Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Migration Madness

Here, along the north coast of America, neotropical bird migration is in full flight. We’re fortunate to have the premiere stopping spot for wood warblers, and other species, as they make their way to nesting grounds in Canada and beyond.
We joined the annual migration this past weekend at Magee Marsh in Ottawa County. As always, we headed to the spot where friends and birds will accumulate—the famous boardwalk trail. Some of us have been going there before the boardwalk was built and have thus earned the right to talk about the good old days when the birds virtually dripped from the trees. Well, I don’t exactly remember that, however, birders, like fishers, golfers and many others, tend to reminisce about things they aren’t really sure happened in the first place.
Not to put too fine a point on it, however, the birding was slow. In three days we tallied less than 100 species, not too hot by Magee Marsh standings. Birds, however, are only part of the story. For many, hitting the boardwalk during warbler migration season is as much a social event as anything else. A stroll through the parking lot can reveal license plates from at least half the states in the union—California to Maine to Florida to Texas. It’s an international event. The polyglot of languages can test your ear with French, German, Spanish, even New Jersian and Kentuckian.
I’ve seen days during migration when the best descriptive adjective would be frantic. Birds come at you from all directions and you need a visit to the chiropractor to get your head on straight. And while I like to tally as many of the colorful feathered gems as anyone, this year I appreciated the slower pace. It gave us a chance to study and appreciate the birds we did find—some uncommon to our area.
Our first morning, first bird was a Summer Tanager, not seen often in these parts. And the Veery, more often heard than seen, put on a great show. It was as if the birds sensed the slower pace, maybe less competition for food, and could afford to pose a bit and study the humans.