How we missed the Kirtland’s Warbler

[dc]W[/dc]hen we registered for The Biggest Week, Drew and I excitedly looked through the workshop and field trip offerings to pick something special to add to our week of birding. There was a long list of great field trips to area hotspots, expert keynote speakers, and birding workshops on the docket, but we found one thing that we knew we couldn’t miss: birding by canoe. We love to canoe, and have found that it’s a great way to observe a variety of birds and other wildlife while being relatively unobtrusive. At any rate, we quickly signed up for a mid-week trip.

The trip took place on the last stretch of Green Creek before it reaches Muddy Creek Bay. The surrounding land is owned by private hunt clubs and permanent conservation easements with Black Swamp Conservancy. Canoe trips on this creek have previously been offered to the local community on evenings for the purpose of viewing the large concentrations of Bald Eagles which roost there. This year was the first year that the trips were offered in conjunction with The Biggest Week. We were accompanied by representatives from Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), Black Swamp Conservancy, and the Sandusky County Parks District.

Our group was small and the morning was unexpectedly sunny (but still chilly!) so we were extremely excited as we put in on some private hunting grounds just before 7am. As we canoed down Green Creek, Drew and I were excited to hear a variety of songbirds as well as catching excellent looks at close to 10 eagles before reaching the Bay.

floating down the creek (photo credit BSBO)

After about 2 miles, Green Creek opened up into Muddy Bay, and we had great looks at basking Double-crested Cormorants, even more eagles flapping over the Bay’s waters, and a few hundred Dunlin foraging on some muddy flats nearby. Here one of our guides, Tom Kashmer (research coordinator for the parks district), provided us with some background history and geography of the area, emphasizing the role of various duck hunt clubs in the watershed’s conservation and management.

Drew and Justine (photo credit BSBO)

the wheeling Dunlin flock (photo credit BSBO)

As we prepared to paddle back the way we came, the Dunlin flocks suddenly took to the air and gave us a spectacular show of coordinated swooping directly over our canoes. It was rather amazing, especially the sound made by their wings as the changed direction.

The paddle upstream was easy, as Green Creek is extremely slow-moving despite a lot of recent rain. We again enjoyed the diversity of bird song, and I was happy to be challenged to identify many of the birds by ear alone. Around 3 hours after putting-in, we arrived back at our starting point. After a great chat with Ken Keffer, the Education Director for BSBO, we departed.

The only unfortunate thing about the trip was the tweet that Drew received on our paddle downstream. A cooperative Kirtland’s Warbler had showed up at Magee Marsh, but there was no way for us to bustle back and see it. Alex and Anna got some great looks, though, and Drew and I got to hear one singing later that evening thanks to a shout across the marsh from Jeremy Ross.

Overall, the trip was well worth the $30 spent. We found out more information about the Lake Erie watershed and the conservation challenges present there, and we got a great list of birds in a relatively short period of time. The Biggest Week planners are hoping to offer similar trips in the future, especially because these trips filled up almost immediately. We understand why, after all, because birding by canoe is a blast.

Thanks to Ken Keffer (education director, BSBO) for taking some of the photos in this post and letting us use them!