I can assure the readership that this will not be a critique of the famous Dickens novel of the same name, but a few ideas on how to make the most of your adventures when exploring Nearby Nature. When you go to the zoo you want to see the animals, the same can be said about hiking, camping, or fishing; you want to see and experience nature first hand. When the sun is shining, birds chirping, and you go out to experience nature, one of the most disappointing things that can happen is that by the end of the day all you have experienced is tired/aching legs and bug bites from your hike.

As with anything in life, a little planning and preparation can go a long way to make the experience enjoyable and meet your expatiations or the expectations your group may have. Technology has greatly aided in this regard with web sites and blogs highlighting what is occurring in our area or an area you are planning on making a visit to in the near future. All of the areas’ park districts have web sites with links to their calendars of events and/or newsletters which highlight what is going on or what to look for in their respective parks during the various seasons. However, I want to focus on two sites specifically, eBird ( http://ohioebirdhotspots.wikispaces.com) and Trek Ohio ( http://trekohio.com/). These two sites can almost guarantee your expectations will be meet.

Let’s take the Snowy owl as an example. You are determined to see one but don’t know where to go. Let’s visit eBird. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides real time information on bird distribution worldwide. Individual birders submit checklists with species names of birds seen and/or heard and location into the main web site. These locations called “hotspots” will list the date and number of a particular species. Sometime the information is time-sensitive, especially during migrations. Birds may spend only a short time in a location before continuing on their journey.  Above is an example what the eBird screen looks like. I have chosen Portage County but you can pick any county in Ohio. In the Birdtrax data table is a compilation of all the bird sightings in the county by location. Specific locations can be found on in the middle of the page and by clicking on a location, trail maps, descriptions, and other useful information can be found. Also listed are rare bird alerts, historical data on species, and links to other birding web sites. The site is very user friendly and once you have spent some time navigating around the page you will be able to find the nearest location and  see that elusive Snowy Owl!

The TrekOhio Guide  http://trekohio.com/ is designed to help meet expectations of hikers and nature enthusiasts around Ohio. The site specializes in listing natural sites and activities in Ohio. Developed by a husband and wife team, Bob and Deb Platt, they have created one place online where you could learn about sites that are in the same geographical region regardless of whether the park, nature preserve, or trail managed by the federal, state, or county government, or a non-governmental agency. Broken down into five quadrants, the site allows the user to click on the region of interest of the state and a listing of the counties appears. Click on a county and a list of all the natural areas appears, complete with directions and points of interest. Along the right side is a listing of seasonal or special events across the state and nature blogs from various sources around Ohio. Of particular interest is the “nice to know section” and “hiking overviews.” The nice to know area is an excellent quick reference with pictures of plants and animals to be looking for during your hike. You can quickly see that a lot of time and effort has been put into this site and will surely meet with your expatiations.

Also Matt and I urge you vote May 6th and support the upcoming Portage Park levy.