It’s called the “Biggest Week in American Birding,” and for good reason.
The second annual event, which will be held May 5-15 at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory near Oak Harbor, will bring thousands of birding enthusiasts and millions of dollars into the BSBO and to Northwest Ohio, according to Kim Kaufman, executive director of the BSBO.
“From April through May, we expect to have more than 75,000 people in this area,” Kaufman said. “Last year the Ohio Department of Natural Resources put a car counter across the road into Magee Marsh. They used a conservative approach to determine how many people passed through this area from May 1 through May 17. Granted, Magee Marsh is the epicenter of birding during spring migration, but they officially registered more than 50,000 people coming into this wildlife area in those 16 days.
“We’ve had people come from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Ecuador, you name it. Last year, a couple came from Spain.”
Mother Nature didn’t cooperate much during last year’s Biggest Week in American Birding festival. That, however, didn’t put a damper on the festivities.
“The weather was terrible,” she said. “It was rainy and we had tornadoes. The number of birds we have in this area — it was the second-lowest migration numbers in the Bird Observatory’s history — but still, every day people came to the Bird Observatory and said ‘this is the best day of birding I’ve ever had.’”
Kaufman took over as BSBO executive director two years ago after serving for 11 years as a volunteer with the organization, inspiring the appreciation, enjoyment and conservation of birds and their habitats through research, education and outreach.
“This observatory combines all the things in life I value the most,” Kaufman said. “Birds, for one, have been very important for me. This bird observatory has focused on being a valuable member of the community.”
Her husband, Kenn Kaufman, a nationally-renowned “Field Guide” author, speaker and birding enthusiast, will be on hand during the Biggest Week in American Birding to talk about BSBO programs.
Other events include bird ID workshops, field trips, event programs, songbird banding programs, a half-day bird race, young birder activities, International Migratory Bird Day, birding trips to Point Pelee and Kelleys Island, and a Bird of the Day Contest.
The Biggest Week in American Birding began with the help of the BSBO, Kaufman Field Guides, and Tropical Birding, a nature and bird tour company based in Ecuador.
“Partly it was to be able to market this area to birders from around the world,” Kim Kaufman said. “Thousands of birders were coming here already, and we wanted the opportunity to interact with them as much as possible in a meaningful way. We wanted to make them aware of the fact that there are many other birding hotspots to visit along the lakeshore other than Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
Epicenter of birding
“Magee Marsh is like the epicenter of birding in spring, not just in Ohio. It’s been declared the best warbler watching opportunity in the Western hemisphere. It’s just a magical place to watch birds that you can’t get views on like this anywhere in the world. This is a magical place to watch because the birds are just so accessible, often foraging at eye level! Birders and photographers from all over the world descend on this place in spring, from mid-April through the end of May.”
Kaufman added that the warblers are among the most highly sought after birds by birdwatchers.
“Warblers are a very big deal,” she said. “World-class birders have dubbed this the Warbler Capital of the World. There’s a great diversity of bird species to see, but warblers are kind of the feature presentation. They come in black, orange, blue, green – some of them are like mini-parrots. They pack a lot of color on their tiny little bodies.”
Most warblers do not nest in Ohio, but stop over briefly during migration.
“That’s what makes this place so special, not just for birders but for birds,” Kaufman said. “They are coming along – these little songbirds migrate at night – they come up to the edge of Lake Erie and they’re hesitant to cross a big open body of water without a full gas tank. They want to eat and rest before crossing this big open body of water to their northern breeding grounds.”
Those attending the 10-day festival can also expect to see vireos, thrushes, orioles, finches, shorebirds, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, waterfowl and the greatest concentration of nesting bald eagles in the lower 48 states.
“We see them practically every day here,” Kaufman said. “Lots of other raptors come through here in the spring.”
Kaufman added that birding is a great family activity, and families will have plenty to do at the Biggest Week in American Birding.
“This year, if we can even manage an average year in terms of weather and bird migration, we will really rock birders' world,” she said. “It's something everybody can do. Even if you don't care about birds at all, it's such a neat thing to experience. You can come out and meet people from all over the world. We have a lot of Amish who enjoy bird watching because, again, it's something they can do with their family.
“There are not only a great diversity of birds you can experience here but a great diversity of bird watchers. People from all walks of life - doctors and attorneys and truck drivers - it appeals to everybody. It's not just your grandma out there watching birds anymore.”
Using data and attendance figures compiled by ODNR from last year's festival, Kaufman estimated that this year's Biggest Week in American Birding will help bring as much as $20 million into the Northwest Ohio economy.
“I would say we definitely expect to achieve $19-20 million,” Kaufman said. “We are already ahead of (preregistration) figures from last year. We know an awful lot about the people who are visiting here for the festival. It's just another way that the Bird Observatory can provide a valuable service for the community.”
The Black Swamp Bird Observatory is located at 13551 W. State Route 2, Oak Harbor. For more information, call 419-898-4070 or visit www.bsbobird.org.