May is the month that birders lose all common sense and want to be everywhere at dawn to find the arriving migrants. We certainly enjoy birding our local hotspots, but there are places in the country that concentrate these migrants as they make their way north to their breeding grounds.
In mid-winter a friend emailed me about an upcoming trip in May to Magee Marsh in Ohio with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and did I want to go? After a day of dithering and then reading an article about birding trips in our senior years, I signed up for the tour.
This area is on the south shore of Lake Erie and is a stopover for birds to feed in anticipation the flight across the lake as they head to the north woods. We met the tour group in Ithaca, New York at the Cornell Lab's Sapsucker Woods where the bus awaited eager birders. One of our leaders was none other than Stephen Kress of Project Puffin. Departing Ithaca we were off like migrating birds.
Our first stop was in Erie, Pennnsylvania where we birded Presque Isle State Park, a 3200-acre penisula that arches out into Lake Erie. This area also gives birds a chance to refuel before continuing on. We stayed overnight and returned in the morning to bird the various habitats there. A nice variety of warblers plus other migrants was tallied. One exciting occurrence was a David Sibley sighting as he led a group for a birding festival.
After lunch it was back on the bus and off to Ohio where we birded the afternoon at the Ottawa NWR, a 6704-acre preserve for migrating birds. Touring the refuge we saw a nice variety of waterfowl and shorebirds.
Sunday morning dawned and with it the much anticipated boardwalk at Magee Marsh. We arrived early before the hordes of other birders. Sun on the trees had the insects in abundance and so too the birds. Standing in one spot we watched the warblers busily feeding: Blackburnian, Cape May, Bay-breasted, Prothonotary and more! We were nearly breathless as we searched the trees and seeing so many birds at once. As the morning wore on the boardwalk became packed, but many eyes found the birds and information was happily shared. As impossible as it seemed in this crowd I met Pat Folsom of the Mad Birders in Waitsfield!
All too soon this time of great birding came to an end. We had our lunch on the shore of the lake and then it was on the bus back to Ithaca.
As if that trip wasn't enough, I met my birding pals in Cape May two weeks later for several days there. Cape May is another important staging area for migrants, both spring and fall. Luckily the moon was full and the horsehoe crabs were laying their eggs. On a tip from a Vermont birder we headed to Reed's Beach and were stunned by the uncountable numbers of birds numbers of birds feasting on the crab eggs. Red Knots, Sanderlings, Willets, Least Sandpipers and more Laughing Gulls than any of us had ever seen!
This was a first for me, seeing shorebirds in breeding plumage as we usually only see them in basic plumage in Vermont on their return trip in the fall. We all agreed that if we saw nothing else on this trip it was worth the effort just to see this spectacle of nature.
Of course we checked out all the other hotspots and saw American Oystercatchers and Black Skimmers tending their nests. The fields and woods had a nice variety of passerines, but that scene on the beach was by far the most exciting.
How fortunate to have witnessed two wonderful nature events in one month and grateful for the Birdwatcher's Digest article on birding in your senior years. Do it now it said while you stil can!