Friday, April 18, 2014

Magee Marsh's legendary boardwalk

This mile long elevated wooden boardwalk is one of the most famous trails in North America. Winding through a 30-acre patch of swamp forest and wetland at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, it is a destination for tens of thousands of birders, especially in May. In May 2012, traffic counter surveys conservatively estimated over 66,000 visitors made the pilgrimage to the "Bird Trail". The number may have been even higher, like around 75,000 or more people. And nearly all of them are birders, of every stripe and level of expertise. They come to witness the magic of Neotropical birds - flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, orioles, tanagers, and others. And, of course, WARBLERS! Nothing gets the blood flowing like warblers, and they are the standout stars in a cast of exceptional players.

It is possible to see over 100 species along the boardwalk and elsewhere in Magee Marsh on a good day. Most of the songbirds have come from the tropics: Central America, South America, the Caribbean. Many will have flown 1,500 miles or more northward to reach Magee, and the Bird Trail woods is but a way station as they journey to more northerly locales. Upon reaching Lake Erie, which at a glance through a songbird's eyes appears an endless ocean, the birds stop to rest and refuel. It's only 28 miles across the lake to Canada, if one takes the longest route, but most of the birds hedge their bets and stay to fatten up for a bit before making the crossing. And in the process, thrill thousands of birders who can observe the feathered transients at close range.

This scene is not atypical along the Bird Trail during the second weekend in May, which is the best timeframe for maximum bird numbers and diversity. Epic crowds to be sure, but a scene that everyone should experience. It's amazing to see so many birders gathered together, and one major plus is that virtually no Connecticut or Kirtland's warblers or any other rarity will go undetected.

The 25th anniversary of the Magee Marsh Bird Trail boardwalk is this year. A quarter-century of ever-growing foot traffic, coupled with the humid conditions of the swamp forest, has taken its toll on the wooden planking. The vaunted trail is in need of refurbishing.

Enter the Friends of Magee Marsh. This group exists to support the wildlife area and does so in many ways. Their latest and greatest project involves an ambitious fundraising effort with the aim of completely redoing the boardwalk. The Friends have already raised $25,000, and begun to transform dollars into boards. When you visit this spring, you'll see that sections of the boardwalk, at either end, have been replaced. In the photo above, old wood in the foreground meets brand spanking new lumber. The new wood should last for a long time to come.

A view down the steps from the tower near the boardwalk's west end. The punky old wood of the tower's spur trail is now fresh and new.

Ambitious efforts such as this don't come cheap. An estimated $300,000 is needed to complete renovations to the boardwalk. When you're at Magee this spring, you'll see this sign near the boardwalk. Please help support the project. If every birder who visited Magee in May dropped a fiver towards the boardwalk, it'd easily be a done deal.

Five bucks is a small price to pay to support the legendary Bird Trail boardwalk that has played such a huge role in North American birding. There is no entrance fee to gain access to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, so perhaps this year you can donate a five dollar bill to the Friends of Magee Marsh, and consider it a one-time voluntary user fee that goes for an absolutely fantastic cause.

Major thanks go to the Friends of Magee Marsh for spearheading this project; be sure to give them your regards (and donation) when you're at Magee this spring. Or CLICK HERE to help.

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