Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Birds, Birders, and the Bird Trail

Holiday Inn – French Quarter, Perrysburg. The hub of last weekend’s Ohio ORNITHOLOGICAL Society conference. Many attendees drove right by after seeing this marquee, thinking “Oh wow, looky there. The OTHER bird society must be meeting in Perrysburg too”. In all fairness, I can’t spell our name right half the time, either.

A great number of us who went up for the conference hit the famous Bird Trail at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area on Saturday morning, prior to the conference. We weren’t disappointed, nor were the rest of the binocular-clad throngs. Birds called and sang everywhere; at times it was tough to know where to focus attention. And this, I know from experience, was not even a “great” day at the boardwalk.

I like to keep an eye peeled for birdological license plates, and have a massive digital pile of them. But, several “lifers” were added Saturday. With thousands of birdermobiles cruising the area, finding new plates wasn’t hard.

In addition to good birding, meeting lots of people along the trail is a guaranteed thing. I always run into scads of folks that I know, including some I rarely encounter elsewhere – sort of like humanoid migrants passing through in spring, just like the warblers.

Here, Bill Thompson (right), editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, yuks it up with Jim Berry, Director of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. Bill is vice-president of the Ohio Ornithological Society and emcee of the weekend’s indoor events. Jim was one of our speakers and did a bang-up job.

Behind Jim are veteran birders Larry Richardson and Jan Auburn.

Later, when we came off the boardwalk some four hours after starting – slowest circuit of a mile and a half ever – there was Jon Dunn (in hat). Jon is one of North America’s true birding celebs, having authored or co-authored, among other works, A Field Guide to Warblers of North America. Warblers are easily the #1 attraction along the trail, and if everyone there knew that Jon was THE MAN regarding warblers, they’d probably mob him like he was an avian Britney Spears.

Jon is also a tour leader for WINGS, and had a large group in tow, many from California. If you ever pine for the warmth and surf of the far left coast, keep in mind they do not have anything approaching the spring warbler parade that Ohio does. So they come here.

That’s Bill again to Jon’s left, Michael Packer next to him, and OOS board member Craig Caldwell in green. With this sort of talent all over the place, few birds go missing.

It’s not always Connecticut and Kirtland’s Warblers that garner all of the glory. This Killdeer was sitting tight on eggs near the parking lot, and admired by scores. Many years, a Woodcock nests right by the lot, too.

I was here the preceding Saturday, too, and was struck by the shift over to females among the warblers. A week earlier, males dominated. This is a female Bay-breasted Warbler, one of many along the boardwalk. The third weekend in May is an excellent place to practice learning songs of wispy high-pitched conifer specialist warblers, such as this one, Cape May, Blackburnian, and Blackpoll. More than a few pitch-challenged birders have watched one of these species open its bill to deliver a tune, but hear nothing.

Male Magnolia Warbler, and this is often a typical view. Bit of patience, though, and you’ll be rewarded with much better looks. One of the great things about the Magee bird trail is that the birds are often oblivious to people. Warblers will be at arm’s length, foraging, fighting, and singing. The chatter of the crowd and click click click of cameras doesn’t faze them.

There were Eastern Kingbirds everywhere – in the treetops, out in the marsh, and flying overhead. I saw dozens in a half-day, and who knows how many hundreds or thousands were in the area.

The Black Swamp Bird Observatory is located right at the entrance to Magee Marsh, and they accommodate droves of birders in May with their varied and frequent activities. The Observatory and its people are great ambassadors for birds, and make the most of their strategic location. Here, BSBO director Kim Kaufman holds a “Traill’s” Flycatcher. It is either an Alder or Willow Flycatcher – separating the two is very difficult and not always possible, even in the hand. Voice is the way to go, but they’ll seldom do much other than deliver occasional angry squawks while biting your finger when in the hand.

Next time you are at Magee, be sure and stop by BSBO’s center and say hi.

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1 comment:

Laura said...

Hey Jim,
The Ohio Ornithology Club (!) event sounds like it was a blast.

Those wispy, high-pitched warblers have been taunting me in the field lately. Yesterday's was a Blackburnian, who kept me guessing for over an hour. Too high up to ID, but thanks to a zoom lens and good song descriptions I confirmed him later.

I have my eye on Magee Marsh for next spring, and will also look forward to see you and my old OOS friends at the Midwest Birding Symposium!