Watching for birds a fun job

Melissa Topey
May 12, 2014
Thousands of birds flitted in the trees or flew overhead, their songs exploding in the air in a beautiful symphony Thursday morning as I walked alongside birding gurus Kim and Kenn Kaufman.

They were giving a tour to about 25 bird watchers on what was possibly the best day of birding during this year’s Biggest Week in American Birding at Magee Marsh. Weather patterns were just right to usher in the winged creatures’ arrival.

Kim pointed out a group of about 10 blue jays swirling above us.

“At night a hundred of them are in the sky,” she told me. “We can watch them on radar”

A young bald eagle took to the sky, and the crowd gasped as binoculars quickly raised to eyes to catch the rapture in flight.

Most of the birds we saw were varieties of small warblers, a beautiful type of songbird. There were Canadian warblers, American redstart warblers and Nashville warblers. We also saw Baltimore Orioles as we walked toward the East Beach of Magee Marsh, a much less crowded area of the marsh during this time.

The Biggest Week in American Birding is a very busy 10 days for the Kaufmans, who run the Black Swamp Bird Observatory that organizes the festival.

“I run around like the happiest madwoman for 10 days,” Kim said. “It is like having 70,000 of your closest friends here for a bird party”

Starting at about 7 a.m., a constant caravan of cars sporting license plates from as far away as New York, Canada and even Alaska snakes into Magee Marsh.

This is the one place where a car stopped in the middle of the road is not a cause for road rage — in fact, it’s more likely other people will want to know what the driver is looking at, which just goes to show: Bird watchers are some of the nicest people.

Rob Ripma, a bird watcher for 10 years, let me use his binoculars and pointed out a red-winged blackbird for me to focus on. “Oh look” I said excitedly. “Hi!” Everyone in the group laughed. “That’s why you have to have a first-timer with you” Ripma said. It was indeed my first time bird watching, but maybe it won’t be my last: I loved walking along the gorgeous landscape of Magee Marsh, watching and listening to the birds. I think I am becoming a bird watcher.