.......and Reflections

Saturday, May 14, 2011

International Migratory Bird Day 2011

I suppose volumes could be, or have been written about International Migratory Bird Day so I will spare you the details that I truly do not know anyway. It is safe to say that bird migration is sufficiently significant to warrant a designated day, at least on the calendars of birders, photographers,"sportsmen", and conservationists around the world. Again, I speculate, as I only know the holiday from the perspective of northwest Ohio.

We celebrate bird migration in May. It makes sense, since the spring migration of birds is an epic global event, the scope of which National Geographic would be challenged to document. Well, maybe Carl Sagan could have made a go at it, but us mortals can't get our arms around it. Spring migration, after all, represents natures endless quest to reproduce and begin a new chapter in the struggle for survival. After long Ohio winters spring migration and moderating climate is a welcome change for the good.

International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) makes more sense than many other things we humans celebrate and I, in no way, would intentionally or otherwise make light of the holiday's intended conservation purpose. No matter it's intended origin almost everyone that has purchased, borrowed or inherited binoculars is at this very moment staring at, or searching for another beautiful migratory bird....except me. So why am I blogging instead of watching?

Spring migration at Magee Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in NW Ohio is recognized as one of the premier migration observation locations in North America. So much so ,that annually thousands of birding pilgrims have flooded into and converged upon the boardwalk at Magee Marsh Birding Trail (MMBT) on this celebrated day. The Trail is basically 2 loops through about 5 acres of near shoreline upland habitat that in effect is an island in a vast marsh.

Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), The Ohio Division of Wildlife, and the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service have teamed up to not only celebrate International Migratory Bird Day, but to create a festival, The Biggest Week in American Birding. The event has many fine sponsors including the American Birding Association, Swarovski Optics and others, all of which can be accessed on the BSBO website. The purpose of the festival is intended to provide education and organized activities for the multitude of visitors during this very important migration event.

I commend this united effort and its intended purpose because whether we like it or not, the popularity of this area continues to grow in the age of technology where every sighting is, in effect, transmitted in real time around the Internet. The event provides some organization to what at times becomes chaotic. I believe that the event is here to stay and that it will and should evolve as the growth in popularity grows. Something will have to be done moving forward to insure that the birding popularity and our insatiable need to participate doesn't somehow result in a diminished birding experience or at worst a negative impact on the precious resource that is the real reason we have anything at all to celebrate.

So why am I home writing when their are birds to be seen and virtually all my friends, associates, and colleagues are on the marshes and specifically the Magee Marsh Bird Trail? I find the crowding of Magee Marsh and Ottawa NWR to be troubling. I have watched the popularity of the place grow to epic proportions. It is incredibly heart warming to see the interest in birds and our precious natural resources. It also drives home an issue that has been experienced by National Parks and other designated national and local natural treasures: are we loving it to death?

Birding, for those of us that are experienced is much more than seeing a bird in the field and identifying it in a field guide or having someone point it out to us. The Biggest Week in American Birding is an opportunity for the sponsors to educate many of their participants about how they can spend their time beyond the event improving theirs identification skills and learning how to appreciate birds and nature in more significant ways.

Not only does the trail attract birders but throngs of people that know each other and meet new friends through the course of birding on the trail. Well, people love to talk. And they do so to such a point it often can distract others birding the trail. The best birders I know are especially good at combining what they observe and what they hear. Those tricky Empidonax Flycatchers have the tiniest call notes that separate one species from another. That opportunity is lost when so much talking on the trail. No rule can resolve this issue. It can only be addressed by promoting a code of birding ethics and conduct.

I don't have the answers. I am confident that the event organizers will develop strategies to manage some of these issues. I believe in the end, the magic of the Magee Marsh will prevail. So what am I doing to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem? Maybe what I do is more powerful than what I say.

When a group of birders is jockeying for position on a confined trail among scores of others to see a rare bird or a "life" bird. It can be a maddening and frustrating experience. In this situation, once I have seen the bird of interest, I always try to help others find the bird and move away so someone who has not seen the bird can at least get their chance by taking the spot I occupied.

International Migratory Bird Day is for those that should benefit the most from the events educational opportunities, Tropical Birding trail guides, guided trips, lectures and expert advice available at this event and on this day. I believe that I have had my time on the trail and if it is more useful to others it is simply best to do something else on IMBD and during other busy event days.

So, why has it been a few days since I last blogged? Well, I've been BIRDING! I am not interested in bragging about numbers used to document the birding experience, unless it serves some perspective. Since I have raised concerns about the birding pressure on Magee Marsh Birding Trail (MMBT) I feel obligated to finish my blog about how I utilize MMBT as an important springboard for a typical birding day.
I often start a May birding day very early on the MMBT and try to be done and out of the Trail by 9:30 or 10:00 am. or visit the trail later in the evening. I avoid large crowds still have plenty of great birding ahead. Then I spend the rest of the birding day visiting the many excellent locations and various habitats along the south shore of Lake Erie to find many more bird species one won't likely get on "the Trail".

This is exactly what I did this last Thursday and Friday. I identified 135 species on Thursday and 130 species on Friday. By the time I finished on the MMBT and surrounding locations in Ottawa County and Ottawa NWR I had about 85-105 species. As I travel back home to Cleveland I stop at Medusa Marsh, and Lorain County Metroparks Vermilion Reservation (Mill Hollow/ Bacon Woods) and Sandy Ridge Reservation. These locations provide significantly different habitat types from the marshes of the Western basin of Lake Erie and therefor provide for another 30 or more species of nesting and migrating birds. I advocate that birders use all the available habitats rather than just going to Magee Marsh and being "one and done".

It is important to remember that bird migration in Ohio starts in March and ends in December. Some birds are moving either north or south 10 months of the year. Ohio is diverse in its habitats. Developing a great Ohio bird list requires taking advantage of Ohio's diversity and migration possibilities. In fact that is the essence of developing any bird list, anywhere. To me International Migratory Bird Day is one day celebtating a whole year of birding.

International Migratory Bird Day is one way for birders to celebrate migration. In Ohio there is no better place to celebrate than at our spring gemstones, Magee Marsh and Ottawa NWR. These areas have been an important part of my life for more than 40 years and its hard sometimes not to take changes personally. These marshes are mine but not exclusively. It, thankfully, belongs to all of us. Our passion and enthusiasm for the birds of these places has grown and now it is important for all of us to accept our responsibility to extend our passion and enthusiasm for the preservation of these places.

Support organizations like the non-profit Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Purchase annual U.S. Fish and Wildlife Migratory Bird Hunting & Conservation Stamps in support of our amazing National Wildlife Refuges. Purchase annual Ohio Division of Wildlife "Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamps". Wherever you are find ways to conserve our natural resources and to learn more about how to to make the most of your birding and that of your fellow birders.

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