The first wave of warblers is here and with them come the first wave of some 70,000 visitors from around the globe.
Kim Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, said visitors from as far away as The United Kingdom, Ecuador, Panama, Canada and Alaska have already registered for workshops and tours during The Biggest Week in American Birding May 6-15, held at Maumee Bay State Park, Magee Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.
The Biggest Week festival is the big draw during the warbler migration which runs from mid-April to mid-May. Birders flock to the Lake Erie marshes to see, photograph and add to their life lists a stunning array of colorful song birds. In 2011, they identified 231 species.
The festival is not only a boon for birders, it also provides an economic boost to our area by kicking off the tourist season a month before the walleye, perch and bass fishermen descend on the lake and the partiers flock to the Lake Erie Islands. Kaufman says the economic impact is estimated at some $37 million.
But, the Biggest Week is about more than our enjoyment. It is about the birds. No birds, no festival. So, Kaufman and the staff at Black Swamp Bird Observatory see the biggest week as an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of maintaining bird habitat and the negative impact cats, improperly sited wind turbines, and helium balloons and Chinese lanterns can have on birds.
But, getting back to you—the birder or potential birder. The Biggest Week is full of workshops, field trips, guided tours and special events. Highlights include the showing of the movie “A Birder’s Guide to Everything” starring Sir Ben Kingsley, the Oscar Award winning actor. Kenn Kaufman, nationally renowned birding expert, author of numerous field guides and an Oak Harbor resident, worked as a consultant on the movie. It will be shown Monday, May 12 at 7:00 p.m. at Maumee Bay Lodge.
The father-daughter team of artists, Adam and Madison Grimm, will talk about their paintings, which were chosen for this year’s Federal Duck Stamp. Adam won the adult division and Madison, age 7, became the youngest contestant to win the Federal Junior Stamp Contest. They will appear at Maumee Bay Lodge Saturday, May 10 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Joel Greenberg, author of five books, will give this year’s keynote address and sign copies of his book, A Feathered River across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction.
Guided bus tours will take birders between the marshes and out to Pearson and Oak Openings Metroparks and other hot spots in Marblehead, Catawba and Sandusky County. There are also trips to Point Pelee, Pt Mouillee and Kelleys Island.
Maumee Bay State Park will once again serve as the headquarters and is the site for many of the workshops and booth exhibitors. These include vendors displaying binoculars, scopes and other birder gear as well as tour companies that specialize in birding trips to such places as Ecuador, Tanzania, Kenya, India, Thailand, Peru, Nepal and Alaska.
If you think you need to be an expert to enjoy birding, think again. Take a few hours out of your day and drive out to the Magee Marsh boardwalk. To give you an idea of what you can see in one day, consider what Tom Bartlett sees annually on Migratory Bird Day. The retired teacher from Tiffin conducts his annual Big Sit fundraiser on a step-ladder in a 17-foot diameter circle. From that vantage point, Bartlett saw 98 species last year.
People watching and cataloging license plates can also open your eyes to the sometimes unappreciated tourism asset we have in our backyard. Last year birders drove in from 46 states and six Canadian provinces and flew in from 13 countries including China, Australia, Belgium, Sweden and Finland.
The Lake Erie marshes will continue to grow in importance to our economy as the baby Boomers retire and add birds to their life lists. In a typical year, some 230 different species can be seen here during the migration as these birds stop to rest and feed before crossing the Great Lakes. According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 20 percent of all Americans are involved in the hobby, either by erecting backyard feeders, visiting local parks or taking bird trips.
Kaufman says conservation of bird habitat is not only important to birders, but also to the small businesses that house, feed and otherwise serve the birders. She also says our long and brutal winter won’t affect the migration. That is dictated by weather conditions in South America and the Caribbean where the warblers winter.