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  • Terry Grabill

Spring Migration


What a time to be a birder. April and May are magical for their constant delivery of new arrivals and travellers.

Andrea isn't bossy or demanding, but she has been subtly asking when the new blog post will be coming. My past self was a comitted procrastinator...but, in this case, putting it off wasn't the problem. I have been mulling over what the post would look like and what I had of importance to share.

Birds, birds, birds. We've seen an amazing amount and diversity of birdlife this season. I had considered blogging after each venture afield about the birds we'd seen. We picked up a few life birds along the way too. EVERY weekend was spent out-of-town at birding festivals with a sometimes serious case of warbler neck. And every time I started sorting my thoughts for a post I seemed to come back to the same conclusion and realization. Our birding time together is always as much about the people we bird with as it is about the birds themselves.

I can watch and search for birds every day. I'm never tired of it. Chickadees fascinate me and the thrill of a life bird is a special kind of rush. Spring migration, however, is an experience made richer by sharing it with others.

We spent the first two weekends of May on the shores of Lake Erie at The Biggest Week in American Birding. In my experience, this is a phenomenon like no other. Sure, there are incredible birds...lots of them...like a buffet. A hundred species day is nothing if one is alert and looking. Walking the boardwalk at Magee Marsh is like walking through a field guide of the birds. What sets the Biggest Week experience apart for me, though, is the people encountered along the way (reference my last blog post). The walk can be a little raucus and crowded, but what a place to learn birds from literally hundreds of experienced birders all ready and anxious to point, explain and share. If one is looking for a demonstration of the community of birding, Magee Marsh in May is the place. There is no "typical" birder there. Tattoos, ten-year-olds, gray hair, beginners, veterans...here you can find practically every description of person looking to enjoy birdlife. I find the crowds and energy intoxicating...how incredible that I can stand among hundreds of folks out loving the creatures I've chased my whole life!! Oh, and we tallied almost two hundred species of birds at the festival...I almost forgot.

The third weekend in May my love had to work. I took a new friend, Brennen, to the Tawas Point Birding Festival on the west shore of Lake Huron for the day. Brennen is a sixth grader in my school that is CRAZY about birds. Tawas is a different kind of birding, though. We walked Tawas Point and studied every bush, studied each shoreline and found some awesome birds. Brennen was mesmerized by the common terns feeding and marveled at the trees with scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles side-by-side. I worried that the buffet of Magee would make it frustrating for him. His smile never faded the whole day. We watched a raptor presentation, climbed the lighthouse and, oh yeah, tallied 84 species in a few hours.

Memorial Day weekend was our last migration outing of May. We were honored and humbled to have been asked to be "expert" field guides at Beaver Island Birding Trail's Warblers on the Water event. We were anxious, excited and nervous about this. Andrea and I have a long history with Beaver Island and the opportunity to share our favorite place AND our favorite obsession was a bit overwhelming. I certainly didn't want to mess this up! We guided field trips along with our new friends Darrel and Elliot. These young guys could ID a sparrow at a ridiculous distance. They'd spent time afield with local birding leaders in Michigan. They'd led numerous field trips. I felt humbled to be on the program with these guys. Our host family, the Jones' some of the most giving and loving folks I'd ever met and am happy to count them as real friends now. The people we led were a real gift as well. This was our first experience leading adults on birding adventures and I must say, sharing our disfunction, I mean hobby, is VERY rewarding. Highlights were not the "great finds" though. Thrills came when folks saw their first snipe (they're really birds?!) or getting a good look at birds they'd only seen in books (I got a lump in my throat as Andrea helped some ladies see their first Bobolink). I was reminded numerous times that weekend how special common birds are...blackbirds are great, grackles are beautiful, swallows are amazing fliers. Openning up the birding world to new folks has kept us in awe of the birds we love. Oh, and we came up with quite a tally for the weekend.

So, in our May madness of migration, we birded a lot, saw a lot of birds, got some lifers...but, more importantly, I think, we participated in a community of naturalists. A community that I'm proud to be a part of, that I hope to be involved with on many levels. It just may be more about the people than the birds.

Hmm, who'd have thought?

Our homepage has links to each of these birding events that I enourage you to explore.


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