Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Green Lawn Cemetery sports some "good" birds

Green Lawn Cemetery is a huge green splash of habitat embedded in a very urbanized landscape on the south side of Columbus, Ohio. At 360 acres, it is the second largest cemetery in the state, trailing only Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery in size. Long known as a legendary birding hotspot, Green Lawn boasts a massive bird list which includes many rarities: Ohio's first Mississippi Kite record, what was probably the first widely seen Swainson's Warbler, Harris's Sparrow, Kirtland's Warbler, and many others.

These all qualify as "good" birds. Don't you hate that G-word when applied to birds? I do, and fastidiously try to avoid its use when making a statement about the purported value of any bird. After all, every bird is a good bird, at least somewhere. Even worse is when someone says "I got" a bird. One time, I was standing along a road in Churchill, Manitoba when a van full of birders pulled up. The guide looked out, and said "what do you see?" I reported that I was watching a Northern Shrike, aka "Butcherbird" teed up and hunting. Shrikes are cooler than Elvis ever was. He reported the sighting to the contents of the bus, and I heard several "birders" say, almost in unison, "oh, we already 'got' that".

No, they didn't "get" the shrike. John James Audubon, Alexander Wilson, and other early ornithologists "got" birds when they blasted them from the trees with shotguns in the days of yore. Indeed, that vanful of birders would have done well to stumble out of that vehicle and spend a bit of time playing the role of birdwatchers.

Anyway, enough of that. Green Lawn is near and dear to me, and I've had a long relationship with the place. I've made hundreds of trips there over my life, and even before I had a driver's license, my parents or brother would take me there to look for birds. This eventually led to my serving for 14 years on the board of trustees, as we endeavored to manage the place as, essentially, an arboretum and nature preserve. Indeed, its formal name is Green Lawn Cemetery and Arboretum. The vast majority of Ohio's native tree species can be found, and many of the oaks are old-growth behemoths that are several hundred years old. Add in plenty of century old ornamental conifers and it's no mystery why Green Lawn Cemetery is attractive to birds.

Not long ago, I led a group of 20 or so natural resources students from Ohio State University around the cemetery. I had high hopes for two especially noteworthy species (noteworthy, not "good"), and we struck gold. Plundering the cones of a Norway Spruce was a trio of White-winged Crossbills, including one bright pink male. Later, after the students had departed, Steve Rose and I wandered back and were treated to the sight of this female on the ground, slaking her thirst. She blends well with the leaves.

I think that the students appreciated this mighty little hunter more than they did the crossbills. Merlins have become a wintertime fixture at Green Lawn for at least six years now, and I hoped that we might catch up to one on this day. Sure enough, a sharp-eyed student spotted one of the birds high on a snag. I was able to set my scope up, and everyone could leisurely admire the barrel-chested avian warrior. The Merlin, being a Merlin, cared not a whit for us lower life forms on the ground far below, and generally ignored its fawning admirers.

Both the crossbills and Merlin (or Merlins) are undoubtedly still in residence. From here on out, as migration picks up steam, there'll be an ever increasing cast of migrant birds cycling through Green Lawn Cemetery. If you've not been there, make a visit and check the place out. More information about the cemetery can be found on the Ohio Ornithological Society's website, HERE.


Auralee said...

A few years ago I approached the boardwalk at Magee Marsh for the first visit of the season and watched a black and white warbler march its way up a treetrunk before I got even got past the entrance. I was delighted until a woman passed and said, condescendingly, that's not bad for a junk bird. I said, "I'm sure he feels the same way about you."

Jim McCormac said...

Ha! Excellent rebuke, Auralee! She deserved it; anyone who uses that term should have their binoculars confiscated, and to apply "junk" to such a fine animal as a Black-and-white Warbler is reprehensible!

Bruce Lindman said...

My girlfriend and I just started getting interested in birding last year, and traveled up to Magee March for the Big Week.
We were enjoying observing what we considered to be a beautiful and entertaining bird, when the Experience Authority next to us informed us that it was "just a Coot".
We both agree that we never want to get to the point where we fail to see any bird as a beautiful miracle of nature.
And by the way, we truly enjoyed your talk at the Shreve Migration. Thanks!