After missing Spring migration in 2020 due to the pandemic, we vowed to do everything we can to not let that happen again. Enter a travel trailer. We are now traveling in our own little bubble following the birds. This has proven great as we’ve experienced raptor migration at the Whitefish Pt. Bird Observatory as well as passerine migration East of Toledo. We’re comfortable, socially distanced and experiencing quality time in nature.
If you have never experienced the birding mecca east of Toledo, you should add it to your list. It’s grown exponentially in popularity since we started going almost 15 years ago but there are ways of avoiding the crowds without sacrificing warbler birding at its finest. Magee Marsh and the famed boardwalk is at the core of this migration area. This Spring was different in that they invoked a timed permit reservation system to keep the numbers manageable for everyone’s’ safety. As is the same in most birding situations, some days and times are better than others. One of our walks felt quite slow for birds but another yielded great numbers and views of Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Yellow and Palm Warblers.
In addition to the popular boardwalk at Magee is the beach, the tree-lines along the many parking lots, as well as the estuary trail which this year also yielded great mammals and reptiles as well. All of these areas are typically filled with birds and walking slowly with a tuned ear can pull out great diversity and great opportunities for viewing the many birds feeding on the southern shore of Lake Erie.
We have a handful of other favorite spots in the area. The Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is closest to Magee Marsh and includes a great marsh and wetland auto tour as well as a Purple Martin colony that is prime for flight photography in evening light when the sun is in view.
West of Ottawa is Metzger Marsh which is quite small but can host great numbers of migrants within a very small footprint. Metzger is also not as popular so can be a welcome area away from crowds late morning and early afternoon. More often than not, people show up for 5-10 minutes, quickly walk the edges and leave. All the while, we’re standing amongst warblers dripping from the trees hidden from view of the parking lot. Essentially next door to Metzger is Howard Marsh, a newer management area for shorebirds and water birds. This spot is not large by any means but a wonderful addition to the area with plenty of open space and diverse habitat for the needs of various shorebird species. Continuing West, Maumee Bay State Park hosts a conference center, campground and cabins as well as patches of forest, swamp, wetlands and beach front areas offering amazing diversity. We were pleased to camp here and really enjoyed not only the camping experience but the birds within the park which included multiple Eastern Screech Owls, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, numerous Warblers as well as American Woodcocks and Eastern Whip-poor-wills at dusk.
The above areas are only a handful of our favorite spots. There are numerous others areas to visit and if time is not an issue, well over a week could be spent here. Referencing the Black Swamp Bird Observatory website is your best resource when visiting. My top three pieces of advice are…
- Experience the popular Magee Marsh boardwalk as early in the morning as you can before the ‘banker’s hours birders’ arrive later in the morning. Once the crowds descend, moving on to other areas is a good approach.
- Take your time at each spot and don’t assume there are no birds around within five minutes of searching. Slow down, take your time and sit still in several areas.
- Plan on spending days, not hours in the area. Migration is fickle and very hard to predict, not to mention the variability in weather along the great lakes can stand to ruin an entire day.
Bottom line: Bird this area from late April through mid-May as soon as you have the time available. There are very few other areas better in the Midwest for this type of birding.