May 7-12, 2022
By Craig Watson and Pam Ford
Craig Watson and Pam Ford represented Ventures Birding Tours at the ‘Biggest Week in American Birding,’ in northern Ohio. This is one of the top birding festivals in the US!
May 7- We arrived mid-day on Saturday May 7, picked up our registration materials, and set up the Ventures booth. We stayed with the booth for a good period, meeting the field trip organizers (Rob Ripma) and other folks. We had actually met Rob Ripma at the SEAZ festival three years earlier, so it was good to get reacquainted with him. Once we got situated we decided to scout around, mostly the Magee Marsh area, as we had never been here before. It is heavily damaged from strong straight-line winds from last year, and today was extremely windy. We understand that it had mostly rained the previous day, so no real bird action or notable birds had been reported for the very beginning of the festival. However, Pam had never seen Trumpeter Swans, so she got her first lifer at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge adjacent to Magee Marsh.
May 8 – Pam and I were leader/drivers for the Oak Opening trip to the Toledo area. Our lodging is almost an hour away, and as a van driver/leader, we had to arrive at the Maumee State Park at 5:15am, which means getting up at 330am! We had a van of 12 birders, including Pam and me. We spent 7 hrs. at this Metropark and recorded 61 species.
It was somewhat slow compared to action later in the week, however, folks were still very impressed with what we were finding, and the true migration did not pick up until Monday. We did have 10 species of warbler, and good finds for folks were Field Sparrow, breeding Lark Sparrows, Red-headed Woodpeckers, and Summer Tanager.
Warblers observed were Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Nashville, Ovenbird, Black-and-White, Northern Parula, and Yellow Warbler.
It was cold, starting out in the low 40s then warming to the mid-60s. Pam’s excellent ears added greatly to the trip, as well as spotting many of the birds. Despite the real migration and influx of birds not quite here yet, it was still a magical kind of day.
After returning to Maumee, we occupied the Ventures display and spoke with many of the folks visiting the festival. On this trip we learned about Blackberry Corner’s Tavern, a local eatery near Magee Marsh, known for its hospitality to birders and the place to get your “lifer pie”! Yes, the tradition is to visit this place and get a slice of one of their many pies when you get a lifer here. We visited that night, and even thought we did not get a lifer that day, we did have the pie! It was very enjoyable to hear the waitress at each of the tables ask how many lifers they got that day! And they have great food too!
May 9 – I was driver/co-leader to three different places: Pipe Creek Wildlife Area, Sheldon Marsh, and the semi-flooded fields behind the Barnside Creamery on State Rd. 2. Tyler McClain was the primary trip leader. This trip was the first real evidence of a heavy influx of birds moving into the area, after the rains and heavy winds of the first few days. Winds changed overnight, coming from the south, bringing birds with the winds. We had 79 species here, with 15 species of warblers. The wooded area near the parking area kept our attention most of the time with warblers and at least 20 Warbling Vireos.
As we walked the perimeter, Baltimore Orioles, Indigo Buntings, and Yellow Warblers continually dropped out of the sky in small flocks looking for their places for the day. With the wooded area and the marsh, we were treated to a spectacle of birds in all habitats. The Yellow Warbler numbers were high, and we had great looks at Hooded, Black-throated Blue, American Redstart, Cape May, Blackburnian, and Chestnut-sided Warblers. A Veery lurked in the underbrush, and in the marsh, we tallied 7 Soras, with actual views of most of them!
From Pipe Creek the group went to Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve and tallied 46 species. We had spent much of the morning at Pipe Creek due to the high activity there, so there was little time left for Sheldon Marsh. However, it was apparent that birds had moved in overnight, and some additional species were observed were Least Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, and Swainson’s Thrush.
After Sheldon Marsh we dropped a few folks off at the meeting place in Port Clinton and travelled back to Maumee. On the way we stopped at the partially flooded agricultural fields behind the Barnside Creamery to view the Glossy Ibis, and we were successful. Glossy Ibis are rare for Ohio, and unfortunately, we did not have time for ice cream on this trip. A Caspian Tern also graced the flooded fields there, and later in the week, more species of shorebirds continued to arrive, including an American Golden-Plover. We had left the area headed home by then, so we missed out on additional shorebirds. If you go here, don’t miss out on the Barnside Creamery, it has more ice cream desserts on a menu than I have ever seen before, and the best Coney dogs! It’s cash only, but you can have lunch and ice cream while you watch the bird show!
After returning to the venue, we occupied the Ventures display and spoke with many of the folks visiting the festival. Pam did not participate in any of these trips as the van was full, but she travelled west and found Lapland Longspurs, her second lifer of the trip! She returned early to the Ventures booth and was there when I arrived after our trip to the Port Clinton area.
May 10 – Pam and I did not have any leader/driver trips this day so knowing that we had two Leader’s Choice trips the following day, we checked eBird and the hotspot seemed to be Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Walking Trail Woodland. There were as many or more warblers and other passerines reported here than any other spot in the area, including the adjacent Magee Marsh. When we arrived at the parking lot the bird activity was phenomenal! We probably spent two hours around the parking lot and small woodlot there. After here we went into the Walking Trail and it was like the trees were literally dripping with birds, with bird activity low, medium, and high, and in 360 degrees. Magnolia Warblers were the most common, but we had 14 species of warbler, both Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, Least, Willow, and Great Crested Flycatchers and so much more.
The activity was so high it was difficult to decide which bird to look at, for hours upon end. We spend a bit over 4 hours here and this is where we decided to take both groups the following day for the Leader’s Choice trips. We had a total of 64 species and knew this was the place to bring back the next two groups of birders the following day.
We then had some lunch and went to the adjacent Magee Marsh. Pam and I had never been here except for a brief visit our first night here, so we wanted to get a glimpse of why this place has such a great reputation. Well, the parking area was mostly full, and overflow parking was being used, and there were literally birders everywhere with their binoculars and cameras focused on trees or shrubs and no doubt, great looking birds. Some had their lawn chairs out and simply watched the parade of birds. The Boardwalk was remarkably crowded, yet extremely birdy.
Warblers and other passerines were at eye level, and the Yellow Warblers buzzed everywhere. We were no more than 5 feet from an Eastern Whip-poor-will, Canada Warbler, and Mourning Warbler. Baltimore Orioles were plentiful, singing away, and adult Bay-breasted Warblers showed off their amazing colors.
We even ran into acquaintances from South Carolina and talked to many folks along the way. The canopy was largely gone due to straight line winds and a huge storm that blew through last year, and it was thought the Boardwalk may not open in time for the festival. However, it was open with only short sections closed. Many were concerned about the damage and how the birds would respond, however, folks at the bird banding station nearby in similar damaged habitat reported that there really was no decrease in bird activity from previous years, and it was apparent on the Boardwalk, the birds simply need some cover and food, and they were finding plenty of that at Magee Marsh. We spent about 3.5 hrs. here with 49 species, and afterwards returned to the park and sat at the Venture booth.
After leaving Maumee for our hotel, we stopped by Howard Marsh and Metzger Marsh and tallied 22 and 47 species respectively. Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Black-necked Stilts were at Howard Marsh, and those were a special treat to see along the way. In preparing for our next day with Leader’s Choice trips, we looked at eBird reports and spoke to guides and now most guides were reporting between 15-25 species of warblers at each location, whereas the previous days were around 10 species. The birds had finally moved in, and we couldn’t wait to return to the Walking Trail Woodland in the morning.
May 11 – Pam and I were leader/drivers for two Leader’s Choice trips, and we decided to return to Ottawa NWR, Walking Trail Woodland for both trips. It was spectacular to say the least. We arrived and spent a little over 3 hrs. here with 75 species, including 24 species of warblers. Everyone was astonished at the activity, like birds were literally “dripping from the trees.” Most notable here was the Connecticut Warbler. It was the first one reported from the entire area for this festival, and I found it! Lucky for me and it was a LIFER for me! I saw this bird moving along the open forest floor and thought I saw a Mourning Warbler, then it turned sideways showing the full eye ring, CONNECTICUT WARLBER, just like that, and Pam’s third life bird of the trip! Shortly thereafter, a group of guides, including Rob, came along and relocated the bird!
The remainder of the trip was fantastic, and we even had better luck on the way out. Nearing the end of the trail and near the parking area I noticed a warbler low and got my binoculars on it, a MOURNING WARBLER, and everyone got good looks at this uncommon warbler.
Moving just a few feet further I noticed a bird pop up off the ground into a small shrub, a KENTUCKY Warbler! This is rare for the area, and one participant got a decent photo. Rob’s group were able to find all three of these species, so a very successful morning.
We returned to Maumee, picked up the second group and headed back to the same spot. The temps had warmed quite a bit, yet we tallied 72 species with 21 species of warblers, but adding Canada, Tennessee, Wilson’s, and Blue-winged Warblers to the count for this area, so 28 species of warblers on this one area in one day (Rob and his group reported a Cerulean while searching for the Connecticut Warbler and the other birds, but we missed that species!)
Thrushes had moved in, mostly Swainson’s Thrushes, but we did hear one Wood Thrush singing. Again, the participants were thrilled with the activity of the birds despite it warming up. By now the word was out on the Connecticut and Kentucky Warbler, so the parking lot was packed and just that morning we were the only vehicle there.
We returned to Maumee and rested at the Ventures booth. We remained here most of the rest of the day, but on the way to the hotel, we diverted to Ottawa NWR driving loop where a Curlew Sandpiper had been reported, and no luck on this one, and not to be found again after that early morning observation. We distinctly heard car horns going off in the distance and we wondered why, thinking maybe someone found the Curlew Sandpiper and was alerting other birders, but as we left, we discovered it was the Trumpeter Swans calling next to the road, so we were able to get a very close in recording of their calls, a funny and slightly embarrassing moment.
May 12 – I was driver and co-leader for a trip to Peninsula Farm, a private farm in Fremont. This was away from most of the intense migrant action along the lake, but we still observed nearly 70 species and 10 species of warblers. It was mostly pasture and woodlands with some scrub, so a variety of habitats.
Again, no room on the van for Pam so she explored Magee Marsh Estuary Trail where she got her lifer Kirtland’s Warbler.
The Kirtland’s Warbler had been reported from this trail on Wednesday and some of the guides told Pam these were “one day wonders” here, so she got the bird on the second day and the bird was reported 4 days in a row at the same location! She got the word out on Whats App, and it was tweeted out, and the one-day wonder became a 4-day wonder. Go Pam! After our return to Maumee, Pam and I went to the same area to find the Kirtland’s, but it had not been seen in hours and after having spent a few hours there we were on our way out when some birders began pointing at a bird flying our way along the side of the trail. The Kirtland’s landed right in front of us on a rock, and then a shrub, only a few feet away, so this was our 30th warbler species for the trip!
Summary – We had 154 species for the trip; 30 species of warbler, 5 thrushes, 10 sparrows, and plenty in all the other bird groups. Pam had the additional Lapland Longspur and Horned Lark on one outing, and below is a link to our Ohio list for this trip. The place is magical, particularly once the real push of birds came in beginning Monday May 9. I recall getting hooked on birding with heavy spring migrations of warblers on Sharp’s Ridge in Knoxville, TN, and this place will definitely hook you for a lifetime of enjoyable birding. If one were able to visit the other birding hotspots, there would be easily over 200 species to observe, but the magic of seeing so many birds moving in one spot is so captivating that it’s difficult to leave or move on to another place!
A Few more birds…