After our Thailand trip in December we hadn't planned for any major trips in 2011, which was fine with me but soon i started thinking about the Spring migration, specifically the eastern migration.
Point Pelee in Ontario is famed for being a migrant trap and gets the crowds every spring but from what i read and heard, was better in the fall while the northern shore of Ohio and a place called the Cane Creek Magee Marsh wildlife area in particular (just across from Point Pelee) was a better bet for photographers, as a 1 mile boardwalk near the shore was the main attraction.
Most recommend hand-holding while shooting on the boardwalk as it can get quite crowded. I used my tripod and typical 500mm setup and had no problems wandering around but the camera shake from the constantly walked-upon boardwalk made me wish my lens had Vibration Reduction.
The Magee Marsh / Ottawa Wildlife Reserve calls itself the Warbler Capital of North America and that sounds about right. The Black Swamp Bird Observatory (in the Magee Marsh) has a certain Mr. Kenn Kaufman on staff and they host a birding event called the Biggest Week In Birding that corresponds with the peak warbler migration, i would miss this event (and huge crowds) by two weeks but had hopes of catching the tail-end of the second wave of migrants, which included flycatchers and a handful of later warbler species, including the super hit grail birds for many of the birders camped out at certain spots on the boardwalk, the Connecticut warbler, and Mourning warbler, both ground-level birds, and that much harder to spot.
I decided not to spend too much time looking for these birds as there were so many more birds around me that were new anyways and worthy of my time.
Friday 20, 2011
Flew out of YVR at 7pm via United with a transfer in San Francisco and on to Cleveland.
Never even got drinks on the flight down to San Fran, and they don't give out peanuts in Economy class anymore either. Usually i prefer window seats but this time i ended up in the middle on the flight to Cleveland and it kind of sucked, listened to Ipod all the way across.
Saturday 21, 2011.
Arrive in Cleveland at 6am, find my way to the rental car and find that they have no record of my online reservation, i forgot to print a copy myself so was out of luck regarding any discounts i would have gotten by booking online but was lucky enough to get a car anyways, Ford Focus 4 door. Was glad that the trunk was roomy enough for my suitcase as i wanted it hidden as the hotel wouldn't be my first stop, Magee Marsh would.
It was cool driving in Ohio, very green state yet the trees are different species than i am used to seeing here on the west coast. At one point i drove past a huge nuclear reactor ala Homer Simpson's workplace and wanted to stop and take a pic, of course being me, i had to get to the destination and i never did stop to get a shot, all the more reason it's great to take trips with Audy, she likes to shoot the scenery, her skills were missed on this trip (i was traveling solo).
Finally arrived at Magee Marsh and was pleased to find that parking was free in all Ohio parks, the marsh parking lot was also ample enough for all.
There were birders and photographers everywhere on Saturday morning, far less than a week or two ago though, still a lot more than i am used to. Better Beamers and flash seemed to be the mandatory hardware for all shooters (who came in all shapes, sizes and ages). Most were hand-holding 200mm to 400mm range lenses. One could just follow the crowds as they moved from spot to spot and be assured of seeing whatever was being seen and i did a bit of that but also found a few less traveled spots to check out later as well.
Birders are a friendly bunch and i felt welcomed by all. met some cool photogs as well and walked a bit with a few of them, good times.
First warbler i shot was a Magnolia and soon after picked up Prothonotary, Blackburnian, Canada, Bay-breasted, Wilson's, Yellow, and Black-throated Blue. Got my first Blue-headed Vireo as well a Eastern Screech-owl that birders were making sure everyone got a chance to see. It was harshly back-lit but i got a record shot anyways. Also saw my first Gray-cheeked thrush.
I saw my first Amish birders as well, i had read about how they like to come out birdwatching and sure enough a group of them were enjoying the birds. For half a second i jokingly wondered to myself if they had to make their own bins (binoculars) out of wood since they had to shun worldly possessions but was relieved to see that they were sporting decent optics.
Later i checked out the beach and marveled how huge the lakes really were, i couldn't see the other side, like an ocean without tides. Lots of dead fish on the beach and a flock of Dunlin in breeding colours, i found one isolated slightly from the others and got some ground-level shots in decent light, hurray.
I was starting to feel tired finally and the heat of mid-day made it worse, sure couldn't sleep on the flight over and as for eating, hadn't done any of that either since the airport in Vancouver the night before.
I had booked 4 nights at a Super 8 in Sandusky (i was calling it San-doo-sky until was corrected with the proper pronunciation - San-du-skee). Glad that this hotel had no record of my reservation either as i decided to only spend the one night there, Sandusky was quite the drive from Magee Marsh and if i didn't need to be there should find someplace closer.
The Super 8 was also right next to a huge Harley Davidson dealer and about 100 bikes and bikers were milling about the parking lot when i arrived.
The night wasn't too bad, neighboring rooms only kept me up till 3am.
Sunday 22, 2011
Drove out with luggage to Magee Marsh again in the morning and was surprised to see less of a crowd than yesterday. Bird activity was down noticeably but i still picked up Lifers in Chestnut-sided and Blackpoll. A lot of the warblers i was seeing now were females, loads of American Redstarts and Empidonax flycatchers.
One of the star attractions for many was an obliging Olive-sided Flycatcher.
The quality of my shots was up on the first day which was encouraging, maybe less people around helped.
In the afternoon i decided to drive towards Toledo and look for lodging near there. On the way out i saw a big billboard advertising the Kaufman Field Guides, pretty cool to see a birding billboard for a change.
In Oregon county i found a Comfort Inn and booked till Wednesday morning. They had an actual Birder's rate and i got a discount.
Monday 23, 2011
Drove out to Magee Marsh again as it had been a bit stormy the night before and was hoping perhaps a fallout had taken place. The winds were in the wrong direction however and many birds had probably just kept flying.
Less bird activity and birders that the two previous days but still had some fun, it even rained on me (the only time of the trip) and i saw lightning from the boardwalk, it seemed at that moment that i had the boardwalk to myself.
Saw one other birder on the stretch where i was situated and we walked together a bit, at one point he listened and commented that it was a Philadelphia Vireo and i was able to get a couple of record shots. Loads of Red-eyed vireos on the boardwalk as well.
American redstarts of the female persuasion dominated the day but i did witness a photog next to me snag a Mourning warbler out of the low brush, i never saw it.
The rain brought down some birds and i got really close shots of a Yellow warbler on the wooden railing, magical.
Out in the parking lot i got another Lifer in Great Crested Flycatcher, most importantly i got to talking with a pair of birders who told me about some farmers fields just out by the highway near the entrance to Ottawa NWR that held both Bobolink and Dickcissal, two grassland species i really wanted to see. Drove out there in the afternoon and got some looks at my first Bobolink but no Dickcissal.
Tuesday 24, 2011
This would be my last day at the marsh and as it was, probably a good time to get moving, huge storms were on the horizon.
Did get some shots of a Baltimore Oriole doing some sort of tail flaring demonstration to another male, quite cool to watch as the body would move up and down rhythmically almost.
Northern Cardinal popped up, as did Black-throated Green warbler, Eastern Phoebe and a cool moment with a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. I was finally able to add them to my North American list, having seen my Lifer in San Blas in 2007.
If Audy had been along, she would have gotten some great shots of a medium-sized constrictor-type snake i spotted making it's way up a dead tree trunk. I found out later from a pair of birders i shared it with that it was an endangered Lake Erie Water Snake, with my setup i couldn't get far enough back from it and just enjoyed the moment.
while it felt weird to not get a "shot" i appreciated the small glimpse into the natural world nonetheless.
Later i drove out to the fields again, determined to get a Dickcissal, this time i tuned into their song better and finally spotted one, singing out in the open, but down quite low, beautiful bird.
Picked up some better shots of Bobolink as well as a familiar friend in Savannah Sparrow.
Was Tuesday the night of the Canucks game? If it was then i was the only person in the hotel that night hooting and hollering whenever the 'nuck's scored a goal against the sharks, finally winning the game and conference.
Kind of brutal watching games on the east coast, game didn't start till 9pm and with overtime, it didn't end till after 1am.
Wednesday 25, 2011
Checked out early from the Comfort Inn and after consulting my stack of papers and maps pointed the rental car east and drove on to Cleveland, then south to a small town called Bath, next to the only national park in Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
First though, the Bath Nature Preserve was the first stop.
Before the trip i picked up a pdf copy of photog Matthew Studebaker's Ohio Site Guide and was keen to try out some of his recommended locations like Bath and CVNP.
Common Yellowthroat was indeed common and most of my shooting was in the vicinity of the parking lot. Yellow warbler, a very whitish sub-species of Song sparrow the likes of which i had never seen before and Indigo buntings also gave good looks.
A pair of Eastern Bluebird were the first birds i saw actually, also saw my first Blue Jay of the trip but it wouldn't come down for a close look. Gray Catbird was also very vocal at Bath.
Later i headed on to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Basically i just drove up Riverview road hitting up some spots listed in the pdf. Glad i had that info as the park itself is vast, with small towns and farms in between park areas. Quite a lovely park and i enjoyed driving with the windows down, listening to the birdsong.
I had read about a spot where Blue-winged warbler nested every year and soon found the location, eventually picking up the warbler song, really hard to get a good look although i did get some record shots.
Chipping sparrow was also a highlight and i got looks at Ruby-throated hummingbird, Eastern Towhee and another Blue Jay off in the distance.
Next i drove on to a well-known birder destination called Station Bridge area. Matthew seemed to like it for warblers as well and Cerulean warbler was a possibility, although harder to find as they were typically higher up in the trees, or so i heard.
The weather was changing and it started spitting rain, not enough to deter me but i knew i wasn't going to walk too far, clouds were looking dark.
Station Bridge delivered, picked up my Lifer Red-bellied Woodpecker soon after starting and Northern Cardinal was picked off soon after. best of all was spotting a Cerulean low down beside the trail i was walking on, i fired off a volly of shots and got a couple of decent shots out of it before the rain started to really come down and i called it and packed up for the day.
It had been a good day of shooting, no crowds, just joggers and cyclists every now and some quality looks. Now to find a hotel for the night, i planned to come back to CVNP again on Thursday for one more day of shooting, i wanted to head back to Station Bridge and try for more warblers. I drove around a lot, kind of lost but going in the right direction more or less looking for lodging, not having GPS i relied on Google map printouts for the most part when traveling but they were not always that detailed.
Finally i found my way to Independence county and a Comfort Inn next to a Denny's, i was tired and was ready to crash anywhere. After a quick meal at said Denny's i settled in for the night and checked out the news on TV, i was surprised to see Severe Weather Warnings flashing on all the stations, Huge thunderstorms were heading my way, in fact, tornado weather was happening and i was in the line of fire. Hail was coming down the size of golf balls. I saw the a suspected tornado touched down briefly in Sandusky, my location the first night, worse though was the fact that the places i had been shooting at earlier in the day like Bath and Cuyahoga Valley were getting hit severely, i could believe it as Independence received less than other county's but the rain and wind were really working the Comfort Inn over, i went outside at one point just before we were hit and the clouds were black and very low, some people were panicking a bit and trying to get their vehicles under cover as hail damage was a real threat. I briefly thought of my rental car but didn't bother worrying about it too much.
The storm passed soon after and i watched on the news as it moved on, finally sleep came.
Thursday, 26, 2011
After the storms the night before i wasn't sure how much shooting i was going to get done but i had to try at least, fly all the way east to shoot and then wuss out because of a little weather?! not likely.
I found my way back to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, there had been severe flooding, some trees were down but the road seemed open so i ventured on, finding my way back to the Blue-winged warbler location. I was the only soul there that morning and at least it wasn't raining. Soon i heard the call and ended up getting some decent shots of a couple of them on different territories, it was a great moment actually, especially since yesterdays shots were kind of duff.
Next i drove on to the park headquarters and the railway line. This location was called Jaite in the Studebacker guide and believe it or not i was really hoping to see my Lifer Swamp Sparrow as it was mentioned as a possibility. Strange how certain birds excite us, finally spotting a Swampy was a good feeling, getting quality shots made it even better.
Next i wanted to go to Station Bridge but the road was closed due to high flooding and i had to re-think plans. I decided to head in the opposite direction and check out the Ida Rd. Trailhead and it's small boardwalk out into a marsh.
A pair of Eastern bluebird were the highlights of the boardwalk but a trio of Cedar Waxwing was a nice find as well. Afterwards i started walking back to the parking lot and noticed bird activity almost in front of my car, seems some birdseed had been spilled on the ground and local birds were talking advantage.
Northern Cardinal was the first bird to give me decent looks, followed by a pair of Tufted Titmouse. Surprisingly a White-headed Nuthatch was coming down to feed on the ground as well, a bigger bird than i remember.
The highlight was a common eastern bird called the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, finally i had close looks, my Lifer was at Cape May a few years ago and the looks were distant, getting one close up was sweet.
What a way to wrap the shooting portion of the trip up, so worth it to go out again this morning.
The weather was back to normal and i drove towards the airport and found a Best Western near the terminal for the night.
Friday 27, 2011
Hung around the hotel until 12pm and then returned the rental car and entered the airport at around 1:30pm, flight wouldn't leave until 5pm so i settled in and began reading my beat up copy of Kingbird Highway again. I had brought it along in case i somehow ran into the great Kenn Kaufman and could get it signed. I never met Kenn but was assured ny the good people at Black Swamp Bird Observatory that he did indeed pop in on a regular basis.
United/Continental was hassle free and all flights left when they should, best of all, my hard case luggage arrived back home safely, good because the tripod, gimbal head and lens hood always travel in check-in luggage, a gamble but what can i do, i'm already carrying cameras and 500mm lens in a Crumpler backpack as part of my carry-on, so far (knock on wood) there have been no luggage mishaps on any of my trips.
Arrived back in Vancouver at around 10:45pm and took the Canada Line/Seabus/bus home and saved some money by not parking vehicle in long-term lot, it was quick but i wouldn't want to do it during rush-hour with luggage.
That's about it, a successful trip and i know i'll have to bring Audy back one spring in the future, after all, i never did get that Mourning warbler or Connecticut warbler, heck, might even get a Kirkland's warbler at Magee on a lucky day.