A few weeks ago, I was privileged enough to get to go to The Biggest Week in American Birding 2014. This fantastic birding festival is always a ton of fun and I was hoping to get some great birds this year as I have in years past. We left very late on Friday night, and since we wanted to get there in one night, we ended up not getting there until two in the morning. When we finally did arrive though, we quickly got to our hotel room and went to sleep, ready for a good day of birding the next morning. The next day, we woke up ready to go out birding. The first stop we went to was the Magee Marsh Boardwalk at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. This is, for those who don’t know, the best and most famous spot for migrating warblers and other birds along the shore of Lake Erie. Twitter alerts of good birds were already streaming in so I was quite exited to get out and find some birds. And find some birds I did. The birding at Magee is so good that as soon as you get out of the car you can get a good number of species. It was no exception when I was there as I was able to get a good number of warblers species before I had even stepped onto the boardwalk. When I did step onto the boardwalk however, I was quickly able to get great looks at black-throated green, bay-breasted, and blackburnian warblers. Walking the rest of the boardwalk was fantastic and filled with many beautiful warblers and other migrants. I saw so much that first morning that it would be too dificult to put it all down on paper so I am just going to share a few photos.
Black-throated Green Warbler
After leaving Magee, we decided to go down to a bait shop just down the road to see if we could locate the American golden-plovers that had been hanging around there. We parked in the shop’s parking lot and got out of the car, to begin scoping the fields behind the store. We didn’t see anything at first, but after a while, a large flock of shorebirds flew into the field, circled a few times and then landed. Closer inspection revealed them to be the golden-plovers that we were hoping for. After that, we stopped briefly at the Ottowa National Wildlife Refuge to see what was around. We encountered large numbers of sora calling in the marsh (though we didn’t see any that day) as well as many shorebirds (highlighted by the many dunlin). We did however miss seeing a king rail by around twenty minutes… By this point, the morning was almost gone and we needed to head out to a lecture by Kenn Kaufman at the Maumee Bay Lodge. The lecture was about the connection between birds and humans and how birds are not quite as automatic (robotic if you will) as a lot of people think. It was a great lecture and one that I am really glad I attended. After the lecture, my dad and I went to have dinner at the restaurant at the lodge with a few other birders from Pittsburgh. After that, we returned to Magee to see if we could find any new birds. The boardwalk was a lot more quiet (both bird wise and birder wise). I was however able to find an ovenbird and an eastern screech-owl. Just as we were about to head back to the hotel for the night, we heard an American woodcock beginning to peent. We stopped and looked for the bird as it continued its peenting. Then suddenly, it burst up from where it had been sitting and began to display. When it landed from its display flight, it was only about twenty feet from us which provided us with great views. Inspired by the woodcock, we decided to stop in the marsh on the way out and listen for other nocturnal birds (rails in particular). It turned out to be a very good decision as we were able to hear a black-crowned night-heron calling in the distance as well as a few sora and a Wilson’s snipe winnowing. It was a great way to end the day. The next morning we once again headed first thing to the Magee Marsh Boardwalk. This time I was determined to find some of the more uncommon warblers (specifically golden-winged and mourning warblers). We pulled into the parking lot and began, as we had the day before, to walk the boardwalk (keeping an anxious eye on the twitter feed as we went). It wasn’t long before we came across a warbler species which, despite hearing that a few were around, we had been unable to locate, two prothonotary warblers. Prothonotary Warbler This beautifully colored warbler is always a highlight at Magee and I was glad to finally catch up with one. A Blackburnian Warbler and Northern Parula near the Prothonotaries
As I walked farther along, I rechecked the Twitter feed to see if anything new had been seen. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there was a Canada warbler being seen just ahead of where I was. I hurried forward and joined the hordes of birders who were waiting to see if the bird would reappear. After a few minutes of waiting, I was able to get a couple second look at this interesting warbler. However, before I could wait to see more, I got word of a mourning warbler that was being seen near the west end of the boardwalk. I rushed back and joined the birders who were waiting there for the bird. Unlike the Canada warbler which I had been able to see with relative ease, this mourning warbler was not cooperating. Every ten minutes or so, someone would see the bird briefly, but then it would disappear again and I would be unable to see it. Eventually, after fifty minutes of waiting, I saw the bird pop up briefly providing very brief but good looks. Satisfied, I pulled myself away to let others get a look. The rest of the time at the boardwalk was pretty quiet though I did try to refind a golden-winged warbler. I dipped on that warbler but I was able to get some good photos of a baltimore oriole which, after looking at the photos again, I realized was banded. Baltimore Oriole Closeup of the Band
A few other photos from that morning: Eastern Screech-Owl Black-throated Blue Warbler (It would be a really nice photo if it weren’t for that branch…) Black-throated Blue Warbler Yellow Warbler Wilson’s Warbler Magnolia Warbler When we had been waiting for the mourning warbler, news had come through via Twitter that there were a few late-departing Lapland longspurs at a nearby road. One of them was apparently a breeding plumaged male as well! So, when we left the marsh, I was quite excited to try to find them. They were easier to find than I had thought they would be however. As soon as we turned onto the road, we were greeted by a line of birders with scopes. We were easily able to put our scope where theirs were directed and we were quickly rewarded with great views of three Lapland longspurs, including the male we had been promised. After getting great views of the longspurs, we decided that our next destination should be the Ottowa National Wildlife Refuge again to try to find the eared grebe that had been reported there. We pulled into the refuge parking lot and immediately proceeded to drive the Auto Tour. Driving up to a large pool where the grebe was being seen, we got out of the car and began to scan with the scope. A few wigeon and gadwall were around as well as three pied-billed grebes but there was no sign of the eared.
Driving to the other end of the pool, we encountered a group of birders standing on a levee scoping the pond. I got out and went to ask them what they were looking at. I am glad they did because they had both the eared grebe and some very confiding sora in their sights. I was glad to get the eared grebe but I was also very glad to see sora, as for the whole time I had been in the refuge I had been hearing them calling but none of them had let themselves be seen.
The next spot we decided to go to was Metzger Marsh where three white-faced ibis and a least bittern had been seen.
We arrived at Metzger and were quickly able to find the ibis. However, sadly, the bittern was no where to be found.
At this point, we just had time for a quick stop at Magee before we had to head to Maumee Bay Lodge for the two evening lectures that we had signed up for.
The stop a Magee was very brief as we were running out of time but we did get to see the white-rumped sandpiper that had been reported there. This was a lifer for me and a bird that I was glad to finally catch up with.
The first evening lecture that we had signed up for was a talk about golden-winged warbler conservation. Having just gotten my life golden-winged earlier this year, this was a topic that I was very interested in. It was a very good and informative lecture that I enjoyed very much.
The second lecture was by Neil Hayward and was about his Big Year last year and how he had broken the North American Big Year record. Having read his blog throughout most of last year, I was very interested in hearing him speak. The lecture was fantastic! He was a great and very informative speaker who I would love to hear a lecture from again.
After that lecture however, we had to head back to Pennsylvania as it was getting late.
Overall, my experience at Magee Marsh and the Biggest Week this year was as fantastic (if not better) than my experience in past years and I am very much looking forward to going back to Northwest Ohio again next year.