The Biggest Week in American Birding takes flight today at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and nearby wildlife areas.
More than 70,000 bird enthusiasts are expected to participate, and their spending is likely to boost the local economy by about $20 million, according to Larry Fletcher, executive director at Lake Erie Shores & Islands West.
This is a unique area for birdwatching, said Kimberly Kaufman, of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
”All the birding stars aligned here,” Kaufman said. Lake Erie serves as a barrier to many birds, particularly small young ones, Kaufman said. Faced with the daunting obstacle of one of the world’s largest lakes, these young birds naturally form their habitats in nearby wooded areas, where they grow stronger before any long migration.
This creates diverse and abundant bird populations within local parks, such as Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the Mallard Club Marsh Wildlife Area, among others.
The “Biggest Week” will play out in all these locations, with countless guided tours and workshops offered during the 10-day event.
Tickets are still available, but those unwilling to buy a ticket can still enjoy the pleasures of birdwatching, since the birds are scattered throughout local state parks.
The guided tours that come with the purchase of a ticket teach people what to look for and exactly what they’re watching.
"We want to try to make sure birders have a meaningful experience,” Kaufman said.
The programs are certainly catching on. Last year’s festival brought in somewhere in the neighborhood of $37 million to the local economy, with about 60,000 tourists visiting.
This is the festival’s fifth year. It has clearly had the impact Kaufman and the Black Swamp Observatory board were hoping for when the event was conceptualized back in 2005.
”It’s such a great thing for the region,” Kaufman said. “One of those really win-win situations. There’s a lot of positive energy surrounding this week”
Businesses, particularly hotels, are seeing that positive energy in their bottom lines.
Mike Snider, of Lake Erie Vacation Rentals, said the company’s two Guest Inn and Suites are jam-packed throughout the festival.
”Biggest Week” visitors often stay for more than just a day or two.
”A key factor is the number of days they’re staying,” Fletcher said. “Not all, but some are staying for three weeks straight”
Gloria Makos drove in with her husband, Walt, from Ann Arbor, Mich., to enjoy their third consecutive bird week.
She was out Monday at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
”It’s just a pleasant and relaxing week,” she said. “You forget about the hustle and bustle of the real world when you just sit back and observe”
Tickets are still available at the Maumee Bay Lodge: $35 for nonmembers, $20 for Black Swamp Bird Observatory members.
TODAY, MAY 6
8 a.m. — Magee Marsh guided walk at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area (daily)
10:30 a.m. — Magee Marsh guided walk at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area (daily)
5-7 p.m. — Opening night ceremony at Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center
WEDNESDAY, MAY 7
8 a.m. — David Sibley fundraising bird walk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area
9:30 p.m. — Night hike at Maumee Bay Lodge ($10)
THURSDAY, MAY 8
11 a.m. — Travel talk at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge
3 p.m. — What’s in a name? Breaking down birding’s identity barriers at Maumee Bay Lodge ($12)
FRIDAY, MAY 9
2 p.m. — Digital photography workshop at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge ($10)
SATURDAY, MAY 10
6 a.m. — Private marsh guided bus trip ($45)
SUNDAY, MAY 11
8-11 a.m. — Walk with Kaufmans and bird conservancy at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area East