Saturday, December 6, 2008

Keep on Rockin in the Bird World!

From backstage : ) Kim writes: I wanted to add a bit to Kenn's post about our Friday night gig. The funkiest, most far-out part about our band is the way we came together and got this community ROCKED on to the fact that birds are a major driver of ecotourism dollars in northwest Ohio.

Get this. In addition to me and Kenn, our 6-7-8-OH Band members include:
On drums - Larry Fletcher, Director of the Ottawa County Visitors' Bureau;
On rhythm guitar and vocals - Bob Hille, Ottawa County Treasurer;
On rhythm guitar, keyboards, and vocals - Ron Miller, Lake Erie Vacation Rentals;
On lead guitar - (and layin it DOWN, brotha), Pat Sullivan, a local entrepreneur

How we all came together is a trip.
Last spring I launched the “BSBO Business Alliance” initiative. For the most part, the local business community had no idea of the numbers of birders that are starting to pour into our Magee Marsh / Crane Creek area to witness the all-out binocular-burning migration sensation that pumps through here during the month of May. So, with help from one of the most dynamic volunteers on the planet, Delores Cole (who I affectionately refer to simply as, D), I put together a very simple plan to connect the dots for the local business people.

The plan was indeed simple. Kenn had put together the Kenn Kaufman’s Best Bets for Birding blog that offered updates on migration, weather, and sightings for the Magee Marsh / Crane Creek area. To that, D & I added a series of links to local hotels & restaurants in the area, focusing on those within a half an hour from the major birding hotspot, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, which is where the Observatory is located. And finally, we designed “Birders' Calling Cards” and handed them out to every birder who came into the Observatory, asking them to leave them with the businesses they visited during their stay.

Within 4 days I started to get phone calls from business owners who were absolutely blown away at the number of birders in their establishments! Now that I had their attention, I selected several well-connected business owners and invited them on a tour of the marsh. We did two trips. The first was a few days before International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD), and the second was actually on IMBD, which is typically celebrated on the second Saturday in May. I loaded everyone up in the BSBO Bird Bus and drove them back to the boardwalk to see the spectacle. I arranged for Toledo’s Channel 13 News to cover the story.

IMBD at Magee is probably the largest bird festival--that isn’t called a bird festival--anywhere in the world. It has never really been promoted, and it isn’t called a “festival,” but, it IS a festival. There are vendors, field trips, and bird banding demonstrations, a Big Sit fundraiser, and BIRDS! If the weather isn’t a total washout, you can see 20+ species of warblers. Oh, yeah, we also have BIRDERS! We can have more than 10,000 people come through Magee on IMBD weekend, and more than 50,000 during the month of May. (Or May-hem, as I often say.)

BLOWN AWAY….is all I can say. When the tour rolled up to the east end of the parking lot and an ocean of cars and people came into view there were audible gasps from everyone. I’d say there were at least 400 cars in the parking lot. The camera man nearly went berserk. He kept saying that he had no idea this was so huge, and almost before the bus stopped he was bailing out to run through the parking lot to get shots of all the state license plates. (At one point during the second week in May last spring we counted 24 different state license plates in the parking lot---in one day!) Believe it or not, most of the tour participants had never even been to Magee Marsh. Oh, they'd heard of it, sure. But they had no idea what was really going on out here.

The tour was a smash success! Channel 13 did a great job of capturing the essence of the experience in a segment, titled Bird Migration boosts local economy.
The best part for me? The fact that NOW the local business community has a vested interest in preserving these wildlife areas.

Ecotourism is alive and well in northwest Ohio.

On our first tour was Larry Fletcher (aka...our drummer), invited, of course, as the Director of the Ottawa County Visitors' Bureau, and not for his mad thumping drum skills! At that point, I had no idea that Larry was a musician, but for people who love music, it eventually finds its way into any conversation. A few weeks later, in a follow up meeting about the birding tour, we discovered our mutual music madness.

Larry was telling me that, yes, he was a drummer, but the band he’d been playing in was on hiatus because they had lost their bass player and lead vocalist. He jokingly says to me, “You don’t know any bass players or lead singers, do you?” You should have seen the look on his face when I said: “Ummm….Yes. I sing and Kenn plays the bass.”

History is of that which happened next, as they say. : ) The local papers have all been running stories on the band, and Kenn and I have gotten extreme kicks out of the fact that they introduce us as: Kenn Kaufman, bass guitarist and bird expert, and Kim Kaufman, lead singer and Director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.

Smashing stereotypes never sounded so good.
Rock on…

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