Lake Erie Travel Diary

Chestnut-sided Warbler (85559 bytes)7 May 2005
Every spring, millions of migratory songbirds travel through the Mississippi Flyway into eastern Canada.  Along the way they meet an obstacle:  Lake Erie.  Upon seeing this vast expanse of water, many birds look for a place along its southern shore to rest up a bit before the crossing.  There's not much forest left here, so they funnel into the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge complex and adjacent Magee Marsh Wildlife Area east of Toledo, Ohio.  In May, thousands of migrating birds, and an equal number of birders, can be found in the forested portion of Magee Marsh.  On a good day, you're likely to see 15-20 species of warblers here.  You can't miss the colorful, tame little Chestnut-sided Warbler, who quickly became one of my favorites.

B&W-Warbler (79916 bytes)8 May 2005
This time of year, Magee Marsh boardwalk is about as quiet and peaceful as a shopping mall.  But there's one advantage to birding with the crowd:  685 pairs of eyes are better than one, so no bird escapes notice.  They even spot day-roosting Whip-poor-wills and an Eastern Screech Owl.   Soon I'm using birders as "scouts:"  if a group is peering high into a tree, I pass on by, but if their binoculars are pointed at something near eye level, I stop and set up the camera.  In this way I get a nice Black-and-White Warbler who, like nuthatches and creepers, probes the bark of trees for insect eggs, larvae, and the like.  Both birds and birders seem tolerant of photographers, even those with the newest power-driven cameras that take up to 8 images/second, each with flash of course. 

Mass-of-terns (89749 bytes)9 May 2005
When south winds come, the now-rested migrants cross Lake Erie, usually at night.  Often they first make landfall at Point Pelee, a forested peninsula that juts out into the lake.  Thousands of songbirds pass through here, making it one of the most famous birding hot spots in North America.  The birders' daily ritual begins with a shuttle ride to the peninsula tip.  If there's a heavy fallout of migrants,  the woods can be "dripping" with birds, but that didn't happen during my 3 days here.  We had to be content with watching Ring-billed, Bonaparte's, and Herring Gulls, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common Terns around the beach.  The terns would periodically take off  and swirl around en masse, then land back at the same spot.


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