From June 6—23, I took a trip to New England. The ultimate goals were to add the endangered Bicknell’s Thrush of the Adirondack Mountains and the Atlantic Puffin and some other northern seabirds to my Conservation Big Year list, but I made plenty of other stops along the way, adding splendid birds and lovely memories.
My first major stop was Grayling, Michigan, to see Kirtland’s Warbler, but I broke up that 500-mile drive with a stop in Eagle River, Wisconsin. For the past decade or so, I’ve taught an Elderhostel, or now Road Scholar, class at Trees for Tomorrow there. This year for the first time we didn’t get enough people to hold the class, but I really missed birding with Troy Walters, the amazing naturalist who scouts the area and is my co-leader, so the first night out, I crashed on his sofa and we did some early morning birding together. So far my nemesis bird of the year seems to be the Spruce Grouse. Troy brought me to his favorite spots for seeing them, but we missed it. I didn’t mind—it was lovely being back in that part of northern Wisconsin, and birding with Troy is one of the fun rituals of my year.
After the warbler, I headed on to Ohio. But when I was looking at a map in a Michigan rest area along the way, I noticed that the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge was not far out of my way. This was an occasional field trip destination for both of my college ornithology classes, at which I’d added several lifers, so I decided to go there and drive the wildlife loop. I got my first Grasshopper Sparrow of the year there, and had a lovely experience watching Black Terns. I saw a lot of Black Terns back in the 70s, but their numbers have dwindled dangerously. They were darting about too quickly, in poor light, for me to get any quality photos, but I didn’t even mind—I parked myself where a small group of them was fishing and felt deeply happy just watching them.
Then it was on to Ohio, to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s famous Magee Marsh. I spent one rainy morning birding with my friend Ryan Lesniewicz—we had great looks and photos of a Grasshopper Sparrow and heard my first Henslow’s Sparrow of the year.
The birding in the Magee Marsh was superb. This is a major destination of birders during spring migration, when warblers can be amazingly dense. Birders from all over the world gather on the boardwalk by the thousands to watch the spectacle. Now the birders and migrating birds were gone, but the remaining local birds are so accustomed to people on the boardwalk that they go about their daily business without hiding from view at all. I spent many minutes watching one male Yellow Warbler at very close range. He was tucked into a dense shrub, but there was just enough of a leaf gap for me to watch him preening, looking about, and singing. Every now and then he’d look directly at me, but was apparently so habituated to the sounds of camera shutters clicking away and people gawking at him that he didn’t seem to mind my presence at all.
Further down, some children joyfully alerted me to a female Yellow Warbler on her nest, built right at their eye level. She had two tiny chicks beneath her, but I only got a glimpse of them that day. I returned the next to get lots of photos of her feeding them. Again, she was very calm while being watched because of how well used this boardwalk is.
That evening I had a lovely dinner with field guide authors and my hero conservationists and educators, Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman. Afterward, I headed to my good friend Paula Lozano’s house in Cleveland. (I am so desperately geographically impaired that every time I go there, Paula has to come out to her front yard to show me which is her house. Every friggin’ time!)
Next morning, Paula brought me to a cemetery where a colony of Bank Swallows were nesting, and then to a lovely field in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park where we heard another Henslow’s Sparrow and feasted on the beauty of Bobolinks everywhere.
Next day I drove to Ithaca, New York, to see my beloved Great Blue Herons and visit my beloved Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I’m trying to highlight birds of conservation interest this year, and also the institutions and people doing the research, education, and conservation projects to help them. My stops along the way to New England fit the bill perfectly.
I left Ithaca with my year list at 437.