Warblers galore, and more

A large scale event named the ‘Biggest Week in American Birding’ started May 6, Tuesday, and will continue through May 15, Thursday. Birders, 60,000 strong, last year came to this event from 46 states and 13 countries. That generated an estimated $20-million in revenue in northwest Ohio, mainly in Ottawa County, but spilling into neighboring counties. This year the event is anticipated to generate $30-million in revenue for the area.

After spending the better part of three days there with my wife, Jeri, that estimate seems reasonable. We saw license plates from more states than I cared to count, and met birders from Canada and Australia just in our small presence.

Headquarters, the starting point for birding tours and other events were at Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center. Optics Alley, where birders had the opportunity to examine and peer through some of the best binoculars and spotting scopes available, was at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, which is at Magee Marsh Wildlife Management Area.

Magee March WMA was the more congested area while we were doing our birding. Other focal points for birders were Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Metzger Marsh WMA.

Both WMAs are state sites. All three of the above sites are in close proximity.

Jeri and I decided we could get more time to look for birds we most wanted to see, and get the best overall picture of the Biggest Week, by doing things on our own. We stayed in Port Clinton, which was less than a 1/2-hour drive from the primary birding areas, and did not join any organized outings. We were pleased with our decision.

Our first birding excursion was Saturday evening at another nearby place, Toussaint Creek WMA, which was not a part of the Biggest Week schedule. Nonetheless, we had a wonderful few hours of birding.

At Toussaint Creek WMA we got our first close-up look at a great egret. These large white wading birds are numerous once reaching Sandusky Bay heading west.

The birding focus of the Greatest Week is the abundance and variety of warblers. These small birds accumulate along the south shore of Lake Erie before heading across the big expanse of water. While they are along the south shore is considered to be the best opportunity in North America to see warblers.

We noticed, however, that most birders spent their time watching less elusive birds.

During that first evening at Toussaint Creek WMA we listed common yellowthroat, blackburnian warbler, yellow warbler and yellow-rumped warbler. Our total was 13 species for the first evening.

Our first full day, Sunday, was a beautiful day. After breakfast we went to Magee Marsh WMA, stopping first to look over the optics on display. Then we went on a quest for birds, and especially for warblers. Spotting these tiny birds while they dart about in dense underbrush is difficult enough. Actually identifying them is downright tough. Birding experts seem to do it well enough. The tricks involve spotting characteristic color marks, behavior and identifying their sounds.

Actually, I think a lot of times so-called experts just make best guesses. But there are genuine experts.

Our grand count of warblers Saturday mid-morning through mid-afternoon included ovenbird, magnolia warbler, yellow warbler, palm warbler and yellow-rumped warbler. Our total count for the day was 28 bird species identified for certain. Not what a die hard birder might find acceptable, but we had fun.

We spent the late afternoon and evening driving to Marblehead Lighthouse, a sight worth seeing if you are in the area.

Then, before returning to our motel, we had one of the most interesting experiences of the vacation, eating at a Japanese steak house. The show put on by the hibachi chef was great, then our fillet and shrimp were the best of both we have ever eaten. The beef melted in the mouth.

Monday we hit Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Metzger Marsh WMA. Between these two nearby areas we saw more birds than the day before. Though we only identified two of the warblers we had seen the previous day, we saw other birds that were in our minds better.

Our first highlight was spotting a sora, a reclusive bird that lives in thick marsh.

Later we saw a moorhen, followed by three more of the same soon after.

Then came the big moment of the trip, spotting a least bittern. Jeri saw it first flying into dense reeds. Then I managed to find in among the reeds.

Our total for the day was 41 bird species identified.

Then, keeping in tune with the total vacation theme, we had dinner at an Irish tavern where I had fish and chips, and Jeri had Kilgare chicken. It was a perfect end of the day.