The Great Lakes: The Warbler Capital of the World
Ever thought a Black-throated Green Warbler wanted to kiss you?
This tour touches down at one of the most highly regarded “migration sensation” locales in eastern North America: The Magee Marsh Wildlife Area/Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Ohio. What is the appeal of this area, you may ask? In a word, warblers. It’s all right to admit that we’ll be after them like crazy. Brilliant spring attire turns Cape May, Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, Blackpoll, Blue-winged, and Mourning Warblers into stunning jewels that brighten the newly budding trees. But parulas, waterthrushes, redstarts and other warbler-folk will not be the only focus. For good reason the area has been dubbed the “warbler capital of the world”. Our trip closes with a visit to the Jack Pine breeding grounds of the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler.
Day 1: Detroit to Port Clinton. After meeting in Detroit in the afternoon, we’ll make our way to Port Clinton for a six-night stay. Time permitting, we will kick off with some late afternoon birding in the flatlands of Northwest Ohio. The plowed fields outside of Port Clinton are sprinkled with ephemeral mudflats, where we hope to encounter wandering bands of shorebirds, including Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Numerous species of waterfowl, Horned Larks, Savannah Sparrows, American Kestrels, and other countryside birds will provide a pleasant introduction to this rural region. Packing in one last kill before sundown, a Peregrine Falcon may be out and about wreaking havoc on congregations of shorebirds and waterfowl.
Day 2: Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. On the southern edge of Lake Erie, Magee Marsh is a powerful magnet for migrating passerines, raptors, wading birds, and waterfowl. We’ll start our first full day at the boardwalk, where if the weather is right, we can easily score 20 or more warbler species before noon. Abundant Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, and Black-throated Blue Warblers are met by hordes of White-throated Sparrows, Swainson’s Thrushes, spectacled Blue-headed Vireos, and brilliant Baltimore Orioles. Amidst the fast-moving waves we’ll be sure to seek out the less common Golden-winged, Cerulean, and Prothonotary Warblers. Flycatchers, kinglets, gnatcatchers, tanagers, and vireos are among the dozens upon dozens of magnificently colored passerines that flit and forage through this easily accessed woodland. Although the day is planned in the vicinity of Magee Marsh, we will be open to chasing any rarities that turn up.
Days 3-5: Magee Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. We’ll return to the boardwalk early today, but not before checking a known spot for the magnificent King Rail. While we’re waiting for the rails to stalk out of the cattails, we might be lucky to catch sight of a handsome Black Tern pumping across the marsh. After birding the boardwalk, we’ll head west to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Ottawa’s woods, extensive wetlands, and grassland areas attract a healthy diversity of species, from Orchard Oriole to Northern Harrier, Wood Thrush to Black-billed Cuckoo, and Purple Martin to Blue-winged Teal. Between Magee Marsh and Ottawa, we’ll certainly encounter a serious number of birds today, and a special stop will be made for Upland Sandpiper and Grasshopper Sparrow. The timing of our activities will depend on the activity on the boardwalk, but we may jump over to Metzger Marsh to get close looks at Common Moorhen, Forster’s and Common Terns, and a few beach-combing shorebirds including Ruddy Turnstone. At dusk, we’ll hang around Black Swamp Bird Observatory to watch American Woodcocks displaying overhead.
Day 6: Oak Openings Preserve Metropark. A mere hour’s drive from our home base in Port Clinton provides a drastic alteration to the landscape and bird diversity, with the spectacular and unique Oak Openings region. Dubbed by the Nature Conservancy as “one of America’s Last Great Places,” and “one of the most important ecosystems in the country,” the Oak Openings Region used to be part of an extensive patchwork of oak savannas that at one point covered 30 million acres and represented a unique meeting of the Western prairies and dense Eastern forests. Our target list for the day includes some very specialized, highly “wanted” species: Blue Grosbeak, Lark Sparrow, Summer Tanager, Prairie, Cerulean, and Kentucky Warblers, Henslow’s Sparrow, Alder Flycatcher, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Yellow-breasted Chat.
Day 7: Nayanquing Point Wildlife Area. We’ll depart early heading northwest into Michigan, breaking up this drive by with stops at Bay City State Park and Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Refuge, the latter a splendid expanse of wetlands on the Saginaw Bay. Between these two hotspots we’ll seek Sedge and Marsh Wrens, Bobolink, American and Least Bitterns, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and perhaps several species of waterfowl including the smart-looking Ruddy Duck. After scoping out Bay City and Nayanquing we’ll head north to Mio for a three-night stay, our base for our Kirtland’s Warbler expedition.
Day 8-9: Kirtland’s Warbler Foray. We will begin our search for Kirtland’s Warbler at 7:00am, and expect the search to take from two to four hours, hopefully scoring some good views of this renowned endangered species. After we’ve had our fill, we’ll bird the Jack Pine Wildlife Area for open pinewoods-brush-grassland species such as Clay-colored, Lincoln’s, and Vesper Sparrows, as well as Upland Sandpiper. In the evening we will visit Hartwick Pines State Park, one of the top spots in the nation for enjoying brilliant Evening Grosbeaks up close.
Day 10: The Upper Peninsula. We’ll spend the day on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. An early start puts us on the back roads of Hiawatha National Forest, surrounded by stunning boreal woods and bogs where we’ll seek out the most-wanted Connecticut Warbler, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Black-backed Woodpecker. If we’re lucky, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee and Spruce Grouse, on the southern edge of their breeding range, may be found in the areas we visit.
Day 11: Mio to Detroit. Today will be spent birding our way south, looking for any further “must-see” species. We spend our last night in Detroit, and if we have time, we will visit the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
Day 12: Departure. The tour ends this morning in Detroit. The hotel offers a free airport shuttle.