Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published July 15, 2012 ... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

Bay-breasted Warbler

This Bay-breasted Warbler is just one of the many species of birds, especially warblers, that stop to refuel at Magee Marsh on the south side of Lake Erie, Ohio, during their return north.

Magee Marsh, OHIO

Floridians instinctively know when the south-bound “Snowbird” migration is in full flower. For confirmation they need only record the license plates in their local mall or condo complex. Cars suddenly appear from such exotic places as Vermont, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and almost any state north of the Florida/Georgia border, (Florida’s equivalent of the Mason-Dixon Line).

Grey-cheeked ThrushSimilarly, at Magee Marsh, on the south shore of Lake Erie in Ohio, the northerly migration of real birds (as opposed to “Snowbirds”) can be documented by checking the hundreds of license plates in the parking lot.  A quick survey will disclose arrivals from Michigan to Massachusetts and from Maine to Manitoba, with even a few from (drumroll, please!) Florida. On the board-walk in the marsh one can hear a multitude of languages, including a fair amount of Pennsylvania Dutch spoken by the numerous local Amish and Mennonite families who bird together, and demonstrate outstanding birding skills and knowledge, exceeded only by the profusion of professional guides in attendance at posts along the boardwalk to help spot and sort out the different species. All are drawn to this spectacular birding location by the vast variety (over 300 species) of neo-tropic migrants that have reached this road block of a Great Lake in the path of their sex-driven hurry to reach their northern nesting grounds.

Trumpeter SwanThink about it – many of these birds have spent the winter luxuriating in Central and South America, and in their journey north, have already made the 18 to 24 hour non-stop flight across the Gulf of Mexico, only to arrive exhausted and energy depleted on the Gulf coast shores from Florida to Texas. They then slowly make their way north through the states, feeding and rebuilding their body reserves during the day while migrating at night, until they are confronted with Lake Erie, another huge body of water to cross. Déjà vu all over again! While they mill around in places like Magee Marsh, building their reserves for the flight and awaiting good migration conditions, we birders are treated to up-close and personal, spectacular views of a myriad of marvelous little beauties that are mostly hard to see at any other time of the year. (For an excellent FAQ on neo-tropic migrants crossing the Gulf of Mexico, see the reference to orioles at http://www.learner.org/jnorth/search/OrioleNotes3.html.)

The local Ohio area, led by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, which is located at the entrance to Magee Marsh, has capitalized on the phenomenon by creating what they pretentiously call “The Biggest Week in American Birding.” (See: http://www.biggestweekinamericanbirding.com/default.htm.) While the Space Coast in Florida, Cape May in New Jersey and any number of places in Texas, Arizona, and California might argue with Ohio’s “biggest week” claim, Magee Marsh is, indeed, pretty good.

Warblers are definitely the feature attraction, but uncommon, unusual and varied birds such as Trumpeter Swan (left), Swainson's Thrush (above right), Rusty Blackbird, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and Solitary Sandpiper can be found with little effort. Some of these birds pass through Florida and St Lucie County on their way north, but usually when they are in a hurry to keep moving. It may, or may not, be the “biggest week in birding,” but it sure makes a great place to check out the license plates to see where everyone has come from. We already know where the birds came from and where they are heading.

Incidentally, if you are interested in seeing all the warblers in one place, Gerry Dewaghe, a long-time friend of ours, has an excellent collection of photos he taken over the years. You can access it at http://www.pbase.com/gdewaghe/wa&page=all. (7/15/2012)

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

Lincoln Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Prothonotary Warbler

Pronthonotary Warbler

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow  Warbler

Yellow Warbler

(Click photos for larger versions)