Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Region to be roosting spot for legions of bird watchers

Major flyways intersect along lake corridor

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    A black-throated blue warbler.

    Christopher Taylor

  • birdwatching-map



The superlatives don't fly freely in the birding community, so when they roll one out for a short period in May, there must be a lot of wind beneath those wings.

The Toledo region is to play host to the "Biggest Week in American Birding" beginning Friday and running through May 13. The organizers are not trying to rework the seven-day week that has been the historic standard, or change the Genesis story, but this week is so immense in the avian watching world that they needed 10 days for it.

"This event has grown and grown so rapidly, and it has just been a phenomenal success," said Kim Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, east of Toledo just off State Rt. 2 at the entrance to the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

Each May, a mass migration of songbirds occurs in the locale, where major flyways intersect. The birds are traveling north from their winter grounds in Central America and South America, heading for nesting areas in Canada and the Arctic.

They stop for rest and a recharge before making the long flight across Lake Erie. The marshy areas along the shoreline of the lake provide the ideal blend of water, brushy cover, and food.

So for a stretch each May, this is the place, and this is the time for premium bird watching, Ms. Kaufman said. This corridor along the lake becomes akin to the control tower at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest in the United States. "It's like all of the birding stars are aligned, right here in northwest Ohio," Ms. Kaufman said.

"The Biggest Week in American Birding" — in just its third year — is expected to again draw thousands of bird-watching enthusiasts from around the country, as well as numerous international visitors.

They come here to see a couple dozen species of warblers as well as shorebirds, thrushes, orioles, vireos, and woodpeckers, along with hawks, turkey vultures, and bald eagles. In the birders' world, that makes this region a one-stop art exhibit of the works of da Vinci, Picasso, Monet, van Gogh, Warhol, and Rembrandt.


A black-throated blue warbler.

Christopher Taylor Enlarge

Good weather and a tidal wave of publicity across the birding world could result in close to 100,000 visitors to the area over the months of April and May, Ms. Kaufman said, with the bulk of them flocking in for the "Biggest Week in American Birding".

Two years ago, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources logged more than 50,000 visitors to the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in a period of a little more than two weeks that included the "Big" week.

"When information can pass around the world in a matter of seconds via the Internet, you can't keep a place like Magee Marsh a secret," Ms. Kaufman said. "The birds have always been here, and now that the word is out and huge numbers of people are visiting our area, we need to keep the focus on habitat conservation. Without quality bird habitat, this phenomenon does not take place."

A study released this year by the Ohio Sea Grant and Philip Xie from Bowling Green State University showed that bird watching along Ohio's Lake Erie shoreline injects more than $26 million and close to 300 jobs into the area economy.

Ms. Kaufman expects "The Biggest Week in American Birding" to deliver a significant economic jolt over its 10-day run, with hotels and restaurants across the region enjoying a spike in presummer business. The birders are expected to spread out across a wide swath of the lakeshore, but the best viewing takes place in public areas such as Magee Marsh, Ottawa Wildlife Refuge, Metzger Marsh, Maumee Bay State Park, and Oak Openings Preserve Metropark.

Scott Carpenter of the Metroparks of the Toledo Area said Oak Openings is offering guided walking tours as well as a number of other functions relating to the "Biggest Week in American Birding" and is an enthusiastic participant in the event.

He credited the Black Swamp Bird Observatory for providing the impetus behind the megaevent.

"There's a lot of excitement and enthusiasm surrounding this, and it's been fantastic how the whole community has jumped in and supported it," Mr. Carpenter said. "Everybody loves to rally around something very positive and unique like this.

This year's event is headquartered at Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center. There are workshops, bird identification classes, half-day birding bus tours, and daily walks along the Magee Marsh boardwalk and through a variety of other areas of high bird activity. Registration is available at the lodge for a limited number of walk-in spaces.

"I think what has made this all work has, first of all, certainly been the spectacular birding that is available here," Ms. Kaufman said. "But when you combine that with the shoreline community, and their specialty is hospitality, we are basically throwing the doors open and welcoming everyone to birds and birding."

The "The Biggest Week in American Birding" is also partnering with the Mud Hens and the Toledo Museum of Art to promote the event. The Mud Hens are offering special coupons and an online promotion that will link ticket sales to donations to Black Swamp Bird Observatory, and the art museum has unveiled a "For The Birds" exhibit that is to run through Sept. 2.

The exhibit includes the 17th-century oil painting The Garden of Eden by Flemish artist Isaak van Oosten as well as nine prints from American artist John James Audubon. Teri Sharp from the Toledo Museum of Art said the exhibit also includes the sounds of more than 100 birds that are typically seen in this area in May.

"I hope it does not seem too boastful, but we planned for this," Ms. Kaufman said about the wide-ranging support the event has received from the private, government, and business sectors. "For birders from all over the world, this really is a magical place."

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com, or 419-724-6068.

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