Biggest Bird Watching event of the year!

Can't wait. Hopefully I get to see a yellow belly sap sucker! Enjoy!

Biggest Week: For birders, it’s no exaggeration
Tens of thousands of hobbyists gather for viewing opportunity
BY MATT MARKEY BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

OAK HARBOR, Ohio — In less than a decade, the Biggest Week in American Birding festival has grown from what some initially perceived as a clever concept that bordered on the whimsical, into a powerhouse economic and ecological phenomenon that has spawned a vibrant presummer tourism season in northwest Ohio and along the Lake Erie shoreline.

Migratory birds, including many of the tiny, colorful warblers that are the minstrels of this spring extravaganza, for millennia have used this area as a resting and refueling oasis before taking on the long and taxing leg north that carries them across Lake Erie. En route from their wintering grounds in the tropics to their nesting and breeding habitat in the forests of Canada, they put on an open-air opera here each May.

Dedicated birders have known this for many years, and they unobtrusively went about their springtime ritual of touring the marshes, wetlands, parks, preserves, and pockets of wooded habitat in the region, taking advantage of the unique opportunity to see many species, some quite rare, all concentrated in one area.

They might have come to town, rented a car at the airport, showed up in a coffee shop each morning, booked a few hotel rooms, and then they were on their way home with a thousand images of warblers and dozens more species marked on their checklist.

Then this festival came along.

Sharing the wealth of birding opportunities with the residents of the region, the country, and the globe was all part of the plan. Creating an appreciation of birds and an awareness of the crucial role of habitat was the intended dividend. The economic kaboom is a difficult to overlook ancillary benefit.

“This is just what we had hoped for, to see the festival grow and prosper and really showcase this part of Ohio to the rest of the world,” said Kimberly Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, the nonprofit that hatched the festival and the engine that drives the Biggest Week.

“We felt like we had a very unique opportunity here to not only highlight the great birding opportunity, but also reinforce the message about the importance of protecting habitat. It’s pretty simple — the birds are here because of the habitat, and the people come here because of the birds.”

Bryan Edwards, the director of marketing with Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores & Islands tourism bureau, said last year’s festival drew about 90,000 visitors to the area, and those birders had an economic impact estimated at $40 million.

“What we have witnessed with the Biggest Week is really the perfect storm,” he said. “There has been an explosion recently in the level of interest in birding, and people also have recognized that this region in general, and the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area specifically, provide world-class birding.”

Mr. Edwards said that the many federal, state, county, and municipal properties in the area provide easy access to great birding.

“This isn’t something that costs a lot of money because you can always go look for free, and birders are a very welcoming and sharing group,” he said. “You have experienced birders anxious to help the beginners. There really is a fun, festival-like atmosphere to the Biggest Week.”

The Biggest Week in American Birding is widely regarded in the conservation ranks as living up to its title, regardless of the fact that is something of an intended misnomer since the festivities run 10 days. It opens Friday, and each day offers its registered guests a suite of workshops, seminars, lectures, and guided tours, many of them hosted by top birding names from around the world.

“These experts are coming because they want to be here and make sure that the participants in the Biggest Week have really meaningful experiences,” Ms. Kaufman said. “We have a reputation for great birding and for putting on an outstanding event, and we are seeing birds and birding become part of the culture here. We’ve certainly spread the word, but birders telling other birders about the experience has really helped grow this.”

The formal schedule is supplemented with many free events that are intended as an introduction to birding. While the festival is headquartered at Maumee Bay State Park, the epicenter is Magee Marsh, where there are free guided walks each day of the festival. The Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s office sits at the entrance to the marsh, which is about 10 miles north of Oak Harbor, on the shore of Lake Erie.

It is the boardwalk at Magee that draws throngs of birders each spring, because it allows those of all skill levels to share the experience from a wide, elevated walkway about a mile long that winds through a patch of wooded marsh that is a magnet for warblers and other migrants.

“Magee Marsh is the ideal starting point for any new or inexperienced birders,” Mr. Edwards said. “It has a long-established reputation as a hot spot for birders, especially those new to this activity. Last year, there were a couple hundred different species spotted in Magee Marsh alone during the Biggest Week. That is simply amazing.”

Besides Magee, birders converge on neighboring Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, the greater Oak Openings corridor, Metzger Marsh State Wildlife Area, and multiple Metroparks Toledo sites, especially Pearson and Oak Openings Preserve.

Local birder Matt Anderson said he has watched the interest in birding spike in recent years, and the Biggest Week festival has played a major role in that growth.

“Anyone who is knowledgeable about birds has understood for decades that we live in a really good area, with all of the habitat along the lake and in places like Oak Openings,” he said. “But that knowledge has gotten out there exponentially in recent years. The Biggest Week has been a big factor, since it has totally cemented in people’s minds what a great place this is for birds and birding.”

Mary Warren, who worked as a naturalist at Magee Marsh for about 20 years and now volunteers with the Friends of Magee Marsh organization, said the growth of the festival has been astounding.

“The Biggest Week really got the word out there and made Magee an international phenomenon,” Ms. Warren said. “We see birders from all over the world here now. But it all goes back to the birds, and even after all of the years I’ve spent here, I’m still amazed by the birds. You never know what you are going to see.”

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He picked up two garbage bags full of trash. Much trash was washed up last week when the strong winds from the east blew waves of water and the junk that came with them onto many areas along the shores in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan.
According to him, yesterday was a great day to be out "birding." He saw at least one quite rare species, and had a good old time in general. His wife sometimes goes with him, and he is often joined by his son as well.
Happy "birding" everyone!

GREAT for the birders. According to them, birders from all over the world are coming to this area for this great weekend of birding. The weather is expected to cooperate beautifully! This is a wonderful opportunity for those of us who live here to show the world what a fantastic place we call home, as well as an unparalleled opportunity for those birders who live here to enjoy!

My favorite bitds are Tweety, Big, Larry and Lady.

Hope I didn't offend anyone!

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