The northern Ohio Lake Erie shoreline between Oregon, and Port Clinton, Ohio is blessed with long stretches of protected wetlands and parks. The Ohio DNR manages Maumee Bay State Park, Metzger Marsh, Magee Marsh and other areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages Cedar Point (not the amusement park, the other one), Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Navarre Marsh, Darby Marsh and still other locations. The Federal lands alone encompasses over 10,000 acres. A large share of the land was a part of the Great Black Swamp. The swamp once stretched from the beyond the Magee Marsh area southwestward towards Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was drained by early settlers seeking to gain farmland acreage.
Today the farmlands have been reverted to wetlands. The parks and refuge areas offer a place for people to enjoy nature and wildlife in a semi-restored environment. In return the birds and animals have a hospitable habitat to live. The birds benefit greatly from the foods and protection offered in the environment.
The month of May transforms the Lake Erie shoreline into the receptor of a mass migration of warblers. During this time people from all over the U.S.A., and beyond visit the marshes to catch a glimpse of the diversely patterned birds. The warblers gather along the Lake Erie shoreline before risking the long flight over the lake to their northern summer homes. During their stay they need to eat and gain strength for the arduous journey.
I had the privilege to volunteer with the National Fish and Wildlife Service assisting the thousands of daily visitors to the refuge lands. I met people from as far away as China and Uganda. In two weeks of birding I personally saw 27 different species of warblers while learning to identify them (not all Warblers are Yellow Warblers). At the end of this blog, I have included a list of warblers I saw. I came into the experience as a total novice and now consider myself a novice plus. Some people have participated for many years and still consider themselves amateurs. You can learn a lot in a few weeks but it takes a experience to quickly identify the markings of a bird and then recall the species by name. To make things even more difficult, the birds rarely stay still for more than a few seconds as they scavenge for food. That said, the experience makes for a fun self paced, self evaluating game. A birder should never pit them self against others but rather against their own gained knowledge.
One of the greatest things about birding is meeting other birders. The community is a wealth of information. Not everyone knows everything but together they compile a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. Birders are always eager to share their knowledge either from the memory of their humble beginnings or as an opportunity to dazzle others with their prowess. No matter how they may see themselves help is always welcome and readily available. A novice should never be afraid to ask others.
Birders are very friendly about helping others to find the birds amongst even the most difficult of foliage. It is not a competition but rather an informal mentorship. When birding for warblers a rare species could be located by the collected mass of people pointing, whispering and mostly ogling through their binoculars. I was able to identify a few rare species by following the masses and asking questions. The payoff was always worthwhile.
If you want to experience the Biggest Week in American Birding check on line for next year. Make your plans well in advance. The hotels and campsites fill up quickly. RVs also compete for space with the fishermen. It coincides with walleye season. Port Clinton is the Walleye Capital of the World and Lake Erie is the habitat. Don’t forget that there are many other birds to be seen such as Bald Eagles, Thrush, sparrows, Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, Trumpeter Swans, Sand Hill Cranes, among others. Many birds can be found all summer long. Visit the area anytime to enjoy the Lake Erie wildlife and many family attractions.
I enjoyed working with my coworkers. A few of us got together for a night of cheese, meats, veggies, wine, cookies, and a bird identification card game. Some did better than others at the game. Personally, I did not do so well, especially after an ornithologist joined in.
The May weather is unpredictable. We had 80 degrees and sunshine followed by 40 degrees and intense thunderstorms and downpours. The weather was a wild rollercoaster ride. Prior to the birding week Lake Erie saw a seiche event. The waters rose to high levels and flooding was prevalent across the north. The rains were widespread deep into Kentucky but the high lake levels compounded the issues along the shoreline. Despite the weather’s attempts to hinder the Biggest Week in American Birding it was a spectacular success.
My List of Warblers I Saw:
Oven Bird; Northern Waterthrush; Golden-winged Warbler; Prothonotary Warbler; Black and White Warbler; Swainson’s Warbler; Tennessee Warbler; Nashville Warbler; Common Yellowthroat; Hooded Warbler; American Redstart; Cerulean Warbler; Blackburnian Warbler; Northern Parula; Yellow Warbler; Chestnut-sided Warbler; Cape May Warbler; Black-throated Blue Warbler; Yellow Rump Warbler; Black Throated Gray Warbler (rare in the area); Black-throated Green Warbler; Bay-breasted Warbler; Blackpoll Warbler; Yellow-throated Warbler; Palm Warbler; Wilson’s Warbler; Canada Warbler