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Magee Marsh and the biggest week of birding

It’s been awhile since I travelled to Magee Marsh, formerly known as Crane Creek State Park. Many years ago this excellent migrant trap location was popular only with Ohio birders and a few others who knew about the place. Things have changed.
When my friend Gary Keister suggested he had a rare free day for birding, we decided to head over to Magee, despite the fact that the forecast was for another cool day with north winds. That had been the case for the last week or more, and migrant birds had been mostly absent from Northern Ohio and Indiana.
We did indeed spend the day at Magee Marsh, most of it on the famous boardwalk. I’m quite sure there were fewer birds than I have ever encountered in past years, but it was still a lot of fun, although it was not just the birds that caught our attention.
When we drove in, the huge parking lot was almost filled with at least 500-700 cars, and this was a Tuesday morning with a cold north wind. I wonder what it will be like by the weekend.
Being a lifelong license-plate watcher, I took a stroll through the parking lot, coming up with 35 different states plus Ontario and Quebec. There were multiple cars from most states including far-away places like California, Florida, Arizona and Washington. I guess most of these people reserve this week for birding at Magee Marsh and are therefore stuck with the weather for the week.
The second thing that caught my attention was the hundreds of people carrying cameras with large, very expensive telephoto lenses. It used to be that you would see a few of these folks each year, but now they were all around us on the boardwalk. The Canon camera dealer at the optics tent was actually loaning out telephoto lenses for the day, free of cost.
My mind was playing with the possible total cost of all the optics. Everyone had binoculars, many of them with purchase prices over $2,000 including my own pair. I think it also was the way that birding has grown that amazed me. We only met a few people that we knew.
It used to be that many of the folks at the boardwalk were birders that we would see each year. Now there are hundreds of new converts to birding including many children and adults of all ages.
This is a good thing in the sense that it brings new people outdoors to see the beauty of birds and nature. A lot of credit goes to Kenn and Kimberly Kauffman and the Black Swamp birding folks who have done an excellent job of promotion as well as providing workshops and learning opportunities for all ages.
As far as the birds go, we did find a total of 15 different warblers, but in many cases there was only one or two of each species, a far cry from days when warblers seemed to be all around you. There were no really rare birds reported, at least that we heard about, and the word does usually travel quickly up and down the boardwalk.
The birds that we expected to see early in the season were there: palm, yellow, yellow-rumped and Nashville warblers; ruby-crowned kinglets; and white-throated sparrows. We only saw one Swainson’s thrush and only warbling and blue-headed vireos.
A well-hidden American woodcock brought a small crowd to a spot along the boardwalk where a guide was patiently trying to explain how to see the bird among the dense vegetation. A cooperative bald eagle pair had a nest at the entrance of the boardwalk, where everyone had an easy photo opportunity.
Fast forward one day to Goshen, Indiana. I joined other birders for the Wednesday walk along the Elkhart River. It was soon apparent that something happened overnight, and it continued all morning. There were many birds singing in the woods along the river. I soon left the group and walked over to a large woodlot at Shanklin Park.
Over the next two hours I encountered 20 species of warblers and was able to get good looks at most of them. Other new arrivals included a Philadelphia vireo, a number of red-eyed vireos, gray-cheeked and wood thrushes, indigo bunting, scarlet tanager, eastern wood-pewee, and orchard oriole. A total of 73 different birds during the morning without walking more than a quarter-mile was a far cry from the day before.
Times like this are just as special as when I began birding more than 60 years ago. Seeing that brilliant indigo bunting on a low perch among the green vegetation and the bright red flash of a scarlet tanager at close range is hard to beat. The coming days should bring many more such moments. I wish for each of you many such moments.
Good birding!

Published: May 15, 2017
New Article ID: 2017170519980