Back in September, I shared about a day trip I took to the Lake Erie island town of Put-In-Bay on South Bass island when I was in the nearby area for Bloggy Con. I was smitten with the area and its beauty and the friendly people. Just a few weeks ago at the beginning of the spring season, I was invited to come back to the area to participate in the Biggest Week in American Birding, one of the most respected and highly anticipated birding events in the country. I was also able to have an extended visit of not only Put-In-Bay, but the other areas of the Lake Erie Shores and Islands area. They wanted me to get the full Lake Erie Love experience! They sure know how to make a girl feel welcome. I’m so excited to share these new domestic travel stories with you througout the month of June! It was filled with new adventures and experiences and perfect to continue our celebaration of Great Outdoors Month.
First in this Lake Erie Love series, I’m sharing a beginner’s guide to what to expect at the Biggest Week in American Birding experience. On this visit to Ohio I had my teen son with me. He is usually a good trooper about being my side-kick for a new adventure but birding was definitely not an activity on his wish list. We frequently visit parks and take nature hikes, but we haven’t ever been officially bird watching. I was going into this as a complete novice.
I had every intention of doing a bit of research to prepare so that I didn’t look like an idiot in front of the birding gurus. However, “what had happened was”, I got busy and it didn’t happen. I figured I’d be in good hands with the experts and basically just do whatever I saw them doing.
Here’s my take on the most important ingredients to a successful Biggest Week experience, especially for a novice.
Get your beauty rest.
This is of paramount importance. You will do a lot of hiking, walking, and generally just be out in the elements as you look for birds. You want to be well rested. For the first 2 nights of our trip, our home base was in the quaint Lake Erie town of Port Clinton. We were hosted in the historic Island House Hotel right on the shores of Lake Erie.
The outside of the hotel has that old time 19th century look. The hotel was originally built in 1870 but that wooden structure was destroyed by a fire. The current building was constructed in 1886 and has been charming guests ever since. Island House has played host to the likes of U.S. Presidents, actors and actresses, and even the famous Babe Ruth which my son was most impressed with.
That old world charm continues throughout the main lobby. However, the guest room accommodations have since been updated to provide all of the modern conveniences we are used to. Our room was beautifully appointed with comfortable beds. We had a corner room with a great view of the lake and the main strip. Rooms also come equipped with flat screen televisions and an air conditioning unit. There is also a small refrigerator and a microwave which is always a great feature, especially if you are traveling with family.
The bathrooms are also nicely appointed. We were cautioned that the plumbing had not been replaced so hot water may be slow. However we didn’t have any issues at all during our stay. If you have a 15 year old that eats the way my son eats, you will understand my appreciation for sound plumbing.
Bring your gear.
I actually prepared my backpack with water, a small first aid kit, binoculars, bug repellant, and an umbrella. In my haste to leave the hotel to get to the location on time, I left it back at the room. Way to go me! Please don’t be me. You don’t want to get dehydrated. There were no places to purchase water out on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. You should also have a field guide so that you can identify the birds you are seeing.
Although we didn’t have binoculars, we were still able to spot birds without them. Others who were on the walk with us allowed us to use their binoculars. It’s much harder than I expected. There is definitely an art to using the binoculars effectively. Once I was finally able to locate a bird with them I was blown away. Now I get it. If the bird had a booger I would have been able to see it. Now I can understand why they need them. Many birds look very similar and the binoculars allow them to see small details that distinguish the birds species.
One of the other essentials is a notebook of some kind. You want to have a way to document what you have seen.
Dress the part.
Yours truly had the perfect outfit. I had black and fluorescent hot pink exercise capri pants and a dry weave shirt and jean jacket. By all accounts that is a huge FAIL. The Birding 101 tips on my program booklet actually recommends camouflage-colored or neutral clothing that won’t startle the birds. It also suggests not wearing clothes that make loud swishing noises and wearing a hat to break up the outline. You also need a comfortable shoe, suitable for hiking. My shoes were my usual turquoise/aqua Kmart shoes that have traveled to various adventures with me. They pass the comfort test but fail the color test miserably. Ah well…. When we arrived I saw that I wasn’t the only person that missed the memo.
We went on the guided youth walk. It was led by 2 teenage boys who had both been immersed into birding since they were very young. I was so impressed with how knowledgeable they were. Out of literally thousands of birds calling, they were able to distinguish a specific call and identify the type of bird. It really was fascinating.
Enjoy the scenery.
We saw an abundance of wildlife on our walk. If you are a novice, then you will enjoy it much more with a group so try to sign up for a guided walk. Just beware of the infamous bird jams (when the boardwalk gets jammed with people and it’s difficult to maneuver through.) Also remember what may be one of the most important rules of birding: Close your mouth while you are looking up at a bird or you will regret it. Thankfully I wasn’t pooped on but one of the adult guides was.
We saw a watersnake, a blanding turtle and an abundance of geese! The highlight of the wildlife for us was the muskrat. It’s basically a small cousin of the beaver. He was so cute taking down tiny trees in his path and devouring them. We watched him for at least 20 minutes just going about his business. Here’s my list of birds spotted on our walk:
- Red winged blackbird
- Red Start
- Yellow warbler
- Willow fly catcher
- Black bernion warbler
- Tennessee warbler
- Philadelphia Vireo
Not bad for our very first day of birding. Of all of the birds, I think the Red Start was my favorite. The Philadelphia Vireo seemed to be the showstopper of the day. Tweets went out about its location and people were actually cheering.
We ended up leaving a little bit early because my son was getting a bit overheated and I think his attention span was waning. We were out there for about 3 hours! After checking out the beach, we decided to follow the locals who were heading over to a perch fish fry by the local lodge. I’m all for eating with the locals! After our tasty lunch of the local fish of choice, Lake Erie perch, we went for a drive through the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. This was another great way to see some beautiful scenery without having to exit your car.
(Tip: Be sure to carry your backup battery and backup memory card. I didn’t have mine and of course the battery died so I have no pictures to show you of our nature drive. I suck.)
It was such a fun new adventure. I have to admit that birding is not what you think it is. It is so much more involved and it truly requires a great set of skills to be good at it. They have gained a new found respect from me. I think what I loved most about the experience, was the diversity of everyone I saw on the boardwalks. Young, old, male, female, all races, and all levels of expertise were all there at Magee Marsh sharing the same space and a love of nature’s gifts.
Biggest Week in American Birding should be on every nature lover’s adventure bucket list. Stay tuned for the next part of the Lake Erie Love travel series! I’ll be taking you to explore more of South Bass Island and Put-In-Bay.
Special thanks to Lake Erie Shores and Islands and the Biggest Week in American Birding for sponsoring us on this trip. Island House Hotel many thanks to you for providing our complimentary accommodations. I received meals, hotel accommodations, and registration for the BWIAB conference in exchange for sharing my honest experience with my readers. Full disclosure.
Lauren G. , Outdoorsy Diva™
“Adventure Is a Lifestyle!“