Picture Ohio! – Spring Around the Buckeye State – Shawnee State Forest

Shawnee State Forest from Forest Road 2
Shawnee State Forest from Forest Road 2

Except for a few one-day photo trips, during most of this long winter I’ve been handcuffed to my office computer, working on the text for my new book, A Photographer’s Guide to Ohio – Volume 2. I expect to finish this writing project within the next 2-3 weeks, and if all goes well the book will be released in early 2015 by Ohio University Press. At the same time, I’m gearing up for a very busy year of photography, writing, and teaching, including work on two new Ohio book projects and a variety of photography assignments for several magazine clients and landscape/garden designers.

Spring has finally arrived in the Buckeye State, although here in northeast Ohio early spring wildflowers like hepatica, bloodroot, spring beauty, and harbinger-of-spring are only now beginning to bloom in the Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and other natural areas and preserves in northeast Ohio. In southern Ohio, however, at places like Shawnee State Forest in Scioto County and the nearby Edge of Appalachia preserves in Adams County, spring is well underway, wildflowers are blooming in the hills, and many species of warblers and other migratory songbirds are appearing in the woodlands in large numbers. As spring moves north through Ohio over the next month or so, join me for a visit through this blog to some of my favorite places for spring photography in the Buckeye State, working from south to north. Ohio has more than 130 state nature preserves, 74 state parks, over 100 state wildlife areas, hundreds of city, county, and town parks, twenty state forests, a national forest, a national park, and a national wildlife preserve, so the 10-20 favorite locations I will share are but a small fraction of the hundreds of natural areas and preserves where you can enjoy and photograph spring around the Buckeye State.

View from Copperhead Fire Tower, Shawnee State Forest
View from Copperhead Fire Tower, Shawnee State Forest

Some of the finest scenic vistas in Ohio may be found along the forested ridges of Shawnee State Forest, located in Scioto and Adams Counties west of Portsmouth. Shawnee is Ohio’s largest state forest, with more than 63,000 acres, including an 8,000-acre wilderness area, and over 100 miles of county, township, and state forest roads that can be driven, plus 70 miles of bridle trails and hiking trails that crisscross the forest. Before you visit, get acquainted with this vast area by downloading a state forest map and brochure from this website:

http://ohiodnr.com/DNN/forests/shawnee/tabid/5166/Default.aspx

In the northern section of the state forest, north of State Route 125, the best view is from the top of the Copperhead Fire Tower, shown in the photo above. The fire tower is safe to climb, but don’t head up the steps if you suffer from vertigo or feel uncomfortable in high, exposed places. South of State Route 125, there is a nice view from Picnic Point and another, more extensive view from Forest Road 5 near the communications tower. In the same area, Forest Roads 2 and 13 provide more vistas at various locations.

Mist, Shawnee State Forest
Mist, Shawnee State Forest

If you are an early riser and the weather conditions are suitable, you may encounter mist in the morning, which provides moody, shadowless lighting that is great for photographing the interior of the forest. Work quickly, before the mist disappears and is replaced by direct sunlight, which creates bright highlights,  deep shadows, and high-contrast lighting that is the kiss of death for scenic photography in woodlands.

Bird's-foot Violets, Shawnee State Forest, Ohio
Bird’s-foot Violets, Shawnee State Forest, Ohio

The hills and hollows of Shawnee State Forest are home to dozens of kinds of wildflowers, including rare species like the bi-colored form of bird’s-foot violet (Viola pedata). Look for this beautiful wildflower on the steep slopes adjacent to Forest Roads 2, 5, and 13 in the southern sections of the forest. Along the verges of these roads you will also find the dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata), shown in the photo below.

Dwarf Crested Iris near Ash Cave in the hocking Hills, Ohio
Dwarf Crested Iris

A less common, but equally striking plant is the vernal iris (Iris verna), shown below, which blooms along the roadside near the lodge in Shawnee State Park. The vernal iris has longer, thinner leaves and lacks the floral crest of the dwarf crested iris.

Vernal Iris, Shawnee State Forest, Ohio
Vernal Iris, Shawnee State Forest, Ohio

In addition to wildflowers, Shawnee State Forest is a great location to observe more than thirty species of neotropical wood warblers and dozens of other songbird species during their annual spring  migration. Many of these birds nest at Shawnee, while others are passing through en route to their breeding territories further north. The best way to locate these birds is to drive the forest roads, stopping frequently to scan the woodlands and listen for the distinctive songs of these beautiful avian visitors.

Chestnut-sided Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanager

As you search the canopy of the forest for birds, take the time to examine the ground from time to time, especially around downed trees and rocky areas, for these are favored resting areas for Shawnee’s two species of venomous snakes, the northern copperhead and the larger, state endangered timber rattlesnake. You are unlikely to encounter either of these reptiles during your visits to Shawnee State Forest, but they are present, so be on the lookout for them.

Northern Copperhead
Northern Copperhead
Timber rattlesnake, Shawnee State Park
Timber Rattlesnake, Shawnee State Park

In the photo above, I was enjoying a close encounter with Timber, a 24-year-old captive timber rattlesnake looked after by Jennie Richards, the resident naturalist at Shawnee State Park and an expert on the local reptiles and amphibians. Here’s a link to a blog article about these fascinating creatures from my visit to Shawnee last spring:

http://ianadamsphotography.com/picture-ohio-timber-rattlesnake-shawnee-state-park/

In late April or early May for the past few years Shawnee State Park and Forest has been the venue for Flora-Quest, organized by conservationist Cheryl Harner, with help from Paula Harper, a weekend of guided hikes in and around Shawnee in search of wildflowers, birds, butterflies and other spring treasures, led by some of Ohio’s  talented naturalists. This year Flora-Quest has moved north, to the Marblehead peninsula near Port Clinton, where it will be held in conjunction with the Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Association (ONAPA)  at Lakeside on May 12-13. Here’s a link with details:

http://www.flora-quest.com/

Many of Flora-Quest’s naturalists will be at Shawnee on April 26-27, leading hikes as part of the Ohio Ornithological Society’s 10th Anniversary Celebration and  Conference.  Here’s a link with more details:

http://www.ohiobirds.org/site/conference2014.php

Later this week I’ll share some images and information on another outstanding group of natural areas and preserves just west of Shawnee State Park and Forest – the Edge of Appalachia preserves in Adams County.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Ian, Looking forward to this book. Always enjoyed your work and so much “focus” on Ohio’s landscape.

    I was down at Lamping Homestead WNF yesterday (5-5-15). Wildflowers and birds were a glorious experience after the long winter. Dogwoods and redbuds blooming in Wayne are so nice. Often whole hill sides are dotted. But I never seem to be able to capture an angle that shows the expanses of such. Such is life of the eastern photographer it seems.

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