Clear Creek Valley
To get there:Take U. S. 33 south of Lancaster about 8.5 miles to the Clear Creek Road (Hocking County Road 116).
The unglaciated portion of this lovely valley is approximately seven miles long and is bounded by outcroppings of rugged Black Hand conglomerate sandstone for much of its length. Resting on glacial wash, the valley is a tapestry of tree-lined stream banks, swaths of scouring rushes, grasses, patches of brush, and strips of fallow fields. At its narrowest, the wooded slopes descend to the stream; in the wider parts of the valley, there are intervening meadows and a few cultivated fields. A profusion of native and introduced wildflowers flourish along the road and in the woods. Some trees typical of the valley are the dogwood, redbud, wild plum, sour gum, tulip, hemlock, sassafras, sourwood, pitch pine, Kentucky coffee, sweet birch, sycamore, willow; scarlet, black, and chestnut oaks; red maple, black walnut, and American beech. Vines and bushes common to the valley include the mountain laurel, wild grape, green briar, witch hazel, Virginia creeper, and bittersweet.
Over 3,000 acres of land in the Clear Creek Valley is a Columbus and Franklin County Metro Park and has been dedicated as a State Nature Preserve. A gift of 1,159 acres in 1973 from the Allen F. Beck family provided the basis for the Preserve that now bears that name. A recent gift of 661 acres from William E. and Emily P. Benua has also been dedicated as a State Nature Preserve and carries their name in recognition of the gift.
There is a gas station and convenience store at the intersection of Route 33 and the Clear Creek Road. It is alright to park at the west end of their parking lot. Killdeer nest in the adjacent field. Barn Swallows are sometimes are joined by nesting Cliff Swallows in the barn across from the road. Overhead, scrutinize the swirls of Turkey Vultures for individuals of the scarcer Black Vulture, a few of which nest in the vicinity, and occasional Red-tailed or Red-shouldered Hawks.
Keep a sharp lookout to the sky for transiting Pileated Woodpeckers, Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings, Northern Rough-winged Swallows. Cedar Waxwings and Yellow Warblers nest in the trees behind the store. Listen for the rollicking yodel of the Carolina Wren, the repetitious "burry" notes of the Yellow-throated Vireo, the "churry churry" of the Scarlet Tanager, and the egg-beater-like song of the Cerulean Warbler.
About 0.4 mile from Route 33, a driveway leads up a hill to Neotoma, a long wooded hollow that once was owned and extensively studied for many years by Edward S. Thomas, Curator of Natural History at the old Ohio State Museum, and his colleagues.
It is now administered by the Metro Parks, which must be contacted for permission to enter the tract. The birdlife at Neotoma during the nesting season is always of interest. Around the old cabin, look and listen for Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, Acadian Flycatchers, Carolina Chickadees, Wood Thrushes, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Northern Parula, Black-and-White, Cerulean, and, rarely, Pine Warblers. Ovenbirds, American Redstarts, and Scarlet Tanagers visit the clearing around the cabin; a pair of Summer Tanagers sometimes nest nearby.
Several trails lead down the wooded hollow, which follows a small stream. Here there are Pileated and Red-bellied woodpeckers, Yellow-throated Vireos, Worm-eating and Kentucky warblers, several pairs of Louisiana Waterthrushes, and Rufous-sided Towhees. At the head of the valley and below the cabin, listen for Willow Flycatchers, Blue-winged Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Yellow-breasted Chats. At dusk, listen for Whip-poor-wills.
The area around Leaning Lena (a great chunk of sandstone that towers over the road) is sometimes good for Black-billed Cuckoos, Yellow-breasted Chats, and Summer Tanagers.
About 1.8 miles from Route 33 and the intersection with Starner Road, there is a spacious parking lot that is near several designated trailheads. Starner Road leads to the south across a bridge which crosses Clear Creek and the road meanders along for a while between the creek and a slope of magnificent hemlocks. A small nesting colony of Great Blue Herons can be seen atop one of the hills south of the creek from the Clear Creek road. Phoebes, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Yellow-throated Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrushes nest near the bridge. Some years, Magnolia and Canada Warblers and American Redstarts nest in the hemlocks.
Down the Clear Creek road 2.5 miles from U.S. 33, pull off the road and park near the wooded hollow on the right. A pair of Canada Warblers sometimes nests back along the hemlock covered slope. Veeries nest in the vicinity, in addition to a fine assortment of warblers. Among the latter are Blue-winged, Northern Parula, Yellow, Magnolia (rare), Black-throated Green, Yellow-throated, Cerulean, Black-and-white, American Redstart. Worm-eating, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Common Yellowthroat. Pileated Woodpeckers and a pair of Broad-winged Hawks nest nearby, and a short walk down the road in either direction will reveal Kentucky and Hooded warblers.
Continuing along the road, at 4.8 miles from U.S. 33 is Written Rock, a graffiti-covered sandstone cliff at the edge of the road. Hundreds of initials are inscribed here, most of the recent ones with spray paint that unfortunately obscures some of the chiseled inscriptions, some of which are well over 150 years old. A pair of Eastern Phoebes and several pairs of Northern Rough-winged Swallows sometimes nest in crannies on the face of the cliff. Sycamores along the creek attract nesting Eastern Kingbirds, Warbling Vireos, Northern Orioles and an occasional pair of Orchard Orioles. Other birds to look for in the vicinity, including the field across the creek, are Red-tailed Hawk, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Belted King fisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Eastern Bluebird, White-eyed, Yellow-throated, and Red-eyed vireos, Northern Parula (in the evergreens high atop Written Rock), Yellow and Yellow-throated warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Summer Tanager.
From Written Rock, continue westward to the entrance leading to Barneby Center, once an environmental training station operated by The Ohio State University. The Solitary Vireo has been found nesting here, along with such specialties as Broad-winged Hawk, Black-billed Cuckoo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Prairie Warblers and at least 15 other members of its clan.
About a mile farther down the Clear Creek road a new concrete bridge has replaced an old iron one that once crossed the creek. Near the new bridge, look for Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Cedar Waxwings, Blue-winged, Yellow-throated and Cerulean warblers, Ovenbirds; Common Yellowthroats; Yellow-breasted Chats; Summer and Scarlet tanagers; Indigo Buntings; Rufous-sided Towhees, and Song Sparrows. Green-backed Herons, Belted Kingfishers, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows can frequently be seen flying along the creek. Listen for Wild Turkeys along the edges of nearby fields. The part of the valley between Rich Hollow Road and an old covered bridge farther on provides a final encore to the wonderful birdlife of the region.
A few Eastern Screech Owls and one or two pairs of Great Horned and Barred Owls inhabit the valley but are difficult to find except at night with the help of a tape recorder. Eight to ten pairs of Whip-poor-wills can be heard calling on territory each year. In a population study of the valley, the author has recorded 114 species of nesting birds. A pair of Common Ravens was present from 1987 through 1989 and seen by many birders.. One of the adults was seen feeding a fledgling in 1987. Other unusual birds seen in the valley include Common Loon, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, Say's Phoebe, Bewick's Wren (nested), Lawrence's Warbler (hybrid), Great-tailed Grackle, and Evening Grosbeak.
If you are heading back toward Columbus on U. S. 33 and have never been to Chestnut Ridge Metropolitan Park, maybe this is the day for a new adventure . This magnificent 486-acre tract features a forested ridge that rises up out of the surrounding fields like a mountainous island, two miles of trails including a high-altitude boardwalk, a trailside stream, rolling meadows, and a man-made lake. Nesting birds include American Woodcock, Red-headed and Pileated woodpeckers, Tree Swallows, Wood Thrushes, White-eyed, Yellow-throated and Red-eyed vireos, Scarlet Tanagers; the following warblers: Blue-winged, Yellow, Prairie, Cerulean, Black-and-white, Ovenbird, Kentucky, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded, and Yellow-breasted Chat, and Northern and Orchard orioles.