If you were hoping to take a guided tour during the Biggest Week in Birding Festival, hopefully you signed up early. Most tours were sold out long ago.
Among the many tours offered were guided bus trips and birding by boat to the Lake Erie Islands, including Pelee Island in Canada. This year, canoe trips were added.
The canoe trips on Green Creek were offered on three occasions. Officials from the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, the festival’s hosts, consider Green Creek Northwest Ohio’s best kept secret. The canoe rides cost a tourist $30.
|Biggest Week in AMerican Birding participants watching Dunlin at
the mouth of the Green Creek. (Press photo by Black Swamp
“They sold out really quickly,” BSBO educational director Ken Keffer said. “This is the first year we offered them as part of The Biggest Week, and so they seemed really popular. In yesterday’s (Tuesday) crew, Blooms and Birds magazine was one of our major sponsors, and their crew actually went out on the boat ride as well, because they’ve been here at the office helping with an auction raffle, so they went out there to see what the field trip experience was all about, and that was really neat.”
Green Creek meanders through two miles of habitat ideal for migrating warblers and flows into Mud Creek Bay, an arm of the larger Sandusky Bay. The property has a permanent conservation easement with Black Swamp Conservancy and will eventually be deeded to the Sandusky County Park District.
Led by Research Coordinator Tom Kashmer of the parks district, who is also a volunteer for BSBO, birders from around the world learned the history of this unique area, plus they got to see more bald eagles in Sandusky Bay than they saw all week in other lakefront marshes.
The trips were organized in conjunction with the parks district and Black Swamp Conservancy. Kashmer and Keffer served as guides.
“It’s a great idea and we really wanted to go down there and offer this,” Keffer said. “It’s a nice kind of closed, campy forest, and they have tons of warblers singing. We had tanagers there yesterday we could see from the water, and then it opens up on the south end of Sandusky Bay, and when it opens up there are phenomenal concentrations of bald eagles in the area. So, it’s a really neat experience and something completely different in contrast to the boardwalk experience.”
Those who signed up for the canoe tours arrived at the parks district office at 6 a.m. and were car pooled to the Green Creek Hunt Club marshes, where the canoes went into the water. Including Kashmer and Keffer, there were typically 14 birders on each tour, two to a canoe in seven different canoes. The tour meant two-and-a-half to three hours paddling.
“It’s a nice, leisurely canoe paddle,” Keffer said. “It’s pretty narrow in that section that we start at and then it kind of opens up into Sandusky Bay. It’s never more than a few canoes wide, and it’s just kind of a nice, slow meandering stretch of creek. That’s kind of what attracts the birds, which, especially yesterday were just singing their little hearts out. We did have time yesterday to stop and point out some of the birds because of the weather. Tomorrow’s (Wednesday’s) trip is going to be even more packed as far as bird action goes.”
Sure enough, Wednesday’s trip produced results. Keffer said not only were “tons of bald eagles” spotted when they reached the bay, but also a flock of Dunlins, which are shorebirds.
If you do not have experience paddling a canoe and want to sign up for next year, Keffer says no problem. But you better sign up ahead of time, because even though tours may be added next year, they fill up fast.
“The canoes are great for water activity because it doesn’t require a lot of training. We can give you a quick lesson before you get on your boat there,” Keffer said. “Yesterday’s participation had a fair number that had some water experience so we could match them up with some less experienced participants. It’s a great way to learn canoeing because there are no stretches of white water or anything like that.”
Even though Tuesday’s canoe tours were hit by harsh weather during the second half of the trip, Keffer said birders did not complain.
“It is part of spring migration, part of the weather system,” Keffer said. “We just make it work. Everyone really takes it in stride. We were the only trip that was affected because of the water and we can’t be out there because of the lightning. The bus trips were still going strong even during the rain yesterday, and you just get little pockets of soft rain.
“When it’s not raining quite as hard, anytime there is a break in the weather, the birds really respond. Yesterday was really a good day for birding just because there was so much activity. I think the main thing with these weather systems, if they are coming from the south, those wind patterns will actually bring in migrants overnight sometimes, so the rain can actually help the birding activity, so participants are taking it well,” Keller continued.
“Plus, we always have the gift shops where birders can watch the feeder birds for a little bit and then drive back out there.”
Biggest Week in American Birding participants watching Dunlin at the mouth of Green Creek. (Photo by Black Swamp Bird Observatory)
Sarah Brokamp, advancement coordinator with Black Swamp Conservancy during her canoe trip. Brokamp is a partner for the Biggest Week in American Birding and co-host on the canoe trips. (Photo courtesy of BSBO)