Chasing the Light for Wood Warblers at The Midwest Birding Symposium

Editor’s Note: Mike Watson is a bird guide and photographer from the UK. He has been to, and much enjoyed, western Lake Erie on numerous occasions and revisited for this year’s Midwest Birding Symposium. I met Mike at the British BirdFair and was delighted to see him again at MBS. We spent a few hours birding the Magee Marsh boardwalk at the conclusion of the event. Here are Mike’s impressions of this year’s event with some awesome photographs of wood warblers.

Black-and-white Warbler (© Mike Watson)

Black-and-white Warbler (© Mike Watson)

The ‘WORLD’S FRIENDLIEST BIRDING EVENT,” the Midwest Birding Symposium held at Lakeside, Ohio, more than lived up to expectations. Spending much of my time on the Birdquest/Wild Images stand I wasn’t able to attend the numerous events taking place over the course of the event but I was still able to spend time with many of the keen participants who also included familiar faces from the U.S. birding festival circuit as well as some of my Ohioan birding pals.

The delightfully quaint former Methodist community of Lakeside was full of birders; everywhere I went there were folks talking about birds and birding. Magic! I met a woman named Gail at breakfast in my hotel and she asked how to contact Alvaro Jaramillo, having seen his presentation about gull ID, as she wanted to join one of his tours. I think anyone who can spark such interest in the usually downbeat subject of gull ID deserves a medal the size of a hub cap!

I also chatted up the hotel receptionist, who was not even a birder (yet) but she was already looking forward to the amazing Jen Brumfield’s Lake Erie pelagics talk! Birding was never considered to be cool when I was a kid but I think things might be changing at last. A massive thank you to all-round good guy Bill Thompson III and his amazing team of helpers for bringing a lot of birding happiness to this small corner of Ohio. He may even have arranged the mini-fallout of warblers on the Marblehead Peninsula right on top of the symposium site, with around 15 species seen on one day around the South Auditorium where many of us were gathered!

Blackpoll Warbler (© Mike Watson)

Blackpoll Warbler (© Mike Watson)

I LOVE wood warblers and I managed to spend some time at one of my favorite birding destinations, the world famous Magee Marsh boardwalk, which is situated half an hour’s drive to the west of Lakeside. I like nothing better than to make my way slowly across the wooden boards here looking for pretty avian subjects to photograph. Ovenbirds and Northern Waterthrushes lurked in the shadows and small feeding flocks of wood warblers would pass by from time to time, their presence betrayed by their calls. It was interesting to see the boardwalk in fall for a change. It was almost deserted on weekdays and I had it to myself for hours on end.

Northern Waterthrush lurking in the shadows of Magee Marsh (© Mike Watson)

Northern Waterthrush lurking in the shadows of Magee Marsh. This required 12,800 ISO!  (© Mike Watson)

The behavior of wood warblers is  subtly different in fall, as they tend to congregate in small flocks and wander a little more widely through the damp woodland than they do in spring. They were predominantly Blackpoll Warbler this time, feeding on small insects and arachnids in the leafy canopy, or gorging on little white dogwood berries. However, there was also an occasional flash of warbler color such as the lime green of a Chestnut-sided, lemon yellow of a Magnolia or the deep blue of a male Black-throated Blue.

Magnolia Warbler (© Mike Watson)

Magnolia Warbler (© Mike Watson)

I clocked up a reasonable 17 species during a handful of visits but best of these was a very smart Golden-winged Warbler that lingered enough for a few other keen birders to enjoy it. Less colorful but no less interesting (to me at least!) were a Brown Creeper and one of the first Winter Wrens of the autumn. Having spent many hours chasing wonderful wood warblers on the other side of the Atlantic I very much appreciate any time spent with even the most numerous of them!


Mike Watson



Mike Watson is a bird guide with Bird-Quest Birding and Wildlife Tours.

Check out more of his photography over at his photo blog.

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  • hridoy ranjan February 5, 2014, 10:09

    i jst want 2 say ” waaaoooooo…” … i m very interested in photography… bt i have no camera .. 🙁

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