Birds, pollinator plants, perch gather at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

Sandhill cranes have become a regular visitor to the magnificent wetlands created by the Toledo Metroparks at Howard Marsh, adjacent to the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in Ottawa County. (Photo by Mark Duncan)

Spring is in the air, and so are the birds. The first two weeks of May are prime time for warbler migration along the Lake Erie shoreline.

To celebrate the return of these colorful migrants, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge has more than doubled its staff to accommodate extra tours and increased access into the marshes. The extra U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff and volunteers are joining the refuge from across the country to share their love of birds and staff multiple free bus tours and bird walks each day.

The Biggest Week in American Birding, hosted by Black Swamp Bird Observatory, also provides several programs each day for festival registrants at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

“This is such a fun time of year to visit Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge,” said Aimee Arent, Executive Director of Friends of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. “Folks from across the globe and frequent visitors flock to the refuge in search of warblers.”

In addition to free refuge tours to local birding hotspots, there are other points of interest currently at the refuge. through May 12, Friends of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge has teamed up with local businesses and artisans from Oak Harbor and the surrounding communities.

Art vendors and local authors can be found in the white tent next to the Visitor Center. Artists include iron art, quilling, and gorgeous ceramic tiles featuring birds and wildlife. Author Nancy Grant is selling her book, “Binge Birding: Twenty Days with Binoculars.”

A snowy egret touring the marshes while looking for a meal is a familiar sight in the wetlands of Ottawa County. (Photo by Mark Duncan)

Also located in the white tent is the Friends Pollinator Plant Sale. With help from Bench Farms on State Route 2 in Curtice, Ohio, Friends of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is selling native plants including milkweed. “Pollinators are in decline on a global scale. The Pollinator Plant Sale is our local effort to promote native plants and help bird and butterfly populations right here in Ottawa County. The best way to bring birds and wildlife into your own backyard is to provide the things they would find naturally in the ecosystem. Food, water, and shelter are the basics to support wildlife in your own backyard. Native plants are a great start,” said Arent.

The Friends-operated Rookery Nature Store is open daily in the refuge Visitor Center from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. during the festival, and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily the rest of the year. Current inventory includes a wide variety of field guides, apparel, and specialty items including Jabebo earrings upcycled from cereal boxes. Proceeds from sales in the Rookery help to support projects at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge has a variety of food vendors on site for lunch until May 12. The Port Clinton Rotary Fish Wagon is scheduled to serve perch Friday and Saturday, May 11-12. Lake Erie BBQ will have ribs, pulled pork sandwiches and perch available Friday through Sunday, May 10-12. The Traveling Chef is on site daily with hot dogs and hamburgers for lunch, and as the weather allows they are also serving hot sandwiches for breakfast on the Crane Creek Estuary Trail near the Magee boardwalk.

Another festival highlight is the Swarovski Optics trailer. Swarovski representatives are showcasing merchandise on the Visitor Center lawn including spotting scopes. “The orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks on the feeders in the pollinator garden have been very cooperative for demonstrating optics,” said Arent.

If the weather is a bit iffy, visit Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and get outdoors by making use of the Wildlife Drive. The Ottawa Wildlife Drive is open today through May 19 at the refuge from sunrise to sunset.

This seven-mile drive allows visitors a chance to see wildlife from their own vehicles. Friends of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is currently raising funds to improve the drive with additional wildlife viewing pull-offs, and a restroom at the midway point. The Friends group has currently raised $10,000 of $25,000 needed for the project. Those interested in learning more about the Wildlife Drive Improvement Fund should visit: https://www.friendsofottawanwr.org/wildlife-drive-improvements.html

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