Meanderings: A goal for all seasons

KEN DANTER

After 50 years as a real estate consultant subject to the ebbs and flows of the economy, politics, weather, travel schedules, interest rates and deadlines, it’s time to slow down, for at least part of the day, (I’m still a part-time consultant) and do some fun stuff. My
idea to hike all 236 miles of the Franklin County Metro Parks trails and to have a 200-bird year seems to fit that plan. What started as a diary, or log, has morphed into a blog. My blogs are not spiritual, scholarly, or particularly cerebral. If that is what you’re looking for you’ll be disappointed. It’s just me enjoying the parks.

The blog title, “Meanderings” reflects my typical day in a park. Meandering is the act of wandering in a leisurely and aimless manner. It’s the opportunity to absorb what nature has to offer, but at the speed, the time and place she is prepared to share. So, if you’re in one of the Metro Parks and you see someone who appears absorbed, drifting or just lost, don’t call the park ranger, it’s just me.

A road marker for Blacklick Woods Metro Park.

January 1, 2020
I’m sitting in my truck in the Blacklick Woods parking lot. It’s 8am. It’s January 1. It’s cold. Well, not really cold, but with wind and drizzle, it’s raw; it’s Columbus cold. Last fall I thought it would be fun to have a “BIG” outdoor year in 2020. Hike every trail in all of the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks. All 236 miles. I don’t intend to walk the 10,496-yard golf courses (5.9 miles). Done that too many times and it never ended well.

Also, I’d like to have a big birding year. While not a hardcore, take-no-prisoners birder, I’ve been birding regularly for nearly 70 years. In looking over my notes, I’ve never had a 200-species year for Ohio birds. This may the year and I’m hoping the Metro Parks
hikes account for a large share of sightings. Sounded great in October. Now I’m not so sure.

Did I mention that it’s cold?

Neither goal will be easy. It’s not the distance, but, for me, hiking becomes more like meandering, or sauntering. Too many distractions. Two-hundred-thirty-six miles in Metro Parks might be a better “rest of my life” goal. Maybe “meandering” and “goal” are
mutually exclusive. Think I’ll sit here in a warm truck for a while and think about that.

Did I mention that it’s cold?

A red-bellied woodpecker at Blacklick Woods Metro Park. Photo/Terrence Peck

A goal of 200 birds probably seems simple for most birders who regularly exceed that number every year. But there is a difference between seeing a bird and watching a bird. There are arguments among birders regarding the definition of “seeing a bird.” Was it, in fact, a “confirmed” sighting? An observer along a trail at McGee Marsh in mid-May will hear numerous, intense discussions. (Birders have intense discussions rather than arguments, which are reserved for the more raucous sommeliers and fly-fishermen).

Among amateur birders, the honor of “confirming” usually goes to the birder with the most authoritative opinion and the biggest camera lens. Among professional ornithologists, confirming a sighting can have long-range implications. Lost careers and personal disgrace have been known to occur, as described in Tim Gallagher’s book Grail Bird, the story about the search for the ivory-billed woodpecker. Maybe I was a little tough on sommeliers and fly-fishermen. Me, I’m a watcher, hence, the failure to achieve the 200-species year. I’ve been known to miss “seeing” a rare warbler while “watching” a common robin build a nest.

An article about the opening of Blacklick Woods Metro Park in the Columbus Dispatch’s October 17, 1948 edition.

Blacklick Woods is my ideal first hike for the BIG year. It was the first of 19 Metro Parks, opening in 1948. This 643-acre park left people wondering why anyone would attend a park so far out in the country. Now, surrounded by development extending many miles
beyond the park, it is a testimony to Metro Parks’ farsighted mission of land preservation. It was also the first park I ever visited, probably around 1949. At that time, a zoo with raccoons, possums, foxes, and great horned owls was located near the Beech Trail just past the Beech-Maple Lodge. Perfect for a 10-year-old. The zoo has been replaced by Metro Parks’ extensive programming of outdoor experiences.

Visitors at Blacklick Woods Metro Park look at the animal cages that were once used to show wildlife.

Just a short walk this morning, I hiked the Button Bush, Beech, Maple and Walter A. Tucker trails all from the nature center. The Walter A. Tucker Trail and the Walter A. Tucker Nature Preserve honor the founding director of the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks.

The boardwalk through the marshy beech woods of the Button Bush trail is a pleasant stroll. Birding was slow, the only action being at the feeders behind the nature center and the feeder at the Beech/Maple trails intersection.

A man and his son walk on the Maple Trail at Blacklick Woods Metro Park. Photo/Chad Engler

The Nature Center was a great opportunity to view the downy and hairy woodpeckers side by side. While the hairy woodpecker is about a third larger than the downy, a large downy can be only about one half-inch smaller than a small hairy woodpecker. Far better to use the bill size (hairy is proportionally larger) or outer tail feathers (downy has black spots, hairy is unmarked).

A helpful aid in the backyard: The bars on most suet feeders commonly found at big box stores are exactly 1 inch apart. Makes a handy ruler for birds perched on the feeder. Not a very auspicious start: 2.2 miles completed and 233.8 to go.

Did I mention that it’s cold?

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