A photographer's guide to birding in the parks - Official Ohio State Park Lodges and Conference Centers

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A photographer’s guide to birding in the parks

There is a reason that thousands of avid birders and photographers descend on northern Ohio each year for the Biggest Week in American Birding (May 5-14, 2017). Spring is when birds are on the move and is the best time to catch some of the rare species that migrate through Ohio, including more than 30 species of warblers.

Setting up your camera is a great way to get outdoors and experience the many bird species that live or migrate through various parts of the state. For example, the Lake Erie Birding Trail in northwest Ohio offers seven loops containing different habitats with more than 80 birding sites. The natural settings that surround the Ohio State Park Lodges of Deer Creek, Salt Fork, Mohican and Punderson Manor provide prime bird photographing opportunities.

Here are some expert tips for snapping birds as well as a guide to the principal species in each park.


Shoot in morning or afternoon light.

Capturing the best colors on birds is all about light. Shoot in the early morning or late afternoon for the softest light to capture the bird’s plumage. This is also when birds are most active.

Pay attention to composition.

Composition matters because you are not just photographing a bird, you are conveying a message about the characteristics of the animal or the area in which it lives. Use the rule of thirds to place the bird off center for a stronger image. Consider the background and try to use a contrasting color that will complement the bird’s feathers.

Capture “catch light” in the bird’s eye.

The eyes of any living thing make us connect to it. Paying attention to the eyes of the bird is important to convey life. Look for a “catch light” in the bird’s eye — the small reflection of white light that is best captured if the bird is lit from the front. Keep the bird’s eye in sharp focus.

Take the bird’s point of view.

Your photograph should take you into the bird’s world. That means shooting it on the bird’s scale and from its vantage point. Unless you are going for a bird in flight, get on its level, for example low to the ground or on a tree branch. You will capture a more intimate view of the bird and a better perspective of the environment it sees.

Fill the frame.

Your magnificent subject should be the main focal point of your photo. Filling the entire frame with the bird, or the bird’s head, makes it easier to focus and gives you the most detail.

Find plenty of birds.

You cannot enjoy great bird photography without ample access to birds. Researching what species live and migrate in different areas in Ohio throughout the year is the first place to start. Do you have a color theme or species theme? This will determine when and where you shoot.


Punderson Manor

The aquatic environment surrounded by lush woodlands at Punderson Manor State Park Lodge gives you opportunities to see shorebirds and waterfowl. You can find species like blue herons, Canada geese, wood ducks, and great horned owls. Red-headed woodpeckers congregate on the edge of the golf course. Holden Arboretum, located 25 minutes from the lodge, has a large forest that provides a rich habitat for a variety of species.


The National Audubon Society has named the Mohican State Park and Forest an “Important Bird Area,” meaning you will have plenty of opportunities to photograph birds no matter the season. The hemlock ravines and plantations provide habitat for 101 bird species including the hermit thrush, blue-headed viero, least flycatcher, red-breasted nuthatch, and several species of warblers. Clear Fork Gorge is known for migrating songbirds, red-tailed hawks, and turkey vultures.

Deer Creek

The natural habitats surrounding Deer Creek State Park Lodge attract a variety of species. The upper part of the reservoir is home to osprey nests in the spring and warblers during migration. Other times of the year you will find migrant waterfowl, sandhill cranes, ring-necked pheasants, and black vultures.

Salt Fork

Salt Fork State Park is a designated birding site in Ohio because of its forests, valleys, meadows, reservoirs, and streams. The Salt Fork State Park Lodge is located within Ohio’s largest state park. Some of the best birding spots are behind the nature center, at the marinas, along the beach and some of the small gravel roads throughout the park. Species in this region include cliff swallows, ospreys, red-shouldered hawks, belted kingfishers, yellow-throated warblers, spotted sandpipers, and migrating ducks.

Open year-round, the four lakeside lodges offer a variety of accommodation types, ranging from standard and bunk/loft rooms to two- and four-bedroom cabins, as well as indoor/outdoor pools, golf, boating, hiking, full-service dining and more.

Written by: Anietra Hamper

Ohio resident Anietra Hamper is an award-winning travel writer who specializes in covering outdoor activities.