When Nature Calls

Frittata Cross Country is finally heading west!! First stop Ohio. Lake Erie. It’s time for BWIAB!! For those who did not bother to Google this at the end of my last post, that stands for “Biggest Week In American Birding”!!

The southwestern tip of Lake Erie gets famous for about 10 days a year (the BWIAB is actually 10 days, not a week) when thousands of migrating warblers (and other various birds) stop off at their wildlife preserves for a much needed rest before they continue to their summer homes.

Yellow Warbler building her nest

Kevin Costner Rocks

I left Washington D.C. early enough to arrive at Magee Marsh in Curtice, Ohio at 2pm. Magee Marsh is just one of the MANY wildlife preserves in the Lake Erie region that participates in BWIAB.

The drive from D.C. was absolutely beautiful.

I discovered an awesome app on my Facebook feed just before I left. Check out HearHere. It caught my eye because Kevin Costner was on their ad, and let’s face it, Kevin was a little nerdy in Dances With Wolves but he’s freakin HOT in Yellowstone. Anyhoo…It’s an app that reads you short snippets of history about various places based on your GPS location while you are driving. So cool! Such a great way to pass the time and learn about the places you’re driving through. Only problem is it made me want to stop every ten minutes to check some of the stuff out.

Don’t Look Yet!

I don’t know why I do this, but when I’m about to bird at a new place, I try really hard not to look at anything on the drive in. It’s like I can’t count any sightings until I’m officially “in”.

The First Bird

So….I’m at the BWIAB (Biggest Week In American Birding)…I wonder who the very first bird on this checklist will be??? Well folks, this pretty much sums up how this trip started off:

The Bald Eagle in the parking lot at Magee Marsh as I was getting out of my car.

This was the first of many bald eagles I was privileged to spend time with. More on that later.


Birding is a lot of fun, but can be a little frustrating if you see all kinds of birds but don’t know what they are. I highly recommend having a guide if at all possible as you’ll usually at least double if not triple what you’d see without one.

At a bird festival like this, you get to save the money because the people that come to this are pretty serious about their birding. Most come annually and so they are experts, which is very helpful with birds like warblers. All you have to do is hang around near the people with the biggest cameras, watch and listen. That’s how I found out that this guy is a Blackburnian Warbler.

Blackburnian Warbler

We Meet Again

For those who have been following along, you may remember that my relationship with birds started with a Black Capped Chickadee that I trained to eat from my hand. He decided to come to BWIAB for a reunite. This little guy was not shy at all and I practically petted him.

Black Capped Chickadee
Red Start
Black-Throated Blue Warbler

You may also remember my story about finding the tree snail in the Everglades a few weeks ago?The British ladies that were trying to spot the Red Start without binoculars? Mr. Red Start made the trip. And the Black-Throated Blue Warbler, one of my prize sightings in the Everglades, also showed up.

Helping Hands

Birders are really excited to share their sightings. I was walking along the boardwalk and a nice gentleman was kind enough to ask me if I’d see the Robin’s nest. I had not. So he pointed it out and I got to see this:

American Robin baby

Don’t Wobble, Warble!

The main attraction for this festival are the warblers. There are quite a few and some are very hard to identify, especially the females. In nature, the boys get all the pretty colors so they can impress the girls.

Here are a few of the cool boys I met on this trip:

Listen Up

The Blackpoll warbler in that last photo was a big win for me because I was alone when I hunted him up. I have to give credit to Cornell University’s Merlin app. I used that in the field because it has a bird song identifier that makes birding even more fun. Click the image below to download now. It also has a really fun little bird identifier too that even kids can use.

That’s a Common Yellowthroat in the photo – saw several but did not get a good picture yet

I heard the sweet little songbird long before I saw him. I pulled out my app, hit the “sound ID” button and it immediately showed the Blackpoll. This is a really hard-to-see bird, and can easily be confused with the black-and-white warbler but the key for ID is the orange legs. I did not know that until I looked him up later and I was pretty psyched that my photo showed his leg color 🙂

You’re Not In Canada Yet

One of the drive-through preserves I visited was Ottawa NWR (in Ohio, not Canada). I started out very early. Like “before the hotel free breakfast was out” early. I got hungry and stopped to eat some yogurt and granola that I had in my cooler.

My breakfast companion was looking for something with more meat. He also needs a pedicure.

After breakfast, I found this juvenile bald eagle. Did you know they don’t get their full white head and yellow beak until they are around 4 years old???

That’s a lot to swallow

One of the very abundant birds in the area is the tree swallow. Fun to watch. They eat about 2000 insects per day. When they have babies to feed, they pick off around 6000 per day. Really gorgeous and functional feathered friend!

Tree Swallow

When Nature Calls

There was a lot to see on this drive. The thing about birding is that there are no restrooms. So about an hour after my coffee and breakfast, I had to pee. A good birder has a roll of TP in the glove box. Two biodegradable squares is all you need.

I found a nice quiet place to squat. When I stood up, I felt eyes on me. I turned around and looked up.

Pair of Bald Eagles in my bathroom

They look disapproving to me, don’t you think?

Practice Makes Perfect

Did you know that a flock of pelicans is called a squadron? Check out these white pelicans flying in graceful unison. White Pelicans are similar to the brown (Louisiana’s State Bird!) but much larger. Like “5 ft high, 9-foot-wingspan” larger.

Getting Horny

The white pelican grows a little horn on it’s beak during mating season. Both the males and the females. LOL. They literally get horny. It serves no purpose and falls off after eggs are laid.

White Pelicans Getting Horny

Speaking of horny, I was not able to get a great shot, but I did get a “freebie” from some birders that had better cameras than me. This is a Great Horned Owl. A spectacular bird.

Great Horned Owl

Bird Porn

Since we’ve already gotten horny, I might as well post this bird porn too. I was trying to take a picture of a Black Necked Stilt but there was something in the foreground.

Bid Porn – Tree Swallows

I did get the Stilt eventually. The funny thing was, I thought the stilt was getting it on which is what I was trying to get a video of. He was hopping around and it looked like he was trying to mount a female but it was just his reflection in the water, lol.

Black Necked Stilt

My Swan Song

My absolute favorite picture from my birding excursions was this Trumpeter Swan on her nest. I have never seen them before. The next day, I was walking near a marsh when a pair of trumpeters flew at eye level right in front of me. They are HUGE. And they are absolutely amazing.

Trumpeter Swan

And A Screech Owl In A Big Tree

The cutest baby bird award on this trip goes to these precious baby screech owls. Momma was sticking her head out of the nest keeping an eye on them. There were 5 babies total, each sitting in the “V” of different branches on this tree.

Baby Screech Owl

Looks Like Rain

The screech owls were off a boardwalk at Maumee Bay Lodge, the headquarters of the BWIAB.

I am not sure how, but that afternoon I had the boardwalk to myself. There was a storm coming in and the pictures just barely do the landscape justice.

Nature Boardwalk at Maumee Bay Lodge

Leave It To Beaver

The beaver enjoys a plentiful habitat in this area. The Canada Geese and swans use the tops of the beaver dams as nests. I’m not sure I’d actually ever seen a beaver…until now.

In The Hood

I considered doing a paid tour one morning because there was a chance of seeing the Hooded Merganser. I’d never seen one but it would have involved $60 and over 2 hours in a van with other people. I decided to take a chance and seek them out on my own.

I arrived at the location where they’ve been seen in previous years at 645am. The group tour had not arrived yet. But the merganser’s had…..yay me!!!

Better Hood

At my next stop, I was also the only birder on the path when I found this Wood Duck couple. The wonder of God’s diversity is so breathtaking. I found another one the next day and got better pictures. I included the video so you could see him in action – give me some grace, he was very far away and it takes a steadier hand than I have to keep the camera level at that distance..

Intuitive Pull

After 2.5 long days of BWIAB birding, I needed a break. I read about these islands that you can ferry to in Lake Erie but none of the locals seemed to know much about them. But I was on the highway, saw a billboard for the ferry, and felt an “intuitive pull”.

And I turned off.

The next 4 hours looked something like this:

It’s called Put-In-Bay, South Bass Island. Absolutely precious Lake Erie summer town. The weather was perfection and I hit it perfectly as it gets pretty packed starting Memorial Day Weekend.

South Bass Island, Lake Erie

I was SHOCKED at how gorgeous Lake Erie was. It literally looked like the Caribbean. The water was pristine. Cold, but good cold. I also loved that the people here jump in with both feet as the weather gets nice. The winters here are brutal (there are more place selling ice fishing gear than ice cream) so they take full advantage of their mild months. It was unseasonably warm and everyone was in tank tops and flip flops.

I rented a golf cart and drove the entire island. A splendid day. It was one of those totally spontaneous travel adventures that I’ll never forget. There was a “guest book” at the end of a trail I hiked, so I signed in.

Signed the guest book at Massie Bay Cliff Trail, South Bass Island

Real Birdographers

Another favorite memory my BWIAB trip is meeting some new birding friends.

I went to a boat ramp late one afternoon because I heard the little cluster of trees off the parking lot was thick with warblers. I wandered into the thicket and found a nice gentleman sitting on a hunting stool with his 600mm camera set up on a tripod.

Stole this from Fred’s Facebook page

The difference between birders and bird photographers (or what I call “birdographers”) is simple.

Birders move around, photographers sit still.

The true bird photographer will commit endless patient hours waiting for the perfect lighting and the perfect shot. The birder twitters around and never sits still.

We got to talking (no surprise to anyone who knows me) and next thing you know I got invited to dinner. Meet Fred and his poor friend Jeff who didn’t know I was crashing supper:

Fred Hennig and Jeff Johnston, real bird photographers

The Real Deal

I may occasionally post a quality photo, but Fred and Jeff are the real deal. Click on this picture to check out Fred’s Facebook page for some of his work. I chose the cardinal to highlight him because I know this bird is special to a lot of you and maybe you needed this today:

Fred Hennig’s cardinal

Jeff’s pictures are also amazing. Click the image below to visit his website. Jeff got this shot of the Mourning Warbler (a rare bird) in a parking lot at BWIAB. You can follow him on Facebook too.

Mourning Warbler, photo credit Jeff Johnston

Next Year’s Migration

There is no doubt that BWIAB was a week of a lifetime for me. The universe delivered unbelievable weather and everything that could go right did. My rough count was 88 unique birds over the course of 3.5 days, 11 of which are uncommon sightings even for BWIAB.

I already booked my room for next year’s migration.

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Published by Jenny G

I'm sipping coffee in the morning, reading a cookbook for fun. Always planning my next trip and what I'll eat when I get there. Hoping to inspire others who share my love of cooking and eating, and to celebrate the wonderous diversity of food. I love to explore the world so I'll share my best itineraries and travel tips. Of course, sometimes I'd rather be snuggled up with a glass of wine and a good book so let's discuss those here too. And don't forget to feed the birds!

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