Great Miami River-Lower Important Bird Area
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Miami Whitewater Forest–Bowles Woods and Tallgrass Prairie Trail
Coordinates: 39.243185, -84.7609096
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The Lower Great Miami IBA extends along the Great Miami River south from the city of Hamilton in Butler County to the confluence with the Ohio River in Hamilton County. From Hamilton, the Great Miami River meanders south and west for about 32 river miles. The habitat along the riparian corridor varies in width and includes several important recognized natural areas that, in highly urbanized Hamilton County, are still fairly contiguous. The Whitewater River joins the Great Miami approximately 6 miles upstream from the Ohio River with important associated sites within its valley. The IBA has a wide diversity of habitats including bottomland forest, mixed-species mesic hardwood forest with a dense herbaceous layer, coniferous woodlands, and riparian and mudflat herbaceous communities. Much of this 32-mile corridor is wooded and sycamore, cottonwood, and maple trees predominate. Most of this stretch is semi-rural and still used as farmland, with several small parks along both sides of the river, many abandoned and overgrown gravel pits in the valleys that provide successional and scrubby habitats, some light industry, and several active gravel mining operations. Most of the hillsides in the valley are still heavily wooded, even where homes have been built. And there are still some large contiguous tracts of mature forest, both upland and bottomland, including at least one undisturbed 300-acre tract.
The Miami Whitewater Forest (4,279 total acres) is a Hamilton County Park facility with light recreation and natural areas. It presents flat to rolling open land as well as wooded hills, with more than 1,900 acres of mature deciduous forest and 130+ acres of restored wetlands. More than 100 acres of native prairie 40 acres of diverse habitats and is owned and operated by the Department of Energy as a former site of a uranium production facility surround the wetlands, providing a mosaic of wet and dry prairie sites.
The Fernald Preserve encompasses approximately 1,04.5 billion has been invested in environmental cleanup and $20 million in ecological restoration here). This land is committed to remain in a natural state under Department of Energy stewardship, including 327 acres of grassland, 395 acres of woodland, 33 acres of savannah, 81 acres of wetlands, an unspecified acreage of pine stands, and 60 acres of open water in several different ponds.
The Mitchell Memorial Forest is a Hamilton County Park District property consisting of 1,336 acres of mature deciduous forests and steep-sided wooded hillsides along the Great Miami River valley, along with some coniferous woodlands and early successional fields.
The Campbell Lakes Preserve is a Hamilton County Park District property encompassing 183 acres of open successional and riparian habitats. This was actually the site of a former gravel mining operation and four lakes on the property are retired gravel pits. These permanent ponds total 57 acres of open water.
The Kilby Road Tract of the Hamilton County Park District covers 300 acres along the Whitewater River and includes several large ponds or gravel pits, with most of the habitat in open and scrubby/grassy fields.
There are at least 30-50 abandoned gravel pits throughout the valley with most of them holding water. The surrounding vegetation is usually a weedy, brushy successional habitat due to the sandy eroded soils.
The Oxbow area (1,138 acres preserved by Oxbow, Inc.) is primarily the broad floodplain at the mouth of the Great Miami River where it empties into the Ohio River in the extreme southwest corner of Ohio. It involves areas within the three states of Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. The hill of Shawnee Lookout Park (1,421 acres, Hamilton Country park District) is also included.
The Great Miami and Whitewater River riparian corridor is rural overall and many birds use the relative security of the river and the riparian habitats. Priority species breeding in the valley include: American Bittern, Least Bittern, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Red-shouldered Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, King Rail, Sora, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Chuck-will’s-widow, Red-headed Woodpecker, Purple Martin, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Hermit Thrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Dickcissel, Lark Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow’s Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark.
Prothonotary Warblers are fairly common and there are probably 20 or more pairs along this stretch. Green Herons are seen in good numbers and nest in the remote woodlots. Rusty Blackbirds are fairly common to locally common migrants. In the more wooded sections forest species found include Cerulean, Kentucky, and Hooded Warblers and Scarlet Tanagers and Wood Thrushes. Northern Bobwhites should be considered uncommon to locally fairly common throughout. Blue Grosbeaks are uncommon to locally fairly common summer residents throughout the Great Miami and Whitewater River valleys.
The river itself is used as a migratory highway for a host of waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls and terns, and other waterbirds. Bald Eagles and Ospreys are commonly seen in migration, and a few Bald Eagles usually winter. Double-crested Cormorants have become common to very common migrants throughout and have become common summer residents in the Oxbow although breeding has not been confirmed. American White Pelicans have become rare but regular visitors to the Oxbow and might be seen during any month. Red-shouldered Hawks are fairly common-common permanent residents. Peregrine Falcons nest annually. Two nesting records for American Bittern represent the most southern breeding records for that species in the state. All the shorebirds that normally occur in Ohio can be found during migration in the IBA. There are also many records for rare species.
The Great Miami Valley is exceptional for migrant songbirds. All the species that breed or migrate through Ohio are regularly seen in large numbers during spring and fall migration at these locations. The ridge tops and north-south flowing rivers are natural migration corridors for all these species. Hundreds of thousands of migrant songbirds probably pass through the area each year and a good percentage of them are warblers. Thirty-six warbler species are regularly found in migration and 30 species can be recorded on any given day during spring migration. The valley also hosts 16 species of regularly nesting warblers, many of which are quite common.
Miami Whitewater Forest provides large blocks of woodland, wetland, and prairie which are relatively unfragmented, providing habitat for large numbers and varied species of birds. The wetlands area attracts Pied-billed Grebes, American Bitterns, Least Bitterns, Hooded Mergansers, Blue-winged Teals, Ruddy Ducks, Virginia Rails, Soras, Common Moorhens, American Coots, Sedge Wrens, and Marsh Wrens during the breeding season. In the surrounding fields, Grasshopper and Savannah Sparrows are present in summer, while Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls have been found in the winter. Dickcissels and Upland Sandpipers appear occasionally in migration.
The Mitchell Memorial Forest is known for its considerable stands of mature pine stands, which host breeding Pine Warblers and attract conifer-dependent species in winter and during migration (Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hermit Thrush, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, Cape May Warbler, etc.). Breeding songbirds, similar to those of Miami Whitewater and Shawnee Lookout are relatively common here. Common breeding warblers found here include Cerulean, Hooded, and Kentucky warblers, Ovenbirds, Louisiana Waterthrushes, Northern Parulas, Yellow-throated, Pine, Prairie, and Blue-winged warblers, and Common Yellowthroats. Other common breeding birds include Red-shouldered Hawks, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, Great Crested and Acadian Flycatchers, and Wood Thrushes. Broad?winged Hawks regularly breed here. The ridge tops are excellent migratory songbird corridors.
Located right along the east shore of the Whitewater River, The Campbell Lakes Preserve attracts waterbirds, waterfowl, and songbirds during migration. Breeding birds include Green Herons, Spotted Sandpipers, American Kestrels, Northern Flickers, Belted Kingfishers, Bank Swallows, Purple Martins, Blue Grosbeaks, Orchard Orioles, Willow Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds, Horned Larks, Brown Thrashers, Warbling Vireos, Yellow-breasted Chats, Prairie Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Field Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlarks. A Bell’s Vireo was present here in the summer of 2006.
From Great Miami River-Lower Important Bird Area webpage