OHIO AND MICHIGAN
11–19 May 2014
North-western Ohio has recently developed a reputation for being one of the best places to observe North American migrants. The swampy woodlands around Magee Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge on the southern shore of Lake Erie provide an ideal place for migrants to rest and feed. Elements of three major migration routes converge here creating a unique diversity of warblers, flycatchers and thrushes. There is simply so much to see, with boardwalks, trails and nature reserves all lying within a relatively small area making the migration phenomenon accessible to even the most inexperienced of birdwatchers. We also drive north to Grayling. Here the emphasis will change to rare breeding birds, chief among these being Kirtland’s Warbler and Henslow’s Sparrow.
Day 1 The tour begins with a scheduled flight from a London airport to Detroit, Michigan. From here it’s a relatively short transfer to our base in Port Clinton, Ohio for the next five nights. The journey should not take more than two hours but if time allows we may get to see our first migrant warblers before supper.
Days 2–5 North American warblers and other Neo-tropical migrants will provide much of the focus for this portion of the tour. All of them will be in spring finery and many of them in song. Most birds will be found on the famous boardwalk at Magee Marsh on the southern shore of Lake Erie and here birders of all levels enjoy the spectacle of close-up, confiding birds many of which seem to be oblivious to the assembled crowds. Cape May, Bay-breasted, Blackburnian and Black-throated Blue Warblers feed in the mid-to-upper canopy, whilst below them Ovenbirds, Prothonotary and Mourning Warblers and American Redstarts forage alongside Sora, American Woodcock and thrushes such as Swainson’s, Wood Thrush and Veery. The birder coverage is so thorough that little is missed on the boardwalk at Magee and we will be at the ready to chase any rarity that might show up such as a Connecticut or Kirtland’s Warbler (now annual at Magee). Magee Marsh, Crane Creek WMA and the trails at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Ottawa National Wildlife refuge will provide a stage for warbler viewing like nothing we’ve seen on any of our North American tours. In the process we may also find Eastern Whip-poor-will, Grey-cheeked and Hermit Thrushes, Yellow-throated, Warbling, Blue-headed, Red-eyed and Philadelphia Vireos and Great Crested, Olive-sided, Yellow-bellied, Willow, Alder and Least Flycatchers. Although it may seem repetitive, it’s likely that we’ll spend at least some time on the boardwalk at Magee every day and for good reason – in spring migration fresh arrivals can be expected every single day. The fields and marshes of Ottawa NWR and Metzger Marsh will also be worthy of exploration. Snowy Egret, Trumpeter Swan, Wood Duck, Green Heron, Marsh Wren and Yellow-headed Blackbird should all be found. After rain many of the local fields provide habitat for shorebirds where we shall look for Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover and White-rumped Sandpiper. Indeed, with as many as twenty major birding spots within an hour of Port Clinton we will be spoilt for places to visit. The furthest of these, Oak Openings Preserve in Swanton, provides unique habitat in which Broad-winged Hawk, Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Meadowlark, Blue-winged Warbler, Lark and Grasshopper Sparrows may be found. During our five days in the area our itinerary is deliberately designed to be flexible to maximize our chances of seeing most of the possible migrants.
Day 6 We leave Port Clinton and the Erie shore for Grayling, Michigan. Our focus will shift to the rare summer breeders and residents of the mid-west. Along the way, we will search for Henslow’s Sparrow, a rare and declining grassland species with an insignificant song. In the same area, Sandhill Crane, Yellow-throated Vireo, Acadian Flycatcher, Cerulean Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Bobolink might also be found. We should reach Grayling with enough time to check-in to our motel and then go to a local wetland for rails. The main target will be Yellow Rail whilst we also have a reasonable chance of seeing American Bittern, Sora, Virginia Rail, Sedge Wren and Swamp Sparrows. Night Grayling, Michigan.
Day 7 Kirtland’s Warbler, an exceedingly rare species which breeds only in young Jack Pines in Michigan, is a priority for this portion of the tour. Almost all of the World’s population summers in Michigan and is currently estimated at a mere 1800 pairs. The same general area (Huron National Forest) also provides habitat for a number of breeders including Upland Sandpiper, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow-rumped and Nashville Warblers, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee and Vesper, Clay-coloured, Lincoln’s, Field Sparrows and Brewer’s Blackbird. Provided that we all have satisfactory views of the Kirtland’s Warbler, we will transfer to East Tawas in late afternoon. Night in East Tawas, Michigan.
Day 8 On our final morning we’ll get as early start to explore Tawas Point State Park, perhaps ‘the’ principle migration hotspot in south-east Michigan. This peninsula has the feel of a ‘classic’ coastal headland with rolling dunes and ‘pockets’ of pine, birch and willow all providing shelter for tired, hungry migrants. It is possible to stand in a pine grove and be surrounded by 15 or 16 species of warbler, often offering superb views. Again migrants will feature heavily as we search for Connecticut, Wilson’s, Golden-winged and Canada Warblers, Indigo Bunting and Orchard Oriole. The shore may support waders such as Dunlin and (Hudsonian) Whimbrel whilst Piping Plover is a breeding bird here, though they may be difficult to see. Caspian, Common, Forster’s and Black Terns might also be found on the sandy shores of the point. With a full morning behind us, we’ll have a late ‘brunch’ and then have a steady drive to Detroit International Airport for a late afternoon flight back to London arriving on Day 9.
General Information This tour is designed to run at a fairly easy pace. Most walks are relatively short and on level terrain. However, it should be noted that the boardwalk at Magee Marsh and other trails can involve being on foot for extended periods. The boardwalk may also be crowded with birders at peak migration time. The weather can be highly variable in May ranging from warm and sunny through to cold, with wind and rain. Early mornings can be chilly and frost is possible. Some grassland areas may be wet and rubber boots can be useful in such situations. There are no special medical requirements although ticks, (which can carry Lyme’s disease) can be found in long grass and woodland and mosquitoes and black flies can be a nuisance in some areas, especially the north woods, so a good insect repellent is recommended. Visas are required. Food is excluded from the tour price but is relatively inexpensive; allow about £20 per day depending on your requirements.
Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 9 with 1 leader, 16 with 2 leaders.