Herons, ducks, shorebirds–if it likes water, you can find it at the Oxbow. The best time of year for birding the Oxbow area is during the spring migration, which extends from February for ducks, through May for shorebirds. While spring may be the best time to visit the area, the rest of the year should not be ignored. Fall can be particularly good for shorebirds, if water levels are right.
Before you bird the Oxbow area, you would be well advised to check the level of the Ohio River. Flood stage at Cincinnati is 52 feet, but the Oxbow begins to flood at 30 feet. The best places to bird on any given day are directly related to water levels. You will want to find the spots that have enough water to attract the birds, but not so much that they are inaccessible. I’ve tried to describe how to get to some of the more consistently productive spots to try, but you should not limit yourself to these spots. Drive around, checking every gravel road or back lot that might lead you to water.
To reach the Oxbow itself, drive west on U. S. 50 from the intersection with I-275. At 0.2 miles, just past the Shell station, turn left. After crossing the bike path, turn right at the end of the road, and left at the next intersection. The woods along this stretch can attract a fair number of passerine migrants. Once you reach the bottom of the slope, where the road divides, the road changes from gravel to dirt. Do not attempt to drive on the dirt roads if they are wet–they will swallow your car. Whether you proceed by car or on foot, please stay on the roads. Some of these fields are privately owned, and others are owned by Oxbow, Inc. and leased to farmers. In either case, you should stay out of the fields.
The road to your left passes borrow pits on the left, and then leads along the Oxbow itself. The road then bends ninety degrees to the left, and crosses a field before leading to another borrow pit located near the expressway. Check for rails near the bend. The area along this road is the first to flood, and remains wet after everything else in the area has receded back into the Ohio. By 35 feet, it will be difficult to get into this area. This road is gated. You may walk the road, but not drive it.
The road to your right leads along the edge of the Oxbow, and is several feet higher than the other area. You will be able to get good views of the closer portions of the first area, during times when there is too much water to enter. Black-crowned Night-Herons congregate along this stretch in late summer. During dry summers, mud flats which are visible from this road develop at each end of the Oxbow, and attract shorebirds. Reaching the best mud flat, which is located at the far end of the Oxbow, requires leaving the road. Before you make the effort, look at the weeds along the edge of the Oxbow opposite you. If the water goes all the way up into the weeds, leaving no rim of mud along the weeds, then there won’t be a mud flat.
By the time the Ohio River reaches 40 feet, most of the Oxbow will be under too much water to access. Another excellent area–at least until warm weather, when the area is overrun by boaters–is a large borrow pit located on the opposite side of 1-275. From the I-275 ramp, drive east on U. S. 50 for 1.6 miles. Just before a railroad overpass, turn right onto a gravel road, which passes a small cemetery and then runs under the expressway. This area floods at 45 feet, and often retains water in sky pools after the river recedes.
At 50 feet, this area will be completely flooded. Return to U.S. 50, and continue east 1.3 miles to a short unmarked gravel drive that crosses the railroad tracks. DO NOT GO PAST THE TRACKS. This is private property, and the farmer who owns these fields has been known to scatter nails in the roads past this point. You can bird from the tracks. At another 0.1 miles you will find a second gravel drive, which gives a different view of the same area. Finally, you can try Lawrenceburg Road, another 0.3 miles east, which leads across the valley of the Great Miami River at Lost Bridge, and on to Shawnee Lookout.