Sunday, May 9, 2010

Birding insanity!

Birding insanity, perhaps, but only in the most positive way. A small part of the parking lot at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, this morning. Magee is a 2,000-acre eden for birds on Lake Erie's south shore, not far east of Toledo, Ohio. And come this time of year, it is one of the world's most popular birding destinations.

I always try to roam the lots a bit, seeking new bird-related tags for my considerable collection. Got this - isn't it a beauty? I think this Scissor-tailed Flycatcher plate gets my vote for showiest license plate. Note, too, that is from Oklahoma. Probably people from at least 30 states were at Magee today. I know that I saw friends from at least 15-20 different states over the weekend.

Although Magee Marsh encompasses 2,000 acres of wonderful habitat, everyone quickly funnels into this migrant trap - a seven acre patch of woods traversed by the famous "Bird Trail".

A rare scene along the bird trail at this time of year. Yesterday was International Migratory Bird Day, which is normally the busiest day of the year for birders. In some years, perhaps 7,000 people visit on IMBD. But yesterday was cold, with near gale force winds. And fewer people than I've seen in at least a decade on this day.

All of that changed today, when we were greeted with bright blue skies, much subdued winds, and temps in the mid-50's. In places, the trail gets absolutely jampacked, and that may not be the scene for everyone. But, it really is a must-see at least once. Birders of every possible stripe are present, and of every skill level.

I encounter dozens of friends along the trail every year, and meet dozens of new people. A journey along the boardwalk becomes an odd mixture of fabulous birding with warblers at your fingertips, mixed with socializing. Normally, that's not my cup of tea when out in the field, but here it is totally fine and works well. This is Mike Bergin, creator of the Nature Blog Network and the 10,000 Birds blog, and author Laura Erickson. They hail from New York and Minnesota, respectively.

But the birds are Numero Uno here - what everyone comes to see. Neotropical migrants, exhausted from their perilous travels from the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America plunk down in this tiny scrap of woods and rest and feed. This is a Veery, and many were present today. Even thrushes such as this, which are normally elusive skulkers, boldly forage near the crowd, enabling even camera-challenged people such as myself to snap their portraits.

Delighting the throngs were many Gray-cheeked Thrushes, which are normally the scarcest of our Catharus thrushes. This individual was quite the extrovert, coming within ten feet of the trail and utterly ignoring the fawning masses.

Warblers absolutely rule here. Countless times over the weekend I hear people report their warbler totals. Not blackbird totals, not sparrow totals - WARBLER totals. These brightly colored little feathered gems enthrall people, and many a person has become hopelessly ensnared in the magic of birds by coming here and seeing a sprite such as this Black-throated Green Warbler hop down to peer at them from five feet away. For the record, I tallied 25 species of warblers.

Always a crowd favorite is the Cape May Warbler, with its finely streaked breast and flanks, brilliant yellow coloration, and chestnut cheeks. Note the delicate, finely pointed bill. Cape Mays often forage for nectar in flowers, and such a proboscis aids in that hummingbird-like pursuit.

A male Black-and-white Warbler, once known as the "Pied Creeper". A greatly elongated hind claw allows it to clamber about branches in the manner of a nuthatch. It's scientific name is Mniotilta varia, which essentially means "Varied Mossplucker". B & W's were everywhere.

Peeking from Box-elder foliage, a male Bay-breasted Warbler. Obtaining satisfactory views of warblers is always a challenge, and we who have been at this game for a while should remember that a great many of the birders that visit the trail are very new to this pursuit. I really enjoy helping people find and identify birds, and am aided by a wonderful tool, if carefully used. It is a bright green laser pointer, and by directing the beam near the bird, you can quickly get everyone on something without spooking the bird. Today, about 50 of us were watching a female Golden-winged Warbler when a stunning Blue-winged Warbler appeared high in the same tree. By directing people to its location with the laser, everyone was on the bird in no time flat.

As noted previously, birders from far and wide come to the Bird Trail. There were even folks from California, and probably points yet further. But no one deserves the long-distance visitor award as much as the chap above. It is a male Blackpoll Warbler, fresh from the jungles of Brazil in the Amazonian basin. Some Blackpolls have even been found as far as central Argentina, and they nest clear to the northern limits of the great boreal forest that blankets Canada and Alaska. It would be intersting to know where this 13-gram warbler will end up.

Note all of the cameras bristling from the crowd. I shudder to think how many tens of thousands of photos are taken here over the weekend. And many of those shots will turn out to be mind-blowing frame-fillers of some of the world's most colorful birds.

At times a New York City rush-hour gridlock clogs the trail, but what's amazing is that the cause of the congestion are tiny birds. If someone spots a goodie such as Kentucky Warbler or Connecticut Warbler, forget about it. Total stoppage. But most everyone is exceptionally courteous, and nearly everyone has a memorable and rewarding experience.

1 comment:

Mike said...

It was great to see you again, Jim. The birds really were outstanding!