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Warblers at Magee Marsh, Ohio

During migration in May, fuzzy blue clouds appear in NEXRAD Doppler Radar flowing over our gulf-coastal borders. These are not weather fronts, these are birds! Millions of them.

A Yellow warbler sings in the morning.

These blue blobs are migrating birds.

There are all sorts of miraculous experiences to appreciate in nature - everything from watching pods of bottle-nosed dolphins trailing alongside our fishing boats, to the astonishing sight of the formidable osprey plunging from 100 feet to strike and capture its dinner. But nothing can exceed the experience of looking up, witnessing tiny specs of color flying down into the trees and bare branches of shrubs, flashing bright colors. Some are buttery balls of yellow sunshine, others blue and gray, still others flashing spots of red. These weary little travelers, the Warblers, are pint-sized treasures, about four inches long and pure magic to see, and even more amazing when you learn their story.

A Chestnut-sided warbler hops into a clearing.

After the hard work of raising their family in the north during summer, warblers fly south across the Gulf to spend the winter in the Tropics, fattening up on small arthropods and bugs that they pick out of crevices in tree bark. In the spring they again face the same gargantuan task of crossing the Gulf, this time helped along with gentle trade-winds out of the Caribbean. Islands pass below them as they fly northwest toward the Gulf Coast. From here they rest briefly on our Gulf Coast shores, some dropping in and leaving in a day, sometimes for only a few hours. And where do they go? Most go farther north, and northeast back to last year’s summer home: Canada. From our shores, our winged wonders continue flying over Arkansas, Missouri and Kentucky, carried along by southerly winds. FOR HUNDREDS OF MILES, trees and farmland pass below but THEN, suddenly, the landscape changes into AN UNENDING EXPANSE of water.They drop down before beginning the last leg of the trip to eat, drink and sleep along the south shores of the Great Lakes. One of the most popular areas for viewing the colorful and weary travelers is in Ohio, at Magee Marsh by Lake Erie.

A Black-throated Green Warbler.

If you’re thinking bird photographers are comprised entirely of middle-of-the-road baby boomer retirees think again—here is a handsome young man from India in tight fitting clothes snapping away, next to him an Amish couple in traditional attire, incongruously using the latest equipment and every other kind of human. They are all here to see the birds. They bring their big lenses, binoculars and paper checklists to document what was seen and they follow a similar method: spot the bird, tracked it as it makes its way down tree branches until it might finally come into a small clearing among the twigs for perhaps a second or two during which the sounds of WAR break out with machine-gun-speed multi-burst cameras all firing at the same tiny spot. It’s over quickly but the excitement of those two seconds cannot be overestimated!

A Magnolia Warbler

Every day is different in Magee Marsh as waves of different species of Warblers make their way north. It’s a temporary art-like ballet, this spring migration that comes and goes very quickly and leaves you completely awe-struck, especially when you know what they have been through, and you see them kick back their heads to sing in the morning light.

A Chestnut-sided warbler sings in the day.

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Susan Rouillier
Bird Photographer and Painter

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