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Bobolinks at Byers Woods

Your narrator (R) and Mr. Big Year, Greg Miller, flank Marcia Rubin in front of the sign that informs readers about the Bobolink Mecca in the backdrop. I was in Ashland County last Saturday to participate in the 8th annual Bobolinks at Byers Woods event. We three were a wee part of the some 120 attendees that converged on this 130-acre Ashland County Park District holding to celebrate that most interesting of blackbirds, the Bobolink.

This park has an interesting history, full of the flotsam and jetsam of north-central Ohio society. The majority of Byers Woods - in spite of the silviculturally based name - is an old landfill. It's capped, grassed over, and sprouts methane vent tubes. And Bobolinks, along with other grassland breeding birds, love the place. I first saw the area 16 years ago, before it was a park. Along with Louise Fleming from Greater Mohican Audubon Society, I toured the freshly sealed landfill with a couple of the county park guys and we discussed possible environmentally friendly goals for the site.

Sam Weyrick and the others with Ashland County were keen on making the best of the landfill, Greater Mohican Audubon Society (GMAS) ramped up their efforts to help, and the rest is history.

Thanks in large measure to the current GMAS president, Cheryl Harner, Bobolinks at Byers Woods was hatched in 2006. A major focus of the event was to draw attention to the nesting ecology of Bobolinks and other grassland nesters, and stir interest in Byers Woods as a park and bird conservation area. They've succeeded. Because of the educational outreach of this event, land managers have delayed mowing until late in the year, well after all of the grassland breeding birds have fledged their young. A simple shift in mowing regimes seems like an easy thing to accomplish, but that's not always the case. A major threat to Bobolinks and other meadow-dwellers is early mowings that destroy nests and young birds.

Quite an assemblage of vendors and non-profits attend, and set their tents along the vast meadows of the former landfill. Browsers of the displays are serenaded nonstop by the rich bubbly R2-D2 gurgles of displaying Bobolinks on the other side of the fence. Robert Hershberger of Time & Optics occupied the first tent, and people testing his scopes and binoculars could train them on Bobolinks - not a bad focal point when testing new optical gear.
A big part of Bobs at Byers is field trips. Here, a line of attendees snakes along the fence bordering the capped landfill, while brushland and woods extend off to the right. The bird list was impressive. In just this spot, we saw or heard species such as the oft-mentioned Bobolink, Savannah Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Kingbird, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Field Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Meadowlark, Willow Flycatcher, Northern Flicker, Yellow-throated Vireo, Gray Catbird, and more. In all, I tallied at least 63 species - not bad for an old landfill and its immediate environs!

This is the vista that visitors see when strolling the trails at Byers Woods. The only real giveaway that this gently rolling hill was once an active landfill are the white vent tubes here and there. As I understand it, in 14 years both the tubes and the perimeter fence can be removed. Then, one would never know the site's trashy history if not told.

I was basically afield and leading groups from 9 am until 1 pm, and when so engaged I tend to take few if any photos. As the event wound down, I realized that I hadn't even bothered to snap a shot of a Bobolink - sacrilegious indeed! So off I trotted with my little Panasonic point & shoot, and within minutes sighted and snapped a "Bobo" on a fence rail. You just can't miss 'em. Cheryl estimated that about 50 males occupy the grasslands this year, more than in year's past.

Our first group out, which I co-led along with uber-birder Kathy Mock. We had a great time and saw lots of stuff - so much stuff, in fact, that I forgot I was supposed to be back at ground zero to head out with another group at 11 am. Oops! No problem, thanks to a convenient lift on a golf cart, I was only slightly tardy.

Anyway, everyone looks pretty happy in this group shot. I'd like to think they'd be happy no matter what, but everyone was especially elated due to a most obliging Black-billed Cuckoo that came in and posed at close range for extended viewing. Everyone in this group saw the bird, and it was a lifer for most.

Our second excursion focused on insects, and I was pleased to be a co-leader with Cheryl Harner and Lisa Rainsong. Our investigations of the grasslands and wetlands produced many interesting bugs, including several butterfly species including a fly-by Milbert's Tortoiseshell, and two highly cooperative bumblebee mimic robberflys. Not to mention numerous dragonflies, including this stunning female Eastern Pondhawk.

A juvenile Tree Swallow peers from its lair. The numbers and diversity of birds that are produced on this former landfill site is amazing, and Bobolinks at Byers Woods has done an impressive job of showcasing alternate, truly green uses for abandoned landfills. We people leave an incredible amount of rubbish in our wake, and giant landfills are a necessary evil. I think there can be no higher repurposing of a landfill than to grow Bobolinks and other birds on the abandoned spoils of our throwaway waste. A good irony, indeed.

Watch for Bobolinks at Byers Woods next year when June rolls around, and plan to attend. Also, visit Cheryl's blog RIGHT HERE and read her recap of the event - she is thorough in acknowledging all of the players that made Bobos at Byers possible, and it's this team that brought about the conservation of what may be Ohio's birdiest landfill.

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