Friday 23 May 2014

Magee Marsh, Ohio - Final Day

The final day started wet and having walked the first fifty meters along the board walk it appeared that there had been a quite considerable clear out of birds. The place seemed deserted. However, along the first small loop I picked up another flycatcher, this one was also silent, but while watching it for a while I was joined by two experienced birders who knew enough about these species to assign it to Least Flycatcher (based mainly on the bold eye-ring and a diffuse pale line demarcating the throat from the chest). This is the commonest species of Empidonax at Magee Marsh also.
I continued on and stopped at the small bridge across the creek to watch two males Prothonotary Warblers having a little spate. It was quite a tussle and at one stage the two birds locked feet and tumbled in a kind of downward spiral out of the sycamore above me and down towards the board-walk. I tried to step out of the way but the two birds collided with my face at which point they separated and flew to into different trees. Neither bird was harmed in any way and soon continued their tussle slightly further away. I had been happy enough just to see Prothonotary Warblers up to now, but to have them actually touch me like that was a privilege, I doubt they even noticed!
Further on I stopped to take in some more views of Prothonotary Warblers and got talking to a couple of birders from Tennessee who had actually started their birding holiday in early April near Galveston, Texas and had been moving north along with the warblers before reaching their final destination of Magee Marsh. That's quite a trip. They had a brief view of what they were certain was a Connecticut Warbler, unfortunately it had disappeared before I got a chance to see it, even though I was only ten yards away. I gave it two hours in the same spot later in the afternoon with a couple of other birders. We could hear it singing much further back but we couldn't see it. Pity, would have been a life bird for me. In the time I spent at that spot though I managed some reasonable shot of a male and female American Redstart, a male Blackpoll Warbler and another singing male Prothonotary Warbler.

Female American Redstart

Male American Redstart

Male Blackpoll Warbler

Male Blackpoll Warbler

Male Prothonotary Warbler
And I did manage to add Alder and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher to my life list also. In fact, while warbler numbers were down, the expected arrival of flycatchers had been accurately predicted. They were slightly harder to photograph, staying further back than the warblers so there was usually foliage or a branch in the way. Here's a shot though of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
The day was moving on, I decided to make my way back slowly to the parking lot. I gave myself enough time because this would be my last walk along the famous board walk and I knew it would be hard to extract myself from the place.
Canada Warbler numbers (males only) seemed to be up for the day though. Along with the still present Magnolias and Redstarts, these were the commonest species.

Male Canada Warbler
Before I left I got a little bit of luck and came across a reasonably showy Veery. Up until now, I had only fleeting glimpses of this species and it is possibly my favourite of the Catharus thrushes.

And of course I couldn't go without trying once more for some Pronthonotary shots, these ones I think worked out the best.

Male Prothonotary Warbler
And one last photo before I left, an American Woodcock came into view foraging around on the deck near to the tower. A clear shot was difficult but here's one with the eye. You can just about see it from the photo that their underparts are much more rufous than their European counter-parts.

American Woodcock
I eventually left the board-walk for the last time.It was hard to leave but my time was up, I felt I had finished on a high!

The next morning I packed up, drove back to Detroit, dropped the car off and flew back to England. I'm still jet-lagged but on a high from such a great trip.

Magee Marsh certainly lived up to all my expectations. The birds do indeed come within touching distance and it pays to have a 300mm lens also or an extension tube on your 500mm (thanks for the tip Rob Holmes). I used external flash for the first time and while I struggled early on it did work out in the end and there were shots I got with it that I wouldn't have otherwise managed. I timed my trip to avoid the crowds of the Biggest Week festival. I was a little afraid that I would miss the peak warbler arrival but I don't believe I missed any species by being a week later and the crowds apart from Saturday and Sunday were not too bad. It also worked out nicely because by being there on 19th and 20th May I got the arriving Empidonax flycatchers, all of which were lifers for me and a very interesting group of birds too.
The birding scene in the US is interesting. I would respectfully say that many of the people I met at Magee were comparatively new to birding and still learning to ID a lot of species. Having said that I did meet some very competent and experienced birders especially in the last couple of days, who were very helpful and worthwhile chatting to. I was fascinated to see so many Amish families birding. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan are strongholds for Amish communities so maybe I shouldn't have been too surprised. I also met one bird photographer opening carrying a revolver on his hip, I had to ask him why and he said it saves him from getting any hassle when he's out with $20,000 worth of gear. But all the same, it still looked odd to me as a European where even the police in the UK and Ireland don't carry guns.
Above all though I was very impressed with how polite, courteous and friendly everyone was to each other. That's not just the birders and photographers but right across Ohio and Michigan, the people in the supermarkets, the restaurants, the airport, car rental, everywhere in fact. US birders I spoke to have an impression that the scene in the UK is tight-lipped and cold. That's a generalization but not without some element of truth. As I said, ID skills weren't always that advanced, but no one mis-behaved, neither photographer nor birder and everyone respected each others wish to see and or photograph a bird.


  1. Absolutely mind blowing shots of the Prothonotary Warbler shot Graham! One I struggled to get proper shots of. That pair by the tower were the only ones of the trip.

  2. Hi Graham, I was on the same trip with Dermot, and would heartily agree with all your comments with regard to the friendliness and ambience in all the areas we visited. Fantastic shots - I'm still ploughing through mine ! If you ever go back it could be worth trying Tawas Point in Michigan as well - we had a stupendous morning there, and the crowds were substantially less.