Birders at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
May is for the birds. Thousands of bird lovers young and old clearly would understand what I mean.
Birders live for spring migration. Birds large and small that headed south for warmer winter climes return north to their annual breeding grounds. May is the peak month for such movement.
Where the boardwalk begins.
Birders clamor for any and every chance to find rare birds or to compile as many species as they can see or hear in a day or week or month. There is no better place in North America to do that than a small state-managed wildlife area in northwest Ohio called Magee Marsh. Birds and birders both flock to the estuaries, marshlands, and small woodlots that abut Lake Erie’s southwestern shore.
Even if you don’t count yourself among the aviary flock, it’s worth a trip just for the experience. Cruise through the expansive parking lot, and you’ll find vehicles of all shapes and sizes with license plates from across the country and Canada. Human participants even fly in from foreign countries for the spectacular migratory happening.
Part of the draw is an organized and orchestrated event tabbed “The Biggest Week in American Birding,” sponsored by a little non-profit known as the Black Swamp Birding Observatory.
The “week” is actually multiple days in early May. This year it’s May 3-12. Many species of birds, especially warblers, use Magee Marsh and surrounding protected wetlands as rest stops before winging it over Lake Erie into Canada. The first landing spot for many is Point Pele near Leamington, Ontario, just across the lake.
The colorful songbirds sometimes hang like Christmas tree ornaments from tree branches. Birders ogle from boardwalks that wind their way through the trees and along ponds and wetland habitats.
Workshops and lectures are also held to inform interested parties about the latest findings on bird populations, behaviors, and dwindling habitats. Guided field trips are also available. Of course, you can also buy birding supplies, books, and equipment.
But it’s the birds that matter. Youngsters and oldsters, groups and individuals ply their skills at searching for the latest arrived species. Word of a Canadian warbler, a secretive bird with a quiet call, spreads quickly among the birders. Just locate the crowd with spotting scopes and binoculars aimed in search of the prize.
If by chance a real rarity shows, like the endangered Kirtland’s warbler, the crowd suddenly shifts to add to their life list of seeing this worshiped species. Only a small number still summer in the jack pines of the Lower Michigan peninsula.
Cameras and bins.
Searching for a Kirtland’s Warbler.
Yes, that is a Kirtland’s Warbler, and another one was spotted there yesterday, May 3, 2019.
Of course, northwest Ohio is not the only migration hotspot on the continent. Cape May, New Jersey, southern Arizona, the coastlines of Florida and California to name a few also host migrating birds and curious birders. Coastal regions and contiguous topography with natural waterways, ponds, and habitat provide flyways for the returning birds.
Birds need cover, food, water, and safe spaces to rest and refuel to continue their journey and reach their destination. In the fall, they’ll repeat the process in reverse, only dressed in more camouflaged colors.
In many species, it’s the flashy colors that birders love to view, if only for a few precious seconds. Some of the species call northern Ohio home for the summer.
School groups, church groups, family groups, young birder groups, birding clubs, and just curious individuals celebrate these early spring days searching for any shorebirds, songbirds, waterfowl, and birds of prey that happen to be passing through.
It’s spring migration after all when May really is for the birds.
Kim Kaufman (right) and her dedicated staff make the Biggest Week in American Birding happen.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2019