OAK HARBOR, Ohio - As spring nears, love is in the air - and so are birds. They'll soon be doing their bit for love by migrating, with the warmer weather, to or through Ohio toward spring nesting sites. And that will put bird lovers on the road, seeking out the best bird-watching sites.
OAK HARBOR, Ohio — As spring nears, love is in the air — and so are birds.
They’ll soon be doing their bit for love by migrating, with the warmer weather, to or through Ohio toward spring nesting sites.
And that will put bird lovers on the road, seeking out the best bird-watching sites.
Central Ohio has its share of bird-watching hot spots, including Scioto Audubon Metro Park, the “ grain elevator wetlands” section of Battelle Darby Metro Park and even Green Lawn Cemetery.
But for those who would enjoy a short day trip to view the spring migration, one of the most spectacular sites of all lies less than three hours north.
In the past few years, the southern shore of Lake Erie between Toledo and Sandusky has become famous among serious bird-watchers across the country — and even the world.
“During the spring migration, this is probably as good an area as you’ll find in North America,” said Mark Shieldcastle, research director for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory at Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area.
Birds migrating from Mexico and the Caribbean to Canada tend to stop on the southern shore of Lake Erie before continuing on their wearying flight over the Great Lakes.
Magee Marsh and Metzger Marsh state wildlife areas, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Maumee Bay State Park offer some of the best viewing sites along the lake, with diverse habitats of wetlands, woodlands and grasslands attracting birds.
Spring visitors can see a large number of warbler species there, Shieldcastle said.
“You might see them in Columbus, but only a few at a time,” he said.
“It’s not unusual here, on the right day in May, to see 20 to 30 species of warbler alone. The volume of birds and variety is unmatched.”
Spotting the tiny warblers is especially easy in the area, where the birds congregate in low foliage and on sand ridges near the beach, he said.
“The real concentration points for the warblers are the beach ridges, one of the rarest habitats in Ohio. The insects gravitate to the low tree and shrub layer on the ridges, and so the birds who eat them concentrate there, too.
“In most places, you have to look high up in the trees; but here, it’s at eye level, so you don’t get ‘warbler neck’ trying to see them.”
Kenn Kaufman, a well-known bird expert and author of several bird-watching guides, said there’s no better place to see birds in spring than southern Lake Erie.
“At the end of April and beginning of May, it’s so spectacular that we have birders flying in from the West Coast and from Europe,” he said.
Visitors need no experience to enjoy the show.
“This is probably the easiest place to see a lot of warblers in early May,” Kaufman said. “You don’t need great binoculars or great skills or anything.
“There are a lot of different places you can go to have a great birding experience along a stretch of 30 miles of lakeshore. And chances are there will be a birder standing nearby who can tell you it’s a Blackburnian warbler you’re seeing.”
Kaufman, who moved to the area five years ago, helps promote bird-watching in the region.
Helping raise awareness, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory started the Biggest Week in American Birding festival two years ago, Kaufman noted.
The annual festival has been bringing in bird-watchers in record numbers, said Larry Fletcher, executive director of the Lake Erie Shores & Islands visitors bureau.
This year’s celebration will actually last 10 days, May 3-12. Participants can sign up for special bird tours, programs and lectures and visit a large “birders’ marketplace” at Maumee Bay Lodge, or just hang out and enjoy the excitement, avian and human.
As word has gotten out about the great bird-watching and the new festival, business has picked up during what was once a slow time of year for Lake Erie tourism, said Patrick Czarny, general manager of Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center at Maumee Bay State Park.
“A few years ago, we’d have a birding special and sell 300 room-nights. Last year, it was over 1,000, with guests from places like Honduras, England, Australia and most of the States.”
Czarny said he’s not a serious bird-watcher, but it’s hard not to be caught up in the enthusiasm of the visitors.
“There’s a real excitement, a buzz, with all the birders around. Everyone has their checklist and Twitter account, so when someone sees something exciting, they’re all flocking, you might say, to a site.”
The festival and spring birding along Lake Erie offers “an incredible opportunity to be immersed with these world travelers — birds and people,” said Kimberly Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
“You think about something that, on average, weighs the same as a ballpoint pen, about how far they’ve come — you can’t help but want to be here and be part of their journey.”
Kimberly Kaufman also happens to be the wife of Kenn Kaufman. Yes, it was love, even more than birds, that lured Mr. Kaufman to Ohio five years ago, he confessed.
“I was looking to move to someplace where I could watch bird migration, and she was here, too, so it worked out perfectly.”