Mother Nature doesn’t stop for a virus – explore the outdoors

Art Weber

        Travel plans are on pause, community events are canceled for now, and even our own Biggest Week in American Birding is postponed until next year – all victims of COVID-19.
        But Mother Nature doesn’t stop for a virus. Right here and right now through the end of May, we are still the “Warbler Capital of the World.”
        Nature’s schedule keeps going. The woodland wildflowers of spring are parading their best colors. Over the next month, a huge variety of birds will still come and go; some will stay and grace us through the summer.
        We live in one of the very best areas of the world to enjoy it all, right in our own backyards, without the need for long drives or overnights.
        Thankfully, one big thing that we can safely do – with social distancing and common-sense precautions, of course – is get outdoors.
        If you don’t know many birds or wildflowers, now is a great time to learn. If you don’t want to know them, no problem, there’s no law you have to know something’s name to appreciate its beauty. If there’s something you want to know, there are easily-acquired field guides both simple and complex, or look it up on your smartphone.
        So where do we go? Nearby Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, the ultimate birding destination this time of year, is closed both because the famed Bird Trail boardwalk is too narrow and crowded to allow social distancing, and because high lake levels and unfriendly winds have conspired to flood the parking areas. Maumee Bay State Park’s boardwalk, another excellent choice, is also closed, but other trails are open.
        There’s no shortage of other choices, starting with a backyard feeding station in your own yard. You probably won’t see many warblers but, especially if you feed a variety of seeds, nuts, and suet, you’re likely to attract orioles, grosbeaks, a variety of sparrows, woodpeckers and many other species.
        “Our region’s birding hotspots are famous,” Scott Carpenter, director of public relations for Metropark Toledo, said. “But the fun of the migration is that on any given day, anyplace can be a hotspot.
        “Oak Openings Preserve is an excellent location for warblers and raptors. Howard Marsh has become a spectacular location for viewing shorebirds and waterfowl. Pearson has the old woods that are attractive to songbirds as well as a restored wetland that’s like a mini-Howard Marsh. You really can’t go wrong choosing any Metropark to see birds this time of year,” he said.
        That advice includes the woodlot that might be at the end of your street, as well as any of the host of parks to be found in Wood, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Hancock counties, as well. The short woodland trail at Metzger Marsh can be extraordinary, but be aware the parking is limited and, if there are numbers of people, social distancing will be difficult on the trail.
        The vanguards of spring migration arrived weeks ago – shorebirds, waterfowl, golden-crowned kinglets, flocks of robins. The warblers and later arrivals come in three waves, according to Mark Shieldcastle, director of research for Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
        Shieldcastle calls that the overflight wave because it includes birds that overfly their more southern nesting grounds, are stopped at Lake Erie, and have to fly back. The yellow-rumped warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet and solitary vireo are among the species in that wave.
        “The first pulse of the second and biggest wave usually arrives May 7-10 and is dominated by magnolia warblers, Shieldcastle said. “A second pulse arrives about May 12-20. The final wave arrives around May 24 with various flycatchers, redstarts, and Connecticut, Canada, mourning, and female magnolia warblers.”
        Here in the “Warbler Capital” a good birder on a good day for birding can easily see over 100 different species in a single day.
        Take a picnic lunch and enjoy the day. As we all tell our children before a trip, be sure to use the restroom before leaving home. Most public restrooms will be closed.
        Carpenter offers this additional advice:
        “We remind people that social distancing applies to the outdoors, too. We hope everyone will cooperate so we can keep the parks open. If parks become crowded, we will have to close them. The best advice is to go birding alone or with members of your household. If a park is full, please move on or come back another time. Give other people 6 feet at all times, and wear a mask when you are around anyone else. We love having visitors from other states, but not this year. Please bird in your own state. And if you are sick, it’s important that you stay home.
        “In addition to a good field guide, your local birding experience will be enhanced by adding ‘Birds of the Toledo Area’ to your book collection. It’s an extraordinary birding resource published by the Ohio Biological Survey and the Toledo Naturalists Association, chock full of information on every species known to have visited our area. Included are expected arrival and departure dates, as well as information on the habitat favored by a particular species. The cost including shipping is $16.75 and it can be ordered through the TNA website,


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