Whitehouse, Ohio 43571Official Website
At just under 4,000 acres, Oak Openings Preserve Metropark (OOPM) is by far the largest of the nine Toledo area Metroparks. It is also the premier birding destination within the Metropark system as well as a major birding attraction for all of northwest Ohio. OOPM is actually a relatively small piece of the oak openings region, which extends from the Maumee State Forest west and south of OOPM northeast to Secor and Wildwood Metroparks and the Michigan line. Most of the highlight bird species of the Oak Openings region can be found in OOPM.
A tremendous variety of habitats including oak forests, pine plantations, riparian and swamp forests, scrubby thickets, open fields, and sandy blowouts allow for a wonderful variety of birds and even a better variety of plants. But let’s stay focused on birds. Oak Openings is renowned, probably more so than any other spot in Ohio, for its enticing mix of northern, southern, western, and the more expected eastern species. Where else in Ohio in mid-June but at OOPM could you possibly hope to see Lark sparrow, Blue grosbeak, Summer tanager, Alder flycatcher, Golden-crowned kinglet, and Brown Creeper, all within a few minutes of each other?
From the center of Whitehouse, take OH-64 west for about 1 mile to its intersection with OH-295. Turn right (north) on OH-295 and continue for less than 1 mile to the park entrance on your left (just after Obee Road).
Ample parking is available at all picnic areas. Moreover, it is possible to pull off the side of the road practically anywhere in the park. Obviously, appropriate caution and common sense are always recommended when doing this.
Oak Openings Preserve Metropark is a stop on the Lake Erie Birding Trail.
This area is among the best in Ohio to search for winter finches such as Evening Grosbeak, Purple Finch, Pine Siskin, and Red Crossbill. This is also one of the very few sites in northwest Ohio in which Pileated Woodpecker is seen year-round. The newly-opened Window on Wildlife, within the Buehner Center at Mallard Lake, is the single best place to check for both expected and unusual Oak Openings winter birds.
Migration through Oak Openings is often quite good. However, since the park is so large, a bit of luck is sometimes involved in happening upon migrating flocks of warblers and other species.
Late spring and early summer is the most productive season for birders visiting OOPM. The most sought-after species include Lark Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, and Summer Tanager. Other summer specialties include Broad-winged Hawk, Barred Owl, Whip-poor-will, Red-headed Woodpecker (a few stay all year), Alder Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, and a variety of warblers including Pine, Prairie, Hooded, Chestnut-sided, and Louisiana Waterthrush, along with the occasional Yellow-throated, Black-throated Green, and Northern Parula, and Henslow’s Sparrow.
Practically anywhere in the park may be productive this season. However, to accumulate a list of sought-after species, it’s very helpful to know specifically where to seek them. A great place to start is the Oak Openings lodge, which is at the intersection of Oak Openings Parkway and Wilkins Road. This is one of the best spots to search for all of the following: Blue-headed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Pine Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Yellow-throated Warbler. Look/listen for the Hooded Warbler just east of the lodge; all of the other species seem to be partial to the stand of pines near the lodge. Many of the same species can also be searched for just west of the lodge, near Mallard Lake. Again, search the pine stands near the lake and also take the short hike to Gail Run just north of Mallard Lake. Gail Run is the swale that cuts across the old abandoned section of Reed Road. Listen for the Acadian flycatcher, and Kentucky, Hooded, Blue-winged Warblers here. Louisiana Waterthrush is also a possibility.
Maybe the single best birding spot during the breeding season is the area where, a bit further west, Oak Openings Parkway ends at the intersection of Reed and Girdham Roads. The open fields and scrubby areas here attract all kinds of good birds. The stretch of Girdham Road from Reed to Monclova Road is a good spot to look for all of the following: Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Vireo, Eastern Bluebird, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Orchard Oriole, and Lark Sparrow. Your chances for a Pileated woodpecker may also be as good along this stretch as anywhere else. From dusk until dawn, your chances of finding American Woodcock and Whip-poor-will are good in this area.
At night, listen for Barred Owls at any of the sites mentioned above.
Along the park’s northeast boundary, Sager Road also represents an excellent stretch of roadside birding opportunity. Additional species to search for here include Alder Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Brown Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, and Yellow-breasted Chat. North of Sager, at the eastern end of the road, is a large and open field that is opposite the west end of the runways of the Toledo Express Airport. All property on the north side of Sager Road is just outside of OOPM bounds, so be sure to heed any postings. While air traffic often makes this a noisy spot, the field is excellent for birds. Grasshopper Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlarks are regular, and a Henslow’s Sparrow has frequented the field in recent years. Sedge Wrens, Bobolinks, and Dickcissels have also occasionally been found here as has Blue Grosbeak.
Once you’ve covered the spots described above, the lengths of Jeffers and Manore Roads, within the park, are also worth exploring.
Finally, an excellent way to cover the park is by bike. In addition to the sites mentioned, the park’s wonderful bike trails (including the Wabash-Cannonball Trail) can then get you to very good birding spots otherwise hard to reach without extensive hiking.
OOPM is possibly the best fall raptor migration spot in the state with chances to see all regularly occurring raptor species including Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, and Northern Goshawk.
The best hawk-watching strategy is to pick a spot with wide-open vistas of the sky and park yourself there for several hours. The big field at the intersection of Girdham and Reed Roads is a favorite choice. The last two weeks of October and the first two weeks of November are best for Golden Eagles and Northern Goshawk.
Located between Whitehouse and Swanton, Oak Openings Preserve takes its name from the surrounding region, which is 23 times larger than the park itself. That’s something to consider when you realize that Oak Openings Preserve is over 4,000 acres.
Pioneers trudging through a dense swamp called this area “Oak Openings.” Most of the park is an oak savanna ecosystem, characterized by alternating wetlands and vegetated dunes. The Nature Conservancy once named the sandy region one of the 200 “Last Great Places on Earth.”
Prickly-pear cactus, wild lupine, and sand cherry bloom atop dry, hot sand dunes just yards away from orchids growing in low, wet swales. There are more than 50 miles of trails in Oak Openings Preserve. Stands of isolated pine and spruce planted by the WPA during the Great Depression are still visible.
Oak Openings is a birder’s paradise. It is the nesting place of Bluebirds, Indigo Buntings, Whippoorwills, Lark Sparrows, and many other species, as well as an excellent location to see migrating songbirds in the spring.
Trails at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark include:
All Purpose Trail (brown) -5.3 miles
Evergreen Trail (orange) – 1.9 miles
Ferns and Lakes Trail (blue) – 2.9 miles
Hiking Trail (yellow) – 16 miles
Foxfire Trail (yellow) – 1.5 miles
Mallard Lake Loop (blue)
Ridge Trail (silver) – 2.5 miles
Sand Dunes Trail (red) – 1.7 miles
Springbrook Lake Trail (teal) – 1 mile round trip
Beach Ridge Singletrack Trail -12 miles
Biking Trail – 5.8 miles
Wabash Cannonball Trail (purple)
Ski Trails – 4 miles
Horse Trail – 14.5 miles
The AllTrails website has descriptions and maps of hikes in the Oak Openings Preserve Metropark.
Restrooms on site
Content from Official Website and Ohio Ornithological Society