In springtime, visitors to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) are eager to enjoy The Biggest Week in American Birding. First-timers often discover they don’t have to go very far to see a wide range of colorful migrating birds.
In fact, the birding can be excellent right around the BSBO headquarters nestled in the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area on the Lake Erie shoreline.
Located at 13551 W. State Rt. 2 in Oak Harbor — the Village of Oak Harbor is just to the south — it’s easy to find with the highway signage.
Here are some birding hotspots shared by BSBO members and birding experts.
Black Swamp Bird Observatory Grounds
Just north of Ohio State Route 2, at the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, the headquarters for Black Swamp Bird Observatory is immediately to your left. The Observatory is open on weekends year-round, open several days per week during migration season, and open every day during May.
This is a good place to pick up the latest information on sightings and hotspots, birding area maps designed by Kenn Kaufman, check out the fabulous selection of bird and nature books in the gift shop, and meet fellow birders. Behind the building is the Gallagher Memorial Trail, a walking trail leading through woodland edge, second growth woods, and meadow, all of which are often good for migrants.
The Gallagher Trail also provides the area’s best opportunity to experience the bizarre and dazzling display of the American Woodcock.
Cedar Meadow Preserve
The 62 acres that encompass this preserve were acquired in 2005 by Catawba Island Township, with help from the Clean Ohio Fund and the Black Swamp Conservancy. The property is a mosaic of successional fields, mature woodland, shrub zones, and wetlands.
On Catawba Island, which is a peninsula that juts into Lake Erie, Cedar Meadow is an excellent spot for migratory songbirds that are preparing to cross the lake in spring, or have just made the crossing in fall. Nearly every species of regularly occurring migrant songbird could be expected given the preserve’s diversity of habitat, and as more birders discover this site an impressive species list should be accumulated. Common warbler for this area are: Blackburnian Warbler, American Redstart, and Northern Waterthrush. Cedar Meadow is only minutes from the ferry dock that services the Bass islands and is a worthwhile stop before or after visiting the islands.
East Harbor State Park
The park’s campground and beach are popular in summer but the area is outstanding for birding all year, with marshes, woods, and big concentrations of migrant songbirds in season at 1169 N. Buck Rd. In Marblehead. East Harbor lies on the fringe of Ohio’s prairie marsh zone. These wetlands are remnants of the Great Black Swamp which once covered an area 120 miles long and 30 to 40 miles wide. These wetlands produce more wildlife than any other type of habitat in Ohio. Large numbers of ducks, geese, gulls, terns and other migratory waterfowl delight birdwatchers. Middle Harbor is a game sanctuary where black-crowned night herons, egrets, great blue herons and other shorebirds find refuge. Thousands of migrating songbirds rest here before winging north across the lake.
Erie Marsh Preserve
Erie Marsh in Monroe, Mich, is one of the largest coastal wetlands on Lake Erie, supporting numerous animals and plants that would otherwise be hard-pressed to find suitable habitat. The most significant feature of this area is its role as a migratory and nesting area for shorebirds, waterfowl, landbirds, and in the fall, raptors.
It also harbors some of Michigan’s few remaining colonies of American lotus, and swamp rose-mallow, both listed as state-threatened.
Great Egret Marsh
Right across from the entrance to East Harbor State Park at 1120 N. Buck Rd. In Marblehead, Great Egret Marsh is a brand new nature preserve owned and managed by The Ohio Nature Conservancy. Great Egret Marsh offers a wonderful diversity of habitats from open marsh that looks great for waterbirds, woodland that should attract lots of migrants, and open fields that should be excellent for sparrows in the fall.
Public access includes a 1.2-mile loop hiking trail which includes two overlooks, and a section that is ADA-accessible. A parking area, canoe and kayak launch, and interpretive signs are also featured.
Howard Marsh Metropark
The newest jewel among the Metroparks Toledo park system, Howard Marsh has quickly become one of the premier birding locations in Northwest Ohio at 611 S. Howard Rd. In Curtice, on the Ottawa/Lucas County border and adjacent to the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
At nearly 1,000 acres, this former farmland was opened to the public in the spring of 2018 and has been nothing but spectacular!
Continuing the thread of marsh lands along the shore of Lake Erie, Howard has been a welcomed habitat to Ohio rarities such as Yellow-headed Blackbird, Black-necked Stilt, Wilson’s Phalarope, King Rail, and Least Bittern, all of which have now successfully nested within the burgeoning wetland. During migration, controlled water levels can host any number of waterbirds and shorebirds, including American Golden-Plover and Black Tern.
This beautiful island in Erie County is accessible for birders and their vehicles by riding the Kelleys Island Ferry from downtown Marblehead. The island is a popular vacation spot, but also a fine birding area, especially during migration.
Magee Marsh Wildlife Area
The Magee Marsh Wildlife Area entrance road at 13229 W. State Route 2 is about 18 miles east of Toledo and 16 miles west of Port Clinton, or 1.5 miles east of State Route 590, 1.5 miles west of State Route 19.
Together with the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, which is directly to the west, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is perhaps the largest uninterrupted area of coastal wetlands habitats remaining in Ohio. There is a trail that connects the two areas. The Ottawa-Magee Partnership trail is a one mile trail that goes from the Bird Center over to the parking lot of the old Ottawa NWR office.
Half a mile north of Ohio State Route 2 is the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center, the center for the Division of Wildlife’s wetland research programs. It is open to the public and has good interpretive displays.
Restrooms are located here and open during the Bird Center’s hours of operation. Also located here is the “hawk watch” observation tower which provides views over the marsh. A walking trail behind the center leads through a swampy woodland and around some small ponds, and often offers many warblers and other migrants,
Magee Marsh Boardwalk
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, The famed Magee Marsh Boardwalk crowds will be limited during The Biggest Week in American Birding by a permit system put in place by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and the Toledo Zoo.
For information visit connect.toledozoo.org/mageemarsh.
The Magee Marsh Boardwalk is one of the most famous birding sites in North America during the month of May. The boardwalk meanders through seven acres of woodland situated on the beach ridge between Lake Erie and extensive marshes. Migrating birds moving north in spring often pause here just before crossing the lake, and the woodland often swarms with such migrants.
The boardwalk can be absolutely fantastic for close-up views of warblers, vireos, thrushes, and other songbirds, and during the peak of migration it is not unusual to have 26 or more species of warblers at eye level during the course of a day’s birding.
Mallard Club Marsh Wildlife Area
This 402-acre marshland at 8763 Cedar Point Rd., in Oregon, Ohio, is a prime viewing area for migrant waterfowl, and nesting marshland specialties during the breeding season. In addition, the Mallard Club Marsh has excellent potential for vagrants, such as the male Garganey seen in May of 2002.
Access to the marsh is limited to the two small parking areas on Cedar Point road. From either of these bases, you can walk around the dikes and view different impoundments. There is excellent cattail marsh in several impoundments, and sought-after species like American and Least bitterns and even Yellow-headed blackbirds and King rails are present in very low numbers in most years. May and June is the best time to look and listen for these birds.
Maumee Bay State Park
Maumee Bay State Park, 1400 State Park Rd., Oregon, Ohio features the wetlands of the Maumee Bay area and offers a vivid array of natural wonders. Wetlands contain more species of wildlife than any other habitat type, including: fox snake, northern water snake, painted turtle, chorus frog, green frog, spotted salamander, raccoon, muskrat, dragonfly, caddis fly, and water striders.
Over 300 species of birds have been recorded with shorebirds such as snipe, Great Blue Heron, Common Gallinule and Ring-billed Gulls residing with waterfowl including Canada Geese, Northern Pintails, Redheads, and Ruddy Ducks.
Songbirds include the Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow Warbler, Killdeer and Swamp Sparrow. Spring migration brings many others including the colorful warblers..
Located on East Bayshore Road, one-half mile west of the Dempsey Boat Access on Sandusky Bay, is Meadowbrook Marsh at 8577 E Bayshore Rd., Marblehead.
Amenities include a picnic table, park benches, observation deck, paved biking/walking trails, grass and mulched walking trails along the prairie and in the forest. Scenic views of wetland marsh.
Entrance to Meadowbrook is on the north side of E. Bayshore Rd. and is marked by a large “Meadowbrook Marsh” sign.
Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area
Just east of the village of Bono, the east-west highway of Ohio State Route 2 makes a major curve to run south. The well-marked turnoff to Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area is on the curve at 12600 Bono Rd., Bono, Ohio. This 558-acre marsh is outstanding for waterfowl in migration and for nesting marsh birds in summer. This is often a superb place to find bitterns, Black Tern, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. The small woodlot at the end of the road is sometimes excellent for warblers and for a wide variety of other migrant songbirds, while the lake shore is worth checking for gulls, terns, waterfowl, and a few shorebirds.
Oak Openings Preserve Metropark
The Oak Openings region was so named because originally, the trees grew so far apart that early settlers could drive wagons through the woods in any direction. Situated on the southwest edge of the greater Toledo area at 4139 Girdham Rd., Swanton, Ohio, the Oak Openings still occupy almost 5,000 acres with black oak savanna, oak woodland, and wet prairies. This collection of habitats is one of the rarest in the Midwest. Birders know the Oak Openings not only for the many migrants to be seen here, but for the remarkable combinations of breeding birds that are rare elsewhere in northwest Ohio. Among the many specialty birds to be found nesting here are Lark Sparrow, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Red-headed Woodpecker, Acadian Flycatcher, Blue-winged Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Pine Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat.
Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge
The Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge entrance is at 14000 West State Route 2 in Oak Harbor, Ohio, about half a mile west of the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area encompasses more than 5,000 acres of managed wetlands, forests, and prairies. The refuge protects major populations of birds and offers good birding practically every day of the year.
The Visitors’ Center is a good place to start. The center itself has fine interpretive displays, knowledgeable staff and volunteers, a bookshop, and an elevated observation deck. Trails immediately behind the center lead to a boardwalk through a beautiful swampy woodland and connect to the rest of the entire trail system. The trails also can be accessed from another parking lot, and it is worthwhile to walk the trails in the eastern part of the refuge to access impoundments that may be good for shorebirds, waterfowl, rails, moorhens, and other birds. The woodlots in this area, and the small trees along the edges of the impoundments, often hold large numbers of warblers and other migrants.
Pearson Metropark is about 15 miles west of Magee Marsh at 761 Lallendorf Rd., Oregon, Ohio and is accessed from its entrance on Lallendorf Road from State Route 2.
Varied habitat affords the birder an opportunity to build a long list of birds. From the main parking area off of Lallendorf road, there is a Visitor’s Center area that has good restrooms and an interesting Window on Wildlife. The Window on Wildlife can attract interesting species to either the feeders (Indigo Buntings, Purple Finch, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are regular) or the water feature. The trees around the parking area itself often play host to numbers of warblers and other spring migrants.
There are trails that go through an excellent example of remnant Black Swamp forest and you are likely to encounter a good number of birds, including some common ones that are hard to find at Magee proper: Tufted Titmouse, Hairy Woodpecker and White-breasted Nuthatch all come to mind. You are also likely to encounter Scarlet Tanagers, Ovenbird, Eastern Wood Pewees and with luck, a Cerulean Warbler.
By exiting the park at Lallendorf road to the right (north), you will come to what is known as “Pearson North” along the east side of the road. These 300 acres of open country and wetland serve different bird communities and there are gravel pull-offs that will allow you safe access along Lallendorf. Look and listen for Eastern Meadowlarks, Horned Larks, Savannah, Grasshopper and Vesper Sparrows among others.
Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area
On the north side of U.S.Highway 6 at 3451 County Road 256 in Vickery, Ohio, about seven miles east of Fremont, is Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area. A little more than half a mile east of County Road 256 is a parking area with an observation tower giving an overview of part of the area, and trails along the dikes provide access. Often an excellent area for shorebirds and waterfowl in migration.
Pipe Creek Wildlife Area
From U.S. Highway 6 on the east side of Sandusky, turn north on Cedar Point Drive, then turn right at River Avenue to F St., Sandusky, Ohio.
The small parking lot for Pipe Creek is at the end of River Avenue. Impoundments are good for shorebirds, waterfowl, and wading birds, while the woods hold fallouts of songbirds during migration. Note that traffic going to Cedar Point Amusement Park can be very heavy on warm weekends.
Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve
Entrance is on the north side of U.S. Highway 6, about six miles east of Sandusky and about two miles west of Huron at 2715 Cleveland Rd. West. Trails lead out to Lake Erie shoreline. Good for marsh birds most of year, woodlots host big concentrations of migrant songbirds in spring and fall.