Where to begin.  We got to Maumee Bay State Park (near Toledo, Ohio) on Sunday afternoon – arriving to sunny skies.   After four days of rain it was a nice break.  We went to the Maumee Bay Lodge (at the state park) and picked up our registration packets for the Biggest Week in American Birding.  The event is actually a little longer than a week, starting May 5th and running through May 14th.  We have registered for events from May 8th to May 14th.

Day One

My first event was a Field Sketching course.  It was suggested we have watercolors, which I stopped and bought before arriving.  We didn’t get past basic sketching, let alone into painting what we drew.  However, I enjoyed the teacher and would love to take a class from her lasting longer than four hours.  Maybe I can suggest that such a class be offered in Homer at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival.

I also attended a workshop on warbler song identification.  The instructors have a new warbler app out, which includes a 3D look at the bird, and allows you to compare that bird with another warbler.  They will soon have an app out called Bird Genie that will show a photograph of a bird whose song you have recorded. So, if you are out in the field and you here a song you can record the song (in the app) and a photo of the bird will pop up.  I see pros and cons of such an app.  I’m thinking it will make us lazy birders.

In the class the instructors said that trying to learn bird songs by tape is okay if you have 400 years in which to learn the songs.  Not me.  They think trying to learn bird songs by tape is a waste of effort you are told the name of the bird and then you listen to the song.  Your brain isn’t wired to connect the two together.   I agree wholeheartedly.  It has never helped me.

Maumee Bay State Park Photos

Common Grackle – a nuisance bird, but colorful when the sun shines on its head

Canada Geese family in one of the many park ponds

Eastern Screech Owl  (red morph) – when I first saw the bird it was sticking out of the nest box. Someone said there were hatchlings in the nest box. Would loved to have seen those.  Baby owls are so cute.

View from the boardwalk

Not easy getting a decent photo of a warbler (at least not for me)- can you spot the Chestnut-sided Warbler in the photograph?

These birders were waiting for the reappearance of the Clay-colored Sparrow

Purple Martin Condo

This persistent Cliff Swallow nest is at the covered entryway to the Conference Center

Maybe now you can see the Chestnut-sided Warbler

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the Campground Office feeders

Wood Duck protecting its nest box

Great Egret off the boardwalk

Someone asked me about the green near their eyes and bill. This coloring is only present during nesting season.

Day Two

Bright and early (around 6:30 am), Jack and I arrived at Magee Marsh to check out the warblers.  Not much coming through yet.  We stopped off at Metzger Marsh and Pearson Metropark.  There were some warblers at both places, but no more than what was at Magee Marsh – just different birds.  The highlight for the day was seeing an American Woodcock.  This was our nemesis bird during our trip around the US in 2013-14.  There was a bird just off the boardwalk.  Lots of people around checking out the bird and trying to get decent photographs.  Not easy with all the tree limbs in the way.  We later went to a Woodcock Skydance presentation.  This started at dusk and we watched the Woodcock make their aerial accent up and then down – trying to impress a female.  Like the Wilson’s Snipe, their tail feathers actually make the sound you hear during the accent and decent.

We attended a keynote presentation on Pete Dunne’s new Raptor book.  He was unable to attend the festival so Kevin Karlson spoke on his behalf and showed some amazing raptor photographs taken by various raptor photographers.  Beautiful.  The book’s focus is not raptor identification, but raptor natural history.  The book is titled: Birds of Prey: Hawks, Eagles, Falcons, and Vultures of North America.

Pearson MetroPark Photos

Swainson’s Thrush

Blue Jay

American Robin Fledgling

Birders looking for the female Golden-winged Warbler. I did see the bird briefly.

Nashville Warbler

Great-crested Flycatcher

Red-bellied Woodpecker – you can actually see the red on this one’s belly (or breast)

Another Eastern Screech Owl – this one nesting or roosting in a tree cavity, rather than a nest box like the Maumee Bay State Park bird

Can you see the owl in the photograph?

Rose-breasted Grosbeak …

… what a beautiful bird

Not sure what this plant is but I was intrigued

Day Three

On Wednesday, Jack took a van tour to Oak Openings where he saw a Golden-winged Warbler.  I am so jealous.  This would be a life bird for me.  That’s one life bird he has that I don’t.  No events scheduled for me, so I went back to Magee Marsh.  There was a report of bird migration during the night indicating more warblers might be found at Magee.  I got there around 6:15 am, and already the people were arriving – unlike the day before.  By 8:30 am, the boardwalks were crowded.  When I finally left at around noon, the parking lot was full, and there were four rows of vehicles parked on the grassy area used for overflow parking during the festival.  I estimated there were at least 100 vehicles in the grassy area, which means there were probably 500+ vehicles in the main parking lot.  Yowza.  That is a lot of vehicles and a lot of people.  Not many of the vehicles had single occupants.

There were a lot more warblers present, both in numbers and different species.  I was hoping to get at least three new FOYs (First of Years), which I did, plus three more:  Black-throated Blue Warbler (my new favorite warbler), Blackburnian Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler,  Magnolia Warbler, Least Flycatcher, and Great-crested Flycatcher.  In all, I had 14 different warbler species today, and 18 overall for the festival so far.

I use my Canon SX60 HS Powershot camera.  This camera pales in comparison to the majority of cameras at the boardwalk.  I think the majority of the people here had cameras.  That in itself can make the boardwalk, when crowded, not a very fun place to be with big lenses and tripods being slung around.

I had one guy (I was going to call him a gentleman, but changed my mind) correct me on my identification of a bird.  I saw a Nashville Warbler (very distinguishable by its white eye ring, yellow body, and gray head).  No mistaking that bird.  I turned to him and told him what I saw, when he asked.  When we both looked up again, there was a Yellow Warbler working the trees in the same area.  The Nashville Warbler was no longer visible.  He turned to me and said “That is a Yellow Warbler.  A Nashville Warbler has a white eye ring and a gray head”.  Then he walked off.  He wasn’t very nice about it either.  But most people on the boardwalk were pleasant.  Maybe this festival has become too popular.

My final stop was the Maumee Bay Nature Center where there was a report of a Clay-colored Sparrow.  After several attempts to find the bird I finally saw it.  What a nice looking sparrow.  This species was a real attractant to festival birders.

Magee Marsh Boardwalk Photos

A portion of the parking lot on a busy day – which was most days during the festival and even afterwards

East Entrance to the Boardwalk

Just a few people looking for birds

Wow that is a big camera for a little guy

Portions of the boardwalk on some days were not so busy …

… it all depended on where particular birds were being seen. Here looking for the Eastern Whip-poor-will

Even the Amish and the Mennonites are birders.  Some days there were over 40 Amish and Mennonite birders on the boardwalk


Wait!!! No one on the boardwalk.

Day Four

Woke to overcast skies and the threat of rain.  It had rained about ¼ to ½ inch overnight.  I was hoping for blue skies for my photo class, but now I just hope it doesn’t rain.  It didn’t.  The class was very useful.  I hope I can take better photographs of birds.  I usually use the LCD monitor on my camera for photographing birds and whatever, and was told to always use the viewfinder.  I did so.  But I will have to get used to that -.  Difficult with my camera when there is low light – so dark, therefore hard to find the birds.

I saw two young boys – I guess their age around 11 or 12, and they were sporting camera equipment that must have put their parents back several thousand dollars.  The money in cameras alone on the Magee Marsh Boardwalk is staggering.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was well over several million dollars.  Then there are the Amish who merely had their binoculars.  Not a camera in sight.  Of course since they don’t like to be photographed, and so I’m sure they don’t own cameras.  Many of the men wore their dark clothing and wool hats.  They did know their birds however.  You would hear them talk in a mixture of English and Dutch/German.

Not as many people today on the boardwalk as yesterday.  Maybe the rain dampened everyone’s spirits?   Fun to see the birds though.  The American Woodcock was showing itself again.  Always a draw for birders – since the bird is secretive and generally difficult to see in the daylight.

Afterwards we went to a workshop on “So You Think You Know Warblers”.  I live on the west coast of the United States so we don’t get nearly as many warblers as they do on the east coast, and despite having only birded on the east coast once, I feel fairly confident in knowing my warblers – at least the males.  There are some beautiful east coast warblers, but I think my favorite are the Cerulean and the Black-throated Blue Warblers.

After the class, Jack and I  did the auto tour route at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.  We visited this refuge twice during our year long trip around the U.S. in 2013-2104, however, the auto tour route was not open to the public then.  They only allow cars on the refuge roads during limited times of the year.

We saw a mixture of songbirds, waterbirds, shorebirds, a duck or two, and lots of Trumpeter Swans, which breed at the refuge.  The only raptor was the Bald Eagle.  We haven’t seen too many raptors in Ohio.

I did join Twitter so I could get tweets about bird spotted at different locations during the festival.  This has proven to be quite useful.  After dinner I saw a tweet for warblers and thrushes seen at the Maumee Bay State Park boardwalk so Jack and I left the campground and meandered our way over to the boardwalk.  It was getting dark, but I still managed to see five different warbler species,  including a Common Yellowthroat singing its heart out (and me without my camera to capture the event).  Also along the boardwalk was a Veery (thrush) and a Great-crested Flycatcher hawking for its dinner.

Magee Marsh Birds and Habitat Photos

Black-throated Green Warbler preening

Northern Flicker (yellow shafted)

Downy Woodpecker …

… what? On the ground?

White-crowned Sparrow

Warbling Vireo

Yellow Warbler with nest material

Here the bird is on the nest – well hidden

Yellow Warbler nest

Woohoo!!! We finally got to see the American Woodcock – our nemesis bird. We got great looks most days we were at the boardwalk. A most cooperative bird.  Thank you very much.

This was another American Woodcock discovered along the boardwalk near the west entrance (the other was near the east entrance)

Eastern Whip-poor-Will – quite the attention getter

Blanding’s Turtle – note the yellow neck.  This is a rare turtle species.

Nashville Warbler

Black-crowned Night Heron

Green Heron

White-throated Sparrow

Male Yellow Warbler – there were lots of Yellow Warblers along the board walk. Their song is easy to remember – Sweet, Sweet, I’m so Sweet. Yes you are.

House Wren

This Yellow Warbler was about 6 feet above me.

Lots of Gray Catbirds too. I love these birds. So happy to see so many here.

A Prothonotary Warbler playing peek-a-boo

Prothonotary Warbler

Dead rabbit on the side of the road – food for the nearby nesting Bald Eagles (if the people ever leave the area so it can access the food)

American Redstart (Male)

This Red-winged Blackbird landed within 10 feet of me and buzzed by my head making  a very loud noise, causing me to jump. I wonder if it has a nest nearby. If so, it must be going crazy with all the people on the boardwalk.

The bird wasn’t afraid of people, that’s for sure

Day Five

Got up early and headed back over to Magee Marsh.  Again, not as many people today as on Day 3, but still a good showing of people.  Lots more birds out, and we got great views of Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers, Nashville Warbler (whose numbers are starting to equal Yellow Warblers – which were everywhere), Magnolia Warbler, Protonotary Warbler, and the American Woodcock.

Today’s workshop was on Sparrows.  The focus was on sparrows seen in the Eastern U.S. during migration, which I don’t have too many problems with identifying.  My confusion with sparrows pertains to those usually seen in the Southwestern U.S. in the winter months.  Guess I should take a sparrow class at a festival held in Arizona in the winter – like the Wings Over Willcox bird festival.

Afterwards my friend Lisa (who is down from Anchorage attending the festival) and I went in search of a Bobolink (no show) and a Sora (score).  These birds had been spotted at Pearson Metropark in Oregon, Ohio.  This little spot contains a remnant patch of the formerly vast, notorious Great Black Swamp.

High in the trees was a bird which we believe was a Philadelphia Vireo.  Hard to id a bird when you are looking 50 feet up into the air and the bird is in constant motion.  The trees at Magee Marsh aren’t as tall as those at Pearson Metropark.  I like the shorter trees – less likely to get Warbler Neck.

The Biggest Week in American Birding is put on by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.   I think in my recommendations I will suggest a masseuse to give neck massages to people at a tent outside the Magee Marsh boardwalk.  I know I would have paid to have someone massage my “warbler” neck for 15 minutes.

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Photos

One of many goslings in a small pond near the Visitor Center parking lot – at least three families of Geese in the pond

This one eating vegetation – or trying to

This is a pollinator plaza

Up close view of construction materials

Another Purple Martin Condo

Boardwalk behind the Refuge’s Visitor Center

Road closed to nesting Bald Eagles

A road we were allowed to drive on within the refuge boundaries

Eastern Cottontail

Trumpeter Swan

Gray Catbird singing its song – the song is unusual and this bird copies the sounds of other species, stringing them together to make it’s own song. Then there is also the “mew” sound it makes.  No mistaking that call.


Lake Erie

Yikes, Poison Ivy

Day Six

Wow what a difference a day makes.  Most of the birds we saw yesterday have moved on.  Not much happening at Magee Marsh except a lot more people and people who aren’t necessarily serious birders (weekend birders).  Lots of families here for the day or the weekend.  Stood next to a father and his two children – both with serious cameras.  We were looking for a Brewster’s Warbler – hybrid between a Golden-winged Warbler and a Blue-winged Warbler.  The father asked the kids if they wanted to move on, but his son wanted to stay to get the warbler.  I think he was about 12 years old.  Great seeing all these young, serious birders.

The highlights for Magee Marsh were the Eastern Whip-poor-will and the American Woodcock.  Got good looks at both.  Jack, Lisa, and I had a raptor workshop at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge so we left around 11:00 am.  After the workshop we had lunch and then went back to Magee.  We had a few more warblers show up, but still not a whole lot.

On the tweets, everything today seemed to be showing up at Oaks Opening – another Metropark.  May go there Monday, or maybe Tuesday (if we decide to stay another day or two).

We scheduled a three hour (7:00-10:00 pm) van tour of the refuge hoping to see nighthawks, whip-poor-wills, and owls.  Our driver was not a birder and had notes on the whereabouts of an owl (general location), but by the time we got to that part of the refuge it was dark.  A disappointment to say the least.  This is not a tour to see birds, but a tour to see the refuge, which we had done earlier this week.  And I have to get up at 5:00 am to catch a van for my “Wilds of Erie County” guided tour.  Ugh!!!  What was I thinking when I signed up for the Ottawa NWR van tour?  Oh right, I wasn’t thinking.

Metzger Marsh Photos

American Bittern

Small woodlot near the outer dike – which can be very birdy

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Lake Erie

Palm Warbler on the rocks

We heard Least Bitterns in this part of the marsh, and they were seen here – just not by us. Dang.

Day Seven

I started the day with a van tour, which left the Maumee Bay Lodge at 6:00 am.  We drove to Pipe Creek Wildlife Area, about an hour away.  We birded the area for about 4 hours, seeing a some warblers, but not many and not in great numbers.  Meanwhile I kept getting these tweets about all these warblers at Magee Marsh, Maumee Bay Boardwalk, and Pearson Metropark.  Needless to say I was a little frustrated.  We stopped for a quick lunch, then drove to our next stop – Sheldon Wildlife Area.  When we got there we decided to head to Pearson Metropark instead.  I’m glad we did.

Although the trees at Pearson are taller than at Magee, we were able to see a variety of warbler species, including – for me – a view of a female Golden-winged Warbler.  This is a life bird for me.  I also saw two other life birds – a Connecticut Warbler and a Tennessee Warbler.  I’m so glad we decided to come here instead of staying at Sheldon.  In all, I got to see 17 different warbler species today.

Pipe Creek Wildlife Area

None of the birds were easy to photograph so instead I photographed these Northern Water Snakes (or at least that is what I was told they were).

Day Eight

Technically the Biggest Week in American Birding is over, but Jack and I wanted to spend an extra day in the area in search of birds, particularly warblers.  Today was warm, relatively calm, and sunny – that means the birds that were here yesterday essentially left for points north.  At least many of them.  I heard on the Magee Marsh Boardwalk today (Greg Miller of the Big Year fame), that the next wave to warblers and other migrating song birds is expected on Thursday night, making their appearance Friday morning.  We could stay if we wanted to, but its time to continue our journey now making our way back home.  Maybe some day we can spend a couple of weeks in the area.

The best spot for birds on the boardwalk this morning was the west entrance.  We got some beautiful views of Chestnut-sided Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, and Blackburnian Warbler.  The Blackburnian Warbler – when viewed from below, looks as though its neck has caught on fire.  A beautiful, bright orange.  No mistaking that bird.

Near the east entrance to the boardwalk we found a crowd in awe of a Wilson’s Warbler.  We have these at home in the summer so not a big deal to us Alaskans.  After spending several days on the boardwalks you learn which trees the warblers like best.  There are about four different areas where the warblers seem to congregate.  While everyone was looking at, and photographing, the Wilson’s, I was lucky to spot a Canada Warbler in a different tree.  This was either a first year bird or a female.  In the same tree there was a flycatcher species, but darn if I know which one – the bird wasn’t singing.

While there was not as many people on the boardwalk, there were still more people than I expected.  These might be people like Jack and I who decided to spend one or more extra days checking out the warbler or simply people who wanted to avoid the large crowds.

After the birding at Magee Marsh, we headed to Pearson Metropark.  Here the birding, at least warbler wise, was almost non-existence.  We did see four different warbler species, but we only saw one of each bird:  Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Yellow-rumped, and Nashville.

Tomorrow we head into Michigan.  We are taking the long route to Montana where we will visit family before heading into Canada.

So what all did we see in our eight days of birding:

Bird Species Seen or Heard During the Biggest Week in Birding

  • Canada Goose
  • Mute Swan
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Wood Duck
  • Mallard
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • American Bittern
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Green Heron
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Bald Eagle
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Virginia Rail (heard)
  • Sora
  • Common Gallinule
  • American Coot
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • Killdeer
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Stilt Sandpiper
  • Dunlin
  • Least Sandpiper
  • American Woodcock (Life Bird)
  • Wilson’s Phalarope
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Caspian Tern
  • Common Tern
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Mourning Dove
  • Eastern Screech Owl
  • Eastern Whip-poor-will
  • Chimney Swift
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • Least Flycatcher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Philadelphia Vireo
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Blue Jay
  • Purple Martin
  • Tree Swallow
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Cliff Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • House Wren
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Veery
  • Swainson’s Thrush
  • Hermit’s Thrush
  • Wood Thrush (heard)
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • Brown Thrasher
  • European Starling
  • American Pipit
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Ovenbird
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Golden-winged Warbler (Life Bird)
  • Blue-winged Warbler
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler (Life Bird)
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Connecticut Warbler (Life Bird)
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • American Redstart
  • Cape May Warbler (Life Bird)
  • Northern Parula
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Bay-breasted Warbler
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Pine Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Canada Warbler
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Clay-colored Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • American Goldfinch
  • House Sparrow

In all 129 different species, of which 27 were warblers.  I had a good time and would definitely recommend The Biggest Week in American Birding to anyone – but please don’t bring your mega camera lens.  There are so many people on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh and as far as I am concerned this is a bird watching event, not a bird photographing event.  Be considerate of all those around you.  These big lens and your desire to “photograph” the bird really detracts from the experience of those around you, is at times not good for the bird, and you miss out on so much if you don’t stop, look, and listen.

In addition to checking out the birds, I was also checking out the personalized license plates and stickers.  The only one I missed (license plate wise) getting a photo of was TUVU – the abbreviation for Turkey Vulture.

Yes enjoy life – go birding

We couldn’t decide if this means “Love to Bird” or “Live to Bird”. Jack would say it doesn’t matter as both are appropriate for me. I agree.

I especially like this one – saw it on a car with Pennsylvania license plates.

Until then …