Madison County Birding Drive

Birding Drives are routes for birding trips which can be accomplished in one day, stopping to walk and bird at various eBird hotspots. For each birding drive, a Google map is provided with the route and suggested stops at eBird hotspots. You may save the link to the Google map on your smartphone or tablet, or print a copy on paper to take with you. Links are provided with information about each eBird hotspot. Follow those links for more information about birding each location.

Madison County Birding Drive
Click on the hotspot names below to view the page about that hotspot.

This Birding Drive explores eBird hotspots in Madison County. When you submit checklists here you help to add to the data about birds in this region of Ohio.

Smith Cemetery State Nature Preserve

4648 County Highway 42 Plain City, OH 43064

Smith Cemetery State Nature Preserve is located 2 miles west of Plain City on OH-161; proceed 1 mile south on Kramer Road, (Union County Road 42) this road becomes Converse Chapel Road (Madison County Road 41) then .25 mile west on Boyd Road to the prairie cemetery located on the north side.

The Darby Plains were considered worthless by the early settlers. The plains consisted of extensive wet prairie, especially the land lying between Big and Little Darby Creeks. Although these poorly drained lands were covered with water several months each year, by late fall they would become powder dry and subject to raging prairie fires.

The Darby Plains supported a vast tallgrass prairie interrupted only by numerous scattered groves of oaks and hickories, especially groves of bur oaks. The dense prairie grass often grew to heights of 6-8 feet. The whole area was described as a sea of prairie grasses and colorful prairie wildflowers. Ohio’s native prairies are an outlier of the extensive tallgrass prairies of the west.

The pioneers called these grasslands the “barrens.” Much of the year they were too wet to plow. Mosquitoes thrived within the dense, wet prairie grasses and were often intolerable. Yet, by late summer the soil would bake dry and crack.

Consequently, these were among the last lands in this part of Ohio to be settled. However, between 1810 and 1820 the barrens were finally settled, mostly by families from New England. They paid from 40 cents to $2 an acre for the land. From Worthington, Ohio, these families followed the Post Road westward into the Darby Plains where they staked out their land, built their cabins and endured the hardships of this prairie wilderness.

Eventually, through ditching and tiling, the Darby Plains were converted from inhospitable, wet prairie to some of the most valuable agricultural land in the state.

In less than 150 years, the tallgrass prairie was almost obliterated. Today, only scattered bur oak trees and groves and infrequent patches of prairie plants are all that remain of the original vast prairie. Still, as if by design, the best remnants of the Darby Plains survive here at Smith and in nearby Bigelow Cemetery.

Pearl King Savanna

Mechanicsburg-Sanford Road Mechanicsburg, Ohio 43044

From Smith Cemetery State Nature Preserve, drive east on Boyd Road for .5 mile. Turn left onto Converse-Chapel Road for .6 mile. Continue straight onto Kramer Road for .4 mile. Turn left onto OH-161 and drive 5.4 miles. Turn left onto Rosedale Road and drive 4.4 miles. Continue straight onto Guy Cemetery Road and drive 1.6 miles. Turn left onto Mechanicsburg-Sanford Road and Pearl King Savanna is on the right in .1 mile.

Pearl King Savanna in southwestern Madison County has been known to biologists for many decades as one of Ohio’s last great oak savannas. The reason that Pearl King survived is due to the stewardship of its longtime owners, who were interested in this prairie relict and took care to protect it. In 2006, Franklin County Metroparks was able to acquire the site, ensuring that Pearl King lasts long into the future.

Roberts Pass Trail--London Trailhead

203 East Center Street London, Ohio 43140

From Pearl King Savanna, drive southeast on Mechanicsburg-Sanford Road, turn right onto David Brown Road and immediately turn left onto Becker Road. Drive 1.7 miles on Becker Road and turn right onto Thomas Road for .7 mile. Turn left onto OH-29 east and drive 2.9 miles. Turn right onto OH-38 south and drive 7.7 miles. Turn left onto Lafayette Road, right onto Richmond Avenue, and go .3 mile. Continue straight onto Maple Street for .4 mile. Turn left onto East Center Street. Arrive at the parking for the London Trailhead on the left in .2 miles.

The Roberts Pass Trail is a section of the Ohio to Erie Trail, a paved trail linking Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland, following lands formerly occupied by railroads and canals. Hikers, bikers and other groups including bird watchers, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, and nature lovers will be able to enjoy this Trail as they pass through quiet woods, lush fields, charming small towns and dynamic urban centers.

The Roberts Pass Trail is now connected from the Wilson Road terminus in Madison County to the Battelle-Darby Creek Metro Park in Georgesville, and will eventually be completed into Columbus. The Roberts Pass Trailhead on the east side of London is the first phase of the future London Nature Preserve.

Madison Lake SP

4860 East Park Drive London, Ohio 43140

From the London Trailhead, drive east on OH-665 for 2.3 miles. Turn right onto Spring Valley Road and go 1.6 miles. Turn left onto Cheseldine Road and go .3 mile. Turn left onto East Park Drive and arrive at Madison Lake State Park in .3 mile.

Madison Lake State Park lies within the Darby Plains of Madison County. These plains, before settlement, resembled smaller versions of the Great Plains found in the West. Ohio’s original landscape, before being altered by man, was about 95 percent forest with the remaining 5 percent comprised of wetlands and prairies. In Ohio, there were about 1,000 square miles of prairie encompassing the land.

During a dry period, about 4,000 years ago, conditions were favorable that allowed prairies to expand eastward into Ohio. This extension known as the Prairie Peninsula covered an area east of the Missouri River, south of the Great Lakes and north of the Ohio River. In time, the climate became more humid and more favorable for forest growth. The prairie retreated to the Indiana-Illinois border leaving isolated pockets in Ohio.

Few prairies survive in Ohio as agriculture, woody plants and Eurasian weeds have taken their toll. Prairies do still exist along highway and railroad right-of-ways, marsh borders and abandoned cemeteries.

Prairie Oaks Metro Park--Beaver Lake Trail

Lucas Road Plain City, Ohio 43064

The Beaver Lake Trail is 0.9 miles, an easy hike on grass and dirt. The trail loops around Beaver Lake.

Prairie Oaks features nearly 500 acres of lush prairies and grasslands. In late summer and early fall, visitors can see fields of beautifully flowering ashy sunflower, royal catchfly and purple coneflower against a backdrop of big and little bluestem and Indian grasses.

The spectacular and lush scenery of the Big Darby State and National Scenic River, which flows through the park, provides a beautiful backdrop for outdoor adventure.