Despite missing the peak of the spring warbler migration two weeks ago, Steve and I made the trek up to Magee Marsh between Port Clinton and Toledo yesterday morning hoping to see some stragglers. I had never been here this late in spring, so I didn’t know what to expect, except a trip to Ohio’s premier birding hotspot is never not worth the drive, no matter the season.
Our destination was the famed Boardwalk Trail located in a small woodlot across from Lake Erie. The woods itself does not appear impressive at first glance. It’s about a 7 acre wet, shrubby area with a lot of ash and large cottonwood trees situated in the 2000-acre Magee Marsh wetlands. It attracts migrating songbirds as an area where they can rest and fuel up on insects before they attempt the daunting flight across the lake. The warblers, which can be hard to observe further inland where they tend to stay high in the trees, are bold here, intent on their business, and not worried about the humans that crowd the boardwalk to capacity during the peak weekend. It’s a wonderful spot to get a good look at the active, colorful birds that are only here for a few weeks in the spring and fall.
Male songbirds tend to migrate ahead of the females in the spring, risking potentially cold weather to secure the best territories. The females come a few weeks later when the weather conditions are more likely to be favorable. Male warblers in the spring are beautiful and distinctive--easily identified if you get a good look, and when we go to Magee earlier in the season, we usually just leave the field guide in the car so we don’t have to lug it around with us.
Yesterday, the woods were full of warblers still, but there was a large proportion of the more muted females, as well as numerous cryptic Empidonax flycatchers notorious for being difficult to identify if they don’t choose to sing.
My birding skills were tested as well as my photographic ones. Warblers never sit still for long and spend their time hopping around gleaning insects from leafy branches. I struggled with my camera’s limits, fighting auto-focus and shutter-lag, and got a lot of blurry pictures of wings and tails leaving the frame! This Canada warbler was the only one I got a reasonable picture of the whole day. I was more excited though about the second prothonotary warbler I’ve ever seen and the few glimpses I got of the mourning warblers skulking around the vegetation on the ground.
There were plenty of other migrants besides the warblers. Great-crested flycatchers were prominent (and easily identified). Warbling vireos were plentiful and I caught a glimpse of a cuckoo sailing overhead.
More familiar birds were more cooperative for the camera....
This great egret was intent on hunting in the lagoon.
There were a lot of reptiles too. This midland painted turtle crossed the drive only to turn back around and hurry back to the pond south of the parking lot.
We saw several snakes basking in the sun. The cloudy eyes of this eastern garter snake indicate it will soon shed it’s skin.
Baby groundhogs living under the boardwalk got a lot of attention!