The Biggest Week in American Birding: people wandering outdoors, with friends, looking for birds

Blackburnian Warbler at The Biggest Week 2015 - © Laura Kammermeier

Blackburnian Warbler at The Biggest Week 2015 – © Laura Kammermeier

What a week! I just rolled into the driveway from four nights away at The Biggest Week in American Birding (TBW, for short), wishing I had just one more day in western Ohio to wander outdoors, with friends, looking for birds. That’s the essence of this event..people wandering outdoors, with friends, looking for birds.

The Biggest Week is a GIGANTIC LOVE FEST  –  this is no exaggeration if you read your Facebook timeline filled with passionate, bittersweet remembrances of attendees trying to shake the post-fest let down. TBW is people loving birds, and people loving people. Oh, the crowds! some people moan. But even if you don’t like crowds, the birding is worth it. How often do you find crippling views of Northern Parula, American Redstart, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, Yellow, Prothonotary, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Canada, and Wilson’s Warblers, and oh, heck, just about every Eastern wood-warbler there is in a leisurely half-mile stroll? When was the last time walking a half mile took you four hours? And when have you ever seen “too many’ redstarts, each little bugger mucking up your view of a skulking Connecticut Warbler or wanting to be a Mourning Warbler?

Have you ever become so bored with warblers, you scooted down a ways for Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, or to pick up a suite of flycatchers: Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Wood Peewee, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Great-crested Flycatcher? All this, while be serenaded by various birds such as Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Song Sparrow, Wood Thrush, Veery, Swainson’s Thrush, and more?

The Biggest Week is a place where pleasures abound, where sweet creatures assemble all around you, gifting you their color and animation, challenging you with song (especially on karaoke night) and ducking just out of sight just to tease you. It’s a place where it’s easy to make friends, where you will find common ground with dozens of people on the same page. This is a place where it’s easy to find your tribe, to belong. To be welcomed, full-body hugged, maybe even smooched by passersby. God, if I could just bundle up all the Facebook love and drop it in your lap I promise you’d NEVER MISS A BIGGEST WEEK AGAIN!

The people of The Biggest Week are the best. The watery wilderness of western Ohio is wonderful. But the birds are the bomb.

This year’s fest featured an impressive list of field trips and speaker, and of course there’s always the evening social. But the highlights were the lone Kirtland’s Warbler that was spotted by Erik Bruhnke at Oak Openings, and the shy and hard-to-see Connecticut Warbler on the Estuary Trail originally observed by Tyler McClain. Throngs of people tried to see this bird, and many failed. Including me, even though I spent four and a half hours over the course of a day trying for it. I do appreciate all the guides who helped us follow the bird’s coordinates through the course of the day, especially Callan from Birding Africa who was very patient with the bird and guests!

The understory kept the Connecticut Warbler under wraps for many - The Biggest Week 2015 © Laura Kammermeier

The understory kept the Connecticut Warbler out of sight for many – The Biggest Week 2015 © Laura Kammermeier

A Yellow-headed Blackbird showed up at Ottawa NWR, a Snowy Egret, Wilson’s Phalarope and Black-necked Stilt at Pickerel Creek. A lovely Golden-winged Warbler was spotted in Oak Openings and  Cerulean Warbler was seen at Secur Park. and Ruddy Turnstones worked the beach. Great birds were seen everywhere. Congratulations to Kimberly Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, and her army of volunteers who pull off this large and amazing event year after year.

On a personal level, I had a mini-epiphany while I was outside, wandering with friends, looking for birds. It’s utterly necessary for my happiness to get away each spring and welcome the birds back home. When I miss a spring of birding, as I often have due to obligations, I feel empty, wanting, and that eventually turns to more negative emotions like impatience, inattention, and other maladies. By gifting yourself with migrant birds each spring, as I hope you will, you will experience the change of seasons, mark the passage of time in a concrete way, and feel as though you’ve truly lived.

I hope you’ll make it to The Biggest Week or some other festival closer to home soon. It’s so worth it!

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