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Birders Rule
Wednesday May 15, 2019   |
A few peaks at a variety of birders in action along the Magee Marsh boardwalk.

It was a big weekend for birding, with the World Migratory Bird Day and the World Series of Birding taking place Saturday, along with the culmination of The Biggest Week in American Birding. So how could I resist getting in the middle of all the excitement. Saturday, at the peak of spring songbird migration, the boardwalk at Magee Marsh on the southwest shore of Lake Erie hosted hundreds and hundreds of birders throughout the day, making it the biggest concentration of birders in America – maybe the world – on World Migratory Bird Day.

Although I usually enjoy daily birding outings solo in pretty remote locales, I really enjoyed being surrounded by a flurry of birders from across the country, all in awe of the spectacle of warblers and other songbirds around us. The infamous boardwalk was packed with people in some places, at some times, but it was not overpowering – it was exciting – because we were all surrounded by an ever-changing assortment of colorful songbirds, mostly warblers, mostly at eye level. Every person had binoculars, most had cameras, and everyone was enthused to see the rare, the common, the colorful, the cryptic, the dynamic, the memorable birds. At one time I wondered how many “life birds” were seen in that area Saturday.

I’m a big fan of birders and I always say “Birders are my favorite people,” so I was in my element, and I must admit that I almost had as much fun checking out all the birders as I did the spectacular assortment of birds that were constantly moving in and out of view. Obviously, there was a wide variety of people assembled with a common interest, and it was especially rewarding to see families sharing a nature outing, with some pretty intent teenaged birders leading the charge at times. There were plenty of outdoors enthusiasts with a special interest in birding, and no lack of beginning birders. I was especially happy to see how many birders were sporting cameras, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a wide assortment of cameras and lenses.

Everyone appeared to be on their best behavior, although I think that’s just the way birders are – happy, helpful, enthusiastic folks who are courteous in the most crowded conditions; with the patience to wait a moment for photographers to get their images, or to make room for other birders to get a look at a new species. It was nice to hear people’s reactions when seeing new birds, to hear them sharing I.D. information about the birds, asking about camera lenses, and wishing each other good luck as they parted. What a fun shared experience!

In the middle of it all, I ran into a friend I haven’t seen for years; one of the top birders in the country, one of the very best bird photographers, and a well-published author – Kevin Karlson – from Cape May, New Jersey. It was fun to have a nice catch-up conversation and to get back in touch again – it’s always fun to interact with friends while birding in the field.

How good was the birding? At one point I remember having the opportunity to photograph a Bay-breasted Warbler, a Cape May Warbler, a Northern Parula, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, and a Yellow Warbler all at one location within a few minutes – close. So imagine hours of watching and photographing the parade of songbirds that passed by. Actually, I spent most of my time along 100 yards of the boardwalk, moving from bird to bird, but appreciating that the birds would come to me during their foraging movements. That way the birders passed by me, rather than me trying to work my way through the crowd.

By the end of the day, most of us were probably experiencing varying cases of “warbler neck,” a temporary physical affliction from holding binoculars upright for extended periods of time – hours. But when you’re holding a much heavier camera and telephoto lens upright and moving this way and that following the actions of foraging songbirds, warbler neck becomes warbler-neck-shoulders-and-upper-back pain. Nothing a couple aspirin wouldn’t help though, and by Sunday the soreness was forgotten.

Of course, there are a fine assortment of birding sites in the immediate area that birders enjoy in addition to the boardwalk, including the surrounding Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, the impressive Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Howard Marsh Metropark, the Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, and Maumee Bay State Park to name a few. But to be honest, it’s hard to tear yourself away from that magical boardwalk where tiny songbirds hold so many birders’ attention. I truly get a wonderful energy from the birds, and from fellow birders – energy and enthusiasm and felicidad (happiness).

Actually, Sunday was more like a normal day on the boardwalk I was told, with birders possibly limited by the cool cloudy breezy weather. There was still a nice cross-section of birders, but no crowds or bird-jams on the boardwalk, and the birds were every bit as spectacular as Saturday. Every bird was appreciated, no matter what color or call, how common or rare. I think all the birders who shared the experience at The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival will have a new appreciation and enthusiasm for their bird sightings and birding experiences throughout the year, me among them.

For more information about the many birding locations in the area east of Toledo, see http://www.bsbo.org/local-birding-hotspots.html and for more descriptions of birding in the Magee Marsh area during May, see http://cranecreekbirding.blogspot.com/

Note: Paul adds more information about his birding experiences at Magee Marsh in the Editor Afield article in this issue, and he describes how to photograph warblers and other songbirds in this week’s Bird Photography feature.

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

Share your birding experiences at editors2tbw@gmail.com

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