Monday, May 27, 2013
THE BIGGEST WEEK IN AMERICAN BIRDING: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE
THE BIGGEST WEEK IN AMERICAN BIRDING is a unique phenomenon. It may be the largest congregation of birders and migrant North American birds on the planet. An estimated 75,000 birders come to northwest Ohio from May 3rd through May 10th to marvel at the extraordinary passing of migrant bird species navigating along the Lake Erie south shore. The birds are coming from the Southern U.S., Central, and South America, destined for breeding areas across the North American Continent.
The bird watchers come from all over America and in fact from all over the world. America’s passion for seeing birds, especially our American wood warblers, is as compelling as the bird’s need to get on with the business of breeding and propagating their species. This fact alone allows the two congregations to co-exist for a few hours for a few days. Yet the pressure is the greatest in a 4 ½ acre board-walk trail that is strategically, right smack in the middle of the greatest concentration of birds.
This explosion of humanity upon such a place is certainly a point of concern. It seems to be, in my opinion, a greater concern for the people than it is for the birds. For the most part the birds are unanimously focused on survival, not the crowds. Thankfully most of the masses of people are gratefully respectful of the birds and their needs, and there for, the bottom line is that the Biggest Week In American Birding seems to be a balance between the desire to view and the desire to survive.
The Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Maumee Bay State Park, and Ottawa National Wildlife Area are the primary birding areas and partners. BSBO has also partnered with private land owners, area Conservancies, State Wildlife Areas other local agencies for access to additional birding locations that maximize the opportunities for participants of The Biggest Week programs and to provide field trips that takes pressure off the Magee March Bird Trail.
After volunteering for the 4th year I have gone from skeptical to pleasantly appreciative of the concept and with the execution of The Biggest Week In American Birding. Like it or not, the masses were bound to come and the BSBO plan was a great proactive step toward what could have become utter chaos. I tip my hat to BSBO, all the partners, and Kenn and Kim Kaufman for making this huge project a success…..for participants and for these wild birds we all want to protect in their incredible journey.
I have done little but birding for the last four weeks. I spent a week in Shawnee State Forest in Southern Ohio birding the newly arriving southern warblers and songbirds. Tim Colborn and I took a side trip to Boone National Forest and the Red River Gorge to see Swainson’s Warbler in the most northern part of this bird’s breeding range. From there I spent time as a volunteer Guide for The Biggest Week In American Birding. And in my spare time I birded on my own. I have 209 species of birds for the month of May.
I love guiding because I like people, and I like groups of birders. I love the chemistry between really interested people and really beautiful birds. There is no other experience that evokes an uncontrollable and genuine “wow” than those from people looking at birds from behind binoculars or a spotting scope.
I have been teaching birders for a long time. I have been preaching conservation for my whole career, and I love connecting people who like to look at birds with the opportunity bird watching provides for discovering natural history. Understanding natural history enriches the experience, and nurtures a conservation ethic and commitment.
I led 10 birding trips and one Woodcock walk in 12 days. I guided about 140 participants over all. It was invigorating and fun. The birding was great and the participants were all up to the challenges of finding, seeing and identifying lots of birds. They asked great questions, they pushed their personal limits for the birding experience and they made me proud and humble.
You see, guiding makes me a better birder and birding participants make me a better guide. Thanks to everyone who traveled with me and made our trips fun and productive.
I especially want to thank Laura and Jim Wantz from Laguna Beach, California and David Marshall & Christine Booth from Oxford, United Kingdom for including me in their quest to enjoy the North American bird migration this year. It’s people like you that make all the long hours and hard work of guiding worthwhile. Birding with you was all smiles that still keep coming. I think we may have created the ultimate international dream birding team!
I also have to thank all the participants of the last “BIG DAY BUS TRIP” of The Biggest Week In American Birding. I challenged the 14 participants to see if we could get 100 species of birds for the day. They took the challenge…..every one of them. We got a slow start. But after we got going, the birding picked up. We finally got to 98 species and the group was excited. We cheered when we got to 100 species. Then we were at 108 and the cry went out for 110. When we got to 112 the crazed group demanded 120! We finished the day with 124 species!!!
I never saw 14 strangers, a leader and a bus driver get unified in such a wonderful way. We worked hard, we worked together, and we learned together. We had lots of educational moments, lots of fun (often at the guide’s expense!), lots of laughs, and at the end of the day, it exemplifies what a great idea THE BIGGEST WEEK IN AMERICAN BIRDING really is.
Birders are great people…just give them a good reason to prove it. Conservation of birds and all wild things and places should be and MUST BE our priority and our legacy. The Middle of Nowhere Is Somewhere worth saving.