By Bruce Stambaugh
Birds and birders have a lot in common. This thought struck me on my latest trip to northwest Ohio’s birding mecca, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
Billed as the Greatest Week in American Birding, the event coincided with the peak of the spring warbler migration. Warblers, and other migrating birds, use Ohio’s airspace as their launching pad to their northern breeding grounds.
Before the birds cross Lake Erie, they tend to rest along its shores. There they replenish their strength by devouring insects that flit around the budding and blooming deciduous trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Shorebirds scour the marshes and shores for their nourishment.
As an amateur birder, I enjoy watching backyard birds and observing passers through with equal zeal. But if I want to see a multitude of colorful migrating birds packed into one location, Magee Marsh is the place to go.
The marsh and its 2,200 surrounding acres serve as a sprawling wildlife sanctuary with varied habitat types, including estuaries, marshes, scrub lands, woodlots, rocky areas, beaches and of course the lake itself. The area also provides sportsmen with seasonal controlled hunting and fishing.
During bird migration season, the only shooting of birds permitted is with cameras. Believe me, plenty of shots are fired in search of the perfect picture of the incredible songbirds, shorebirds, and birds of prey.
In my meandering around the boardwalk, trails and beach, I discovered something that should have been obvious. Birders have a lot in common with the birds they watch.
Like their feathered friends, birders come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Just like the birds, birders sport different hues and clothe themselves in a variety of colors, including camouflage, worn more to soothe the birds than hide from predators.
There are other comparisons, too. Some birders maneuver and forage in solitude for their targets. Others travel in organized groups. Most birders are quiet, but some let loose with an effusive chatter when a flashy warbler or rare bird is spotted.
When a shorebird captures a fish, it often finds itself quickly surrounded by others hoping to also steal a bite. When a birder discovers a coveted find, others gather around hoping to capture the image through their spotting scopes, binoculars, or cameras. Those without scopes are graciously invited to better view the often-concealed bird. Birders are genuinely kind people.
When a bird is located along the boardwalk at Magee, birders bob and weave, stretch and stoop to get just the right viewing angle. Birds do the same in search of food or checking out habitat. Most birders go in search of birds, like the many warblers that flit from limb to limb decreasing the insect population. Others sit and wait for the birds to come to them, like a Great Blue Heron patiently waiting for a fish to spear.
Camaraderie and sharing are normal in the sport of birding. Staunch birders make life lists, month lists, day lists, yard lists, state lists, annual lists, and just about any other kind of list you might imagine. That’s how serious they take this popular sport.
If someone finds a bird they can’t identify, a more expert birder gladly assists in teaching how to properly confirm just what species it is. Teaching and learning are just as important as appreciating the birds and their habitats.
Perhaps that is why birding is one of the most popular sports in the world. During the Biggest Week in American Birding, global citizens flock to northwest Ohio in hopes of seeing a special species.
To hear the various lyrical birdsongs and behold the flashy mating plumages first hand is truly a treat. To see the smiles and satisfaction on the faces of the elated birders is equally rewarding.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2013