View larger image

Spring had sprung, technically speaking, on March 20. Then, of course, we got some more snow. This week finally felt like the season of rebirth, and the natural world has started to notice at Stage's Pond.

Stage's Pond State Nature Preserve 4792 Hagerty Rd. Ashville, Ohio 614-265-6511 Homepage

Located about five miles north of Circleville, this tiny preserve often gets overlooked. But it's great for early spring walks, waterfowl birding and finding reptiles and amphibians in small vernal pools.

After ditching the car in the front lot, walk the asphalt to a small grass trail on your left. This is an emergent forest with a field that draws a wide range of birds, including the white-eyed vireo and prairie warbler. Head a bit further on to the main info board.

View larger image

Neither the preserve brochures nor the trail markers are color-coded. Here's a tip: If you've got a digital camera, take a photo of the nice map at the bulletin board. It'll save you some head-scratching.

View larger image

I chose the Meadow Trail, which edges the western edge of the park. Easy and lined with grass, it was a nice way to get reacquainted with red-winged blackbirds and other species back for the summer.

View larger image

The path eventually leads to a bird blind that overlooks the bigger of two ponds. Expect great blue herons, mallards and a few other flyers year-round, with rarer migrating ducks and geese stopping by during the next month or so.

From here, I joined the Kettle Lake Trail. This is named for the on-site kettle lake, a distinct marking from Ohio's glacial history. According to state geologists, "An immense chunk of ice broke free and remained behind ... When the land-locked ice mass finally melted, it left a great depression in the landscape." Pretty cool.

View larger image

After trekking through a lively, noisy meadow, you'll enter a wooded tract. You can choose to head back by taking either the Moraine or Boundary trails. Both saunter pleasantly through typical Central Ohio woods, though neither is spectacular.

View larger image

Once you return to the bulletin board, take the short connector trail to the observation blind, a great vantage onto the smaller lake. The forests might not be that fine, but this place is primed for some good hours peering through binoculars. You should see some very interesting stuff.