How two eager, but weak, birdwatchers fared at “The Biggest Week in American Birding”

We admit it: we love to watch birds.  We also admit that we are not good at the whole thing. For us, the hardest birds to identify have always been warblers. So, what better challenge than to head for the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, the “Warbler Capital of the World”?  We had high expectations that this might be a turning point in our birding skills.

Many birds (including warblers) migrate north in the spring from as far away as South America.  One of the flight pathways they follow takes them through this marshy area on the shore of western Lake Erie in Ohio.

We, too, landed at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area’s boardwalk, surrounded by an unimaginable number of birds calling around us and everywhere we looked.  There were also more birdwatchers than we’d ever seen in one place before.

What could be an easier way to find a rare bird? Just watch where the photographers aimed their cameras.

Everyone seemed incredibly helpful in pointing out where to look for interesting birds and identifying them for us.  Even with coaching from other birdwatchers, it took us about 10 minutes of searching with binoculars to finally see a perfectly camouflaghed whip-poor-will sleeping on a fallen log in the brush.

The Virginia rail is an elusive bird, and we have heard its call but not seen it in many years of looking.  Photographers lined up when a Virginia rail was spotted. This was our opportunity!

We crouched down on the boardwalk and snapped a few photos with our small cameras underneath the photographers’ long telephoto lenses.  Not a great photo but such a memorable sighting!

This was another first: a white-throated sparrow.

We looked for more birds while on a guided walk at nearby Maumee Bay State Park.  That boardwalk took us over the swamp waters, an interesting bird habitat.

One wet day we walked in outlying areas and saw two new birds for us – the eastern towhee and rose-breasted grosbeak

What a surprise to stroll down a path and come upon a totem with an eagle at the top.  Of the many eagles we saw that week, this was the only carved one.

We had signed up for field trips, workshops, and special events over our five-day stay at “The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival.”  By the end of our stay, we had seen well over 100 species of birds and of those, 17 were warbler species.

The black-throated blue warbler was a new bird for us and straddled a tree trunk just a few feet away giving us ample time to take this photo.

After bird watching for well over 40 years, we learned some new ways to look at birds that should greatly improve our identification skills.  Of course, if identifying warblers still turns out to be difficult, we can always head back to the annual “Biggest Week in American Birding” festival and get those experienced, helpful birdwatchers to tell us what we’re looking at.


May 2019

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
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15 Responses to How two eager, but weak, birdwatchers fared at “The Biggest Week in American Birding”

  1. eliholton says:

    Hello, great post! I will point out one thing though, the Virginia Rail you photographed is actually a Sora, which are closely related to VIRA, as they are both rails. Identification tips: Bill on Sora is bright yellow, while on VIRA, it is orange to black. The bill of a Sora is also much shorter. Sora’s also have black around the eye, while VIRA do not. I hope this helps!!

    • Thanks very much for pointing out the differences. The point that we are weak birdwatchers, often depending on help for ID from guides and other birders, means that we are sometimes too trusting that their ID is correct. Sure looks like a sora to me.

      • eliholton says:

        No problem! Rails can be very hard to identify due to their seclusive nature and similar calls, and I have definitely misidentified them before!

  2. Lisa Coleman says:

    Frank & I have only been birding for about 6 years. We loved birds, photographed them, the end. Until we saw “The Big Year”. As dramatized & hilarious that movie was, I knew right away that was what I wanted to do. We are still amateurs, but our field guides help. Florida is one of the main migration lines. In the spring & fall, we see many different warblers. Because we live here, each year they are easier to identify. Guess practice makes perfect! I look forward to the day when I can travel abroad & see species I’ve never seen. Definitely need to put Ohio on the bucket list.

    • We still have many birds to see in the US but it’s getting harder and harder as we have seen most of the easier ones to spot. Still, when we see a new bird – or one we have rarely seen – it’s always exciting! And we love when we are close enough to get a photo. Florida is a great place for seeing birds so count yourself lucky.

      • Lisa Coleman says:

        We are lucky. That’s for sure. Yesterday, we were within 10 feet of a red tail hawk on the ground with a baby cardinal in its talons. It was sad but spectacular at the same time. I hope you will follow my blog. I’ve only just started. When I finish writing it & get my pics uploaded, it will be worth reading.

  3. Wow, look at those cameras! Reading this post took me back to our birdwatching trips in Portugal and Cambodia and reminded me how much fun I had with you two. I surely don’t see you as “weak” birders as I learned how much patience, skill and sheer luck is involved in spotting and watching birds. I have no doubt that you both felt that your day was a real success! Anita

    • Oh, we did have fun spotting birds in Portugal – and Cambodia proved to be a real surprise bird-wise. We’ve never seen so many owls in one outing! We hope we have the opportunity to go birding with you again.

  4. What a great trip close to home 😉 I especially liked the photo of the birdwatchers watching the birds! All the best – Susan

  5. Susan Tripp Snider says:

    I loved reading this! Today’s paper has an article about warblers “lighting up the sky” above Niagara Gorge. We have Baltimore Orioles, rose breasted grosbeaks, towhees and other more common birds in our back yard, but don’t know warblers. We plan to hit some of the hot spots in the next few days. You are welcome here next spring for the Niagara Birding Festival, btw.

  6. Good idea to copy the experts!

  7. Jet Eliot says:

    Thanks for this visit to the Magee Marsh, Beth and Joe. Nice that you found the Virginia rail in the open, that’s nearing on impossible; and 17 warbler species is what defines that Marsh.

    • We saw 19 birds we’d never seen before and that was a thrill. Talks by Kenn Kauffman, David Sibley and Richard Crossley all expanded our knowledge of birds and we feel our 5 days there was a great success.

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