The migration of Ohio warblers is not just the annual passing of these little colorful creatures. Its an event!
Beginning in April and extending most of the way through May is when these colorful bundles of energy pass through Ohio. They are returning from their winter havens in the south. Some are returning from as far away as South America.
Ohio warblers are just passing through. Very few warblers actually nest in Ohio. They nest further north in Canada.
The best place to witness the Ohio Warbler migration is at Magee Marsh Wildlife Refuge. This a State operated wildlife area located on the Lake Erie shore east of Toledo.
Once at Magee Marsh go to the bird trail for the optimal place to witness this event. Here you will get the full effect of this spring time spectacle. The bird trail winds through a prime warbler hangout. The trees and shrubs are ideal for the birds to rest and for bird watchers to get up close to them.
The bird trail goes through a small, seven acre area. This doesn't seem like much real estate but this is the optimal place to see the birds.
This little area is right next to the lake. Once the birds get to the lake they think twice about making the trip across. They stop in the nearby trees and shrubs to get fueled up before their flight across the 20 plus mile lake.
The bird trail is right next to a large parking lot. This parking lot was once used for the Crane Creek beach which is no longer operated by the State Parks. The beach is now under the supervision of the wildlife division and will be managed as part of the nature preserve.
Weather decides everything with the Ohio warbler migration. Southerly winds determine when and how many warblers will be on the bird trail on any given day.
A day or two following a nice southerly wind will have thousands of warblers hanging around the bird trail. If northerly winds prevail for long stretches then the warblers will slowly filter in but not in overwhelming waves.
As mentioned above, early to mid April is when they begin to make there way through Ohio. This can last until late May but it all depends on the weather.
This large concentration of Ohio warblers brings with it a large concentration of passionate bird watchers. Just be ready for a lot of people. Most will be on the boardwalk which makes it pretty crowded at times.
The crowds are less during the week, obviously. The weekends during peak migration time gets very busy on and around the bird trail. Migratory bird is the craziest time.
The second weekend in May is International Migratory Bird Day. Talk about an event!
The parking lot mentioned above is BIG and can hold A LOT of cars. Too big on any given day. But on Migratory Bird Day good luck finding an open spot.
This day brings out every person who is passionate about birds and even those who aren't. There are thousands of people who come out to see the warblers. On some years there are likely more people than birds.
Photographers are not an exception here. They can be lined up along the parking lot like warbler paparazzi.
Finding Ohio warblers to photograph in April and May is the easy part. Getting good photographs of them is a bit more challenging. Even with all of the birds in the vicinity getting decent images of them can be tough.
These little guys are quick and they usually don't sit still for more than a second at a time. They are bouncing from limb to limb or crawling up and down trees.
I have tried setting up my tripod on the boardwalk but this can be tough especially if its busy. The tripod blocks a portion of the boardwalk and people can trip over it. I spend more time worrying about if I'm in someone's way than getting a good shot.
I prefer to set up between the parking lot and the boardwalk along the tree line. The birds are still numerous and I don't have to worry about getting kicked.
A couple tips for photographing warblers at Magee Marsh:
- Find a good place away from the general traffic flow and set up. Use your tripod if you have one (recommended). I have found that staying put is best. Sometimes it makes sense to move to a new location but generally stay put. The warblers will come past you eventually.
- Use the longest lens you possibly can. I suggest at least a 400mm lens or longer if you have it. I use a 500mm and sometimes wish I had a 600mm. I sometimes use a 1.4 teleconverter. My Wimberley sidekick comes in handy here since I'm always panning to get the bird in the viewfinder. Obviously you will want a tripod.
- A lot of photographers like to use a flash when photographing birds. I personally don't use it. I think it makes the birds look a little too much like they are posing in a studio. I have to admit that there are times when I could use it but as a general rule I prefer ambient light.
- Make a couple different rips on different weeks if you can. Different warbler species come through at different times.
- Be patient. Some days are better than others for seeing birds. Some parts of days are better than others.