Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Biggest Week: It's Not Just About the Birds

***I am reposting this from my recent post on I feel that this is a very important message and want to share it with as many people as possible!***

We all know that birders travel to northwest Ohio to attend the Biggest Week in American Birding (BWIAB) for the amazing views of warblers and other birds that are possible in that area of the country. What few people think about is the human aspect of this event. In my opinion, this is where the real story lies. Whether it be the connections that can be made with birders from around the country and even the world or the economic effects on the local communities, this event is definitely something special.

One of the first things people notice when they arrive at Magee Marsh, other than the awesome birds of course, is the sheer volume of people present at the event. Unless you arrive really early in the morning, which I highly recommend, you will find the parking lot quite full. You will see license plates from all over the country, giving you a feel for how far people are willing to travel to be a part of spring migration at Magee. As you enter the boardwalk, there is usually a pretty good traffic jam at the start because there are always awesome birds to see right from the get go. Many birders that haven't been to Magee before view this as a problem, but I believe it adds to the excitement of the day. Tons of birders ready for a day of birding during the peak of migration is never a bad thing in my opinion. If the birds cooperate, you'll run into many traffic jams along the way and see loads of amazing species.

A large group of birders trying to find a Kirtland's Warbler that had been sighted on the boardwalk. 
The level of experience of birders at Magee is as varied as the states they have traveled from. You are sure to find quite a few people out birding for the first time standing right next to Kenn and Kim Kaufman, Greg Miller, and other birding legends. This to me is another truly fascinating aspect of this event. It really doesn't matter who you are, how good of a birder you are, or where you come from - as long as you enjoy birds, you are welcomed with open arms by everyone. Are you new to birding and just really want to see a Northern Cardinal? Let someone know and they'll point one out for you. Are you a very experienced birder that has a few select target species on your trip? Again, let one of the volunteers or guides know, and they will be sure to advise you of any reports of those birds you're searching for.

The theme of birders everywhere continues on into the local restaurants at lunch and dinner. Blackberry Corners is a locally owned restaurant that was one of the first businesses that signed on to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory's Birds & Business Alliance. The decision to support birding and conservation in the region has paid off in a huge way. During the BWIAB, you will find the restaurant packed with birders for both lunch, dinner, and sometimes an afternoon slice of pie! This is true for many restaurants all over northwest Ottawa and Lucas Counties. Check out the list of all the companies that have chosen to support BSBO and conservation here.

Look for this sticker at local businesses to see who is supporting birding and conservation in northwest Ohio.
Of all the great things about the BWIAB, I believe the greatest is the effect the festival (and all birding in the region for that matter) has on the local economy. It cannot be stressed enough that northwest Ohio feels the impact of all birders that travel to the area. In a study that was recently conducted by Bowling Green State University, it was found that birding contributes as much as $26 million and 283 jobs to Ohio's Lake Erie coast. This is a significant impact on the local economy, especially when you consider that much of this money is spent during spring migration, a time when the duck hunters have left the region and the peak of the fishing and beach season has not yet arrived. We are filling a critical gap in tourism that would otherwise threaten to make the local businesses shut down during the downtime.

For all of us that live out of state and have been traveling to northwest Ohio for years, it seems relatively obvious that we are spending a lot of money on our travels. But now we actually have the numbers to back it up. One of my favorite moments of my time at the festival this year occurred at the gas station while I was filling up my car. A local man struck up a conversation and asked what I was doing in Ohio when he noticed my Indiana license plate. I explained that I was there to lead trips for the BWIAB. Much to my surprise, he thanked me for being there to help support the effort to bring more people to northwest Ohio. He personally wasn't interested in going out and looking for birds but was supportive of all of us who were and understood the impact that we are making. I was absolutely blown away by this conversation. The residents of northwest Ohio are recognizing what we are doing. This makes them more likely to support the conservation initiatives that are critical to keeping the birds flowing through the region.

I am already looking forward to being back in northwest Ohio next year for the BWIAB and hope to see many old friends and new birders alike.

I will leave you with one of the most photogenic birds on the boardwalk, Prothonotary Warbler. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Biggest Week in American Birding: Part 3

Over the next four days, I led four local hotspot trips for the festival. These trips were designed to showcase the wonderful birding locations all over the region and to take a little bit of the focus off of the Magee Marsh boardwalk. One location that I took three out of my four trips to was Pearson Metropark in Toledo. I have been visiting this park for quite a few years and was very excited to introduce participants to this wonderful location. Overall the woods were pretty quiet, other than the one morning that we had, Veery, Hermit, Swainson's, and Wood Thrush, but the new marsh and grassland were pretty fantastic. Each trip was greeted by singing Marsh Wrens immediately after getting off the bus and our hikes around the marsh were very productive producing species such as Sora, Least Sandpiper, and Savannah Sparrow among many others.

Veery, one of the thrushes that was present at Pearson Metropark
One of our other regular stops was at Metzger Marsh. While the wood lot was not very productive, the marsh was fantastic! Many of our participants enjoyed extended scope views of a Virginia Rail sitting in the open preening. We found several shorebirds including, many Dunlin and a Short-billed Dowitcher. One of my groups was even lucky enough to have two Black Tern flying over the marsh. Unfortunately a reported Black Rail was never refound.

Common Gallinule - One of the species that was seen on all of my trips to Metzger Marsh
Even with all of the great birds, my favorite part of all the trips was talking with the participants about the wonderful things happening in northwest Ohio. On the drive back to Maumee Bay, I would always talk about the economic impact of the festvial and what that means for businesses in the area. Blackberry Corners always made a great example of how supporting the festival and Black Swamp Bird Observatory can have a positive impact on your business and I always suggested stopping in for a slice of pie. I hope that I was able to leave the participants on my trip excited not only about the bird but also the impact they are making on the businesses and conservation initiatives in the area.

The festival was one of my absolute favorite birding experiences that I have ever had. It is very inspiring to see what the dedication of a few individuals can result in. This festival would not be possible and would not even exist if it were not for Kenn and Kim Kaufman. There are a lot of people that help make this all run smoothly but without their vision, none of this would be possible.

Look for one more post from me about my experience during the festival that are not bird related but rather people related.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Biggest Week in American Birding: Part 2

Drew, Doug, and I continued our birding adventures bright and early on Monday morning. Immediately after walking out the front door of our house, it was obvious that we should have paid a little more attention to the weather forecast. There was lightning in the distance and it didn't take long for the rain to catch up with us. We attempted to bird on the boardwalk at Magee, but the rain come down too hard and the lightning was too close. Since Drew and Doug had not spent much time in the area and birding was clearly not going to be possible for a few hours, I took them on a tour of all of the visitor centers in the area. We started with a stop at the Sportsman's Migratory Bird Center to dry out and check out their displays. When there was a break in the rain, we moved on to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory gift shop to do a little shopping. Our final stop was at the Ottawa NWR Visitor Center to explore their exhibits.

We decided that an early lunch was in order so we headed for Blackberry Corners. This restaurant was one of the first businesses to sign up for the Birds and Business Alliance that I wrote about in my last post. They are also one of the businesses that has seen the greatest impact from birders. It is impossible to come here for lunch or dinner during the BWIAB and not find it loaded with birders! We were there a little early for a large lunch crowd but there was already one table of birders seated and they asked us if we would like to join them. We had a fascinating conversation about all things birding and learned that one of the gentleman that we were sitting with was a World War II bomber pilot.

When we were finished with lunch, the rain had finally stopped so we hurried back to Magee to see if there were any warbler around. Over the next several hours, we found 22 species of warblers including Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue, and some incredibly photogenic Prothonotary Warblers.

Palm Warbler - One of the most common warblers during my trip

Prothonotary Warbler - One of the most photogenic of all the warblers at Magee
After the day of birding, it was a very nice to head back to Maumee Bay to hear Drew give his presentation about making birding more diverse. Drew started out by showing what the current demographic profile in the United States and then showing the predictions on how it will change in the years to come. By looking at these numbers, it is very evident that we must work to increase the diversity of birders, and Drew is actively involved in making sure that happens. If you would like to learn more about improving diversity in birding, be sure to follow Drew's blog and consider attending the A Focus on Diversity Conference in October in Minneapolis. The crowd was very receptive to his message, and I think everyone can agree that the more diverse faces we see out birding, the better! After the presentation, a group of us headed out for dinner which resulted in Drew, Doug, and I's second trip to Blackberry Corners in less than 12 hours.

Be sure to check back later this week to read all about the local hotspot trips that I led as well as my other birding adventures during the last half of my trip to northwest Ohio.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Biggest Week in American Birding: Part 1

It has taken me awhile to start writing some blog posts about my experiences at the Biggest Week in American Birding (BWIAB) in northwest Ohio due to work and being under the weather, but I am finally going to post a short series about my experiences during my time there from May 5-11.

After spending the morning of May 5th with some young birders at the Indiana Audubon Society's Spring Festival, I headed up to Maumee Bay State Park where most of the BWIAB festivities were being held. I arrived around 5pm and had just enough time to check in, drop my things at the house I was staying at, and do a little birding before heading to Kenn Kaufman's evening keynote speech. Kenn gave a fascinating talk about the patterns of bird migration in North America. Afterwards, I was lucky enough to join Kenn, his wife Kim, and two new friends, Tiffany and Katie, for dinner at the Oregon Inn. I had never been here before, but the food was wonderful and the owner was very interested in being involved with the BWIAB next year!

The next morning I was up and out very early because I was leading a field trip to the Catawba/Marblehead area that left Maumee Bay at 6am. The field trips for the BWIAB are designed to show people the hidden treasures that surround the world famous Magee Marsh, and this trip definitely delivered. We visited three sites that are about 30 minutes east of Magee. Our first stop was at Cedar Meadow Preserve. We had many participants from the west coast on this trip, and they were very excited by some of the birds that us easterners get to enjoy on a regular basis. We enjoyed great views of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, and an Eastern Kingbird. My highlight at this stop was my only Blue-winged Warbler of the week!

Our next and most productive stop was at East Harbor State Park. This park is usually ignored by birders but really has great potential for awesome birds. The first thing that was obvious when we started hiking around this park was the huge number of Baltimore Orioles present. I estimated that we had around 25, but that was likely an underestimate. Some of the other highlights at this location were Wilson's Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Lesser Scaup, Broad-winged Hawk, Philadelphia Vireo, and Lincoln's Sparrow.

Philadelphia Vireo
We made one final stop at Meadowbrook Marsh, but the bird activity was a little slow here in mid-afternoon. Our highlights were Bald Eagle, Veery, and Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, Cape May, and Chestnut-sided Warblers. We had a wonderful day in the field and were able to expose participants to these wonderful birding locations away from the boardwalk at Magee.

Blackburnian Warbler
As we pulled back into Maumee Bay, I recognized one of the presenters that happened to be staying in the same house as me. I introduced myself to Drew Lanham, and we headed for the house. (I'll address Drew's awesome "Diversity in Birding" presentation in another post.) After a quick stop at Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) and a very little bit of birding, we met up with another trip leader who was also staying with us at the house, Doug Gray and his wife LeShon. We went over to Port Clinton for dinner at McCarthy's Irish Pub. The pub is a member of BSBO's Birds and Business Alliance. This is a group of businesses in northwest Ohio that are all in support of BSBO and all of the conservation initiatives in the region. These businesses recognize birders' economic impact and want to be sure that they support the organization that helps bring all of us to the area.

I'm excited to share more of my BWIAB experiences with you - additional posts will come later this week!

- Rob

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Black-throated Sparrow

Greetings from Flagstaff, AZ Over the past couple of nights I have had many Common Poorwills and a couple Lesser Nighthawks. But my surveys have been pretty slow bird-wise. Luckily the ever present Black-throated Sparrows have not disappointed, and one was friendly enough to have his picture taken.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

RMBO in Arizona

Greetings from the Camp Verde McDonald's

I've started doing bird surveys in Arizona over the past week.  I've had some surveys in some pretty rough terrain so far but the birds have been pretty good.  All my work so far has been in low elevation so I haven't seen many of the high elevation species but I made it up to some high elevation once so far.  Anyway, here are some pics from my surveys thus far.

A great sign to let me know where I need to go . . .

Great views, but a killer hike

Hiking in this terrain is quite time consuming.

The drive in, also the spot where I got a Crissal Thrasher.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Swainson's Warbler and More

Greetings from Camp Verde, AZ I started driving out to Arizona a few days ago to start surveying for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. Along the way I stopped at a couple of places to look for a few species. My first stop was the Ouachita National Forest to look for Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman's Sparrow. Once I arrived at the woodpecker spot a little later than I had intended I wasn't sure if they would still be hanging around. Luckily after hiking around for a little while I was able to locate one calling bird and get some nice looks. Bachman's Sparrows also occur in this area but I didn't have much time to look and ended up not finding one. The next spot was Oklahoma's largest breeding colony of Swainson's Warblers. After arriving at the correct unit (I went to the wrong one first) I quickly heard a singing Swainson's and after a minute was able to locate the bird. It was quite cooperative and I was able to get some decent photos.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Swainson's Warbler

Swainson's Warbler

I made one more quick stop in Oklahoma at the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. As soon as I arrived at the right spot I heard the target species, Black-capped Vireo. After a little searching one individual was cooperative for some great looks. I was also able to locate a number of singing Painted Buntings which I had never been able to hear before as I had only seen them in the winter. -Eric

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

An April Big Day in Indiana: The Conclusion

I left off on my last post with us leaving Bloomington and heading for Goose Pond. Along the way, we spotted a Sharp-shinned Hawk flying over the road and found our first Rock Pigeon of the day in Bloomfield. After getting Horned Lark to tie last year's total at 119, we got a Blue Grosbeak to go ahead and we still weren't even on the property yet. While driving along the country roads we added a calling Bobwhite and found one of the birds that we were shocked to have missed to this point, House Wren.

House Wren
We easily found some of the common species that we were expecting at Goose Pond and our next big surprise was bird number 130. I noticed a group of three birds quite high overhead. At first I thought they might be cranes while some of the others on the team thought they might just be cormorants. Luckily, we were able to get a scope on them and Eric identified them as an ibis species. We were never able to see them well enough to  get a solid identification so they are on our list as a Plegadis Ibis species.

We continued on to take a look at Main Pool and were hoping that the ibis might be found there but we had no luck on that front. As a consolation we had our only hummingbird of the day fly over the road, heard a Grasshopper Sparrow and Virginia Rail,  saw a Wilson's Snipe.

Over at the Double Ditches parking area, we  saw a few Bank Swallows and heard a Marsh Wren for our 140th species. We spent the next couple of hours running all over the property trying to add a few more species. Our final bird of the day was an American Woodcock from the DNR barn at sunset. This brought our total to 143. We had several birds that we missed that we really expected to get but sometimes, that is just how big days go. We are really hoping that we set the bar high enough that none of the other teams will be able to surpass it even though they have the advantage of more migrants.

We are still accepting donations so if you would like to donate to our team please click here!


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An April Big Day in Indiana

Last Thursday, the Wild Birds Unlimited Team conducted our big day for the Amos Butler Audubon Society's annual Birdathon. Our team consisted of Jim Carpenter (founder of WBU), John Schaust and Brian Cunningham (WBU Corporate Office), my brother Eric, and I. Due to the early date, we decided that doing our big day in southern Indiana would give us the best chance for high species total. We all arrived in Bloomington around 6:30, checked into our hotel, had pizza and a couple of beers, and then tried to catch a few hours of sleep.

We all woke up at 2:30 and were out in the field by 3am. At our first stop, we quickly head Whip-poor-will and Chuck-will's-widow. We added a bonus Common Nighthawk and heard our first Barred Owl of the day. After adding a few common species to the list, we moved on to our next stop to try for Screech-Owl. Although we did not find one, we did hear a Yellow-breasted Chat and our first Great Horned Owl. After a quick stop to try for Woodcock, which we did not get, we headed to our place with the best chance for a Screech-Owl. It didn't take long before one flew only about 3 feet over our heads and started calling only a few yards off the road!

Barred Owl  - One of our first birds of the day
We had found all the night birds that we were hoping for so we decided to give the Woodcocks another try. Unfortunately, right when we got out of the van, Jim realized that his phone had fallen off his belt. We tried calling it to see if it was in the car but it was not. I was dreading a long search for the phone but luckily his iPhone has an app called Find My iPhone which located the phone and gave us a point on a map to begin our search. In all I think it took us under five minutes to find the phone!

After a quick trip into town to get some coffee and breakfast at McDonald's, we got in position at Paynetown SRA on Lake Monroe for sunrise. Here the birds started to come at a fast and furious pace. By 9am, we were up to 90 species and feeling pretty good about how the day was going. Our biggest surprise of the morning was a Merlin that passed very quickly overhead. It was also nice to find both Lesser Scaup and Red-breasted Mergansers on the lake.

American Redstart - One of the 22 species of warblers found on our big day

We birded our way through Yellowwood State Forest on our way to Lake Lemon. Little Africa provided us with a few new species but the highlight of our time at Lake Lemon were the two Pacific Loons that brought our total to 116. We had exhausted all of our possibilities around the Bloomington area so we headed on to Goose Pond.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story later this week!