West Branch State Park

The primary branch of the Mahoning River rises on the Glaciated Appalachian Plateau near Alliance, Ohio.  Flowing NNE, the river passes through the Berlin and Milton Reservoirs before merging with its West Branch just east of Newton Falls.  The Mahoning then flows eastward, passing through Warren and Youngstown before crossing into western Pennsylvania.  There it joins the Shenango River to form the Beaver River which flows south to enter the Ohio River; in effect, the northeastward and eastward flowing Mahoning, a major river of northeast Ohio, is part of the Ohio River Watershed (and thus part of the Mississippi's vast watershed).

The West Branch of the Mahoning, which rises near Ravenna, Ohio, was dammed to form the Michael Kirwan Reservoir in 1966.  Covering 2650 acres, this lake is now surrounded by West Branch State Park, almost 5400 acres of beech-maple forest, upland meadows and post glacial bogs; the latter harbor skunk cabbage, buttonbush and swamp oak among other bog plants.  On our visit today, hiking and birding were hampered by a steady rain and soggy trails; nevertheless, we saw bald eagles, white-tailed deer and a decent variety of songbirds, including a rather large number of great crested flycatchers.  I also spotted a large flock of small gulls far out on the reservoir (likely Bonaparte gulls) that were too distant to accurately identify.

Our journey to West Branch State Park was prompted by its number one ranking for Portage County birding sites on eBird.  In the end, the visit offered limited bird sightings (primarily due to the weather) but stimulated my interest in the Mahoning River and its watershed.  As a naturalist, I am interested in the flora and fauna of any given landscape but it is the topography and hydrology that always grabs my attention (and most often prompts further investigation).