May 15, 2014

Birds + Plants + Geology + Friends = Awesome Long Lake Erie Weekend (Part One!)

For Ohio birders and other nature enthusiasts, the shore of Lake Erie in May is a must-see destination. Branded as the "Warbler Capital of the World", thousands of people flock to northern Ohio to see all sorts of birds as they migrate to northern breeding areas. In recent years, even bigger crowds have been attracted by the "Biggest Week in American Birding" festival. We have headed up to the focal point of all this excitement, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area just east of Toledo, every May for over 25 years and 2014 was no exception. This year, though, we added some other destinations along the lake and made it a long weekend.

Here is a shot of a small fraction of the multitudes of people that come to this area every year to enjoy the migration spectacle, as birds stop to refuel before beginning their long flight across the lake:

Judging by the fact that the huge parking lot as well as the overflow lot were completely full on Saturday, this was one of the biggest days ever at Magee Marsh. Fortunately the birds were plentiful, the weather was perfect, and the area is big enough that people can spread out pretty comfortably. And hey, to be honest this gathering is part social event anyway! We always look forward to seeing birding friends from all over the state on the boardwalk.

We don't have the camera fire-power (or the patience) to take stellar photos of tiny warblers and other birds that are in constant motion looking for insects to fuel their northerly flights, but we did get a few decent shots. Here is a brilliant yellow prothonotary warbler:

And a real crowd-pleaser, this scarlet tanager:

Not all the interesting birds are colorful; here is a gray-cheeked thrush, one of the most sought-after birds along the boardwalk:

And I'm always glad to see an elegant white-crowned sparrow:

Most of the birds that create excitement at Magee Marsh are songbirds, but an eastern screech owl is always a crowd-pleaser. This one was out in the open, rather than tucked away in a tree cavity, and easily photographed:

And how about this bald eagle parent and chick, nesting very near the parking lot:

Not to be forgotten are the butterflies. On Saturday afternoon lots of red admirals appeared, looking quite fresh:

Sunday evening we were due at Flora-Quest, a wonderful botany event featuring the unique flora and geology of the Marblehead Peninsula near Sandusky, but first we stopped at a nearby wildlife area to see one of the rarest flowers in Ohio, the small white lady's slipper orchid. This beautiful flower grows in wet prairies and fens in alkaline soils, habitats that are increasingly rare everywhere due to draining for agriculture and development.

Our next stop was the lovely lighthouse on the Marblehead Peninsula, which was built in 1821 and is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on the Great Lakes:  

Across the bay from the lighthouse is the Cedar Point amusement park--quiet now but it will be busy in a few weeks! 

From there we headed to Lakeside, a major feature of the Marblehead Peninsula which we have heard about for years but had never visited. It is one of only about 15 remaining Chautauqua communities, noted for their educational, artistic and recreational programs. Here are a few photos that we took on a delightful walk along the lakeshore on Sunday evening:

The Marblehead Peninsula is underlain by vast limestone deposits, and in many areas the valuable rock is very close to the surface which has made quarrying economically attractive for well over a century. The entire peninsula was glaciated way back in pre-history, and the glaciers scraped much of the topsoil off the bedrock, giving rise to unusual conditions that led to development of a globally rare biological community. More about that in my next post!


  1. Beautiful photos even without the gigantic cameras and lenses of some birders -- and I'm eager to hear more about the ecosystem that's developed on the bedrock.

  2. Do you go to Jack Miners in the spring as well?

  3. Hi June!! We have been to Pt. Pelee many times but never to Jack Miners. Maybe next time! Thanks for your note--hope all's well!

  4. Your pictures are wonderful. I have always wanted to go to Lakeside! I'm sure you enjoyed seeing all the other birders, as well as those spectacular birds? Many newbies in the crowd??

    Linda Hoffman