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Black Swamp Bird Observatory celebrates 20th anniversary Featured

Guest speaker Joe Duff of Operation Migration draws a raffle winner for Kim Kaufman of BSBO. 

On Saturday evening at the Catawba Island Club, Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) celebrated 20 years of bird conservation. The evening honored BSBO, its volunteers and featured keynote speaker Joe Duff, co-founder and CEO of Operation Migration. 

Guy Denny, retired chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and President of the Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Association, was the Master of Ceremony for the evening.

Kim Kaufman, Executive Director of BSBO, the premier birding organization in the state of Ohio, reviewed the meteoric rise of the organization since its founding “on the living room floor of Mark and Julie Shieldcastle.” The BSBO is now housed in offices at the entrance of Magee Marsh Wildlife Area near Oak Harbor.

BSBO programs

BSBO was founded on research and that remains its cornerstone. They have been studying hawk migration for 18 years and the migration of herons and egrets and butterflies (honorary birds). 

Recently BSBO was instrumental in establishing a large section of Lake Erie marshlands recently dedicated as a Regional Shorebird Reserve. Through this designation, these marshlands became part of a global network protecting an estimated five million acres of habitat and 30 million shorebirds.

The Lake Erie Marshland Reserve is only the second such reserve in the Midwest and the first in the Great Lakes to receive this designation.

The Navarre Marsh banding station near Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, the largest bird banding station in the country, has banded over 571,000 birds. 

The Ohio Winter Bird Atlas is nearing completion and will be the first in the country, the culmination of 8,000 volunteer hours and a decade of efforts.

“If research is the brain of BSBO, education is the heart,” said Kim. They have established Nature Camp, Young Explorers, Wetland Investigation Network, and programs for teacher education. The Ohio Young Birders Club was started with 6 kids seven years ago and is being embraced by other states as the prototype for establishing their young birders clubs.

Other programs of BSBO include working on a Spanish language bird guide, working with the Black Swamp Birds and Business Alliance, and the new Birding Ohio Facebook page that has now 2,000 followers.

The Focus on Diversity Conference has as its mission changing the face of conservation. It has been said that you can’t build a birder without building a conservationist. BSBO supports alternative energy while lobbying and educating about the dangers of windmills in bird flyways. They lobby and educate about the detrimental effects to birds of balloon releases and outdoor cats. 

BSBO has been featured on television programs “Dirty Jobs” and “CBS Sunday Morning”. 

Yet perhaps no BSBO program has more of an impact on our area than The Biggest Week in American Birding, the largest birder festival in the country, that each spring brings 80,000 birders to the area and contributes an estimated $37 million to the local economy. Kim emphasized that “it is not the birders that bring the birds here, it is the habitat.” 

In personalizing the impact of BSBO, Kim shared that it is perhaps best dramatized by the transformation of a tough city kid that held a blue jay and then became a teacher to fellow students about his new-found bird friend, or by the blackpoll warbler (a bird that each year migrates from the far north to South America) that was banded at the Navarre station and returned to the same station five years later, or by the new birder that said, “Birding has changed my life. Thanks for giving me a purpose. I am so grateful.”

Kenn Kaufman, author of birding guides and international birding authority, added emphasis when he said, “Some of the finest people in the world are birders.”

For more information on Black Swamp Bird Observatory, go to www.bsbobird.org, or call 419.898.4070. 011 © www.bsbobird.org All rights reserved

Operation Migration

Joe Duff had a successful career as a commercial photographer. His new mission is “to promote the conservation of migratory species, through innovative research, education and partnership.” Duff believes that “conservation and habitat preservation is the most important issue facing the world.”

Duff and his team conducted the first human-led bird migration, using two ultralight aircraft to lead 18 Canada Geese from Ontario to Virginia. The success of this initial study led to the founding of the non-priofit Operation Migration in Canada in 1994, the making of the movie with Columbia Pictures “Fly Away Home” in 1995, and the founding of Operation Migration in the United States in 1998. 

The Whooping Crane project

Operation Migration’s current project is leading the migration of whooping cranes 2500 miles from Wood Buffalo Park in Canada to Southern Texas and Florida, using three ultralights.

The endangered whooping crane, a bird that has links to the dinosaurs and that has been around for millions of years, has a population of only 170-300 in the wild. Efforts to raise them in captivity have not been successful. 

The Operation Migration process

•Whooping crane eggs are hatched at Patuxent National Wildlife Center in ??Virginia. Whooping crane sounds are played to the birds while they are still in the egg.
•Once hatched, the fledglings must imprint with adult whooping cranes, and cannot be imprinting with people or other types of birds. Any people who are around the birds must wear special disguising outfits, not only when they are young but throughout the migration process. It is vital to the survival of the birds that they not imprint with humans and that they maintain a fear of humans.
•The young birds are transported to Wisconsin by private plane.
•In Wisconsin, the birds learn to fly a little at a time, led by the ultralights. In the cranes’ world, the planes and the disguised people are just other birds. There are many dominance contests among the birds and with the planes and disguised handlers. “It is fun to deal with the birds on their level, with a bird that is five feet tall,” says Duff.
•Once the birds are strong enough and experienced enough to fly, the migration begins.
•Like geese, the birds fly in a “V”, following the lead aircraft, with the lead bird doing the work until it tires and another bird takes the lead. The birds fly off the vorteces of the ultralight’s wingtips.
•Duff equates the flights to “an aerial rodeo”, with the following aircraft leading birds that fall behind.
•For three months, Operation Migration leads the cranes south, stopping at pre-set locations donated by “very generous people” that have the appropriate habitat. The birds are always kept away from people and noise. At each stop, pens are set up for the cranes for that night.
•Once they arrive at their southern preserve, the cranes go through a “gentle release” process, protected in pens part of the time, and gradually released out into the swamp longer each day.
•Though it takes three months to lead the whopping cranes south, when they return on their own, the birds make it in about eight days. “It is humbling,” says Duff.

Craneiac facts

•The Operation Migration crew travels with four motor homes, portable pens and four aircraft.
•At the end of the migration hundreds of “Craneiacs” flock to greet Operation Migration, though the birds are kept isolated on their preserve.
•The Wisconsin location had to be changed because black flies drove the birds off their nests.
•When former President and First Lady Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter expressed interest in seeing Operation Migration as it traveled near Plains, GA, they were outfitted in camouflage and hidden in the woods.
•The Disney Fund is a big supporter of Operation Migration.
•One of the whooping crane destinations is near Tallahassee, FL, and the other near Crystal River, FL. Last year the first natural whooping crane nest in the Eastern flyway since 1878 was established at one of the preserves.
•The ultralight Trikes are very simple airplanes that weigh about 400 pounds, travel at 38 m.p.h., and have only one moving part. One of the Operation Migration aircraft is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Up to 20 whopping cranes a year are escorted by Operation Migration. There are now about 100 whooping cranes migrating. The birds are “half wild.” The next plan is to get many of the whooping crane eggs from native nests in Wood Buffalo National Park to preserve more of their wildness.

“This whole earth is like a machine. Marshes and species all mesh together. It is critical to protect the wetlands,” says Duff. “If you are saving a species like the whooping crane, we are saving habitat.”

For more information, go to www.operationmigration.org.

BSBO 20th Anniversary

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