Midwest Warblers VENT Trip: Part I

By: Michael Jewell, Travis Audubon Master Birder

Train Depot at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Janel and I had been searching for a Victor Emanuel Nature Tour we both had interest and time for, and when we saw the “MIDWEST WARBLERS Magee Marsh and Kirtland Warbler” with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis, we agreed this was the tour for us. I contacted my sister Jill Jewell Mathieu, also a birder, living in Massachusetts, about the tour, and she eagerly said yes!

I had known Michael and Louise as acquaintances for over ten years, and Janel and I have joined them on birding tours at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and always enjoyed their company and birding knowledge, so from the start we were excited about this trip.

Scarlet Tanager at Magee Marsh

First stop on this first-time-offered seven-day trip was Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Brecksville, Ohio, not more than twelve miles where my sister Jill and I grew up in Twinsburg, Ohio. Growing up, we had spent time hiking, exploring and tobogganing before it became a National Park in 2000. CVNP is the only National Park in Ohio.

The first day was cool and damp, as it can be in springtime in Ohio, but birding was wonderful, with quite a few Ohio birders out also. We had wonderful views of a female Cerulean Warbler down at eye level gathering nesting materials, not more than 3-4 feet away. She was such a delicate, beautiful bird. She took her time, not paying any attention to us as we watched in awe of the views. None of us bothered to bring cameras due to the weather, so not a single photo was taken.

After a wonderful morning/early afternoon of birding, we gathered up, hopped in our two vans, and headed west towards Toledo, Ohio. The following may be a bit confusing, but the three names to remember are: The Biggest Week in American Birding, Maumee Bay State Park Lodge ,and Magee Marsh. May 8-17, 2020 are the dates for next year’s The Biggest Week in American Birding festival.  Festival headquarters are at the Maumee Bay State Park Lodge, approximately 20 miles west of Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. Magee Marsh is part of Crane Creek State Park, which is historically part of the Great Black Swamp, now known as Black Swamp. In the early 1900s, the swamp was over 90% drained for agricultural purposes.

Blackburnian Warbler at Magee Marsh

On our VENT Tour, we stayed two nights at the Maumee Bay State Park Lodge, really the best and nicest place to stay in the area. Best to book early, it fills up fast during Biggest Week. It’s a pretty setting, right on the Maumee Bay with a very nice boardwalk in a swampy area with very good birding right there. However, the big draw is the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. It is a mix of craziness, people with binoculars, people with cameras, people with neither binoculars nor cameras, and warblers, lots of warblers. Warblers down low, warblers up high, warblers close, and warblers even closer. We had wonderful views of Northern Parulas, Cape Mays, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, Palms, Prothonotarys, Black-throated Blues, Black-throated Greens, Black-and-whites, Blackburnians, Nashvilles, Magnolias, Tennessee, Yellows, Yellow-rumped, and so many more, along with Scarlet Tanagers, Tundra Swans, Soras, Baltimore Orioles, etc.

Michael and Louise led us through the mile and a quarter boardwalk, breaking down the birds and chatting with the many people who knew them and stopped to say hello. Both are lowkey, very knowledgeable, and rock stars in the birding world.

Warbler Neck at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Weather had been good, and we were seeing great birds, enjoying the company of the other ten people on the tour, eating very well, listening to everyone’s stories during our van drives, and being well taken care of by Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis. We all were having a wonderful time, but ready for more.

We had already, in the past few days, been to Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Station Road Towpath, Blue Hen Falls, Oak Hill Trail & Deep Lock Metro Park), Maumee Bay State Park Boardwalk, Magee Marsh Boardwalk, Howard Marsh Metro Park, Crane Creek State Park Estuary Trail, Magee Marsh Boardwalk again, and Oak Openings Metro Park Preserve.

Next stop, into Michigan, a night in Ann Arbor and north to search for the Kirtland Warbler.

Midwest Warblers Part II to follow.

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