Monday, May 13, 2013

A pictorial trip along the "Bird Trail"

A snippet of the parking lot at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, on the shores of western Lake Erie. This site is world famous among birders, and with good cause. It is a premier stopover area for scores of neotropical songbirds in migration. In the peak month of spring migration, something like 100,000 people will visit. I was there yesterday, and managed a few photos, which follow...

You can find nearly every state's license plate in the parking lots at some time or another. Including some good ones. "Twitcher" is a British term for one who chases birds.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife owns and manages Magee Marsh, and the mile long boardwalk and the 37-acre swamp woods through which it passes. This boardwalk has long been known as the "Bird Trail", even before there was a boardwalk.

The Division of Wildlife also owns the 2,200 surrounding acres, which holds one of the finest marshes on Lake Erie. The parking lots and beach were once a state park, called Crane Creek. The Division of Parks and Recreation transferred that property to the Division of Wildlife several years ago, hence "Crane Creek State Park" is no more, although people still erroneously refer to the area by that name.

If you're a birder, and you visit Magee Marsh, thank the Division of Wildlife, perhaps by purchasing an Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp. It's expensive to host the throngs of birders that visit. All of those port-a-johns, for instance, cost about $15,000 to rent for peak spring migration. As this year's visitors saw, the Division makes special efforts to accommodate birders, many of whom may not know that Magee was purchased entirely through revenue generated by hunting license revenue, and Pittman-Robertson funds.

One doesn't have to go far to see cool birds. Someone stuck oranges along the parking lot, and brilliantly colored Baltimore Orioles found them appealing.

An adult male American Redstart sports the colors of Halloween. These little warblers seldom pause; they are frantic bundles of energy, raging through the foliage and spooking bugs from the leaves.

Magnolia Warblers sport just about every field mark that you'd want to see on a songbird: eyestripe, wingbars, tail spots, breast streaks, and gaudy coloration.

A personal favorite is the elegant White-crowned Sparrow. They were conspicuous, and the males were constantly singing their mournful buzzy wheezes.

Some sharp-eyed birder spotted this American Woodcock rooting for invertebrates. It is forehead deep in the muck, its long bill several inches into the soil.

As I made my images, through all manner of obstacles, the woodcock fanned its wings. It is a male. The outermost primary feathers - at the bottom of the wing in this photo - are much narrower than the others. They're narrow in the female, too, but not this narrow. When the male does its fabulous aerial courtship display flights, the wind rushing through these skinny bladelike outer primaries creates the twittering sound that we hear.

Throat aflame, a brilliant Blackburnian Warbler skips to another branch. This animal has come a LONG way to be with us. They winter in highlands of the Andes Mountains in South America, and it is bound for the boreal forest of Canada.

An avian zebra, the male Black-and-white Warbler is resplendent in its coat of inky stripes. This warbler was once known as the "Pied Creeper", and its elongated hind claw allows the warbler to scamper along bark as adeptly as a nuthatch.

A surefire crowd-pleaser is the Prothonotary Warbler, which appears to be crafted from molten gold. This is the only cavity-nesting wood-warbler in the east, and a pair or two usually nest along the Bird Trail.

It's easy to see why the Northern Parula was once called the "Olive-backed Warbler". Parulas are truly dinky; our smallest eastern warbler, weighing the same as three pennies.

Wearing a cap of chestnut, the Palm Warbler spends much time on the ground, and often out in the open - an unusual behavior for a warbler. While the "palm" descriptor conjures images of tropical beaches, this species breeds as far north as trees grow, all the way to the shores of Hudson Bay. Wisely, they do winter in the Caribbean and coastal Mexico and Central America, where palm trees are common.

A Nashville Warbler contorts itself to reach insects within the flowers of a Peach-leaved Willow, Salix amygdaloides. Alexander Wilson shot the first specimen in Tennessee, in migration, but the bird doesn't breed anywhere near the Volunteer State.

The most common breeding warbler at Magee Marsh is the Yellow Warbler, and a beautiful bird it is. This male was also feeding among the willow flowers, but simply could not help bursting into song from time to time. After delivering his loud Sweet-Sweet-I'm-So-Sweet!, he'd dive back into the flowers for more goodies.


Lori Sorth said...

Wonderful pictures! We visited Magee last weekend and although it was cold, the birds warmed us up! Question:Do you pronounce it Muh=GEE or MAG-ee?

Jim McCormac said...

Thank you Lori, and I've heard it pronounced both ways, but more commonly as Muh-Gee.

Jack and Brenda said...

What a great selection of birds in one location! Nicely photographed.

simmie annandale said...

Love your posts and beautiful photos!

Jan Kennedy said...

I enjoyed your synopsis of a day at Magee Marsh! Nice photos and descriptions.