Birding the trails and eastern section of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio
Notes to accompany the birding map provided by Black Swamp Bird Observatory
Note: this is not an official refuge map. Staff of Ottawa NWR were very helpful in providing information, but this map was produced independently, and any errors are not the responsibility of Ottawa NWR or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Trails, roads, and other areas shown on the map may be temporarily or permanently closed to the public, and visitors must always observe such closures.
Trails on dikes around large impoundments and through wooded areas in the eastern part of the main unit of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge provide very productive birding at all seasons. Occasionally these areas may be closed for a few days for reasons of habitat management, but typically they are open seven days a week from dawn to dusk. Trails through the woods are best birded slowly, on foot, but the dirt roads on the dikes around the larger impoundments (Pools 2a, 2b, and 2c, and MS 8a and 8b) may be explored by bicycle (a mountain bike with
wide tires is best).
The Visitors’ Center is a good place to start. The center itself has fine interpretive displays, knowledgeable staff and volunteers, a bookshop, and an elevated observation deck. Trails immediately behind the center lead to a boardwalk through a beautiful swampy woodland and connect to the rest of the entire trail system.
A second access point is the east parking lot, half a mile directly north of the main entrance. From here one may walk through the wooded areas to the west and south or around the impoundments to the north. The small unnamed woodlot just west of this parking lot, as well as the South Woods and North Woods, are all favorite places to look for warblers and other songbird migrants during spring and fall.
Pools 2a, 2b, and 2c, as well as MS 8a and 8b, are usually good places to look for ducks, grebes, egrets, and other marsh birds. When water levels have been lowered, they may have many shorebirds as well. In addition to water birds, however, birders should note that the brush and trees along the dikes can be excellent for close views of warblers and other migrating songbirds on days following a good overnight arrival of migrants. The birds can be concentrated in these narrow strips of vegetation and can be surprisingly easy to see.
An observation tower on the south side of Pool 2c offers a good overview of the pool and marsh.
The trail along the north side of Pool 2a and Pool 2b overlooks the estuary of Crane Creek. Water levels in the estuary vary from day to day; they are often lower on days with southwest winds and higher with northeast winds (when the wind causes Lake Erie waters to back up into the estuary). When the water is low, there are often many shorebirds here.
(Note that in spring 2009, the north and east sides of Pool 2b are closed to protect a nesting pair of Bald Eagles.)
From the east parking lot it is also possible to walk east along the Ottawa – Magee Partnership Trail. This also can be accessed from its east end on the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, where it connects to the parking area at the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center. The trail passes through areas of thickets, woods, and marsh, and can be very good for wintering sparrows and for a wide variety of other songbirds during migration.
The John F. Gallagher Memorial Trail is accessed from behind the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, just north of State Route 2 at the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. The trail leads through woodland edge, second growth goods, and meadow.
Notes by Kenn Kaufman, updated April 2009
Overview of birding at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio Notes to accompany the birding map provided by Black Swamp Bird Observatory Note: this is not an official refuge map. Staff of Ottawa NWR were very helpful in providing information, but any errors are not the responsibility of Ottawa NWR or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service. Trails, roads, and other areas shown on the map may be temporarily or permanently closed to the public, and visitors must always observe such closures.
Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge currently encompasses more than 5000 acres, including areas not shown on this map, such as sections south of Route 2 and well to the east. The map shows the main areas that are likely to be visited by the birding public. The majority of the land for Ottawa NWR was purchased with money raised by the federal “duck stamp” (Migratory Bird Conservation and Hunting Stamp). Habitat on the refuge benefits many kinds of birds, not just ducks, and it provides a prime example of the reasons why Black Swamp Bird Observatory always encourages birders to buy the duck stamp! Ottawa NWR provides the possibility for excellent birding almost
every day of the year. Huge numbers of waterfowl gather here in migration, especially in late fall and early spring. Shorebirds are often abundant in spring, late summer, and fall. Wooded areas on the refuge often swarm with warblers and other migrant songbirds, especially in May and September. Notable nesting birds in the marshes here have included American and Least Bitterns, Virginia and King Rails, Sandhill Crane, Black Tern, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. Bald Eagles are common year-round.
Management of wetland areas for wildlife habitat is complicated.
Water levels need to be manipulated for different groups of species, for control of invasive plants, and for a variety of other aims. Ottawa NWR staff do a superb job of this, but the reasons for some decisions may not be obvious to a casual observer. At any given time, various impoundments shown on the map may have deep water, shallow water, or no water, so the areas of wetland shown on the map should not be taken as to represent permanent bodies of water.
There are five main ways to approach birding the refuge:
1. Start by going to the Visitors’ Center. Open seven days a week, it features fine interpretive displays and a raised observation deck. From behind the center, a boardwalk connects to trails that are open from dawn to dusk every day.
2. Go to the East Parking Lot (shown on the map as “Parking for trails; start of auto tour”) and walk from there. Various trails lead through woods and around impoundments in the area. The small woodlot west of the parking lot and the larger woods to the southwest often are excellent for songbird migrants. Many ducks and other water birds can be found on pools 2a, 2b, and 2c, and on MS 8a and 8b; the dikes around these impoundments also
can be explored by bicycle. See our more detailed map on “Eastern Section: Trails” at www.bsbo.org/birding
3. Go on the Auto Tour. Generally this is open one day per month, usually the third Saturday, and it gives access to parts of the refuge that are usually off limits. See our more detailed map of the western section of the refuge, including the Auto Tour.
4. Check areas of the refuge that are visible from the periphery. Two miles west of the main entrance, Stange Road runs north from State Route 2; near the junction of Stange and Krause is an observation tower. From the tower, with a telescope, you can get a good view of water birds on MS 7 and of grassland birds nearer the tower. To the west on Krause Road is a parking area for the Adam Grimm Prairie, which has typical grassland birds, especially in summer. Proceeding west on Krause to where it joins State Route 2, then north almost 2 miles to Veler Road, one
can turn east a short distance to a closed gate. From here, one can look south over impoundment MS 2, which attracts many shorebirds and ducks. Again, a telescope is very useful here.
5. There are sometimes other opportunities to visit other parts of the refuge as part of the monthly census or other programs. Contact the friends’ group, the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Association, via their website ( www.onwra.com ) or call the refuge office at 419 898 0014.
Notes by Kenn Kaufman, updated April 2009