The more I’ve become involved with birding, the more I enjoy it. But I’m also impressed by the seriousness of birders.
While standing near the shore of Lake Erie in Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, a birder from Detroit asked if I had seen the Kirtland’s Warbler cited there two days earlier. The warbler, found mostly in certain areas of Michigan, hung around the shoreline for a day. This birder related he saw on the Internet it was sighted at Magee. He jumped in his vehicle, made the two-hour trip south and got to see a Kirtland’s for the first time.
Many times you have to be lucky to see a “lifer” — a bird you have seen for the first time. That happened for my wife, daughter and myself during four days of birding around Lake Erie with some of those days feeling more like winter than spring. One of those was a blue-headed vireo, which we saw at Pelee National Park in Leamington, Ontario, Canada.
Another was a Western bird, which somehow was well out of his normal range and had been sighted at Howard Marsh, a Toledo Metropark near Oregon. And we lucked out and saw a yellow-headed blackbird. The noise it made sounded like a cranky old curmudgeon. The sighting drew numerous people, who gawked and snapped a plethora of photos.
Other great sightings came at Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, where most of the area can be accessed only on special refuge trips. There we saw black terns and also white pelicans, lifers for some on the mini-bus tour. We also saw common and Caspian terns.
The persistence of a wildlife photographer was noted in his hopes of finding a nest of baby great horned owls in a tree hollow he had seen on the Internet. Alas, we did not find them on the trip, but he was hoping to get on another tour and try his luck again.
Among the highlights on that tour were seeing numerous ducks, including wood ducks flying toward us while we waited to load the bus. A sandhill crane pulled some of the chicanery they are noted for while slowly walking in front of the bus. When they have a nest nearby, these cranes slowly lead you away from it. This one was quite good at its task.
We saw numerous bald eagles on this trip, including adults and immature ones. It takes 5 years for a bald eagle to attain its white head and tail feathers. There are 19 nesting pairs on Ottawa refuge land.
In addition to facing some cold north and northeast winds, we faced flooded areas in some places and cold rain on our ventures.
Our birding excursions began on a Thursday with an hour-long ferry ride across Lake Erie to Leamington. Point Pelee is an area noted for holding a plethora of birds and a southern wind the day before pushed loads of birds across the lake. Among a little more than 80 people on the trip, 111 different species of birds were sighted, including 27 species of warblers. As the trip was ending and the ferry cruised into the Portage River, a common loon flew along the port side of the vessel.
It didn’t take us long to spot a couple of yellow warblers and that began a day of seeing several of these colorful small birds. The highlight among warbler sightings was a Blackburnian which decided to sit in the grass by a picnic table we had chosen to eat lunch. People kept coming over to see it or take pictures.
We saw 13 different warblers along with numerous other species before a deluge put a damper on our birding for a couple of hours. We did get in another 40 minutes before we had to head back across the lake. Among the warblers we saw was a lifer — a mourning warbler.
The next day offered a chilly day with north winds. We made a quick morning stop at the Wilson Nature Center in Sandusky County and sighted a few species before heading to the famous boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
Our first stop was near the beach at the west end of Magee where great horned owlets were nesting in a tree hollow. We did not sight them and began seeing warblers along the shore when a lady said an owlet had been seen in the tree. We moved back and one could see it pop its head up and down in the tree. That began a great day at Magee.
The boardwalk was crowded and we spotted some birds upon entry. However, the best sightings seemed to occur when we hit an open area and just waited and watched. In one such spot we saw at least five different species of warblers, plus other birds. That’s how it went as we worked our way around the mile-long boardwalk. Among non-warblers were brilliantly-colored Baltimore Orioles and a scarlet tanger. We also saw a yellow-billed cuckoo and a green heron. Catbirds and hairy and downy woodpeckers were sighted along with flycatchers.
Later we did the driving tour of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, a popular outing during birding week. Typical marsh birds like egrets, blue herons, swans, killdeer, terns, king bird and waterfowl were sighted, including the colorful wood duck and the common moorhen or Gallinule.
Saturday’s outings included the trip to the Cedar Point area and Howard Marsh, which yielded some great sightings that already have been mentioned. Another lifer at Howard Marsh was seeing a couple of horned larks.
Sunday was expected to be a washout, but the rains held off and we made trips to smaller areas — Meadow Brook Marsh, a Danbury Township Park located on the Marblehead Peninsula, and Catawba Island Preserve.
Parts of Meadow Brook were flooded, but yielded sightings of 17 different species. Among them were the colorful Northern Flicker and the Red-headed woodpecker. A spotted sandpiper was a shore bird sighting. An unusual sight was seeing a robin on its nest in a tree branch just above our heads in the area’s parking lot.
Rain eventually chased us out of the Catawba Island Preserve, but around the small pond, we spotted four different warblers, white and red-breasted nuthatches, an Eastern Phoebe, a kingbird and a hairy and Downy woodpecker.
It was a good four days of birding. On such trips, we like the philosophy of we see what we will see without overemphasizing trying to see a specific species.
We saw 19 different warblers during the four days. They included: Yellow, Common Yellow Throat, black-throated blue, black-throated green, Magnolia, Nashville, Tennessee, Blackpoll, Black & White, Palm, Prothonotary, Blackburnian, Wilson’s, Mourning, Redstart, Northern Parula, Cape May, Chestnut-sided and Yellow rumped.
Al Smith is a freelance outdoor writer. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @alsmithFL