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OAK HARBOR — One of northwest Ohio’s most prized natural resources was trumpeted, marketed, and promoted to the hilt for a 10-day period in May.
The “Biggest Week in American Birding” celebrated the diversity of winged visitors and residents that the marsh areas along Lake Erie and the woodlands of Oak Openings support. It also stretched that calendar period so thousands of guests from around the globe could enjoy our feathery assets.
There were 221 species of birds identified during the event, mega bucks raised to support habitat, research, and education projects, and a surge of momentum created for future birding extravaganzas.
The well-organized affair was a magnet for the hard-core birders who have invested thousands of dollars in optics, gear, and cameras, but that dedicated legion cheerfully shared the marsh boardwalks with the casual observers and the new blood just curious what the fuss was all about.
“There’s no question that one of the best achievements of this year’s ‘biggest week’ was the fact that it introduced birding as a hobby or a pastime to a whole new group of people,” said Kim Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory located near here, at the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
“I think a lot of them realized that even though there’s a ton of equipment available to enhance your birding experience, you don’t need to buy anything to enjoy this. A lot of the birds are so close you don’t need binoculars.”
Toledo area birding aficionado Matt Anderson, who served as a guide on one of the many tours held in conjunction with the recent event, said he was thrilled to see the wide range of individuals who were part of the “biggest week.”
“There were huge crowds, and in those crowds it ranged from the kooks like me who would spend every minute they could out birding, to those who were out for the first time and simply enjoyed the experience,” Mr. Anderson said. “Birding can accommodate all interest levels, and like my dad used to say, it’s a hobby you can enjoy anywhere you go, and at anytime.”
Both Mr. Anderson and Mrs. Kaufman stressed that although the hubbub and intense banging the drum for birding has subsided with the completion of the formal celebration of the “biggest week,” the opportunity has no real defined seasonal limitation.
“It’s truly a 365-days phenomenon, since there are birds using these areas along the lake all year,” Mrs. Kaufman said. “There’s a lot of energy generated in the spring with the big push of migratory birds, but this show goes on every day. Somebody could drive out here on any day of any month on the calendar and see something unique and spectacular.”
“The 10 days of the festival clearly target a highlight period,” Mr. Anderson said, “but there’s so much more to offer locally outside of that time frame. The warblers take center stage in May, but there are also tremendous opportunities at other times to see a wide range of waterfowl, and this region is also an important pathway for raptors. The birding around northwest Ohio is pretty sensational all year.”
The Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, and the adjacent Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge offer loaner birding equipment — binoculars, spotting scopes, or field identification guides — to get new birders baptized. They anticipate more demand for such services in the wake of the May event.
“We expect to see more people throughout the year now, and that’s a great thing,” Mrs. Kaufman said.
As birders increase in numbers and stretch the calendar, technological advances are minimizing some of birding’s more challenging aspects, such as the where and the when.
Programs such as eBird, BirdCast, and BirdsEye BirdLog have apps for iPhones, Android smart phones, and iPads. Andrew Farnsworth, a research associate at Cornell University’s ornithology lab, is part of a team researching and developing web-based birding systems.
“[We’re] giving people the information about where birds will be [and] when, on a continental scale,” Mr. Farnsworth said. “Posting forecasts of bird migration on the eBird site that is accessible to all means more and more people can go out and experience and log observations. As more people do this, and eBird garners more and more information, people getting alerts in real time or close to it about what birds are where is increasingly inclusive in getting more people to experience birds.”
He expects the rapidly emerging tech front to give birders more thrills per minute spent afield.
“This combination of technology personalizes information in a way that was simply not possible in years past,” Mr. Farnsworth said. “From the birding perspective, having birders know when and where movements might occur tells them where and when to go birding — or perhaps what to look for. This is a clear case where technology can immensely enhance the experience of birding.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at email@example.com or 419-724-6068.