The Biggest Week in American Birding, the fantastic birding festival in northwest Ohio hosted by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, is just around the corner, and I can’t wait. The event kicks off on Tuesday, May 6 and continues through Thursday, May 15. I’ll be there May 9, 10, and 11, so stop by the BirdWatching Magazine booth at the Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center and say hi!
The list of reasons to attend Biggest Week is long, and you can read about them all in the event’s visitor’s guide. Before you dive into the 68-page booklet, however, I want to share 10 big highlights of this year’s festival:
1. David Sibley
The author of our “ID Toolkit” column and the recently published second edition of the Sibley Guide to Birds will deliver the festival’s first keynote address, “The Art of Identification.” David will trace his own artistic development through sketches and paintings and will discuss the unique requirements and challenges of illustrating for a field guide.
4 pm, Tuesday, May 6, Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, $12. Book signing to follow.
2. Laura Erickson
The beloved author, radio host, blogger, and BirdWatching contributing editor will describe her Conservation Big Year — her 2013 search for birds of conservation concern in the lower 48 states. Laura saw sage-grouse, Swainson’s Warbler, Piping Plover, and hundreds of other species. She’ll talk about the new commitments she is making to ensure that the birds she treasures can survive for many generations to come.
4 pm, Friday, May 9, Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, $12. Book signing to follow.
3. A Birder’s Guide to Everything
This festival will host a special screening of the new film about teenage birders. Contributing Editor Kenn Kaufman, who was a consultant on the movie and has a small part in it, will be on hand to discuss his experience working with the filmmakers. All of the proceeds from the screening will benefit Golden-winged Warbler habitat restoration.
7 pm, Monday, May 12, Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, $10. Seating limited to 200. Buy tickets at www.bwiab.com.
4. Golden-winged Warbler
In addition to donating to conservation of the Golden-winged Warbler through their movie tickets, Biggest Week attendees have another chance to help the species, which is one of the fastest-declining birds in the Americas. Our friends at American Bird Conservancy and Black Swamp Bird Observatory are encouraging all festival participants to contribute to the Save the Golden-Wing Project to offset the carbon footprint of their travel and support creation of a habitat corridor in Nicaragua for overwintering Golden-wings. The groups suggest a minimum donation of $10. The funds will enable ABC and its partners to advance reforestation work in the Reserva El Jaguar, one of the most important sites for the warbler on its wintering grounds. The project will provide native tree saplings to coffee farmers, helping them to move from conventional to shade-grown coffee and creating new habitat for warblers and other birds.
Donations can be made when you register or on ABC’s site.
In her article The True Cost of Coffee, Contributing Editor Julie Craves listed Reserva El Jaguar as one of four Nicaraguan coffee farms that welcome visitors.
5. The boardwalk
Yes, birds like the Prothonotary Warbler at right are the primary reason to head to the boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, but to be perfectly honest, the peoplewatching on the nearly mile-long boardwalk is almost as much fun as the birdwatching. Where else in your birding life do you have to squeeze past other birdwatchers because the walkway is packed shoulder to shoulder? In past visits, I’ve seen Kenn Kaufman, Richard Crossley, Sharon Stitler (aka Birdchick), Laura Erickson, and photographer and Ivory-bill hunter Bobby Harrison watching birds along the wooded path. But the real treat, I think, is seeing birdwatchers from all walks of life: parents with young children, teenagers, beginners, seasoned veterans, tattooed hipsters, you name it.
6. Conservation stamps
The festival is hosting an evening to promote the Federal Duck Stamp, the Junior Duck Stamp, and other conservation stamps. Ninety-eight percent of the proceeds from sales of the $15 Federal Duck Stamp go to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which supports the purchase of migratory-bird habitat for inclusion into the National Wildlife Refuge System, and a new stamp is issued every year. Attendees will get to meet wildlife artist Adam Grimm and his seven-year-old daughter Madison, whose Canvasback paintings won the 2013 Federal and Junior Duck Stamp Contests. Buy a stamp at the event, and you’ll also receive a poster showing the Grimms’ winning art.
5-7 pm, Saturday, May 10, Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center.
7. Reporting your sightings
Some of my best memories of birding at the Biggest Week are sharing sightings with other birders on the boardwalk and other hotspots. But why stop there? Share your sightings in real-time by tweeting from your phone to @BiggestWeek. And be sure to report the birds you see to eBird. Before submitting, however, check out this handy guide to reporting sightings on eBird from locations within Magee Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Portions of each site fall within separate counties, and multiple eBird hotspots have been set up within each site. Recording your observations precisely will help eBird reviewers validate your checklists.
8. Joel Greenberg
Regular readers of this website and BirdWatching Magazine know by now that 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the Passenger Pigeon’s extinction. The bird that once numbered in the billions was lost forever on September 1, 1914. Joel Greenberg, a founder and principal of Project Passenger Pigeon, and graduate student Elisabeth Condon wrote about the pigeon’s demise in “Like Meteors from Heaven,” an article in our February 2014 issue. Joel’s book, A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction, was published in January by Bloomsbury, and I’m happy to report that it has received lots of buzz and positive press, including reviews in The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. Before the year is out, Joel will have presented more than 60 talks about the pigeon in 18 states and one province. I attended his speech at Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center a few weeks ago; it was a terrific, albeit sobering account delivered by someone who knows the bird’s story inside and out. If you’ll be at the festival, don’t miss your chance to hear the story from the author himself.
4 pm, Wednesday, May 7, Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, $12. Book signing to follow.
9. Kenn Kaufman
The author of many books about birds and wildlife and the writer of our regular “ID Tips” column will present two keynote speeches. His first, “When the Bird Looks Back: A View from the Other Side,” considers how it feels to be a bird and what the world looks like to a bird. Kenn wonders if we can imagine what life is like for a bird — and even if we can be sure there’s value in trying to see the world from that viewpoint. This is a brand-new program, based on a chapter from Kenn’s forthcoming book about spring migration in Ohio.
4 pm, Saturday, May 10, Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, $12. Book signing to follow.
Kenn’s second keynote address, “Birding for Life,” will conclude the festival. He’ll share his favorite birding moments and will explain why one lifetime may not be enough to satisfy his curiosity about birds.
4 pm, Thursday, May 15, Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, $12.
10. The birds
Of course, the main attractions are the birds, lots and lots of birds. Warblers, orioles, tanagers, hawks, shorebirds, terns, and rails will stop over at Magee Marsh and the surrounding natural areas along the Lake Erie shore to rest and refuel. Here are a few warblers you might see if you go:
I hope to see you there! — Matt Mendenhall, Managing Editor