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Nature: Once-shunned peninsula grew into urban oasis

A Cooper's hawk chases a red-tailed hawk above Scioto Audubon Metro Park/Jim McCormac

May 6, 2018

NATURE
Jim McCormac

Just southwest of Downtown Columbus, shadowed by skyscrapers, is an urban oasis. The 120-acre Scioto Audubon Metro Park is a rich green peninsula wedged between the Brewery District and the Scioto River.
The nine-year-old park rose from rows of impounded cars and industrial detritus. Many an illegally parked motorist made journeys to the end of Whittier Street to retrieve vehicles that had been towed.
Metro Parks, Audubon Ohio and the city of Columbus united to transform the Whittier Street Peninsula into a landscape diametrically opposed to what it once was. Although the peninsula was a place few folks wished to visit only a decade ago, it is now a site that tens of thousands of people flock to each year.
A popular attraction is the Metro Parks’ climbing wall, where wanna-be Edmund Hillarys scale the artificial heights. Walkers, runners and others also abound. Yet intermixed with the human recreational opportunities is a big dose of natural habitats.
Central Ohioans are fortunate in that we have metro parks that artfully blend conservation with recreation. The juxtaposition of this mixed use is on conspicuous display at Scioto Audubon.
Near the park’s entrance is an osprey nest atop a light pole. The “fish-hawks” have nested there for a number of years, seemingly oblivious to the throngs of people. A marshy pond with boardwalk serves as a centerpiece, and planted prairie buffers the wetland.
Backwaters of the Scioto River delineate the park’s western border. The river attracts egrets, waterfowl of many kinds, bald eagles, migrant songbirds and scores of other species. More than 200 species have been documented from this site, including many rarities.

The crown jewel of the park is the Grange Insurance Audubon Center. One of only a few dozen such centers in the nation, it serves as a hub for activities of many kinds and sports interesting displays within. Staff members regularly offer programs, lead local forays and provide educational outreach to the community.

I visited the center recently to attend a workshop, and arrived an hour early to photograph the osprey at their nest. The brief visit turned into a wildlife extravaganza perhaps unexpected in the footprint of a large city.
A scan through my 800-mm lens revealed the outline of a peregrine falcon perched on the ledge of a Downtown building. The falcons make regular sorties over the park searching for ducks and other avian prey.
A young red-tailed hawk crossed the prairie and was set upon by a Cooper’s hawk. The smaller but fiercer raptor drove the red-tail from its turf. These are the birds in the accompanying photo.
Killdeer foraged on a nearby lawn, while swallows of five species hawked insects overhead. Escaping their attention were migrant red admiral butterflies flitting around the meadows. At least two bald eagles, a juvenile and an adult, patrolled the nearby river. The clear slip-sliding notes of a male yellow-throated warbler came from streamside sycamores.
Before I knew it, my hour was up. But once again, a visit to Columbus’s “Central Park” bore much feathered fruit.
For information about the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, visit http://grange.audubon.org.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.

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