A Day at Magee Marsh

In case you haven’t already guessed, many of the great “dirt time” activities here at Dahlem directly involve the Tuesday Morning Hike Group.  This week the day started at the ridiculously early hour of 6 AM (ridiculous, in my opinion, because I had to be up at 4:30 in order to get here on time).  We met at the Dahlem Center and loaded ourselves into four vehicles for a two+ hour drive into Ohio to visit Magee Marsh, which is famous for its spring bird migration.  Located along the southern shore of Lake Erie, all the little birds headed northward tend to bunch up here, not wanting to cross that large body of water.  Subsequently, birders bunch up here, too.  In fact, next week is The Big Week, when apparently there are well-nigh as many birders (and photographers with massive lenses) as there are birds.

It was a mostly overcast day, with a breeze blowing.  But this didn’t slow us down.  We saw a merlin on the utility line before we got there, and as we pulled in the entrance, the first indigo bunting of the season was spotted flitting in the shrubbery and tall grasses.  Soon we were cruising along the marsh, where members of the group clambered out of the car to listen to marsh wrens (“they sound like a sewing machine”).

As you can imagine, this marsh, one of the few remaining wetlands of any size left in this area, is an Important Bird Area.

We parked our cars and hit the boardwalk.  This boardwalk is THE place to be for birding here, apparently.  To the one side we had the marsh, while the other side was a thick tangle of woody plants, shrubs and trees.

Almost immediately birds were  spotted.  Last year when the group came, there were no leaves on the trees and the weather had been such that there was a major “fall out” of birds – they were almost literally dripping from the trees, by some accounts.  This year they weren’t quite so numerous, and we had the leaves to contend with, but the reports of only eight warbler species were surpassed for us this day, with 16 species of warblers spotted by our group.

There’s nothing quite like trying to photograph flitty little birds to reinforce why I prefer to photograph plants.

But I soldiered on and was able to capture a few shots that aren’t too bad.  As mentioned above, there were several people there with lenses so large they practically needed a crew of Sherpas to carry them!  My largest lens didn’t hold a candle to any of them, but I soon discovered I needed the tripod anyway – it was a good thing I brought it along.

So, here is a small gallery of some of the 84+ species of birds the Dahlem Tuesday Morning Group saw.

Yellow Warbler

Palm Warbler

Hooded Warbler (above – the most common shots I got – and below)


This cavity was a nice find – so close one could touch it.  A chickadee was nesting here and didn’t seem to be too bothered by the crowds of people going back and forth in front of it.

Moving on…

Black & White Warbler

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Yellow-rumped Warbler (AKA:  Butter Butt)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Magnolia Warbler

Wait!  This isn’t a bird!  It’s a mourning cloak butterfly – there were plenty of these flitting around, too.  Lots of red admirals, as well…and I mean LOTS.  In fact, this spring there are more red admirals around than I’ve ever seen before, and the majority of them seem to be pretty runty.  Was the strange winter responsible for this?

Look carefully in the photo below.  Do you see that feathery lump?  It’s a whip-poor-will!  You can click on the photo and enlarge it for a better view.

There is one observation tower along the boardwalk.  These are great additions to any trail because they get the visitors up to a vantage point that few of us ever appreciate.

I am constantly amazed at the spotting abilities of birders, like that whip-poor-will above, or the nest of great-horned owls about 75 feet back in the woods (below).

As one might expect, there was a line at the porta-castles.

And there it is:  Lake Erie.  The air was hazy so we didn’t get any spectacular views across the water.  It was rather like standing at the ocean, minus the salty tang in the air.

We walked the boardwalk three times, and in between we stopped for lunch in the parking lot.

But this wasn’t just any old lunch.  Suddenly boxes of goodies were brought out.  Something was up.

It was the birthday of one of our dearest members:  Paul!  A significant milestone, which we were all happy to share with him.  Happy Birthday, Paul!

There is a tradition among some of the birders in this group that whoever gets the most “life birds” on a trip has to treat everyone to ice cream.  That turned out to be me.  While I’ve heard of many of these birds, and have probably had most of them near me at one point or another, there were probably about a half dozen or so that were actually seen by me for the first time, the hooded, magnolia and blue-winged (no photo of that one) being among them.  It’s a good tradition.

Looking for a birding adventure of your own?  Next Tuesday the group is doing a “Big Sit.”  Starting at 6 AM (again) and going to about noon, they are going to sit in one spot and count how many birds they see.  The warblers should be passing through here by then, so it should be a good morning.  Come on out and see what you can see!


About Dahlem Center

The Dahlem Center is a non-profit nature center/environmental education center located on almost 300 acres just south of the city of Jackson, Michigan. The Center is one arm of the Dahlem Conservancy, which includes land conservancy and stewardship in its mission.
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