When my grandfather and I weren’t watching Marlin Perkins on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, rocking to Lawrence Welk, or snacking on peanut butter-and-bacon toasted sandwiches, we would stand at the kitchen window of my grandparents’ Colonial Revival nest and watch birds filling up at feeders and having fun in bird baths. Here we are in February 1971. Grandpa and I would watch the birds with his French “Franklin” binoculars that he won as a 10-year-old in a circa-1918 birdhouse-building contest.
Besides his aviator scarf, his plaid Pendleton shirts, and his fedora hat, his binoculars were one of his signature accessories. He took them on his famous trip to California, posing with them on the Tonto Trail in the winter of 1927-1928.
For a field trip to Mansfield last Saturday, I took along my Nikon Sprint III binoculars, an under-utilized gift I got 13 years ago for my 30th birthday. I discovered how enlightening it is to use them, not just to check out the audience and the ceiling during concerts at the Ohio Theatre, but rather to take a new, avian-focused, look at some old favorite haunts.
At Malabar Farm, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield’s Colonial Revival home, I never tire of touring the “Big House” and taking in its scenic countryside vistas. My most recent visit to Malabar, during last year’s maple sugaring festival, was one of the best. (Click here to read about it.)
On this visit, though, I skipped the house tour and focused on Malabar’s natural resources. In front of the visitor center, gourd-shaped birdhouses hang to attract Purple Martins. Elsewhere, I learned that Malabar Farm is also home to over 25 species of permanent resident birds, over 50 species of summer resident birds, over 90 species of winter resident birds, 20 kinds of trees, and over 50 native and non-native species of flowering plants.
Some members of Malabar’s bird population lived in the farm’s songbird aviary, which was open for the last time this past weekend. Visitors could stroll along a boardwalk through this screened enclosed area and see several examples of songbirds and plants native to Ohio. Now, the birds are moving 12 miles away to the Ohio Bird Sanctuary in Mansfield.
Who knew there was a bird sanctuary in Mansfield? I certainly didn’t, so I drove over and checked it out. One pleasant surprise was nestled off a winding woodland road!
The Ohio Bird Sanctuary is a special place where 350 of Ohio’s native birds of prey and songbirds are being rehabilitated after injuries. Visitors can hike trails, see outdoor displays of live birds of prey, and walk through a songbird aviary.
The first birds I met were two Eastern screech owls named Bob and Lazarus. Bob’s tree was felled when he was just days old, and as the only survivor, people raised him. Lazarus suffered brain damage and impaired vision when he was struck by a car.
Walking past the well-appointed cages where a Cooper’s Hawk and a Short-eared Owl live, I jumped when an American Crow called shrilly, “Hi, y’all!” His neighbors — Seymour the Great-horned Owl, Phoenix the Harris Hawk, Apollo the Barred Owl, Athena the Barn Owl, Legacy the Peregrine Falcon, and Ichabod the Turkey Vulture — acted bored, like they had heard this dumb routine plenty of times before.
When I carefully opened the two sets of doors and stepped inside the songbird aviary, a Baltimore Oriole raced up to greet me. I thought I was in for a scene straight out of “The Birds.” When he settled down, I realized he was just being friendly.
A Blue Jay raced through dozens of laps around the aviary, while a Mourning Dove cooed contentedly in the corner. A Red-necked Pheasant pecked around on the ground. A Common Grackle, a Northern Cardinal, and a Cedar Waxwing flitted around the dogwood and other blooming trees inside the enclosed area.
The Ohio Bird Sanctuary is also home to Benjamin Bunny, a Netherland Dwarf Rabbit who was born on Easter…
… and to Lucy, a Red Cochin Bantam Chicken that chose to lay her eggs in a basket she found in the sanctuary’s restroom. What a place!
I even saw Kingwood Center, the public garden located on the former Mansfield estate of Charles Kelley King, with new eyes on this trip. For as long as I can remember, I’ve headed right for Mr. King’s home, my nest of choice, with its horticultural library, flower-arranging room and elegant furnishings, and the seasonal garden displays that surround it. This time, though, the greenhouse is what got my attention. With 12 weeks to go before my trip to Ireland, I noticed Irish Lace (Nephrolepsis exaltata) among the tropical displays and a Red-headed Irishman (Mammillaria spinosissma) in the succulents room. On my next visit, I’m going to try to track down some of the 29 species of birds that have been spotted at Kingwood, according to bird observations that have been recorded on eBird.