Sunday, May 30, 2010

Whitewater

From the far side of the rapids, Kenn writes: We screen the comments that come in before they’re posted on the blog. Most of the comments are wonderful, all are appreciated, and we post almost all of them. One that we didn’t post came in from "Anonymous" a couple of weeks ago -- taking us to task for the fact that we hadn’t updated the blog since April 10th. "Why bother to have a blog, there in the ‘warbler capital of the world,’ if you never post to it?" It went on to imply that we must be pretty lazy, or worse, to fail to keep the blog rolling.

Gee, "Anonymous," we’re glad that you missed us. A lot has been going on here. The best analogy that comes to mind is that being here in northwestern Ohio in May is like a modified version of whitewater rafting. But instead of roaring down the river, the raft is tethered to one spot, bucking and pitching wildly while the whitewater rapids of spring migration come pouring around and under and over those of us who are clinging to the raft.

The Lake Erie shoreline in northwest Ohio -- specifically the area centered on Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge -- is one of the best spots in North America to see concentrations of spring migrant songbirds, especially warblers. I wrote about this area in Birding, the magazine of the American Birding Association, earlier this year; you can read the article here. Every spring, hundreds of thousands of birds, and tens of thousands of birders, come pouring through this region.

Numbers of visiting birders had been growing in recent years, so this year we decided to hold an event to engage with them and try to enhance their experience. Wild brainstorming about it a year ago led to the formation of the BIGGEST WEEK IN AMERICAN BIRDING -- and it was big! For starters, it was a week that was eleven days long, May 6 through 16. It was hosted by five different organizations: Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Tropical Birding tours, Kaufman Field Guides, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area (a unique partnership of a nonprofit, two for-profit companies, a federal agency, and a state agency). Of course, Kimberly and I represented two of the five partners, so we were kept busy! It was sponsored by a wide variety of organizations and companies, from Leica Sport Optics (Leica's Jeff Bouton gave many digiscoping demonstrations) to the American Birding Association. Sean Logan, the director of Ohio's Department of Natural Resources, came up from Columbus to speak at the opening ceremony, and U.S. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (in whose district the event took place) sent a letter and sent a top-ranking member of her staff to the opening ceremony as well.

Throughout the event, there were multiple field trips and birdwalks every day, many of them free of charge, led by skilled guides from Tropical Birding. Throughout the event, there were daytime workshops and evening programs held at multiple sites. I personally gave evening keynote talks on nine different nights! Throughout the event, we were doing constant updates on bird sightings via Twitter, making this the first bird festival to use this new opportunity. Throughout the event, and for weeks before and after, Kimberly was working 14 to 17 hour days, since Black Swamp Bird Observatory was the center for organization and registration for the event. Throughout the event, we had to stay on our toes, since Kimberly and I both wound up on radio or television or in the newspapers multiple times, talking about birding. And throughout the event (and before and after), I was keeping up almost-daily updates on weather, migration, and latest bird sightings, by way of another blog that "Anonymous" apparently didn’t know about (you can read it here) -- I wrote no fewer than 30 posts on that blog between mid-April and the end of May.

The whole 11-day event was a fabulous time, with lots of birds, lots of great friends to share the birds with, and lots of opportunity to introduce brand-new people to birding. My very favorite day, however, was Day 9 of our long week. I’ll describe that in a separate post.
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