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Like many of you, I have been enjoying the early signs of spring in my yard. Birds are singing and tulips have poked out of the ground. Spring renewal seems particularly welcome after such a harsh winter. If you can't get enough of spring, you can expand your experience of the season by also exploring woodlands in local parks like Cuyahoga Valley National Park. You will be rewarded by encountering more of nature's diversity.
Some birds will come to you. These familiar species, like cardinals and blue jays, don't mind the more open environment usually found in neighborhoods. However, some birds will not venture out of the deep woodlands. To have a chance of seeing these species, you have to go to them.
One example is the wood thrush, a bird that starts to arrive in April for the summer nesting season. In looks, wood thrushes are rather plain brown birds with a robin-like shape. Their sound, however, is anything but plain: males sing an enchanting, flute-like song. Wood thrushes are easier to hear than see. If you find one, you might see it sifting through the leaf litter on the forest floor in search of insects.
Wood thrushes are part of the wave of migratory song birds heading north from the tropics for the summer breeding season. Some pause here only briefly as they head further north; others will make a summer home in our area. The wave starts in April and reaches its crescendo in early May. Dozens of species, many showing their bright breeding plumage, pass through Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
The National Park Service offers guided bird walks that can help you experience the spectacle of spring migration. Beginning birders are very welcome. The next program is from 8 to 10 a.m. on April 19. It starts at the Station Road Bridge Trailhead, 13513 Riverview Road, just south of Route 82 in Brecksville.
Deep woodlands also shelter a wonderful variety of wildflowers. Diverse flowers bloom in a hurry to soak up the sun before leaves close the forest canopy and darken the ground with shade. In places, flowers become so numerous they create a carpet of color. Earlier flowers in April include spring beauty, bloodroot, and cut-leafed toothwort. All are primarily white flowers, although spring beauty takes on a pinkish hue from stripes on its petals. Leaves help with identification. Bloodroot flowers grow singly, accompanied by a large, upright leaf with 5-9 deep lobes. Cut-leaved toothwort has small flowers that are normally white, but can also be pinkish. Their palm-shaped leaves are coarsely toothed.
The best places to find spring woodland flowers are moist ravines along creeks. One trail to try is the half-mile Haskell Run Trail behind Happy Days Lodge (500 West Streetsboro Road/SR 303, one mile west of Route 8 in Peninsula). The trail leads down a steep hill to Haskell Run, where wildflowers bloom profusely. It is worth returning weekly as early flowers are replaced by later blooms. Bluets, wild blue phlox, yellow adder's tongue, and heart-shaped Dutchman's breeches are some of the flowers that follow the earliest blooms. Usually by Mother's Day, some of the more brilliantly colored spring wildflowers join in the display, notably bright pink wild geraniums.
There is some crossover between flowers found in woodlands and neighborhood blooms. Daffodils are one cultivated flower that also survives in the wild, usually in locations that were once home sites.
Metro Parks, Serving Summit County manages the short Daffodil Trail in Furnace Run Metro Park, which is within the national park boundary at 3100 Brush Road in Richfield. It offers a wonderful display of daffodils combined with lovely woodland views.
Even though some woodland species occur in our yards and some backyard species appear in the wild, you will not be able to experience all northeast Ohio has to offer without a visit to a natural area. Our spring season is especially spectacular. Our bird migration and spring wildflowers match the best that nature has to offer in a temperate climate. Even if you can't identify what you see, just observing nature's diversity is rewarding. Joining a park ranger for a guided hike is always a way to learn more. For more program information, you can find a program schedules online at www.nps.gov/cuva. You can also call 330-657-2752.
Editor's note: Vasarhelyi is Chief of Interpretation, Education & Visitor Services for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.