In search of Dickcissels - Junction Earthworks Kathryn Cubert

Chillicothe is where I learned the three R's while attending Allen Elementary School on Plyley's Lane. I'd go to school in matching outfits and saddle shoes along with my red-haired older sister - our mom had sewn our clothes back in the day when people routinely did that kind of thing. At times while I lived on Brewer Heights, I'd chase the same sister with cicadas and rough up my arms and knees while climbing trees. Years later as a 9th grader at Unioto it was the place where I fell "in love" with a guy who stole my heart in a way only teenagers experience. Often short and sweet.

Fast forward decades (I'm not telling how many) later and I find myself continuing the process of life-long learning while enjoying nature and photographing birds at Junction Earthworks. The site owned by the Arc of Appalachia opened on July 23 of this year. It's a miracle of sorts - a stunning last-minute victory involving a flood of monetary donations for the win when the location was being sold at auction a few years ago.

The drives I've made down Plyley's Lane during the past few weekends have brought back a flood of memories from my youth. During my first trip back on the lane and on the site those memories played out nonstop in the background. But I digress. From the start of my initial walk on the trails around the circular patterns of earthworks, a Song Sparrow greeted me by singing his heart out on a glorious blue-sky day. Shortly afterwards I saw an Eastern Phoebe, and then an American Goldfinch as I walked the circular pattern that defined the space. While walking slowly I saw and heard other types of birds and a butterfly decided to hitchhike on my arm. It was a perfect place for photography and fulfilling my passion for birding. Tall plants surrounded the earthworks and the birds could easily perch on the highest ones while I stayed out of their way on grounds that had been mowed.

An Eastern Phoebe hangs out with a background I could not resist capitalizing on - a wall of solid green.

As I set my camera up on a tripod along the Tippecanoe Darter Trail, I started working on realizing my main goal - finding the Dickcissels that I had been told were in the prairie. I've seen them in several locations across the state - one near Cadiz, and also several at Fernald Preserve near Cincinnati. They're elegant and regal, with the hunt for a sighting or the sounds of their call more than a small part of the intrigue for me as a photographer. The males are on the best-dressed list as they look like they're wearing their finest formal wear. With a yellow chest and black circles that look like buttons, they're incredibly beautiful! Finding them is not always an easy task, but finding them in the place of my birth is the best scenario of all...Chillicothe is only a short drive away from my current home in Grove City.

Hours pass by quickly in the hot summer sun along the trail. Small bees launch and attack, and I resort to bug spray to fend them off. To add to the visual appeal of the place, flowering prairie plants go on and on as far as the eye can see, nearing the end of peak bloom. On one occasion a Dickcissel flew in near the edge of the path and stayed for several minutes, grasshopper in beak. He would turn his head to the left, and then to the right... savoring his own personal victory in finding a meal, and not at all hesitant in sharing his success. He stayed long enough that I switched to video to capture his call and I stayed with him until he flew away. I discovered another one as I headed out of the trail feeling somewhat victorious myself in capturing some digital files to review later on. During yet another visit I was able to capture one at the top of a plant swinging in the slight breeze - the background for once uncluttered. Sweet, sweet success for this photographer!

Since I've taken the photo above, the prairie has become less colorful. It's difficult to believe we are close to the end of summer and fall will arrive quickly.

I have so much more to learn about the earthworks and the history alone will take awhile to absorb. As I continue my visits here there's no doubt in my mind that I'll still work on educating myself, but for now while practicing the three P's - patience, persistence and perseverance. Slowly...patiently taking the steps I need to in order to capture some memorable photos of my time there. I'll relish the changes that each season will bring. In addition, I'll continue falling in love while spending time in my hometown, if only with the land and it's current inhabitants.

Created By
Kathy Cubert