13 May 2009

Crazy, crazy Crane Creek…(Magee Marsh, Ohio): 9 May 2009

This International Migration Day is infamous amongst Ohio birders as THE day to come to Crane Creek (now best referred to as Magee Marsh, as that former name has fallen into disuse). Some 10, 000-15, 000 birders swarm the boardwalk, and many events go on, including Tom Bartlett’s infamous Big Sit, where he sits perched precariously on a ladder for some 8 hours while racking up near one hundred birds from his limited circle of sight. The worry with such a big day on the Ohio birding calendar is that migration itself would be dismal and the birders walking around in despair. However, that is one thing about the Magee Marsh boardwalk, you come at this time of year and it rarely lets you down. It is for good reason that birders “in the know” refer to Crane Creek as the “dirty little secret”. Pelee may grab all the headlines, but Magee pulls in the goods time and again, and should perhaps be referred to as “old faithful”. While Pelee suffers the massive highs and lows typical of the typical boom and bust pattern of migration found at such classic fallout sites (which are of course top notch on some given days for sure), Crane Creek is trusty day in day out all spring long. That is not to say it is unimpressive, far from it. What we got this day was a stack of warblers, performing with aplomb. Birders swarmed the lots, scoured the woody edges, lined the lake shore of Erie, and blazed the boardwalk in their attempts to turn up “Top Trump” warblers. The warblers were good to us today with around 30 species roaming the beautiful cottonwoods. Personally I managed to rack up 23 species for me alone, when I was guiding for Black Swamp Bird Observatory and therefore not exactly chasing the dream 30 for myself (although that goal is getting more appealing by the day!)

Cape May Warblers sunned themselves by the main parking lot, Hooded Warblers flitted furtively in the underbrush, lemon-headed Prothonotary Warblers sung powerfully from the swampy areas, bluetastic Black-throated Blues gleaned within inches of our faces while we looked on with some satisfaction (although by the end of a double figure day for them had almost been consigned to trash bird status), while in the trees above Blackburnians, Canadas, Bay-breasteds, Black-throated Greens, Northern Parulas and others raced around in a frenzy of feeding activity. A pair of roosting Eastern Screech Owls got steadily closer as the day wore on and the chilly western wind picked up, in their attempts to keep out the cold. On another “holy” spot a Common Nighthawk sat statuesque throughout the day, unaware we had him our ‘scope sights the whole time. One of the undoubted highlights was a scene of Zugunruhe right at the death, when a flurry of warblers danced around the nighthawk in a late frenzy of feeding activity just before sunset, and appearing to be readying themselves for the mad dash across Lake Erie for their northern breeding grounds. A great sight and also somehow convenient as the nighthawk acted nicely as a makeshift centrepiece for our imaginary clock so that we call out the warblers positions on the clock from there! Surreal and fantastic.

Most of what was offer today was lapped up by all as most of the star cast put in a sterling show for anyone who wanted to watch. This included an obscenely tame female Kentuck, KC, or simply Kentucky Warbler. This “star of the south” remained faithful to a particular muddy pond edge where he faithfully worked the muddy edges just feet from an admiring crowd looking straight down on it from the boardwalk. So close in fact that birders appeared to be looking straight down at their own feet with their bins – just one of many strange and wonderful warbler-related events from today at “The Creek” (Crane Creek/Magee Marsh).