I’m back, after a long dearth of posts. Finals have been keeping me busy and preventing me from birding and writing much but they are over now and I can finally get around to blogging about my experience at The Biggest Week in American Birding 2013. This was my second year going to this festival and, as always, it was awesome! We arrived late on Friday night to northwest Ohio. Coincidentally, a documentary on birding and bird conservation was playing in the hotel room. After watching that, I fell asleep, excited for the day of birding to come. Early the next morning, my dad dropped me off at the Magee Marsh boardwalk while he went to the Maumee Bay Lodge to get our registration materials. The crowds were huge as always but that is part of what Magee Marsh so special. The first birds as I got onto the boardwalk were a couple of bay-breasted warblers, a few American redstarts, and a black-throated green warbler. I began to fight the crowds as I continued down the boardwalk in search of more birds. House wrens were everywhere. So were black-throated green, yellow-rumped, and yellow warblers. Redstarts seem to be all over the place also.
After a while of good birding, I had to get to the east end (distinguished from the west end by being to the east) to attend a youth birding walk. I got there and met the leaders of the walk including Victor Emanuel (!). Kenn Kaufmann was supposed to help lead it to but he had his car break down so he couldn’t make it. At first it seemed like the walk would have low turnout because there were only a few of us there. However, it turns out that a lot of people thought it started on the west end (distinguished from the east end by being to the west). So they walk ended up having about 100 youth birders which is quite a respectable number. We saw tons of cool birds on the walk. Grey-cheeked and Swainson’s thrush, all the common warblers species, and a perched nighthawk. It was also great to be able to bird with other birders my own age.
Our next stop that day was to Oak Openings Preserve which is about an hour away from the Magee Marsh Boardwalk. The main birds we were looking for here were lark sparrows and summer tanagers. We didn’t know where to go to find these birds though so we pulled into the visitor center to ask for help. However, there was a wedding there (this was about the third or fourth place we went to during our time in Ohio that had a wedding going on) which prevented us from getting the information we needed. We did though see a small flock of pine siskins. Thankfully, we ran into some other birders as we were pulling out of the visitor center. They had seen lark sparrows a few hours ago and gave us directions to where they had been.
We drove down the park road and then pulled over to the spot where they had seen them. We didn’t see the sparrows though we did hear a field sparrow and a rose-breasted grosbeak. We continued down the road a bit further listening for the songs of these cool sparrows. We saw a birder pulled over on the side of the road so we pulled up next to them. They said they had what they thought was a lark sparrow in the field along the road. The song coming from said field confirmed that. We got a scope on and and voila, my life lark sparrow. Another thing cool about this preserve is that there are red-headed woodpeckers everywhere. We saw about three just in the short time we were looking at the lark sparrow for. This is a shock coming from western PA where they are pretty localized and the nearest spot to find them from me is two hours away.
However, we had yet to find our second target bird in this reserve the summer tanager. We backtracked down the road and then pulled over at a pullout that led to a trail. More red-headed woodpeckers were all around us as we walked down, a yellow-throated vireo was singing its hoarse song from one of the trees, and a field sparrow was singing somewhere off in the open woodlands that composes Oak Openings (this just goes to show how weird the habitat at Oak Openings is. The woodland is very open with little undergrouth. It was the first time I had heard a field sparrow in a woodland of any kind). It wasn’t long before we ran into a couple of birders who were looking at something in the treetops. It was a summer tanager. In fact, it was two summer tanagers. It was really great to watch these birds as they foraged in the tree tops. We had to go soon though as we had to go back up to Maumee Bay Lodge to see a lecture by the one and only Kenn Kaufmann.
The lecture was quite good. The official title was birding in outer space however, it was really about putting birding into a bigger context of conservation and nature in general. After that lecture, there was a screening of the recently released movie A Birder’s Guide to Everything. If you don’t know this is a movie that came out at the Tribecca Film Festival. It is mainly about a young birder, and Kenn Kaufmann was an ornithological consultant for it. It was very, very good and showed us young birders in a pretty good light overall. If it ever comes out in theatres, I definitely recommend that all of you go to see it.
After that, we ate dinner at the lodge then headed back to our hotel in preparation for another long day tomorrow.
The next day we once again started on the boardwalk. The same general birds as the day before were seen with the addition of veery. We then went to the nearby Metzger Marsh mainly to try to find a blue-winged warbler that had been found the day before by Greg Miller. The bushes at Metzger by the shore of the lake were filled with migrants. Maybe not to the level of Magee but still pretty good numbers of warblers. Birding along the fringe of the woodlot by the parking lot, produced the normal warblers (parula, Tennessee, Cape May, yellow, etc.) plus the first blackpoll I had seen on the trip. My dad and I then moved into the woodlot itself where scores of yellow-rumped warblers consisted of the most numerous species. After a while a yellow warbler that looked not at all like a yellow warbler caught my attention. Putting binoculars on it proved that it was the blue-winged. I called the others who had been searching for it over and we got to watch it for about 60 seconds before it was gone back into the treetops from whence it came (Lord of the Rings anyone? No?). We then had to head out back to Pittsburgh to see my mom (it was Mother’s Day).
However, before too much longer we saw a couple of birders pulled over alongside a farm field. We pulled over and saw two upland sandpipers walking on their long legs through the tilled field. Upland sands are one of my all time favorite birds so I was pumped to see these two individuals. We stopped to chat with the birders in the other car and one of them, it turned out, had been on the trip up to Ontario with us! We had to get back to PA though so we left a couple minutes later.
All in all, it was a great trip and it was great to be back in the Crane Creek Watershed again. I will definitely look forward to going back next year and witnessing the magic of Magee Marsh once again.
Photos From the Trip:
It’s a Chestnut-sided Warbler Just Trust Me
Black-throated Green Warbler
Black-throated Green Warblers