Friday, May 21, 2010

2010-05-20 Magee Marsh

2010-05-19 and 20.  Ohio Trip

I think I finally finished my Ohio blog tonight (June 4, 2010)! Just for info, I dropped a "placeholder" on Blogspot on the 21st. That is why it shows this date.

(By the way, I think "blog" must mean "belated log". Right? Or maybe that is just how it works for me. I may stick out a placeholder dated somewhat around a trip, but it may take a week or more to get around to writing about it. For example, I really started to write this on May 27). I can just imagine what it takes to write a book instead of a "ramble"!

Note: the inderlined things usually are references to web sites for more info. Just roll your cursor over them and if you get the finger (smirk smirk) rather than the arrow, you can click on it and go elsewhere in cyberspace. Then, just use the back arrow at the upper left corner of your browser to return to my story.

Judy and I took a two day trip to northwestern Ohio on Wednesday and Thursday. We purposely avoided the weekends and the projected thousands of visitors for the Biggest Week in American Birding and watched the predicted weather reports to select good days. Yes, we are "fair weather birders". We may not have hit the best birding "migration fallout" the prior Friday, but it was a great trip! This was so much better than a two hour drive each way on the same day, and allowed visiting many more spots.

We spent the night at a reduced rate at a birder-friendly motel in Port Clinton. Our Guest Inn and Suites (419-734-7111) had a special rate for birders, and even would donate part of their proceeds to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO)! They have microwaves and fridges in the rooms, so we could take food for both days in our cooler and "recharge it" overnight. What a deal! There also is a Wendys immediately adjacent, and a grocery store two traffic lights east down the main street where you can grab supplies or beer if you forgot anything.

We stopped by Metzger Marsh on the way to Magee Marsh. On our two prior trips, we just drove past the signs to Metzger, Ottawa, etc., even while knowing they offered good things.
Mostly it is the drive out to Metzger that is interesting. We did not walk the wooded area at the end of the road that is supposed to be good at this time, but loved seeing the action in the wetlands enroute. My favorite bird was a Common Moorhen - a new one for us.

Common Moorhen

Then we dropped by the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR) to check it out. It is a beautiful modern facility and is situated on a huge expanse of wetlands. Anxious to get to Magee, we did not walk around then, but went back later in the day (that's what an overnight stay allows you to do!).

I'll start with species lists, and embellish as I go with more of  a "ramble".

Metzger Marsh, 19 May 2010 about noon
Refs: Metzger Marsh1, Metzger Marsh2

Great Egret
This was pretty cool! The egret was acting quite a bit like a tern! Hovering and looking. I expected a head-first dive at any moment! I'll drop more egret pics (and other Ohio trip birds) on my PBase site soon (maybe in a week?) . Ever see a hovering egret?

Ring-Billed Gulls

Great Egrets - many
Ring-Billed Gulls - lots
Eastern Kingbirds - 2
Red-Winged Blackbirds - abundant
Swallows (at least Barn, probably Tree as well)
Green Heron (flushed almost at our feet)
Pied-Billed Grebe - 2
Double-Crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron - a  few
Mourning Dove
Turkey Vulture
Common Moorhen !

Green Heron was flushed - fuzzy pic

Common Moorhen

Magee Marsh 19 May 2010, 1:30-4:15 pm
Reference: Friends of Magee Marsh
This was a great day for us! There were not many normal birding pests like mosquitoes or ticks, yet we learned one more critical thing about birding this time of year. Close your mouth! Yes, the normal awe-struck, warbler-necked, head-back, open-mouthed birding thing can be an inhalation and a choking hazard! The cottonwoods chose to present another spring time phenomenon: spring snow! Whew! Well, "Shut my mouth!".

Magee Marsh - spring snow in the parking lot!

Red-Winged Blackbirds - very abundant
Trumpeter Swan (how come Mute Swans are not all over here? Do they not like "wild things"?
Great Egrets (several)
Canada Geese - lots of little goosers - they seem to like walking on the roads (less predation?)
Ring-Billed Gulls - few
Tree Swallows
Wood Thrush
Swainson's Thrush (many!)
Eastern Kingbird
Robin - many
Baltimore Oriole - several
Grackles - many
Prothonorary Warblers (many - a few nest here)
Yellow Warblers - many
Magnolia Warblers - many
Blackburnian Warbler - 1
Grey Catbird - a few
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
House Wren - a couple
American Woodcock ! - 1
White-Throated Sparrow - 1
"Orange-shouldered Flying Dark Duck" - we saw this over a canal, but I was trying to stay on the road and all I really had was a brief impression
"Black-capped, Speckle-breasted Chickadee" - weird variation
Snapping Turtle crossing the road. I stopped and waited to be sure it made it!
Q: Why does a Snapping Turtle cross the road? A: Probably to eat little goosers crossing the road!

Trumpter Swan

Swainson's Thrush

Magnolia Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Cross-billed RC Kinglet

(so what's the story on this guy? I missed the Crossbill irruption last year, so this is my first example)

Speckle-breasted Chickadee

The American Woodcock (a lifer for us) was in the same place on both days. Fortunately, Bob, the unofficial "Mayor of the Boardwalk" as we had learned he was called on a previous visit, was watching it and shared its location both days. It was quite aways back in a mini-clearing around marker 6, but fortunately on both days there was sufficient sun to allow pics even at that distance. I found it interesting when reviewing my pics that it was hard to tell if I were looking at the back or front of its head. It seemed like it was always watching me! The big eyes and head markings created this strange illusion. I suspect that anything creeping up on the bird would have the same reaction! "I can't pounce now, it's looking at me!" Interesting!

American Woodcock

... and at the Magee Sportsmen's Center during lunch under a tree, we added:
  • Barn Swallows (they nest in the eaves)
  • Purple Martins (in birdie condos)
  • Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
  •  and another Yellow Warbler.
Judy shot nice pics of all of these.

We went back to ONWR after using the Magee facilities and having our nice picnic outside the Sportsmen's Center. We had heard that the "Entrance Pool" at the beginning of the road to the hiking trails often held good birds, but without getting out of the car did not see much. We parked and examined the "Show Pool" and saw little action. Then we walked out to the Observation Platform in quad 8B. Along the way, we saw several Yellow Warblers,  many Great Egrets, and a Great Blue Heron, and flushed a Black-crowned Night Heron, but not too many other species of note. Interestingly, quite often the Great Egrets were being hassled by Red-Winged Blackbirds. Maybe they were too close to the RWBB nests?

Black-crowned Night Heron flushed and flying

Then we went back to Metzger Marsh to see the "evening birds". We were very disappointed to discover that it was not very interesting at all. The good birds of the morning were not present in the marshes. I suspect this was because there was a local bass club tournament in progress. They had launched their small boats from a site on the marsh near the end of the drive, and a half-dozen boats were plying the marsh.

Yet another reason for us to visit the area again! As a bass fisherman, I had seen wonderful potential in all of the areas we visited in the morning! Maybe I had not quite reached the drooling stage, but damn, I wanted a rod in my hand! Maybe next year a non-resident fishing license is in the cards?

So ... we were now at Metzger Marsh. By this time we were quite burned out (it was quite warm) and looking forward to seeing our pics - geez, digital pics are so great! - and headed off to the motel.

Enroute to Port Clinton, I kept my eyes out for a special Marathon station (thank you list birders!!! - or was it the trip report from Macomb Audubon Society? Anyway, the fore-insight was great!). I managed to pass it, but found a place for turning around. Judy wondered about what I was doing, and when I pulled into the station with an attached restaurant she thought I was taking her out to dinner. She said, "I thought we had Wendys coupons", and was really wanting to get to the motel. The restaurant looked like a classic cafe and the bass fisherman in me wondered about the stories I might hear there - maybe another time! But the real suprise for Judy came when I pulled behind the station and parked in view of a big dumpster. After a moment she noticed there were weird birds sitting on the dumpster! Black-crowned Night Herons (BCNH)! We never had a chance to see any closely before. There were at least six on the rims of the dumpster. We shot lots of pics! In my excitement, I had again changed the darn knob on top of my camera, so my pics were over-exposed and lousy, but Judy got some decent pics.

BCNH Judy pics

The dumpster held the carcasses of the fish from the nearby cleaning station. I always knew gulls were opportunistic feeders of dead fish, but this was a great first for me! BCNH!!! Yes, I think it is predictable and consistent here! We went back the next morning enroute to Magee, and saw only one BCNH there. I suspect it is better in the evenings - "fresh fish"! And maybe the approaching night has something to do with it - after all, they are not called "day herons". (I gotta look this up sometime...). It is better if you are upwind - whew!. The dumpster scene recalls to mind the opening lines from Steinbeck's Cannery Row, especially the "stink" part, but the poetic part was apparent as well as odd noises. What a wonderful side trip. Judy will always remember this!!! (Again, thanks list birders!).

My BCHN pics the following morning.
Only one bird was present in the area, but he posed beautifully!

We repaired to the motel for recharging our camera batteries as well as our own.

The next day, we started with a breakfast at the Subway across the street from the motel. We still had half of our half-gallon of milk from the grocery and took that and Subway breakfast sandwiches to picnic tables overlooking the river. Yes, we again handed out "birders calling cards" from the Magee Marsh volunteers for our breakfast - it is good to give credit for birding economics to the area businesses! I think maybe we even got another discount because of this. We did not see many birds other than swallows and gulls, but heard an oriole singing across the river. It was a lovely relaxed start to a day. We watched as they tested the drawbridge on the main road into Port Clinton.
Port Clinton harbor - a nice place for breakfast

Then we headed back to Magee.
2010-05-20 Magee Marsh, 9:00 am - 12:30 pm
We did not add many different species today. The numbers were less, as well as the diversity. We again saw the Woodcock (!), and picked up:
  1. Wilson's Warbler
  2. Ovenbird
  3. and several American Redstarts.
We shot a great snake sunning itself on a tree, and I saved a baby turtle who was in the middle to the road at the parking lot. As I carried it to the woods by the boardwalk, one of the birders told me to be sure to wash my hands because turtles carry lots of Salmonella. Wipes!!! Just fine - I had saved another turtle's life! It looked like a little rock in the road to me, yet it was moving. Cute little thing! I thank Steve Pendleton from the Ohio birders list for the snake ID and Jim Fowler from the Michigan list for the turtle ID. The snake has a very limited distribution near the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio. The map turtle gets it's name from the fine yellow lines on the back of the shell that somewhat resemble the lines on a topographic map.

I shot a nice "chin-dot warbler", and suspect it is an American Redstart as well. Am I right?

"chin-dot warbler"

Then we were ready for lunch and headed to the Magee Sportsmen's Center. It was closed! There was a district-wide meeting that day. I did not understand then, but now I do. I really appreciate the responses to an e-mail I sent out to the Ohio birders list about this. Several birders in response to my e-mail also expressed disappointment - it is amazing how many people were impacted on just one day! I had apologetic replies from all of the local Ohio Division of Wildlife employees including the superintendent to whom they forwarded my message. It was a necessary one-shot event and everyone recognized they could have timed it better. Ohio regulations do not allow volunteers to staff a site without state employees present. No problem really, just confusing.

So we went off to ONWR. It was open. It turns out ONWR is a federal facility, rather than an Ohio state facility. It falls under different regulations relative to volunteer staffing.  Refreshed, we ate a nice picnic in the shelter out back. This is really a place that deserves much more exploration on our future visits! We did not bird the hikes or dikes this day. We were ready to head home.

We went back to Metzger Marsh enroute to home. Again we saw the Common Moorhen. It may be "common", but it's our poor-man's version of the Purple Gallinule recently reported on birding lists! Cool bird!

To summarize, this was a fantastic trip! The overnight stay really helps! Instead of getting there mid-day, we could arise at a decent time the following morning, share breakfast outdoors at the harbor, and still get to Magee Marsh before we normally would have arrived. It allowed a possibility of seeing evening birds (well, they were not quite as good as expected - wrong place, wrong time - we tried), but mostly it gave us the time to be more relaxed together outdoors rather than sitting on freeways. Highly recommended for a repeat! In my humble opinion, it sure beats the heck out of Point Pelee in Ontario where we visited last year. 1) No border hassles, and more importantly 2) much better photo ops - the birds are really cooperative! It also sounds like Pelee is getting overgrown by garlic mustard so the understory birds we found so compelling at Magee are unlikely to be abundant until they address the problem! (Message to Pelee: I think the Magee mustard pullers are about halfway done on a seven year project - and without herbicides. They are dedicated and are doing great! Start something soon, "Pelee please"!)

I really appreciate anyone reading my words to this point. Yes, I tend to "ramble". But "it is my story" and I get to do that. I personally like rambles. If you have a bird blog going, please let me know!
So here is what I think I just did.
  • I wrote about a wonderful trip Judy and I took to NW Ohio this May to see a special bird migration event. I hope I suggested that this is a wonderful place to visit - especially in the spring!
  • I documented our bird lists. Our lists are not very comprehensive. They are not great lists compared with experienced birders, but this is what we saw personally! We caught several new species for us. (Hey! If we can see and count new birds as inexperienced as we are, you can certainly get new birds there!)
  • I shared a few of our photos from our trip. Most of these are not fantastic shots compared with the ones I presume the pros shot with the optical goodies we saw on the boardwalk, but we shot them ourselves! It was great for us! Anyone with any type of camera (even cell phones!) can expect at least a few pics of good birds along the boardwalk at this time! Many birds really do "get up close and personal" in the spring - even on "off days" !
I hope I have made our trip interesting. I hope my words encourage you to take a trip to NW Ohio in spring next year. In my mind, if we can do it, YOU can!

Go bird! And, please tell me about it! I hope you enjoyed my "story"!

"Dr. Bob" (

Having "caught the fever", next year we will certainly return to NW Ohio. Maybe we can try to stay several days. I tried to embed reference URLs (the fickle finger pointer thing) as I went, but here are a couple main references that include significant sites with maps for pre-planning:

To get energized and to help set our expectations next year, I will check out the blog by Kenn and Kim Kaufman, and if they are doing the Biggest Week in American Birding again, I will watch that site faithfully. Through the Kaufman, the Biggest Week and other sites referenced previously, you can get about all the maps and info you need to make this a truly fantastic event! I sincerely thank Kenn and Kim Kaufman and all of the wonderful Ohio birders and agencies for putting it all out there for us! Wow! This was truly a fantastic experience!

Oh, heck, even as much as we dislike crowds, we will probably go back next year at the height of the frenzy! There is such an advantage - especially for newbies like us - to having helpful birders and experienced photographers willing to share their information. No wonder people come from all over the USA and the world to be there!

Your comments are welcome. Maybe I mis-identified some birds; please correct me. Maybe you have something to add about behaviors on which I only speculate. Maybe you have something nice to say. I do like encouragement! If you have something yukky to say, please pass. I happen to think this is one of my better "rambles"!


Jerry said...

Congratulations, Bob! Great post!


"Dr. Bob" said...

I am truly honored! Thanks Jerry!!!

Darrin O'Brien said...

Your chin-dot warbler is an American Redstart, just as you suspected.