Birding enthusiasts from Spain, Kenya, Ecuador, Canada, and the United Kingdom are flying into northwest Ohio to join others of their kind from around Ohio and the United States later this week for the second annual edition of The Biggest Week in American Birding.
The week, which could claim its title just on length — 11 days, May 5 through 15. But the scope of birding-related opportunities being offered is staggering during this all-out regional celebration of spring migrations under way now in the western Lake Erie marshlands.
The Big Week officially begins Thursday and is a full-court press from federal, state, and private agencies and organizations to call attention to birds and birding. It is meant to draw in newcomers to a friendly, enjoyable outdoors activity as well as appeal to advanced birding enthusiasts. And it is meant to call attention to the economic clout of it all.
Not surprisingly, the 11 days are timed to match long-term dates for migratory waves of neotropical songbirds. Last Saturday on the heels of strong southerly winds, for example, loads of “overflight” species piled up along the southwest shoreline of Lake Erie, said Kim Kaufman, executive director of the Oak Harbor-based Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
Cerulean, worm-eating, Kentucky, and hooded warblers, all of which typically nest further south, were swept into the region on the strong winds, and they soon will perform a reverse migration for a short distance to their typical summer breeding ranges, Kaufman explained. Such is part of the birding game in play here and now.
From a travel perspective, the BSBO executive said, “you don’t have to leave northwest Ohio to experience some of the best birding in the Western Hemisphere.” Among the week’s registrants in the inaugural week in 2010 were birders from New Zealand, Australia, China, and Spain.
“If you’re coming from points elsewhere, we’ve made it really easy to find birding areas with maps,” said Kaufman. “Visitors will find then people of northwest Ohio to be superbly welcoming and helpful.” She noted that while organizers were well-pleased with the first year’s participation, registrations for this year have already surpassed it.
The region is so bird-hot during spring because songbird migrants tend to pile up along the lakeshore and wooded beach ridges to rest and feed before attempting the nonstop lake crossing north. Here it is easily possible to view scores of species, fresh from the tropics, almost at arm’s length. As veteran birders point out, other sites may have wood warblers, but they may be out of touch or out of sight 100 feet up in the tree canopy, not at eye level mere feet away in the beachfront scrub here.
One songbird wave already has crested here, between April 25 and 30, and a third wave, with the largest numbers of birds overall, should come in around Memorial Day. But the anticipated Mothers Day wave this week invariably is the most diverse in terms of species.
The Biggest Week is crammed to overflowing with a dizzying array of workshops, warblers, free guided activities, warblers, half-day bus or boat trips, speakers, workshops, and more warblers.
The programs are hosted by BSBO; Tropical Birding, a Quito, Ecuador touring company; Kaufman Field Guides; Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area.
Ottawa and Magee lie adjacent to one another along State Rt 2 in western Ottawa County, between State Rts. 590 and 19, and BSBO’s nature center is situated on the entrance road to Magee Marsh. So they all are handy to visitors, as is another prime site, the 10,000-foot wetlands boardwalk at Maumee Bay State Park. The walk begins at the park’s Trautman Nature Center.
Among featured events, Kaufman said, is an Off-the-Beaten-Boardwalk program, which daily will take participants to new sites. “We’ll take them to birding sites all along the lakeshore,” said Kaufman. “Wherever the most interesting birds are being reported.”
For a complete run-down of all the events and programs and opportunities, visit online at biggestweekinamericanbirding.com. Or, Tuesday, visit Ottawa, Magee, and BSBO for the final day of the festival within a festival, observing the international migratory bird theme. International Migratory Bird Day itself is being observed May 14.
No less than 21 prime birding sites are mapped for the week, from Oak Openings Preserve Metropark in western Lucas County all the way to Sandy Ridge Reservation/Perry F. Johnson Wetland in Lorain County. So there is plenty of elbow room for birding. You can pick up a map at the counter at Ottawa refuge visitor center.
In related news, the Lake Erie Marshlands Museum and the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge (DRIWR) are joining forces for a two-day migration celebration this weekend in southeast Michigan.
This year’s event consists of a series of early bird morning walks and lazy bird afternoon walks, speaker presentations, special kids programs held at the DRIWR on Saturday and at the Marshlands Museum at Lake Erie Metropark on the lakeshore northeast of Monroe near Rockwood, Mich., on Sunday. A vehicle entry pass is required for entry to Lake Erie Metropark.
The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge covers 48 miles of shoreline along the lower Detroit River and western basin of Lake Erie. It stretches from southwest Detroit to the Ohio-Michigan border. The refuge focuses on conserving, protecting and restoring habitat for 300 species of birds, including 30 species of waterfowl, 23 species of raptors, and 31 species of shorebirds, and for 117 species of fish.
To reach the refuge: Parking will be available at the Refuge Gateway, 5437 West Jefferson Ave., Trenton, Mich.,between the intersections of Vreeland and Van Horn roads on the east side of West Jefferson. Turn in the gate and follow the gravel road to a grass parking area. The property is enclosed by a chain link fence and is directly south of a Solutia plant.
Lake Erie Metropark is located at 32481 West Jefferson Avenue in Brownstown, Mich. Once inside the park, follow signs to the Marshlands Museum (734-379-5020). For other details, call Anna Cook, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 734-692-7672.
Contact Steve Pollick at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.