A male Yellow Warbler sings from a branch, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Harbor, Ohio.
I’m not a bird watcher. I’m a photo hobbyist who happens to enjoy photographing wildlife. And I hate crowds when I’m shooting.
Photographers mark the seasons differently than normal folks. January is snowy landscape season. Late October marks the start of fall color season. And for me, May is warbler season.
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, but it's been my experience that few hang around here for the summer. Most head north into Canada.
But it takes a short road trip each May for my best opportunity to see warblers. I drive north a few hours to the southern bank of Lake Erie — Ohio’s “north coast” — when bird watchers from around the world show up in parks in that area for a week 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 on 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.
I’m not a bird watcher. I’m a photo hobbyist who happens to enjoy photographing wildlife. And I hate crowds when I’m shooting. So I usually avoid Magee Marsh, where people are jammed together shoulder to shoulder on a narrow boardwalk through the woods and one camera click pulls everyone in to see what the photographer has found. I spend my time at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, which is about a mile down the road and much less crowded.
I photographed this male Yellow Warbler singing from a branch in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in May a few years ago. The Yellow Warbler is probably found in greater numbers than other warblers during the migration through northern Ohio, but I’ve photographed about 25 different types of warblers during visits to the area.
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.