Superlatives Galore! (And no shortage of exclamation marks either!)

Black-throated Green Warbler, one of my favorites

Well, I’ve been home for three days now and am still trying to figure out how to write something that will convey the amazing experience of our second Biggest Week in American Birding. We spent four days on the south shore of Lake Erie watching colorful warblers and other migrating birds as they fed in the trees at Magee Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. We took classes. We birded with friends (Hi, Dr. Bob and Judy!). I took photos. We went to sleep each night exhausted…and dreamed of birds. I’ve had a couple more bird dreams since we got home. And even before I’ve written about this trip, we’ve just planned another one for next week: We’re following the birds who’ve passed through Ohio, and will try to see them again at Tawas Point State Park a few hours north of us here in Michigan. Obsession? Maybe. Passion? Definitely! Besides, most of these migrating birds aren’t around for long, so we have to see them before they’re gone.

See how heavy that camera looks?

Having a 400mm lens for my camera this year really made a difference in the shots I was able to get — much closer than the 250mm lens I used last year. But it’s a big and heavy piece of gear, so I couldn’t hold it up high for long periods of time. Most of the warblers tend to feed high up in the trees (they eat insects off the leaves), so it’s a challenge for the neck and shoulder areas. I’ll bet you didn’t know birding was so physically demanding, did you? This year I got a binocular shoulder harness that removed the binocular weight from around my neck, and that was really helpful too. If nothing else, walking around with that thing strapped on makes you look like a real birder!

Even though I noted about 50 species altogether, I only added 5 totally new warblers to my life list. I’m wondering if I missed some when I went through my hastily-scribbled notes; sometimes it seemed as if I could barely get one written in my notebook when someone called out, “Hey, here’s a Blackburnian!”, and I had to hustle to see that one. Someone else would say, “I’m looking at a Palm and a Black & White in this tree over here…” Yep, it’s that crazy, especially on the Magee Marsh boardwalk, one of the most popular places in the area to see the warblers. (If you want to get a sense of what’s happening down there right now, go to Twitter and search #BiggestWeek.)

Barn Swallow

Speaking of crazed mobs of birders…..

I was, however, very disappointed that the single Kirtland’s Warbler waited until two hours after we got home to make his appearance down there. Unbelievable. I’ve had to satisfy myself with reading Tweets and Facebook posts by people who were lucky enough to be in the enthusiastic mobs watching the bird. If you don’t know about the Kirtland’s Warbler, it’s an endangered bird that only nests in the jack pine habitat found in northern Michigan. It winters in the Bahamas and then migrates back up through the US to its nesting grounds. It’s very closely monitored, and is possibly going to be removed from the endangered list soon, but it’s still very hard to find during migration. A new book was published this spring that tells the fascinating story of the efforts to save the Kirtland’s Warbler from extinction. It’s called, not surprisingly, The Kirtland’s Warbler: The Story of a Bird’s Fight from Extinction and the People Who Saved It, by Bill Rapai. I was lucky enough to hear Bill speak about his book at our local Audubon meeting in April. Of course I got him to sign it for me too! (We hope to get a second chance to see the Kirtland’s when we go up north and take the tour in Grayling this month…fingers crossed!)

To Kim, stay away from me you, crazy woman! (Not really, he’s very gracious)

Speaking of author autographs, I also got Kenn Kaufman to sign his newest book this weekend. I bought the book (Field Guide to Advanced Birding) at last year’s Biggest Week, but wasn’t able to get him to sign it then — I planned to ask him, but I got a migraine during his presentation and had to hustle out to be sick…what a bummer that was. That could be partly why I was so excited to be signed up for two of his workshops this year. Or maybe I’m just a Kenn Kaufman groupie, I dunno. When I had my 30 seconds with him this year I thanked him for his encouragement of newbie birders and told him what a pleasure it is to see someone as experienced as him just light up when he talks about birds. And I got a teenager-type thrill when he actually remembered me from an interaction we had on Facebook a couple weeks earlier –Eric made fun of me for being so excited, but I don’t care. At my age I’ve got to get my thrills any way I can! (Eric asked, “What are you, 10 years old?” I said, “Yes, and it’s fun! Won’t you join me?”) 

Ok, that’s long enough for the first installment. More pics below, and don’t forget that you can click to enlarge the pictures. I wish I could let you hear their beautiful songs too…

Common Yellowthroat

Great Horned Owl nestling, taken from about 75 yards away

Bay-breasted Warbler

Preliminary list of species I saw at the Biggest Week: Blue-headed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Veery, Gray Catbird, Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Lincoln Sparrow, first-of-year Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole (lots of them), Great Horned Owl nestling, Eastern Screech Owl, Nashville Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Bald Eagles!, Barn Swallow, Purple Martin, Common Yellowthroat, Indigo Bunting, Blue-winged Teal, American Woodcock, Northern Parula, American Coot, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black and White Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Hermit Thrush, Trumpeter Swan

 And the more usual suspects that we often see here at home: Red-winged blackbird, Northern Cardinal, Great Egret with one Snowy Egret in the mix, Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, Grackle, Mourning Dove, Turkey Vulture, House Finch, Tree Swallow, Robin, Blue Jay, Killdeer…

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6 Responses to Superlatives Galore! (And no shortage of exclamation marks either!)

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  4. It sounds like you had an awesome time! Great pictures – I especially love the one of the owl nesting in the old tree.

  5. RJ says:

    Amazing pictures and one impressive lens! Can only image what your back and neck must feel like at the end of the day. Glad you’re having so much fun with the birding =)

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