Thursday, May 17, 2012

2012 Biggest Week In America Birding

Oh, how I really envy the bloggers who DO it, SEE, it and POST it! And most of them have great pics as well!

Judy and I came home from the Biggest Week in America Birding with SO many wonderful stories to tell. To date, they only live in our memory banks, and indeed (!), I think many are already fading - there were SO many! So I gotta get something down on "paper" (i.e., e-paper) before our entire experience becomes the stuff of dreams that only WE could imagine and re-experience.

Last year we decided to go to nw Ohio during the Biggest Week. We hate crowds, and the year before last we made sure to go fore and aft - but not during. Yes, there were lots of birders anyway, but not the big rush. Last year, we went to see what a difference "THE week" made. Yes, tons of birders and crowds - but also amazing guides on the boardwalk!  "See the whatsa-ma-jiggle"? "No". "Well follow my laser pointer up the tree - now go to the branch on the right". "OK, I got it! Another lifer!"

So this year we scheduled three nights (4 days) during the Biggest Week. I probably would have come home after two nights, but really wanted a chance to possibly meet some birding Facebook friends out birding after a "meet and greet" over pizza rather than just drive home after meeting them. YES! Great decision!

We met so many "lifer birders" and as well saw a few more lifer birds! What a great trip!!!

This blog will probably be written in "chunks" - and illustrated in chunks - as I process the multigigs of pics we took, but I know I need to start! (The hardest part is just starting ... as my wife Judy always tells me ...).

I think, maybe I can do it if I organized it day by day. Let's see.

(Well, where the heck are my notes recorded on 3x5 cards? All I find are all the recent spring records I need to add to eBird ... and the card from the last day of our trip).  See - I knew I needed to get with it! I can't even  find my notes...! Where ARE they?

Found my notes ... the first days were wrapped in the receipt from the motel and still in my backpack,. Whew!

Day one (Sunday, May 6):

Fortunately learning of a total closure of the main route for many miles of  I-75 downriver from Detroit and reading the MDOT road closure site, I chose an alternate route. It worked very well!

The first thing we did on arrival was hit the Ottawa NWR for a pit stop and to check if the extended route we took last year was open. It was not.

We drove the Ottawa NWR Auto Tour (special weekends only!) with high expectations! Boring!!! Last year was fantastic, but this year, the best we could get excited about was the nice view of many Great Egrets on the pond on the last leg of the tour (pond by fancy duck blind) where we met another birder who was similarly disappointed. Boring! The ponds were too full of water for wading birds. I do remember last year they had not only pumped out ponds in the extended loop, but had also mowed and reinforced the loop and that it was a really memorable time with not only Snowy Egrets, but also an abundance of shorebirds in the extended loop. We had pulled off  and enjoyed the ambiance for a very long time. I am not sure, but suspect the recent heavy rains made this impossible. We did see two Bald Eagles - always love them, but otherwise Boring!!

Magee Marsh (3:30-6:30 pm) - was much better!

We picked up many birds, including lifer Northern Waterthrush and a neck-breaking look and butt & fluff photos of Eastern Screech Owl (lifer). A birder (I think a relatively new birder) on the boardwalk (he had no idea what might happen)  played the Screech Owl sound on his electronic device for his girl friend, and the mostly-hidden owl repeated it over and over again. I think the owl was sleeping, but thought he heard a friend and wanted to make contact... (I doubt this was the best thing for the owl - probably not - like,  if I were taking a nap and heard a familiar voice, I would certainly wake up and jump at the opportunity. Yet, I admit hearing the owl doing the response was quite memorable. Geez, the owl sounded just like the recording!  Yes, I said it tongue-in-cheek  (whatever that symbol looks like in e-world).  But, yes, whatever recording he played was precisely what I heard in response - over and over again ). It was quite fascinating for me, but poor birdie - where is my friend -  as I said, unintentional, but we have to think about our impacts in the new e-world!!!

The best thing about the day was meeting up with Kim and Eric Smith (local Rochester Hills birders) on the boardwalk (we knew they were in the area and had discussed meeting up - cell phones are so cool!) - we had never met Eric before. We walked them to the boardwalk spot where you could stand on a bench and see the Great Horned Owl babies in a stump and Kim got some great shots! Yes, indeed, this spot got me my best ever GHOW baby shots! Kim and Eric are such enthusiastic birders it made our day!!! Hey, Eric! Kim is your birders "face to the world" now that she is on the birders list, and it is was SO nice to see YOUR support and enthusiasm! You are another "unsung hero" for Michigan birders (as SO many of us who have have great spouses behind us...)! Judy and I indeed want to bird with both of y'all again!! What fun!!!

Kim Smith and lovely wife Judy on Magee boardwalk

After Magee, we headed off to Our Guest Inn and Suites in Port Clinton. We started staying there 3 years ago because they are BSBO supporters and contribute to BSBO and we selected the original lodging from BSBO supporters.. We always have stayed in the "back" building and have been quite satisfied except last year when the fridge did not work. It is not the fanciest accommodations (no elevator to second floor), but it is normal for us. We really like the fact they have a small fridge and a microwave in all the rooms now - albeit to make the microwave work this year, I had to transport it to an available plug. No problem. We also know where to shop for groceries in Port Clinton, so we were set for the duration.

Day Two (Monday, May 7):

In the morning, it was raining continually. Having seen the radar maps at the motel, I suspected and hoped it would quit soon, so we stopped at Wild Wings for breakfast. I call this place the Marathon station on Rte 2 between BSBO and Port Clinton because we always stop there to see if the BCNH are "out and about".   Typical of fishing haunts, they give a large breakfast, including grilled sausages with eggs (first time with grilled ones - quite good). We saw a couple of parties of mostly older camo-covered folks there - maybe duck hunters (is it the season or do they just wear this stuff?) or fishermen (who needs camo on big water?) waiting out the rain as we were. I do not seem to remember Wild Wings being a BSBO supporter. With a name like that, they sure NEED TO BE  - especially during the Biggest Week (check it out Kim Kaufman)! Tell them "Dr. Bob" said so - I dropped a BSBO card!

After breakfast, Metzger had several shorebirds, but we did not scope them (or really even see them!).It was really hard to see anything thru the wipers and rain - even with binocs!

Finally the rain quit. We went to Magee Marsh and birded 11:30 am to 4:00 pm. The boardwalk was slicker than ice! After a few slid mis-steps, we went to an ice walking step - quite tiring. Lotsa birds!! Lotsa warblers! SO different than the day before! I guess the birder thing about "raining warblers" means so much more when rain stops their migration!!!! Yes, indeed (!), "raining warblers" and other good birds!!! Besides the lifer Hooded Warbler and an Ovenbird, indeed the most spectacular memorable event was having a Woodcock fly about two feet higher right over the heads of everyone on the boardwalk!!!  We had come upon a group of birders and were hearing "it is right there at the edge of the wet spot" and could not see anything from our position, then Boom! Wow! Ooooh! I never knew a Woodcock had such a brilliantly orangish butt in sunlight!!! It is one of the birds most birders only record on their life lists by its distinctive sound. Boom! Wow! Saw it!!! And from the assembled masses: "Ooooh!"! What an experience!!!

Metzger was much better (11:30 am-4:00 pm) now without rain! Two Semi-palmated Plovers (do I say "pluver" - like lover - or "plow-ver" like farming? I never know ...). I tend to think it was not a lifer (gotta check my eBird... I think I saw them at Pte. Mouillee), but it was certainly my best viewing of one!!! And, for sure my best pics!!! And I got much better shots of the Blue-winged Teals than the week before/ (Yes, I know it's not a big teal deal, but it is for me! When do they ever come close enough? These were "right there"!)

Heading back to  Port Clinton, we checked out the Marathon station on Rte 2.  YES! Someone was cleaning fish! The tarp was off and the birds were interested! We shot 8 BCNH (Black-crowned Night Herons). I originally thought five males and three females, but in looking at my field guides, I learned that the strongly-obviously-different birds were immatures! (So how does a BCNH decide to mate with whom???!). Fascinating! Great pics!!!

Day Three (Tuesday, May 8):

Definitely a most memorable day! Mostly for birders rather than birds! Yes good records from Magee - both morning and afternoon! But our most memorable experience of the day was the Ohio Birds Facebook "Meet and Greet" at Porky's Pizza where we met many birding friends known only from FB contacts! I chose to work on photos of birders before my bird pics so I have something photographic to post here now. I already put some these up (and more) for my friends on FB. Geez! At least birders do not hide in the leaves!

Day Four (Wednesday, May 7):

Heading home, first Judy and I had our "traditional Ohio Breakfast" at a picnic table on the Port Clinton waterfront. We split a foot-long Subway sandwich and with refrigerated milk from the motel, enjoyed watching swallows, gulls,  and just generally enjoyed the ambiance of the harbor! It reminded me so much of harbor views I had on my Pacific coastal waters. Oh, the addition of deep-fried pork rinds (found and impulsively previously bought at the grocery) - added quite a bit to the Subway concept! Yum!