Jerry Gardella, left, and his daughter Emma Gardella, both of Sheffield Lake, look on during last year's The Biggest Week in American Birding event along the boardwalk in the Magee Marsh in Oak Harbor.
An ambitious concept that was hatched just four years ago has rapidly grown into somewhat of a flying phenomenon. With The Biggest Week in American Birding, the name seems like a better fit each year.
“There has been significant growth every year, both in terms of the number of people registering for the event and in the amount of time they are spending in the area,” said Kim Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, one of the driving forces behind the “Biggest Week.”
The Biggest Week in American Birding opens Friday, and it actually covers 10 days, running through May 12. It is a celebration of the peak of the spring migration of hundreds of thousands of birds, including some rare warblers that are the real stars of the show.
Many of these brilliantly colored songbirds use the marshes, meadows, and woodlots around the western Lake Erie shoreline as a stopover to rest and feed before the long water crossing on their trip from their southern wintering grounds to nesting areas in Canada.
The festival’s ability to draw visitors from throughout the country and around the globe has wowed even its partners, which include Maumee Bay Lodge & Conference Center — the headquarters for the event — Destination Toledo, and the Lake Erie Shores & Islands visitors’ bureau.
“This means an awful lot of positive things for this whole area,” said Richard Nachazel, president of Destination Toledo. “We expect a great economic push from the crowds that this event attracts.”
Nachazel said a study showed that the spring birding in the region drew an estimated 67,000 visitors last year, and the projections for this year reach around 70,000, with more than 1,000 of those birders coming from Great Britain and the rest of Europe.
The activities associated with the Biggest Week include numerous guided tours of popular bird-viewing locations, workshops on bird identification and banding, lectures, bird-watching by canoe, and a special tutorial in something called digiscoping — the use of an iPhone instead of a conventional camera to produce photos of birds with a spotting scope.
Biggest Week events cover a sizable portion of the regional map, and one even requires a valid passport. That tour takes birders across the lake to Canada’s Pelee Island, another popular resting site for the migrating warblers.
There is also a bus tour that will visit Shawnee State Park, located in the foothills of the Appalachians, near the Ohio River, in search of the Hooded Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, and Ruffed Grouse, a tour of Pointe Mouillee State Game Area in Michigan, and several outings at Oak Openings Preserve.
“Quite frankly, this is what we expected to happen,” Kaufman said of the significant expansion during the event’s brief existence. “I don’t think it’s by chance that this has grown. We have worked to develop the festival and promote the region. We hoped this is what would happen, and we planned for it.”
Kaufman emphasized that while around 1,500 birders have formally registered for the festival and will take part in many of the workshops and guided tours, there are a multitude of Biggest Week events that are free.
“We want people to know that you don’t have to register for the festival in order to come out and go birding,” she said. “This is an opportunity for someone who has very little experience, or maybe has never gone birding, to go out and stand shoulder to shoulder with experts from all over the country. It’s not just a chance to see rare birds, but also rare birders.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.