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Posts Tagged ‘Maumee Bay State Park’

Magee Marsh boardwalk entrance

Magee Marsh boardwalk entrance

Disneyland for Birders – that is how I heard someone refer to Magee Marsh on the first day. It’s a perfect characterization of this world-famous birding hot spot. It not only provides spectacular eye-level views of birds, but it has that Disney feeling of wholesome, clean, friendly fun.

The Great Black Swamp once covered 1,500 square miles of northwestern Ohio extending from Port Clinton to Fort Wayne, Indiana.  The vast network of forests, wetlands, and grasslands provided vital stopover habitat where tired and hungry neotropical songbirds could rest and refuel before continuing their migration.  Today, most of the area has been drained for agriculture; only 10 percent of Ohio’s original wetlands are left.  Magee Marsh is one of the few remaining remnants of the Great Black Swamp.  Its wooded beach ridges between the marsh and the southern shore of Lake Erie are especially important as the last stop for migrating birds reluctant to cross the lake.  Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and other nearby areas protect a few thousand acres of habitat, but the birds are most numerous in the small 7-acre area around the Magee Marsh boardwalk.  The Ohio Division of Wildlife built the famous mile-long boardwalk in 1989.  It is wide, has guiderails, and is wheelchair accessible.  It provides birders with a wonderful vantage point for viewing the birds and it protects the habitat from trampling.  The birds seem to feel safe and come very close to the boardwalk, even perching on it occasionally.

Sandy Beasley, my birding buddy from Georgia, and I arrived on the evening of May 13.  I had heard about Magee Marsh for years, but hesitated to visit because of the crowds.  Those fears were not justified.  The State of Ohio did an outstanding job making the site accessible to visitors.  The parking lots are large and well laid-out, there are a sufficient number of porta-potties and they are extremely well maintained.  And the wide boardwalk itself comfortably accommodates a large number of people.  Most importantly, I was surprised to discover that the other birders actually enhanced my experience.  People were friendly and readily shared information.  The only “traffic jam” that I encountered was when a Black-billed Cuckoo was sighted.  Once I said “life bird”, someone pushed me to the front of the crowd and gave detailed directions for finding the bird.  Birders of all levels and from all over the country come to Magee to enjoy the spectacle of spring migration.  I frequently encountered groups of people intently looking in a particular direction.  When I asked what they were watching, the answers varied from “Mourning Warbler” to “there’s a Robin down there” to “I don’t know what the others see”.  As an intermediate level birder, I had the fun of both being helped (such as confirmation of my life Philadelphia Vireo) as well as helping others with finding birds and identification.

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

On our first amazing day at Magee, we enjoyed many close views of warblers.  One of my favorites was the Black-throated Green Warbler who flitted around just a few feet from me and even perched on the boardwalk rail for a moment.

Another crowd pleaser was this cooperative Blackburnian Warbler who also showed off for everyone close by.

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

The highlight of the day for both Sandy and me was a female Kirtland’s Warbler on the beach.  Kirtland’s Warbler is rare at Magee and cannot be expected every year, so we were thrilled to see it, a life bird for both of us.

The day ended with an American Woodcock alternately sleeping, preening, and posing for photos right next to the east end of the boardwalk.

Woodcock

American Woodcock

Our second day was equally wonderful and again we saw many beautiful warblers and other birds.  Several Baltimore Orioles brightened the scene and were easy to photograph thanks to the oranges that had been strategically placed for them.  We were also treated to another Kirtland’s Warbler, a male this time, identified as a first year bird by experienced birders.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Mid-afternoon Sandy went back to the hotel with Barbara, a birder we met who had driven 11 hours from Boston.  I birded a little longer and saw a Sora near the boardwalk.  Then, I, too, returned to the hotel for dinner with Sandy and Barbara to end another perfect day.

Sora

Sora

The following morning, Sandy, Barbara, and I decided to bird another area so we headed to Maumee Bay State Park.  Maumee Bay has an even longer boardwalk than Magee – 2 miles!  It was quieter than Magee had been, but we enjoyed a pleasant day and the simple pleasures of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on the nest, a Great Crested Flycatcher calling over the wetlands, Common Yellowthroats everywhere.  And we added a few birds to our trip list.

Purple Martins

A Purple Martin pair on the “front porch” of their house outside the Nature Center at Maumee Bay State Park.

Deer in the woods at Maumee Bay State Park

Deer in the woods at Maumee Bay State Park

On day four of the trip, we went back to Magee Marsh and saw almost no warblers in an hour’s birding.  The weather must have favored their continued journey north and had not brought in replacements.  We quickly changed plans and drove south towards Shawnee State Forest.  Magee Marsh had exceeded our expectations in every way.  Sandy and I both plan to visit “Disneyland for Birders” again.

Sandy and Shelley at Magee Marsh

Sandy and Shelley at Magee Marsh

I used the website Birding Magee Marsh for trip planning.  I wish that I had seen the info on Tips for reporting bird sightings at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area to eBird before the trip so that I could have kept better lists.  There is no general hot spot for “Magee Marsh” because it spans two counties.  For a detailed and interesting article about Magee Marsh by Kenn Kaufman, see Magee – Anatomy of a Migrant Hotspot.

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