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Midwest Warblers and Songbirds: Photo Tour

Tour Overview:

This fascinating Photo Tour visits the midwest of North America at a time when many breeding birds are already on territory, while others are migrating through the region en-masse, during the heady peak of spring migration. A significant focus of this tour will involve targeting warbler photos, from species like Cerulean, Hooded and Kentucky Warblers on their scenic breeding grounds in the Hocking Hills of Southern Ohio, to more northerly species like Bay-breasted, Blackburnian and Cape May Warblers as they pass through famous migrant hotspot like Magee Marsh, where warbler photo opportunities are often exceptional. Finally, we will also visit the Jack Pine forests of Michigan to photograph Kirtland’s Warbler,  North America’s rarest breeding warbler. We are likely to photograph more than 20 warbler species on the tour, and most of these are likely to be males in full breeding plumage. Getting photos of the most species of warbler possible is a primary objective of this tour.

 

While photographing warblers will be a huge emphasis, we will also go after other breeding songbirds, such as Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Bluebird, and Blue-headed and Yellow-throated Vireos, among others. Few photo tours target both breeding sites and migrant locales for eastern songbirds quite like this one, therefore offering a more diverse set of birds to be photographed during this very special season for bird photography.

Tour Details:

Year: 2024

Date: 13 - 23 May

Price: $5390; Single Supplement: $830

Length: 11 Days

Starting City: Columbus (Ohio)

Ending City: Detroit (Michigan)

Pace: Relaxed

Physical Difficulty: Easy

Focus: Bird photography

Group size: 6 + 1 leader

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Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Columbus to the Hocking Hills (Ohio)

The tour starts with a noon time meeting for lunch at a Columbus hotel (to be specified). After lunch, we will drive southeast, checking in to a hotel in Athens for the next three nights. We will have some time in the afternoon to start our photo adventure of the Hocking Hills, conveniently located close to our hotel.

 

PLEASE NOTE: We recommend that guests arrive a day earlier and stay a night at a Columbus hotel (to be specificied), where the tour will start at lunchtime on this day.

 

Days 2-3: The Hocking Hills (Ohio)

The Hocking Hills of Southern Ohio are famous nationwide as one of the most scenic hiking areas in the United States, with jagged blackhand sandstone rock formations, dramatic gorges, spectacular cliffs, and pristine forests comprised of towering hemlocks, beech, poplar and ancient oaks. The hills are also an important breeding area for eastern songbirds, which contain a healthy component of warblers among them. On this first section, we will especially be paying attention to “Southern” warblers, as many of these will be unlikely or not possible on the last half of the tour to the north. Specifically, we will be targeting birds like Cerulean, Yellow-throated, Worm-eating, Prairie, Prothonotary, Blue-winged, Kentucky and Hooded Warblers, Northern Parula, and Louisiana Waterthrush. These same hills also hold other breeding birds of interest too, such as Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Indigo Bunting, Pileated Woodpecker and Yellow-throated Vireo, and so we will be looking to photograph these too. These two nights will also be spent in Athens.

Day 4: The Hocking Hills to the Shores of Lake Erie (Ohio)

After a final morning shooting warblers and other songbirds in the woods around Athens, we will drive north, arriving with enough time in the afternoon to check in at Magee Marsh or one of the other local hotspots, and investigate where our best shooting possibilities are likely to be in the coming days. The next three nights will be spent close to the lake shore of Lake Erie, in the town of Oregon, Ohio.

 

Days 5-6: Magee Marsh and The Shores of Lake Erie (Ohio)

These days will be quite different from the previous ones, as we seek to photograph other, more northern songbirds, as they pass through the famous migrant hotspots on the southern shores of Lake Erie. There will be a more dynamic nature to our shooting program, with a certain flexibility needed to ensure we visit the optimum locations on any given day for bird photography. Magee Marsh is the most famous location in this area, and on some peak migration days it is possible to photograph a dizzy array of migrants, particularly warblers, at close quarters. Many of these are not breeding visitors, but merely briefly passing through, and so we will have to respond to their presence accordingly. There are a number of other spots too, local to Magee, such as Metzger Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, which may be visited, based on what is happening at the time of our visit. Metzger Marsh in particular can be fantastic for warbler photography, as it is a very small, highly accessible woodlot with few small trees, so what is in there can be often be low down and well within photographic range. There will be always something to shoot, although exactly where will be best, will be determined through local contacts at the time. A long list of possibilities includes Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, Magnolia, Black-and-white, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Palm, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, and Chestnut-sided Warblers, and American Redstart.

 

Day 7: The Shores of Lake Erie to Michigan

We will have another final morning on the southern shore of Lake Erie, visiting Magee Marsh or whichever hotspot deserves our most attention, before we drive north to Houghton Lake in Michigan for a three-night stay.

 

Days 8-9: Houghton Lake and the Jack Pine Forests of Michigan

On these days, our main focus will be to photograph the Kirtland’s Warbler within its preferred habitat of young Jack Pines near the town of Grayling, a stronghold for them. However, there are other breeding birds in the wider area, including Golden-winged and Pine Warblers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. In some years it is possible to photograph Evening Grosbeaks at a site nearby too. Another two nights will be spent in Houghton Lake in Michigan.

 

Day 10: Houghton Lake to Detroit (Michigan)

After a final morning around Houghton Lake, we will head south to Detroit for the final night of the tour. There will be time in the afternoon for some final shooting around Grand Rapids, where breeding species like American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hairy Woodpecker, Baltimore Oriole, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, and American Goldfinch all occur.

 

Day 11: Departure from Grand Rapids (Michigan)

There is no photography on this day, and so you are free to leave at your leisure.

Trip Considerations

PACE: Relaxed. The start times and finish times on this tour are not especially early or late. Breakfast times are likely to be at around 6:00-6:30am, with departures 30 minutes or so after that. Breakfasts will be at the hotel, lunches on the road, somewhere quick, and then dinners will be at good restaurants close to our hotels in the evening, which the guide will select. We will always be back at the hotel in the late afternoon, within daylight hours.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. Most of the photography will be from a standing position alongside roads, boardwalks, or a short distance on some well-maintained, mostly flat, trails.

 

There is one particularly long drive on the tour, of up to 4 hours, between Magee Marsh and Houghton Lake in Michigan. The other longish drive is between Houghton Lake and Grand Rapids, which is of around 2 hours.

CLIMATE: Highly variable in this season. Ranging from warm and sunny, to rainy and cold. In the southernmost part, around Athens, the temperatures vary between 48-75F/9-24 C in the month of May, with rain occurring on around 10 days of the month. So, rain gear, including to protect your camera gear, is essential. For the northernmost part, around Houghton Lake and Grayling, it will be cooler, with the temperatures typically 39-68F/4-20 C and it also rains on about 10 days of the month. Please note that around Magee Marsh, the lake effect, of being close to the lake shore can make it feel a lot cooler than stated temperatures for the area. In that area, in particular, weather is very changeable even in a single day.

 

ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All of the hotels and motels have typical amenities, including Wi-Fi.

 

PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: This tour is centered around photographing breeding warblers and other eastern songbirds of the United States. In some areas, such as around the Hocking Hills in Ohio, we will use playback of the songs to attract the birds in closer for photos, although in heavily birded areas like Magee Marsh we will not be permitted to use playback, and the photography will be more impromptu. We will need to walk into the territories of warblers in some areas, and so some walking is required to reach where the birds are. There are no feeders on this tour.

Other Information

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: Two US states will be visited on this tour, Ohio and Michigan. For US citizens, no special requirements are necessary to visit these. Citizens of Canada may enter the US with a valid passport, and do not need to obtain a visa. For citizens of the 38 countries on the visa waiver list (including the UK, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Japan – click here for the full list), you can enter the US with a valid passport and a completed Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which should be applied for online IN ADVANCE OF THE TOUR. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Citizens of all other countries will need to apply for a US visa. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.

 

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 10; meals from lunch on day 1 to breakfast on day 11; reasonable non-alcoholic beverages with meals; safe drinking water only between meals (tap water is safe to drink in the US, and you are encouraged to fill your water bottles when able); photo tour leader with camera and audio playback gear from noon of day 1 to the evening of day 10; ground transport for the group in a suitable vehicle driven by the guide from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 10; airport shuttle bus on day 1 and day 11; tips for included meals; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your photos if desired (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

 

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips to baggage carriers if you require their services; flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.

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