Monday, 16 May 2016

The Biggest Week

A sizeable crowd gathers at Magee Marsh after news spreads of a Kirtland's Warbler found near the car park.
What. An. Experience. I'm just back from The Biggest Week In American Birding, the major bird migration festival in north-west Ohio. If it's possible to overdose on warblers and camaraderie, I may need treatment. For its combination of birds, people and purpose, The Biggest Week is like nothing I have seen before. Period. Keen birders and newbies sharing news, Amish families and bird photographers getting each other onto birds, large crowds of happy people watching masses of northbound migrant birds together at close range, all day, every day.

In the UK there's a distinct lack of festivals which focus directly on birding, with the fundraising flagship that is Birdfair being our primary event (indeed the biggest of its kind in the world). If anyone ever wanted to look at a model festival and do something a little different, they would do well to start at Magee Marsh in Ohio's Black Swamp region.
Organised by Black Swamp Bird Observatory, The Biggest Week is clearly a successful initiative on an impressively big scale. There are so many top-flight birding locations which can accommodate the large numbers of local and visiting birders, and as spring migration approaches its peak through the Great Lakes there are so many birds as well. It also raises important funds for conservation.

Yellow Warbler was the most numerous of almost 30 warbler species seen during The Biggest Week.
It's not just about warblers: plenty of other migrants included numerous Baltimore Orioles, like this male ...
... and also Indigo Buntings, at their bluest at this time of year.
I attended The Biggest Week on behalf of Birdwatch magazine, and will be writing about the experience in the September issue (on sale at Birdfair in August and from all good newsagents - or subscribe here). It's also likely that we'll be running a reader trip to the region in May next year, to give others a chance to experience this amazing event for themselves - more on that in the same issue. In the meantime, special thanks to Kim Kaufman and Rob Ripma for their help in Ohio, and it was also a pleasure to meet Kenn Kaufman and catch up with many old birding friends on the Magee Marsh boardwalk. See you all next time!


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