Black Swamp Bird Observatory educational director Ken Keffer was on a canoe rowing Green Creek Wednesday when the tweeting began.
The birds weren’t tweeting. It was birders’ smart phones.
Found near the boardwalk close to the east beach parking lot of Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, a birder had made the first confirmed spotting of a rare Kirtland Warbler, and hundreds of birders from around the world who had gathered along the shores of Lake Erie began texting and tweeting to demonstrate their excitement.
So it goes at America’s Biggest Week in Birding, hosted May 4-13 by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
BSBO director Kim Kaufman says the numbers of birders arriving along the shores of Lake Erie during the months of April and May could reach 75,000 — far more than anticipated.
“There are people here from all over the world — from Guatemala and Nicaragua, Panama, and from Ohio, California — you name it, from all across the country,” Kaufman said. “People who have been on trips are here socializing and exchanging information. People are networking, but they are also just making lifelong friends. It feels wonderful to do something for an area that you love and care about. We truly love this area and the media support we got this year has been wonderful.
“We had a very detailed business plan. I don’t meant to be boastful, but it’s not by accident, it’s by design. We’ve learned from some of the best birding festivals in the country what to do, what not to do, and try to incorporate the best of all those things into this festival. To see it come to fruition is very rewarding.”
Among guests arriving here were up to 60 members from the Three Rivers Birding Club, based in Pittsburgh.
“This is the place to be in May,” said Jack Solomon of the Pittsburgh club. “What Kim has done with this is nothing short of incredible because you come here and you don’t even realize there were that many birders in the whole world.
“The best part and most amazing part of it is that this festival seems to satisfy and make happy the season’s serious birders — the ‘listers’ and the bird chasers, which are the people who get up in the middle of the night to chase a bird rarity, and the rank beginners — the people who come off the street and say, ‘Here I am, what’s this all about? What do I do?’ Catering to that range of interest is phenomenal. It just makes me real happy to see it.”
Solomon began coming to the shores of Lake Erie to seek out migratory birds decades before the BSBO developed the festival. He first became a “birder” in 1970 while still in college.
“The first few years I borrowed a pair of binoculars while I was in school, and I didn’t give them back until I graduated three years later and could afford to buy a pair,” Solomon said. “Fortunately, the lender was very patient and very generous.
“After that, I’ve birded a lot now that I’m retired, so we take trips to last anywhere from a few days to several weeks and go around the continent and occasionally much further. There’s no place I’ve ever been that I would rather be from the last week in April to about the last week in May than right here. This is where it’s happening.”
Making friends, networking
There were businessmen such as James Adams, a manager from the Lodge at Poco Binotos in Honduras, and Sweden native Gunnar Engblom, who owns Lima, Peru-based Kolibri Expeditions Birding Tours.
The Lodge at Poco Bonito is in a rain forest at the very edge of Pico Bonito National Park, one of the largest national parks in Honduras. Although Adams has a background in biology, prior to his job in Honduras, he worked for a company that designed and built top field dragsters for the auto racing industry.
This is a networking opportunity for Adams, still a U.S. citizen who originally hails from eastern Pennsylvania, but residing full time in Honduras.
“I’m just thrilled about the opportunity,” Adams said. “I’m so happy that there is this huge gathering of birders here and there is an incredible attraction and that benefits me and it makes it worth my while to come all the way from Central America to promote our lodge.
“Aside from marketing my business, it takes me back to the real mission statement of our lodge, which is about enhancing conservation by improving people’s lives. That’s what this is all about, and that’s what this is doing, whether it’s generating income or people who are people who are committed to conservation who are just enhancing awareness, to first time birders — to people who never before really thought about taking a walk out to the woods to see what this is all about. This covers all the bases and it trickles all the way down in conservation to places like Honduras.”
Engblom began birding in 1983, began doing bird survey research in Peru in 1990 and began living there in 1998.
“This is a great opportunity for me. I am arranging an event in Peru, it’s called The Biggest Date, so to do that I have to go The Biggest Week,” Englboom said.
“This is the first time I’ve come to North American during peak spring migration, and actually, for the first time in my life as a birder I’m actually staying at the migration hot spot for more than a couple days — I’m staying here for nine days now. This is really fabulous. It’s amazing,” Engbloom continued.
“This is a good commercial activity for me as well. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people through Facebook and Twitter, and now I come here and I basically put bodies to the faces from Facebook.”