05.23.21: Singing warbler

A male Chestnut-sided Warbler sings in Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Oak Harbor, Ohio.

A male Chestnut-sided Warbler sings in Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Oak Harbor, Ohio.

Photographing birding’s biggest week

Tech specs

  • Date/time: May 18, 2017 12:48 PM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: EF600mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x 
  • Focal length: 840mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/1250 second
  • ISO: 1250

May is warbler season … at least for me as a photographer and for birdwatchers from around the world.

I get nearly all of my warbler photos during the spring, when the birds are migrating north from their winter homes in Central and South America, and less often in the fall during migration south. The range maps for most warbler species show Central Ohio as part of the summer breeding range. In my experience, few hang around here for the summer. Most head north into Canada.

So it takes a road trip each May for my best opportunity to see warblers. My wife and I drive north a few hours to parks along the southern bank of Lake Erie when bird watchers from around the world converge on that area each May to watch the massive number of warblers in the trees and fields. It’s been dubbed the Biggest Week in American Birding

The prime focus is Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, which is packed every year during the weeks surrounding Mother’s Day weekend when the spring warbler migration is at its peak. The birds gather in trees and bushes along the edge of the lake to rest and refuel before flying nonstop across the lake to Canada and their summer breeding range.

The number of warblers in the trees is incredible (I’ve photographed about 25 different types of warblers during visits to the area and I’ve seen other types I couldn’t get on camera), although at times it seems as if there are a hundred times more people than there are birds in the small park.

I found this colorful male Chestnut-sided Warbler perched in a sunny spot in Magee Marsh in 2017.  The downside to photographing in Magee Marsh anytime around the “biggest week” is that any camera click draws a throng of people to see what you are photographing. As the crowd approached this bird ducked for cover. But I did get a shot.

We see more than warblers during our May trips. I’ve photographed nesting Bald Eagles, nesting killdeer, Sandhill Cranes, Trumpeter Swans, Scarlet Tanagers and a number of other species that find the wetlands along Lake Erie to be a suitable summer home. It makes for a fun trip.

But as with most things 2020, the “biggest week”  was canceled last year, one of many events to fall victim to the COVID pandemic. The birds were still there, of course. It’s just that people were discouraged from attending because social distancing is extremely difficult on the boardwalk in Magee Marsh. The same cautions were still in place this year. We ‘ve really missed making our annual visit to that area. 

Maybe next year.

The downside to photographing in Magee Marsh anytime around the “biggest week” is that any camera click draws a throng of people to see what you are photographing. 

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Photographs and text: Copyright - Pat D. Hemlepp. All rights reserved. Photographs may not be used without permission.

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