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
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.)
Wood Thrush (heard only)
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)
White-eyed Vireo (heard only)
Red-eyed Vireo (heard only)
Eastern Bluebird (heard only)
Common Yellowthroat (heard only)
Carolina Wren (heard only)
Red-shouldered Hawk (heard only)