By Cynthia Donaldson
My cell rang at 3:20 PM: Tommie and Fran had relocated the Mourning Warblers on the Crane Creek Estuary Trail! By the time I got there, the birds were gone! Our group was scheduled to bird Estuary Trail at 4:30 PM, so with many eyes searching, I hoped that we could relocate the birds. Just as we began the walk, another call came in that one of the two Mourning Warblers had been relocated. As the group hurried down the trail to find it, again it disappeared. We continued along this beautiful trail, scanning the edge of the water near the southern side of the dike. Mourning Warblers typically skulk along the ground so they are tricky to detect. Finally, we got word – again – that the bird had been found. The group lined up along the dike, trying to catch a glimpse, but it was hard to see him.
We followed the movement east and then west along the water’s edge of the dike until everyone got satisfying looks at this little olive and yellow bird wearing his black mourning hood. This bird was one of the 26 warblers that our group enjoyed on our recent trip to Magee Marsh – a Spring birding paradise – along the southern shore of Lake Erie, Ohio.
Wednesday: Most of us used Tuesday, May 17, as a travel day, so by Wednesday morning, we were standing at the west entrance to the Magee Marsh boardwalk, ready to take the walk that beckons birders from around the world.
The West entrance is the best starting place. Within moments, 20 species can be added to the daily tally. We spent the morning leisurely walking the boardwalk, slowly heading east. Warbling Vireos sang from the branches above.
A crowd enjoyed watching the Yellow Warbler and Prothonotary Warbler parents working on nest building. We even enjoyed some time checking out the two Bald Eagle nests in the parking lot area. They provided the paparazzi with many photo ops!
Our daily lunch meetings were such fun! Thanks to my husband, Pete, who set up the canopy and extra chairs so we could gather and gossip about our birds of the morning. Swainson’s Thrush and Baltimore Orioles were seen right from our camp chairs as we ate our lunches and watched the color changes of Lake Erie.
After lunch the first day, a reported Wilson’s Phalarope led us to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Boss Unit on the south side of Route 2. Here we enjoyed seeing the target bird as well as Trumpeter Swans, a Mute Swan, many Dunlin, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Northern Shovelers. We celebrated our find with ice cream sundaes from the Barnside Creamery!
Wednesday night must have been good for flying over Lake Erie because Thursday, May 19th, was a bit more quiet. We were not deterred! Even when the rest of the boardwalk was “slow,” the “Cypress Trees” remained the place to be! Most of us had great looks at Blackpoll, Canada, Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, Yellow, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Tennessee, Nashville, and Magnolia Warblers and Northern Parula by just standing in this one “hot” spot.
By Friday, things were hopping again. We headed back to the Estuary Trail on Friday morning. We saw 33 species and 14 of those were warblers. One non-warbler that a few lucky birders saw was a gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker. The weather was pleasant with clear skies – perfect for being outside enjoying the amazing beauty of the creation. In one little patch of woods, we enjoyed watching two pairs of Bay-breasted Warblers searching the trees for bugs and larvae. Wilson’s Warbler peeked through the leaves as he busily searched for his lunch. A lone Ovenbird sang a few times, but was all business as he pecked through the dry leaves on the forest floor. Prothonotary Warbler zoomed in and out of the thicket – definitely on a nest building mission. All the while, Tree Swallows sailed and chattered above our heads. Canada and Chestnut-sided Warblers and American Redstart flitted through the trees before us as they foraged.
After this, we enjoyed the boardwalk for the rest of the day.
One highlight of the day for three lucky members of our group was a look at the illustrious Kirtland’s Warbler!! There was a (quiet) stampede of birders who tried to get there in time to see it, but a little Yellow Warbler chased it well out of the area before we could get there.
That evening, six of us enjoyed watching the day quietly come to an end as we sat in camp chairs behind the Black Water Swamp Observatory. While we waited, we had some great looks at the Eastern Kingbird hovering over the field. As darkness came, the songs of the Yellow Warbler, Field Sparrow, and Baltimore Orioles came to an end and the Wood Thrush picked up his flute. Then the American Woodcock flew in – peenting and heading to the sky to begin his whirling and twirling courtship song and dance! What a show!
A Common Nighthawk was perched in view from the boardwalk for several days and most of the birders in our group were lucky and saw this bird.
Saturday morning began with a drizzle, so we donned our rain gear and headed to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Using walkie-talkies as we drove along Wildlife Drive was a help for reporting birds to the other cars. One stop revealed a Sora foraging along the edge of the marsh. It was quite shy, but with much perseverance, we got to see it! Many of us enjoyed adding the Marbled Godwit to our life list. This large, long-billed shorebird was hanging out with Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpiper, a Caspian Tern, and many Dunlin. Seeing the Sandhill Crane chick was the highlight for many of us!
That evening, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at 1812 Island House Restaurant in Port Clinton. I do not think we have ever had such a raucous count-off, though. I felt like I was in a shouting contest with the table next to us as I read the list to our group who was struggling to hear me! Somehow we totaled the trip at 138 species! Good-bye hugs ended the evening.
On Sunday, it was very quiet… Most of the gang headed home in the morning. It was also quiet on the boardwalk when Pete and I did one last survey. We also did one last survey on the Ottawa National Wildlife driving tour. We saw 5 White Pelicans, 2 Short-billed Dowitchers, and 1 Kenn Kauffman.
Overall, it was an awesome trip. The best part of the trip was spending time with the people in our group! And it was unanimous: we will be going to Magee again next year!!