Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Friday, May 4, 2012

Biggest Week in American Birding

Friday, May 4, marks the first day of this year’s “Biggest Week in American Birding”—an amazing birding festival centered at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory near Toledo, Ohio. I am leading a couple of field trips and serving as one of the keynote speakers this year, and I’m also going to spend a lot of time in the Magee Marsh, one of the premier places in all of North America for seeing warblers on migration. The Magee Marsh is just a ferry ride from Point Pelee, and based on my experience provides comparably fine birding. When I was there for a few days in 2010, I got amazing photos of a wide variety of warblers, and I hit migration early. This year I’ll be there for the peak.

Northern Parula

One of the specialties of this part of Ohio is Kirtland’s Warbler, which is found here every year. Indeed, the first Kirtland’s Warbler described for science was collected near Cleveland, and there were several more sightings of the species in Ohio before the bird’s breeding ground in Michigan was discovered. Exploring data on shows a cluster of sightings along the south shore of Lake Erie.

Kirtland's Warbler

Just as thrilling as the possibility of seeing a rare warbler or two is the assurance of getting nice and close to much more common species. Prothonotary Warblers nest in the Magee Marsh--I got some pretty good photos last time I was there, and this year will focus on getting even better ones. 

Prothonotary Warbler

I got a few nice photos of female Black-throated Blue Warblers, and want to concentrate this year on getting better photos of males. 

Black-throated Blue Warbler

I also want get close to Blackburnian and Magnolia Warblers and Northern Parulas. I’m also still waiting to get the definitive photo of a Black-and-white Warbler. But the warbler I’m most hoping to get excellent photos of is the Canada Warbler. I have only a few pictures of this gorgeous species, all taken before I had my new camera and lens.

Canada Warbler

Thrushes abound at the Magee Marsh. They don’t sing on migration, and accurate identification often requires careful scrutiny, but that’s what’s fun about birding. 

Hermit Thrush

The boardwalk at the Magee Marsh can be more densely packed with birders than is comfortable, but even when hundreds crowd in with their tripods and cameras, the birds still outnumber us. There are plenty of secluded birding spots—the joy of the Biggest Week is celebrating this huge migration event with people, and the more newcomers we bring in, the more people there will be who are not just aware of warblers but have seen just how gorgeous and valuable they are, and the better it will be for the future of birds.
Lake Erie runs east-to-west, and its long southern shore forms the same kind of barrier to spring migration as Lake Superior’s north shore does in fall. The two field trips I’ll be leading will explore other hotspots in the area, and I expect to see a lot of great birds in the company of smaller, more manageable groups than we’ll enjoy at the Magee Marsh.
In 2010, we had a dramatic thunderstorm with tornado warnings. The clouds were amazing, and the experience of watching the storm made up for the birding time lost. 


I’ll of course hope for good weather the whole time I’m there, but rain is part of the nature of spring migration, and whatever happens, I’m sure to have a great time. At the Biggest Week in American Birding, that much is guaranteed.

Bay-breasted Warbler