Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published July 12, 2013 ... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallows seldom sit still long enough to get a good photograph.

The Biggest Week in American Birding

Upland SandpiperWhile modestly proclaiming May 2nd through May 10th “The Biggest Week in American Birding,” the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, located on the south shore of Lake Erie in Ohio, humbly declares its Magee Marsh “the warbler capital of the world!” dev.biggestweekinamericanbirding.com/default.aspx

Located at the intersection of the western edge of the Atlantic migration flyway and the eastern edge of the Mississippi migration flyway (birding.about.com/od/birdingbasics/ss/North-America-Migration-Flyways.htm), and on the Lake Erie hurdle to the continued flight north for many species, Magee Marsh is indeed, ideally located to concentrate birds and birders in a Biggest Week joint venture. And, some 35 to 37 species of warblers can be seen in any May at Magee Marsh.

Spotted SandpiperCynics quickly point out that Magee Marsh features neither the Biggest Week, nor the Warbler Capital, as they argue both distinctions belong to Vera Cruz, Mexico, where in a given week in the fall millions of raptors and tens of millions of songbirds, from all four U S migratory flyways funnel together through a narrow passage on their way to wintering grounds in Central and South America. iap.audubon.org/veracruz-mexico. Thus, a birder can find more than 50 species of warblers from all parts of North America in the early morning, marvel at the spectacle of millions of raptors in the late morning as the thermals and winds support their southerly urge, and then spend the rest of the day viewing the hundreds of resident bird species, including 30 endemics, found nearby. www.hawkwatch.org/conservation-science/migration-research-sites/109-veracruz-river-of-raptors.

WhippoorwillOhioan hyperbole and Mexican cynicism aside, Magee Marsh is truly spectacular, and the warblers, seen at arm’s length at times, are amazing. stlucieaudubon.org/hartBeat/hb2012/hb120715Magee.html. But we have found that thelocation also features many other species that we don’t see too often in either Florida or Pennsylvania.

For example, the Upland Sandpiper (top, right) can be found in south Florida on migration in late July and August, but not in the winter when we are there, and they nest in small numbers in south central Pennsylvania, but are classified as “critically imperiled.” Yet, there they were, in a field just along the road near the entrance to Magee Marsh. We also saw breeding plumage Spotted Sandpipers (top, left) sporting their namesake spots instead of the drab winter American Pipitplumage that we see in Florida. In other nearby fields, well hidden and found only with diligent searching, were a surprising number of American Pipits (center, left) and Horned Larks (bottom, left). Both American Pipits and Horned Larks can be found inCentral and North Florida in the winter, but are regarded as rare or unusual at best, and I was not able to find any indication either has been found in St Lucie County.

Meanwhile, back in Magee Marsh where the crowds of birders and warblers were engaged in their ongoing jockeying for position: the birds in the trees and shrubs, and the birders on the boardwalk seeking an ever better view, we searched for species other than the warblers.

Horned LarkA Whippoorwill (center, right) presented a particular challenge by taking up a position on a branch well shielded by a large shrub, so that only by considerable jockeying of my own could I find a small hole through which to take the less than satisfactory photo presented here. And a Gray-cheeked Thrush (bottom, right),moved along a small water course, in a “now I’m in view, now I’m not” tantalizing tango, until finally posing ever so briefly for this shot. But the most surprising bird experience was the one Tree Swallow, Gray-Cheeked Thrushamong the hundreds (thousands?) present, that took up a guard position in the middle of a sand trail to the Lake Erie beach and refused to budge out of the way until a whole horde of birders descended upon him. Full frame photos at four feet are rare for any bird species, but for Tree Swallows, unheard of in my experience. Does he look angry?

Whether or not Magee Marsh offers the Biggest Week in American Birding, many Vera Cruz adherents were there partaking and it is plenty big enough to satisfy Jewel and me. We have already made our reservations for next year. (7/12/2013)

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