Biggest Week 2013

  magee marsh


The view from the drive in to Magee Marsh in Ohio and one of the few sunny days I've been allotted this spring.

Well here I am at the end of May and barely a month left to complete my Big Half Year goal of digisoping 250 species by June 30. I'm only at 170 and spring did not play out quite like I thought it would. I'm missing quite a few "gimme" species like rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting and American goldfinch but part of that comes from me knowing that if I could get a sunny day and time at Mr. Neil's, that would be easy cheesy...yet this spring has been incredibly cold, cloudy and rainy. I didn't rack up nearly as many species (digiscoping wise) at Biggest Week or Detroit Lakes like I thought I would because of the weather. But, ah well.

I do have one more trip that includes Austria, Paris and Amsterdam in June but those are not the birdiest destinations out there. However, they could easily help me get the total to 250.  We shall see. As much as I love bird watching, I kinda just want to eat my way through Paris and not have to drag my digiscoping equipment down the Champs-Élysées with me if I don't have to.

close birds


The Biggest Week in American Birding is great for warbler watching and a bit of a challenge photography-wise. For one thing, if the conditions are right, like on this particular Sunday when it was cool and the winds prevented the warblers from crossing Lake Erie the birds are too dang close.

Also, there are lots of people and with tiny birds that move fast, it's a challenge to get shots.

chestnut-sided I did get photos--I got lots like this. I swear, some day I will write a field guide to how you will really see birds--often obscured by leaves. I couldn't get my mojo going with this chestnut-sided warbler. I had great and stunning looks at them, but I couldn't digiscope this bird to save my life.


But if you haven't been to this festival before, you essentially hang out on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh, the trees are dripping with warblers, vireos, orioles and a whole host of other spring migrants. Anywhere you look could reveal a cool bird. The west of the boardwalk is jammed packed and a bit of sardine birding, where as the east can have all the same birds but not so jam packed with people. Or you can be smart like my friends Paul and Lili above and sit on the boardwalk rail and get some space from the birding hoard.

sardine birding biggest week

You can check out the trails along the shore of Lake Erie (but those can swarm with birders too, but you don't feel as confined as you do on the boardwalk). You can also visit Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Ottawa NWR. There are guided field trips, but I end up spending almost all of my time out on the boardwalk.

butter butt

But warblers abound and are quite easy to see (they may not be easy to photograph). Above is one of the many yellow-rumped warblers.

black-throated green


Here's another one of my favorites, the black-throated green warbler. Easy to see an came down quite close. When it was cold and windy, the warblers would be at eye level.

warbler food


If you looked under the leaves, you could see some of the insects the warblers were after.


whip poor will


I'm not a fan of the sardine birding so usually I hang out on the less crowded east end or find something like the above whip-poor-will and set my scope on it. People can get their lifer whip-poor-will (and I usually help people get photos with their smart phones) and the beauty is that while I sit there, the warblers work their way past and I get almost all the same birds that people get at the crowded west end.

jon dunn

As I had my scope on the above whip-poor-will, someone asked why it was a whip and not a chuck-wills-widow (a bird I have very little experience with). The best answer I could give was that the guy who wrote the National Geographic Field Guide (Jon Dunn) text pointed it out to me. He returned a few hours later and I asked him specifically how whips were different from chucks and he gave an impromptu identification class--and autographed guides. All part of the fun of just hanging out on the boardwalk.

Outdoor Afro

It's interesting how quickly people become experts on the boardwalk and get caught up in the enthusiasm of sharing birds on the boardwalk. This is my buddy Rue Mapp from Outdoor Afro who is a newer birder and there she was, putting people on an eastern screech-owl like a boss!

woodcock nest


I think that this year, this fest in Ohio should have been called the Biggest Week in Woodcocks (I suggested that but was met with skepticism as that might attract the wrong sorts of people). But woodcocks were all over the freakin' place. Above is a little grassy knoll in the parking lot at Magee Marsh and there's a female woodcock incubating eggs. She's very had to see, but she's there.

woodcock muddy

But they were a common and easy to see sight along the boardwalk at Magee too. I saw them every single day I was there, not to mention the birds that were peenting outside of our cabin at Maumee Bay State Park.

scarlet tanager

There's also something to be said for just hanging out in the parking lot of Magee Marsh--a male scarlet tanager put on quite the show and made the rounds several time, down low for anyone to get a photo.



As I was staked out waiting for warblers to come by, a waterthrush flew in. Being in Ohio, I was on the look out for a Louisiana, not just a northern. This bird had bright pink legs and I grabbed some shots with my iPhone through my scope. I wasn't 100% on my id on this one and wanted a consult to confirm I had a Louisiana

Greg Miller Low and behold, I run into Greg Miller on the boardwalk and he confirms that is Louisiana.  For non birders, Greg Miller was Jack Black's character in the movie The Big Year. And that's kind of what makes the Biggest Week a cool event: amazing birds and really cool people.