The Biggest Week in American Birding is living up to its name. Birds and birders have arrived, many from Central and South America. They have converged with resident birds and birders, and with first-timers and locals who are just learning about the sport that is enjoyed by 20% of all Americans. The Canadian birder contingent is also represented, perhaps to welcome and escort tiny, colorful warblers as they head north from here for the summer.
Guide Elmer Escoto of Honduras said, “It is paradise here. I left one paradise for another.”
Friday evening’s casual stroll on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh west of Oak Harbor, to see the birders and perhaps even a pretty bird or two, became an engrossing and soul-enriching experience. We were poorly equipped compared to thousand-dollar binoculars and multi-thousand dollar cameras and scopes of many of the more dedicated birders, but found it soon became a non-issue.
“Did you just get here? There’s a screech owl about 100 yards down on the left. You will see the paparazzi.”
It seems that birders, well-practiced in the art of observation, can spot a neophyte from several feet away.
A hundred yards down a cluster of a dozen birders were gathered. “The screech owl was just here. He went down into the hollow of that tree. Here, would you like to see a photo of him on my camera?” A National-Geographic-worthy photo it was.
Saturday morning at the Magee Marsh boardwalk
Another 50 yards down the boardwalk, “Have you seen the prothonotary?” An even larger gathering signaled a prothonotary warbler sighting. “There it is, down by the water. Do you see it? It is bright yellow. Here, come take my place. You can use my binoculars.”
75 yards further down the boardwalk, a birder exclaimed from his wheelchair, “There it is. The woodcock is behind the patch of garlic mustard. Here, I will show you with my laser pointer. Look 10 feet beyond it.”
Even for one accustomed to the open and friendly ways of the small town northern Ohio, the willingness of the bird-watchers to share their knowledge, their laser pointers, their Zeis binoculars and Nikon cameras with mega-lenses was amazing. On this evening and on Saturday morning bird-watching seemed to be the ultimate co-operative sport.
Around a turn in the boardwalk, the trees were dappled with light and speckled with darting flashes of color as several black-throated green warblers danced through the branches. Black-throated greens, like many of the warblers, winter in South or Central America and will most often summer in Canada, for a total migration of as much as 5,000 miles.
At the far west end of the boardwalk, a guide was sharing a rapid-fire commentary with another cluster of birders, “There on the sideways branch, a chestnut-sided (warbler); under that high branch, a black and white (warbler); straight ahead, a female black-throated green (warbler), right up close. He is a very friendly bird.” Many of the birds were so close that long lenses and scopes became useless, and the naked eye was the best optical. Then the guide exclaimed excitedly, “A winter wren! Wow! This is ridiculous!”
At Magee Marsh, birds and birders seemed in sync-- friendly, colorful, interesting, varied and uplifting.
For a listing of events and locations, go to www.thebiggestweekinamericanbirding.com.