Birding at Hinckley ReservationHinckley, Ohio
Visiting this Site
Open 6am to 11pm daily.
At all picnic areas, the boathouse, plus several small lots along West and East Drives.
Permit only required for those interested in climbing on Whipp’s Ledges.
At picnic areas, ball fields, the boathouse, and the spillway swimming area.
Harmful Insects, Poisonous Plants, or Animals
Poison Ivy is prevalent. Mosquitoes can be numerous in season along the East Branch of the Rocky River.
Restaurants in the Area
There are several small mom & pop restaurants in Hinckley; snacks are available at the boathouse in season; the nearest traditional “fast food” is at the I-71 x SR 303 interchange, or to the east at the I-77 x Wheatley Rd. interchange.
Other Birding Spots in the Area
Portions of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park are as close as seven miles from Hinckley Reservation.
Hinckley, OH 44233
DeLorme Page Number and Coordinates
(7th Edition and earlier) Page 41, C-5
Nearest Town or City
About two miles southeast of Hinckley, Ohio.
Directions from Nearest Town or City
From I-71 in Brunswick, exit eastbound on SR 303. Head east on SR 303 for about 4.5 miles to SR 606 (Hinckley Hills Rd.). Turn right (south) on SR 606 and go about .5 mile to Bellus Rd. Turn left (east) on Bellus, and go about .25 mile to the park entrance on the right (West Drive).
About Hinckley Reservation
Hinckley Reservation is the southernmost outpost of the Cleveland Metroparks, and arguably features the best overall birding. Its’ 2275 rolling acres contain the 90-acre Hinckley Lake w/attendant boathouse, two small fishing lakes, two swimming areas, large outcroppings of Sharon conglomerate ledges, the slowly-moving East Branch of the Rocky River, several small permanent streams, and most importantly, one of the largest contiguous blocks of mature deciduous forest in northeastern Ohio. The Ranger Station on Bellus Road, nearly opposite the West Drive entrance to the park, is a good place to seek information and view a map of park trails.
Although probably best known for its “Hinckley Buzzards”, Hinckley Reservation certainly deserves a wider and better birding reputation than one based solely on its Turkey Vultures. Turkey Vultures are indeed a prominent feature of the park, and can usually be seen circling overhead from mid-March through mid-October. Whipps’ Ledges, often cited as a traditional nesting and roosting area for the vultures, is actually rather unproductive for them; better places to look for potential roosting birds are at the Redwing Reserved Picnic Area off West Drive, and sometimes at the marked “Buzzard Roost” parking area, also on West Drive. Of course, in season any open area might provide views of dozens of vultures overhead.
Hinckley Lake is encircled by two park roads, West Drive and East Drive. Both roads (paved) have entrances off Bellus Road on the north side of the park, and on State Road, which cuts north and south through the center of the park. Many of the park’s primary destinations are accessed from West Drive, such as the Hinckley Lake dam, which impounds the Rocky River, the boathouse, Johnson’s Picnic Area, the scenic overlook, and the Buzzard Roost parking area. Other good areas are accessed from East Drive, Kellogg Road, Ledge Road, State Road, Bellus Road, and Parker/Harter Roads, all of which serve to form boundaries for the Reservation. A map of the park would be useful to help identify the various roads.
A hike around Hinckley Lake on the three-mile paved All Purpose Trail will provide a good introduction to the area, and should provide a good representation of species. This trail is also well-populated with joggers and bikers, especially in summer and on weekends. In general, the All Purpose Trail is adjacent to West and East Drives; however, a dirt hiking trail follows the immediate shoreline most of the way around the Lake, and therefore offers better birding, but won’t get you into any “deep woods” areas. From time to time, the hiking trail around the Lake will empty out onto the paved trail; in general, just stay as close to the Lake as possible.
The northern end of the Lake, near the dam, offers the deepest water and accordingly the best chances at locating any diving waterfowl which might happen to briefly touch-down in migration, although the Lake is not particularly adept at attracting this group. The southern end of the Lake, where the Rocky River empties into it, is quite shallow and attracts dabbling ducks, shorebirds when the water is low enough, and herons and egrets. All in all, Hinckley Reservation is more properly known for its woodland birds rather than its water birds, although the Lake often harbors interesting migrants before the canoers and row boaters hit the waters.
To begin a hike around Hinckley Lake, enter West Drive from Bellus Road and continue to a road on the left marked “Boat House” and “Johnson’s Picnic Area”. Turn here and drive to the picnic area at the end of the road, passing the boathouse. The picnic area itself is shaded; its small shelter house often houses a nesting pair of Eastern Phoebes. The small stream which passes through the area sometimes has a pair of Louisiana Waterthrushes, although they are usually easier to find just upstream, as we will describe later. From the parking lot, continue over the stream on the bridge and make an immediate left on the dirt hiking trail. This trail follows the shore of the Lake, and this section goes through excellent Blue-gray Gnatcatcher habitat. After passing through this stand of deciduous woods, the trail then begins to border the marshy upper reaches of the Lake; listen here for nesting Swamp Sparrows in the cattails, and for rails in spring migration. This whole stretch of trail can be good for migrants in spring and fall. Soon the dirt trail will intersect with the paved All Purpose Trail. Take the paved trail to the left, crossing the bridge over the Rocky River. This spot is good for swallows, Belted Kingfishers, Eastern Phoebes, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Continue past the parking area on the left and again turn left on the dirt trail to continue around the Lake’s shoreline. This portion of trail again traverses woodlands, including pine/spruce plantings. Eventually the dirt trail ends and hooks up with the paved trail; continue left on the paved trail, past a number of homes, and into the parking lot for the spillway swimming area below the dam. Cross the bridge over the river, attempting to avoid the tame ducks and geese which infest the area. Climb the small hill and again head left on the dirt trail, following the shoreline. The trail from here, and until you again reach the boathouse, can be good during both migrations.
Just before reaching the boathouse, you will pass by a large area of planted Norway Spruce. These mature trees, and actually any other similar roadside plantings of spruces/pines in the park, often contain some of the rarest nesting birds of northeast Ohio. Although not every species is present in every planting, nor for that matter, every year in the park, in most years one can expect nesting Golden-crowned Kinglets, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Magnolia and Black-throated Green warblers, and Blue-headed Vireos. Blackburnian Warblers have nested in this particular spot at least once. During invasion years, Pine Siskins and Purple Finches also likely nest here. One year, a singing Red Crossbill remained, as if on territory, but no nesting behavior was observed. After thoroughly searching this area, continue along to the boathouse road to your vehicle, stopping for snacks at the boathouse if you wish.
Back at your vehicle, drive back past the boathouse and turn left onto West Drive. Within a short distance, you will come to another entrance (on the left) to the other side of Johnson’s Picnic Area. Opposite this entrance is a dirt equestrian parking lot on the right; turn in here and park. The Buckeye Trail and a bridle trail share the same space in this lush little valley, paralleling the same permanent stream that cuts through the Johnson’s Picnic Area. One or two pairs of Louisiana Waterthrushes nest here every year, being most easily found from mid-April through June, when singing. On good migration days, this stretch of trail can really be hopping. Other nesting species here include Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, and Hooded Warbler. A Cerulean Warbler is usually on territory right at the entrance to the parking area. Barred Owls and Pileated Woodpeckers are permanent residents.
This valley is also excellent for spring wildflowers, beginning in early April, and peaking in late April through early to mid-May. Some species to be found here commonly are Bloodroot, Blue Cohosh, Cut-leaved Toothwort, Dutchmen’s Breeches, Foamflower, Wild Geranium, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Mayapple, Purple Cress, Round-lobed Hepatica, Wild Blue Phlox, Rue Anemone, Spring Beauty, Squirrel Corn, Large-flowered Trillium, Purple Trillium, Trout Lily, Twinleaf, and Wild Leek.
Walking on this trail, you will soon come to a split; the right fork crosses the stream and takes you to the west, eventually tying into the Kiwanis Reserved Picnic Area on Kellogg Road (on the western boundary of the park), and the equestrian area on Hinckley Hills Road (in the northwestern corner of the park). If you choose to continue straight ahead, the bridle trail will take you to the east, crossing State Road, and much later, will dump you out on Harter Road (at the far southeastern corner of the park), several miles distant. All the bridle trails in the area quite birdy, especially in summer, and provide a “deep woods” atmosphere seldom found in northeastern Ohio. Chances are, you will only share these trails with an occasional equestrian or two. Unfortunately, the layout of the trails is linear, and therefore does not allow for a complete loop, so you will need to retrace your steps. This is not such a bad thing.
Once back at your vehicle, turn right out of the dirt parking area and continue on West Drive. You will pass the scenic overlook on the left, which offers a view of the shallow east end of Hinckley Lake and the wooded hillsides beyond. Continuing on West Drive, you will soon come to the Buzzard Roost parking lot on the right. This open area of cultivated fields and field edges attracts nesting Eastern Towhees, Field Sparrows, and Indigo Buntings, among others.
Directly opposite the intersection of West Drive and State Road is the southern entrance of the gravel Loop Drive (often closed during winter). The large spruces here seem particularly attractive to Golden-crowned Kinglets. Loop Drive continues for a half-mile along the slow-moving and muddy East Branch of the Rocky River before ending up again on State Road, but north of where you entered. The woods along Loop Drive attract many of the deeper woods birds, such as Brown Creeper, Great Crested Flycatcher, Hooded Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager. Cerulean Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrushes are also often found here. If you prefer, you may walk Loop Drive, as it receives comparatively little traffic. Look here also for spring wildflowers, such as White Dog-toothed Violet and Virginia Bluebell, among many others.
Back on State Road, continue north (right), crossing the Rocky River, and turn right up the side road to the Whipp’s Ledges Picnic Area. You may park at the end of the road and follow the trails upwards to the base of the Ledges, a favorite of rock climbers. This area is also known as one of the Cleveland area’s most reliable spots for nesting Kentucky Warblers, although only a few pairs are ever present. Look especially in old cut-over openings, particularly those sporting grapevine tangles. Nesting Chestnut-sided Warblers are also fond of these areas. All the deep-woods species may be expected here. Hooded Warbler is quite common.
Retrace your steps to your vehicle and return downhill to State Road, where you should make a right turn. Here you have two options. The first is to quickly turn left on East Drive, which parallels the east side of Hinckley Lake, and cuts through more deciduous woods, conifer plantings, and recreational areas, before again reaching Bellus Road. A left turn here will take you back to the Ranger Station and West Drive.
Or, to continue your visit, go straight up the hill on State Road until Bellus Road, where you will turn to the right. Bellus soon takes you to the Top O’Ledges Picnic Area. Turn right here, passing through meadows which in some years attract nesting Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows before the grass is cut. The road ends at the picnic area, which allows access to the top of Whipp’s Ledges. Just head south on any trail, and you will soon find yourself at the Ledges.
Retreating to Bellus Road, make a right, and yet another right on Parker Road. Although most of the property along this road is privately owned, it is surprisingly rural and little- traveled. You will pass an eastern extension of the ledges on the right, and a park maintenance facility and open fields on the left, before beginning to head downhill to the Rocky River. Just before crossing the stream, you will notice an old chain-link fence and sign marking the entrance to the Taki Nature Research Area, which is presently closed to the public. However, you can park safely off to the side of the gate and investigate this interesting little area of pines and deciduous woods along the road. For some reason, summer records of Pine and Prairie warbler, Northern Parula, Brown Creeper, and Purple Finch have all been made here; all are noteworthy nesters for the Cleveland area. Chestnut-sided Warblers can often be heard here as well. Just past this spot, the road crosses the bridge into Summit County, and the road changes its name to Harter Road. The valley here is overgrown with brush, and is attractive to Blue-winged Warbler and Eastern Phoebe. You should probably turn around here and head back north along Parker Road, although if you wish to continue on Harter, you will soon come to the far eastern terminus of the park’s bridle trail on the right. This long hike would take you all the way back to State Road to the west, and even farther if you wished.
To reach some other good outlying portions of the park, head back up Parker Road to Bellus Road, and make a left. Take Bellus past State Road, past East and West Drives, and turn left on Hinckley Hills Road (SR 606). A large equestrian parking area is located on the left further down Hinckley Hills Road, and a bridle trail leads off from this point. To get to an even better spot, continue on Hinckley Hills Road to Kellogg Road, and make a left. You will soon come to the out-of-the-way Kiwanis Reserved Picnic Area on the left. Instead of pulling in here, continue a few more yards and park in the small lot on the left. Walk back in on the gravel road to the picnic area; you will soon encounter the bridle trail. The section of trail near this spot, and off to the right, is especially good for “northerly” nesters, including Golden-crowned Kinglet, Magnolia and Black-throated Green warblers, and Blue-headed Vireos. Sharp-shinned Hawk has nested here. Ovenbirds are also particularly common. If you wish to continue east on the bridle trail, you will eventually find yourself crossing the stream which leads into Johnson’s Picnic Area.
All in all, Hinckley Reservation offers some very enticing birds any time of the year, but especially in summer, and in the migrations. Winter attracts fewer birds, as would be expected with any heavily-wooded area, although the conifer plantings can still be productive. Some years, Evening Grosbeaks are numerous, and hawks such as Rough-legged Hawk and Northern Harrier have also been seen. At any time of year, many other interesting spots await investigation beyond those mentioned above; Hinckley is truly much more than “buzzards”, and begs to be explored more thoroughly.
Birds of Interest by Season
Typical woodland birds; during invasion years, winter finches sometimes frequent the spruce plantings near the boathouse and elsewhere along park roads.
Very good general migrational birding, especially near water and edge habitats. A moderate number of water birds stop at Hinckley Lake.
Excellent summer birding, including 12 nesting warbler species annually, plus about seven more intermittently or possibly. Areas of old spruce plantings attract nesting Red-breasted Nuthatches, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Blue-headed Vireos, plus Magnolia, Black-throated Green, and occasionally, Blackburnian Warblers. Hinckley Lake attracts common water birds.
The shallow eastern end of Hinckley Lake develops a modest mudflat, which attracts waders and a few shorebirds. Migrational birding is good near water and along edge habitats.