Having the opportunity to combine birds and beer with some travel is always cool. For just a few days this past week, a few of us managed both "b's" and a visit to an old boneyard, too. A very old boneyard. Hah! Another "b" for this silly blog. Ahhh, the mini-trip.
In my on-going quest to visit National Park sites, I realized that the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park, in Chillicothe, Ohio, was just a few hours away. Yes, I spent some days off in Ohio. Not just any part of the Buckeye State- rural Ohio - where, along with scenic vistas and fresh air, skulls of deer are found on every other porch, drive-thru party stores sell ammunition, and every town has a street called "High". All of that is true, by the way. I'm sure the human skull on the car dashboard was fake....at least I hope it was.....
By sundown Tuesday, lodging was set in downtown Columbus. This was after the GPS took us to the first 161 High Street. Ending up in a residential neighborhood, we realized that there was actually a second 161 High Street, miles away, in the greater Columbus area. Only in Ohio.
What was in Columbus that we were so eager to see? The Elevator Brewery and Draught Haus. If you live in Columbus, get there. If you drive past Columbus, stop there. If you like beer, it is a must. Of the six beers I sampled (is very nice little goblets with little rings on each naming and describing the beer), a few that really impressed the hell out of me. Mogabi Ale (#776) and Bleeding Buckeye Red Ale (#778) both scored solid "5's". The Bear Ass Pale Ale (#779), Dark Horse Lager (#780), Three Frogs IPA (#777), and Procrastinator Doppleboch (#781) were all pretty good, too. In what now appears to be a tradition, the gourmet, goofy-topped pizza was awesome.
Late morning found us just north of Chillicothe at the National Historic Site. On that very location, beginning about 200BC, folks from what we now call the Hopewell Culture, clearcut some land and started to to build enormous mounds of dirt and clay. As a guy who has had to move dirt now and then (I dug a hole once), I can appreciate the labor involved. Sure, Ohio has Bobcats, but back then, they didn't have these Bobcats. Modern stuff could have done this in no time! All that dirt was moved one basket at a time. Back-breaking, for sure.
Ah, but why did they do it? Well, if you figure it out, let the Park Service know. It's a mystery for sure. We know the mounds involved burials originally (cremations, actually). All sorts of objects were found, including projectile points, various shapes from copper and mica, and pipes, one of which was absolutely in the shape of a Prairie Chicken. Knickknacks like that suggests that the burials were of important people. There are those that think the mounds are oriented to the stars and planets like other locations around the world. One thing is for sure - if you are in the area, it is worth checking out! It is not on the scale of the Cahokia Mounds in Illinois, but it's still neat.
The picture, by the way, shows the distribution of mounds with some of said mounds in the distance. These are not all of them. An early 20th century military operation, dealing with the need for troop housing during the build-up for World War I, leveled many of these ancient features. These are the ones that remain. Also, the sign was not used by the Native Americans to help they lay things out. No, they did not wear construction hats and I'm sure OSHA did not know about the project.
The Old Canal Smokehouse, just up the street, was well worth the stop for a late lunch. The Shiner Blonde (#782), from the Spoetzl Brewery, on the other hand, was not worth the gum on the bottom of my shoe. Boring to look at, boring on the taste buds and nose, and just a huge disappointment overall, this could only get a "2" out of 5. Keep in mind, that puts it right in league with unfiltered water from the Scioto River which runs right through town - I would give that a "1".
Our travels took us next to the Tar Hollow State Forest and State Park. 16,000 acres of good stuff. Unfortunately, the birding was a bit dull. The Black-and-white Warbler and the American Redstart were nice, but the heat (196 million degrees) was really keeping things quiet for the most part. Of course, that means the butterflies should be hopping. Giant Swallowtails, Tiger Swallowtails, Spicebush Swallowtails, and Red-spotted Purples were everywhere. At times, dozens were feeding on the wildflower beds through the area and the roadside puddles. With more time and motivation, I could have snagged some nice pics. This critter, a dark Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, I believe, is a bit beat up.
Dinner time was in Athens. Of all the places in Ohio to spend the night, why Athens? Yeah, you can see it in the picture. It turns out the little, last minute trip to the Mounds was right in the middle of Ohio Brew Week. How cool is that? All things beer for an entire week! Guest speakers, samplings, contests. Some events were open while some had tickets. If this was the fifth one, the first four must have been pretty good Great fun all around! Without really knowing what was going on, we just settled in for some drinks.
The craziest beer of the night, Grand Wazoo (#785), was at Jackie O's Pub and Brewery. Passing up a beer that is described as "an Imperial raspberry vanilla porter aged in a bourbon barrel with wild yeasts and raspberries served in a tulip glass" can not be done by a snob like me. It was so worth it. Ultimately, it had a sour taste. But don't let that stop you. It was, I believe, brewed in the tradition of a Flemish Red Ales or Belgian Sours. - sour is the name of the game. Despite the wackiness of it all, it was was balanced nicely and pretty impressive in looks and smell. 5 out of 5. Cool stuff.
Unfortunately, that was the only beer from Jackie O's that I had that night and I did it much later in the evening. We were looking forward to sampling more, but when we first went in the door at dinner time, seating was basically zilcho yet people kept piling in. It was decided to head off to another place celebrating beer, the Red Brick Sports Pub, and then maybe head back to Jackie's. The sports bar? Not a bad place. Twisted Kilt (#784) from the Thirsty Dog Brewing Company and The Pride of Willoughby (#783) from the Willoughby Brewing Company were pretty good. In fact,the Pride was awesome - everything one would expect from a porter was there. Chocolate tones, a wonderful creamy body and an ever-so-slight dry finish. An awesome 5 out of 5.
After a slow, laid back breakfast in town, Burr Oak State Park and the Wayne National Forest were the next stop. What a gem. A little walk through the basically deserted campground yielded, among other things, Hooded Warblers, Yellow-throated Vireo, Northern Parula, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
The big bonus bird on the trip? How about a Worm-eating Warbler. It wasn't singing at all. We just bumped into it. From a distance of maybe 25 feet, everything, right down to the slick racing stripes on his noggin, was crystal clear. They nest on the ground and feed in the understory, so yeah, this bird was eye level. In case you were wondering, yes, my camera was in the car...
Our final planned stop of the mini-trip was Millersburg, Ohio. Resisting the urge to buy a small coffee mill from Parker while antiquing (I spent a ton of money on books the previous day), we made our way to the outskirts of this tiny town in Holmes County ("Amish Country ") with what has to be one of the most unique ways to look for birds - standing in a barn.
It turns out I know a guy who knows a guy who knows some people with barns. Yeah, you can see barns here in Michigan, but the ones in Holmes County have "special squatters". Can you see him below? Yes, that is one awesome shot of....... a Barn Owl's butt. I was shooting up the silo.
While Barn Owls are found through large parts of the country (worldwide, for that matter), these pale beauties are no longer found in Michigan. Sure, one shows up now and then, but all evidence suggests they don't nest here anymore. The barns in Amish Country are perfect. The Amish help by providing nest boxes and the agriculture they practice doesn't decimate the rodents. The owls get to do that!
Paul (what a cool name!), our guide , took us to four different barns. Three of them had owls. Two barns had views like the one above. One, however, had some older nestlings tucked in the box. They were big enough where they were expected to fledge any day. After sneaking some peeks in the nest box through the tiny built-in peephole, we opted to leave wondering what became of the fifth youngster. My eagle-eyed travel companion, apparently a soon-to-be professional owl-finder, found it in the tree where it sat completely oblivious to the woman moving the grass just a few feet away!
You gotta trust me - while seeing the bird in the picture here is easy, it was not an easy find in the yard. At first, we all looked at it wondering if we had been tricked by the "trunk bird", a close cousin of the "leaf bird", "mangled oriole nest bird", "grocery bag in the farm field snowy owl". No trickery here. It was the real deal.
Moving to a better position, with the setting sun at our back, I snagged this picture:
Content with the looks at this awesome bird (a lifer for some, but not me - I had one years ago out west), we bid farewell to Paul, plotted a course for home and made it there in just a few hours.
One new National Park site, 10 new beers, one new state bird (the owl) bringing my list to 228 species, and a trip list of about 60 total birds made for good fun. Mini-trips. Get 'em while you can.