By Bruce Stambaugh
Horses and buggies. Pastoral, broad valleys amid rolling hills frescoed with quilt-like patterns of crops. Fine, handcrafted furniture. Delicious, bountiful meals at reasonable prices.
All of the above are reasons scores of people from far and wide annually travel to Ohio’s Amish country. There is yet one more unassuming category to add to the list: birding.
With its diverse topography, greenery and abundant waterways, Ohio’s Amish country is a birder’s paradise. The area offers both a wonderful spectrum of bird species and excellent birding locales.
Ohio’s Amish country offers something for the novice, casual or serious birder. Birders can find migrating birds, native residents and the occasional rare visitor. The area affords numerous birding spots easily accessible for persons of all ages. A good pair of binoculars will help enhance any aviary quest in Amish country.
A good place to start the birding expedition and get a little exercise as well is the Holmes County Rails to Trails that cuts an easy diagonal through the county. The main starting point and parking lot is at the old railroad depot just north of West Jackson St. in Millersburg, the county seat. This 15-mile paved trail runs from Fredericksburg in Wayne County to Killbuck in southwestern Holmes County.
Following this trail provides a sampling of the birding habitats found throughout the area. However, its dominant geographic feature is the Killbuck Creek valley, a major north-south flyway for migrating birds and a wonderfully dense habitat for year-round bird residents. Woodlots, marshland, open water and cropland are in close proximity all along the trail’s length.
Birders should be aware that horse and buggies, horseback riders, bicyclists, runners and walkers use the trail, too. Birding etiquette and safety dictate setting up spotting scopes or viewing with binoculars on the side of the trail. All types of waterfowl can be found among the reeds and rushes in the marsh areas. Even a rookery of Great Blue Herons can be seen.
Not far from the north end of the Holmes County Trail is another outstanding birding area, the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area. An excellent observation spot is at the east end of Force Road, which is accessed from Valley Road east of Shreve.
From this vantage point, if one is patient, birders can view an array of species. American Bitterns, a wide variety of ducks, rails and even Bald Eagles may be seen. The Killbuck Marsh is a state run wildlife management area.
Two other state-owned areas in Ohio’s Amish country also offer excellent birding opportunities. The Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area is located in Wayne and Ashland counties, and Mohican State Park in southern Ashland County.
With its moist soil and shallow water habitat, the Funk Bottoms is a natural wetland area consisting of about 1,500 acres, mostly along State Route 95 near Blachleyville. The Ohio Division of Wildlife said birds that frequent the area include 23 species of migrating waterfowl, including Tundra Swans and Sandhill Cranes, and 28 species of shorebirds. A variety of raptors also winter over and are seen during migration.
Mohican State Park is a spectacular location for many activities, especially hiking and birding. With its dense forests and large open body of water, Bald Eagles and Ospreys have been spotted. The park is located just west of Loudonville between State Routes 95 and 97.
In the eastern end of Amish country sits another ideal birding spot, The Wilderness Center. It provides excitement for even the most novice birder. The Wilderness Center is located on Alabama Ave. off of U.S. 62 near Wilmot in Stark County.
With marked trails, an informative and hands-on interpretive building, it is the perfect place for families. From restored Ohio prairies to old growth forest, The Wilderness Center is host to a wide range of birds, especially songbirds.
With its checkered, rolling farm fields, spring-fed streams and treasured woodlands, many species of birds can be observed merely by driving around the back roads of Amish country. If you happen to see a farmer spreading manure in the winter, look for Horned Larks and Snow Buntings. If hay is being mowed in the summer, watch for Barn, Tree, Bank and Cliff Swallows circling for insects.
The area also boasts high numbers of Bobolinks, Eastern Bluebirds and Barn Owls. Since many avid birders live in the area, visitors can find good advice on where to bird and what might be found simply by asking.
This article appeared in the March 2010 edition of Ohio’s Amish Country.