitudes of flying insects too because swallows were coursing the river and fields, dominated by barn swallows, with rough-winged and tree swallows, and purple martins.
Eastern kingbird/Tom Fishburn

We kicked off our tour of the CVNP at the Oak Hill Trailhead, where indigo buntings were singing from the treetops, and a yellow-billed cuckoo streaked by.

Horseshoe Pond featured the familiar songs of common yellowthroats and Eastern towhees, plus another interesting call: “chip burr.” We located its source, a female scarlet tanager gleaning insects from the foliage.

The cool, dark forest at the Deep Lock Quarry Metro Park is probably the valley’s most reliable habitat for finding the secretive hooded warbler. We saw three of them, including one at close range that didn’t seem bothered by our presence. The songs of yellow-throated warblers, Acadian flycatchers, red-eyed vireos, and Carolina wrens echoed through the trees.
Henslow's sparrow/Jerry Talkington

Following a lunch break in Peninsula, we walked the nearby Towpath Trail, where we were greeted by a spotted sandpiper working the rocky shoreline of the river. The high-pitched screech of a broad-winged hawk pierced the solitude of the rushing water. An Eastern wood-pewee called its name from a hidden perch, and two yellow warblers chased each other through the shady canopy.

A birding visit to the CVNP wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Station Road Bridge Trailhead. The bald eagles have fledged from the nest in the Pinery Narrows, so we walked the recently opened railroad tracks to the swamp, which was busy with wood ducks, green herons, red-headed woodpeckers and, predictably, an adult eagle surveying its domain from atop a dead tree snag.
Yellow-throated warbler/Gary Meszaros

Eastern kingbirds chattered as they snatched insects on the wing. A red-shouldered hawk called as it circled overhead, and we were reunited with birds we had seen earlier in the day: yellow-throated and hooded warblers, common yellowthroats, indigo buntings, and cedar waxwings.

We wrapped up our birding adventure with a short drive out of the CVNP to the Bath Nature Preserve, where we were rewarded with several of our target birds in the broad swath of grasslands there. Bath is the go-to destination for Henslow’s sparrows, bobolinks and Eastern meadowlarks, and they didn’t let us down, providing multiple sightings.
Cedar waxwing/Bret McCarty

A passing thunderstorm sent us scrambling to a small shelter, but after it passed and the sun came out the birds were active. Immediately, a male scarlet tanager flew to a bare tree and began singing its tell-tale song described as sounding like a robin with a sore throat. Field sparrows entertained us with their ping-pong like song, joined by swamp and song sparrows, buntings, willow and great crested flycatchers, brown thrasher, and a marsh wren rattling from the reeds of a nearby wetland.

The nesting activity at the pond has provided excitement all summer, with lots of wood ducks and a pair of trumpeter swans that settled atop a muskrat den. Unfortunately, we only spotted one of the cygnets in the company of the adults. The missing cygnet apparently was the victim of a predator.

One of the best summer nesting seasons in memory is coming to a close. Soon, the Baltimore orioles and yellow warblers will depart for their wintering grounds in Central and South America, followed by the rest of our North American songbirds. But the fall migration can be as exciting as the spring migration. I hope to see many of you on bird walks in Northeast Ohio in the weeks to come.


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