Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sharing the Hocking Hills with a friend

My recent vacation got off to a good start when I spent a day hiking and birding the Hocking Hills region with my blogging friend Kelly of Red and the Peanut. Her son was attending a tennis camp at Ohio University, so she decided to spend the week exploring Athens and Hocking counties and all of the beauty this area of the state has to offer. I'm really glad we got to not only meet in person, but do some birding and enjoying of the great outdoors together.

left - Kelly snapping a photo
right - a path to the Upper Falls of Old Man's Cave

One thing that became apparent to us very quickly at our first stop (Old Man's Cave) was the special micro-climate that exists within the 6 Hocking Hills parks. A cool and moist environment was created here millions of years ago when the glaciers advanced to their farthest point south in Ohio, and that environment persisted within the gorges of the Hocking Hills even after the glaciers retreated. Another thing that the glaciers left behind were the seeds of more northern species of plants, such as eastern hemlocks and Canadian Yews.

So how did this micro-climate manifest itself to us, other than the fact that it just feels cooler and more moist in the parks? Well, soon after we got into the park proper, we heard the ethereal, flute-like song of the Hermit Thrush. We were both in awe. They do not nest in Ohio (their nesting grounds are up in the most northeastern states and Canada), but there has been documentation of nesting pairs in various regions of the Hocking Hills during some years. While we don't know if the bird we saw was part of a nesting pair or not, he was certainly singing to attract the ladies. And we didn't just hear one. I believe at one time we heard Hermit Thrush song coming from 3 distinct locations. But even better, we saw one. It was an incredible sighting, about 10-15 feet in front of us in a tree, right at eye level, singing it's heart out. Then it flew across the ravine to a rock wall where it hopped around either catching bugs or sipping water. It was Kelly's eagle eye that spotted the bird, so I'm doubly thankful she was with me! Unfortunately neither of us got a photo of this beautiful creature, but the image surely burned itself into both our memories. Oh, and a bit of a bonus for me: LIFE BIRD (I'd heard one before, but had not seen one until this day)!

Another oddity: Fire Pink... blooming in JULY!!!! Ours quit blooming shortly after Mother's Day! Another thing to chalk up to the micro climate, I suppose.

Even though it has been a wet summer, the waterfalls were not running. Dribbling a little bit, maybe, but not running. Here are some side-by-side shots to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:

Old Man's Cave, Lower Falls
July 2009 on the left, April 2008 on the right

Cedar Falls
July 2009 on the left, March 2008 on the right

I was a little bummed, as I really would have liked for Kelly to have had a chance to see the majesty of these waterfalls in person, but I guess she'll just have to come back next spring to see them for herself!

We saw some other cool stuff along our walk, like this colony of mushrooms on a dead tree:

And a pair of snapping turtles!

Thanks for a fun day of birding and hiking, Kelly, and for helping me get my vacation started off right! I hope you enjoyed your time in the Hocking Hills - I know I always do! (See Kelly's blog, if you haven't already, for more photos and accounts of her time spent in the Hocking Hills region.)

Bird list:
Hermit Thrush
Cedar Waxwing
Wood Thrush (heard only)
Eastern Phoebe
American Robin
American Crow
American Goldfinch
Black-throated Green Warbler (we hunted this one down after hearing it sing for a long time, finally got a visual - LIFE BIRD)
Blue Jay (heard only)
Acadian Flycatcher (heard only)
Hooded Warbler (we THINK! - heard only - I'm 95% sure)
Grey Catbird
White-eyed Vireo (heard only)
Red-eyed Vireo (heard only)
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Eastern Bluebird (heard only)
Common Yellowthroat (heard only)
Carolina Wren (heard only)
Red-shouldered Hawk (heard only)
Turkey Vulture


The Early Birder said...

Hi Heather. Great to hear you had a excellent trip out with Kelly. They always say that 2 pairs of eyes are better than one and it obviously paid off with the Hermit Thrush. FAB

Monika said...

What a cool place (literally too, apparently!. Thanks for sharing your trip sightings and photos! Quite an amazing difference between the waterfalls. I like the side by side comparison of different seasons/years.

Kelly said...

Heather I had a fabulous time. I think spotting the Hermit Thrush in the hemlock ravines and the Black-throated Green Warbler (after chasing him all afternoon) was awesome birding. I'm working on a few paintings. I hope my time frees up soon, so I can record that part of our adventure. I had such a good time. Matty already said he wants to go back to the tennis camp next year, so yeah! I'll be back to beautiful Hocking Hills!

NW Nature Nut said...

Looks like a good time! And wonderful photos as usual. I'll have to watch for Kelly's paintings to see more of your trip! Thanks for sharing.

Gabrielle said...

OMG the waterfalls are BEAUTIFUL!!! and how cool to see snapping turtles - great photos! Congrats on the black-throated green lifer

I'm glad you and Kelly had such a great time.

Heather said...

Frank - Yes, having two pairs of eyes paid off big time on this excursion (she also spotted the Black-throated Green Warbler)!

Monika - It is indeed a cool place, in every sense of the word. I don't normally visit during the summer though, so it was a shock for me to see the waterfalls in a non-existent phase.

Kelly - I'd love to see some paintings based on your trip! I'm glad to hear Matty had such a good time at camp.

Michele - Thanks, we lots of fun.

Gabrielle - The snappers were an unexpected treat. You never know what you'll see (or hear!) when you go to the Hocking Hills.

Shelley said...

Many, many spectacular shots! Wow! I can't pick a favorite! Looks like you and Kelly had lots of fun!!

Ginnymo said...

What awesome photos Heather!! Glad you and Kelly had a good time!!

Heather said...

Shelley - Thank you! Yes, we had quite a blast.

Ginny - Thanks so much. Hopefully we'll be able to get together again!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fun trip. I have heard of Hocking Hills, but had no idea of where it was. You got some good shots, I really like those snapping turtles.

Heather said...

Susan - It was a very good time. The Hocking Hills is in southeast Ohio, just SE of Columbus. Those snappers were indeed very cool.