Some times sheer numbers can be a bit overwhelming.
That was the case during a four-day birding experience in Canada and northern Ohio during the Biggest Week in Birding.
One should not put pressure into numbers or “having to see” specific species, but some of the numbers and species seen were absolutely fantastic along the boardwalk in Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the boardwalk in Maumee Bay State Park. A day trip to Canada via the Jet Express out of Port Clinton across Lake Erie to Leamington was an excellent experience again.
Birding should be an experience of seeing what birds you can see and the surroundings in which they migrate or live. As Kenn Kaufmann, a birding expert who has written several field guides, once said, “A good birder is someone who enjoys looking at birds.”
The trio of myself, my wife, Faith, and daughter, Kristina, could easily say we were good birders and enjoyed four days of seeing some birds we have never seen, some we have not seen in awhile and some we see often. It was the sheer numbers and the abundance in some small areas or pockets that amazed us.
Nearly every birder from late April through May is looking for the migrating warblers - colorful but smallish birds that measure from 4.5 to 6 inches long. There are 36 warblers, some rare, that migrate across Lake Erie. Each has distinct features, but that doesn’t always mean you identify them easily. Experts can, but others - from novices to frequent birders - often seek an opinion verifying some with other birders around them. With today’s digital cameras, some also verify the species by showing their pictures to others for identification.
Birders from all over the United States and the world hit the popular Ohio spots and the ones across Lake Erie in Canada to view these beautiful birds while males carry their breeding plumage. Guides also come from all over. One from Puerto Rico said after a rain is an excellent time to see them and they tend to stay low as well.
That was especially true a couple of days last week. The birds were so thick and so close in some spots, one could identify them without using binoculars. At times you could almost reach out and touch them.
In one sport Saturday afternoon on the Ottawa refuge, we saw 15 species of warblers within a 15-yard area. One tree was so thick with the tiny birds that some in the crow referred to it a a Christmas tree. Warblers there included …….
Similar results were seen on the west end of the boardwalk on a Friday evening (12 species of warblers were seen) and again late Sunday afternoon into early Sunday evening (15 species of warblers were seen). Total warblers seen for the day Friday at Magee were 15 species).
We saw eight different species of warblers at Point Pelee National Park in Canada on a Thursday and six at Maumee Bay on a Saturday evening. We also saw females of four species of warblers, something we have had trouble identifying in the past. And some species we had not seen in a couple or three years plus some we had never seen before. We also saw a few oven birds, another species we had not seen in a couple of years.There was a plethora of Cape May warblers, a species I previously had seen only once. Blackburnians were plentiful along with yellows that were everywhere. Among the three of us, we spotted 21 species of warblers. They included: Yellow warbler, Blackburnian warbler, Nashville warbler, Blackpoll warbler, Black-and-white warbler, Bay-breasted warbler, Cape May warbler, Palm warbler
Black-throated blue warbler (male and female), Northern parula, Hooded warbler, American redstart, Chestnut-sided warbler, Tennessee, Prothonotary, Ovenbird, Magnolia warbler, Yellow-throated warbler, Yellow-rumped warbler, Black-throated green warbler, Black-throated blue warbler.
Common birds like the ruby-throated hummingbird, cat bird, Baltimore Oriole, tree and barn swallows, blue jay, cardinals, robins, redwing blackbirds, downey woodpecker, red-head woodpecker, northern flicker and wild turkeys also were spotted.
Woodcock were well camouflaged, but noticeable in a few spots at Magee Marsh. Other birds we saw included ruby-crowned kinglet, warbling vireo, white-crowned sparrow, Rose-breasted grosbeak (female), white-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadee, Swainson’s thrush,, Northern waterthrush, Carolina and house wrens and olive-sided flycatcher
Among shore birds and waterfowl, we saw a green heron, white egret, blue heron, snow egret, trumpeter swan, black-necked stilt, Dunlin, Greater yellowlegs, Lesser yellowlegs, juvenile/yearling Forster’s tern, horned grebe pair, surf scoter Gadwall.
The highlight of the four day for me was seeing a red morphed screech owl off the boardwalk at Maumee Bay. It was sitting in a tree not far from a nest box where a mother and baby were. This was the second successive year, we have seen a red-morphed screech owl at Maumee Bay. Both times birders put us on to their locations. That’s the nice think about birders. Almost all of them are willing to point out and identify species.
Allen Count Wildlife Officer Craig Barr was among Ohio Division of Wildlife personnel on duty at Magee Marsh during the week. Wildlife Officers also provide a variety of services for Ohio’s native non-game species as well. Barr, who is one of several officers using bicycles in their patrols to access remote and/or congested areas to ensure resource protection and safety Was seen pedaling around the wildlife area and visiting with birders.
Al Smith is a freelance outdoor writer. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @alsmithFL