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Note from The Biggest Week

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Biggest Week in American Birding for the first time as a representative of the ABA. There are a number of high profile birding festivals in the ABA Area and they are all extraordinary for their own reasons, but there’s something about The Biggest Week that is different.

The birds you come to see aren’t particularly novel–most of the eastern half of the continent enjoys the rush of warblers and grosbeaks and cuckoos and thrushes this time of year–but the experience of feeling as though you are in the midst of the frenetic energy of spring migration is one of which The Biggest Week can justifiably boast. And while the weather this year put a bit of a damper on migration, both in the literal and figurative sense, there’s still a lot to see, and the feeling of being in the middle of it all still makes for a great time.

Magee Marsh bills itself as the Warbler Capital of the World, but it could more specifically be described as the *Yellow* Warbler Capital of the World. These little lemon cuties are everywhere.

I got to see a lot of the festival. I led a couple field trips. I hung out in the ABA booth (thanks to all those who stopped in to say hi!). I caught up with a lot of friends in the birding community and put some faces to social media profiles of others. And I sat on a panel at one of the keynote sessions. In between all of that I got up to the famous Magee Marsh boardwalk, which is the real heart of the festival and the reason that so many people make the pilgrimage to northwest Ohio.

My first impressions? Well, the boardwalk is longer than I expected. And while the big numbers of warblers were blocked by a nasty and persistent jet stream (they began to pick up in numbers and diversity after I’d left, naturally), it’s hard to be too disappointed when even a sub-par day at the Marsh includes great looks at a daytime American Woodcock, squabbling Baltimore Orioles bombing past your head, and a point-blank Prothonotary Warbler singing so loudly your ears ring.

An ABA 2016 Big Year reunion of sorts with John Weigel, Greg Miller, Laura Keene, and Christian Hagenlocher.

My time at the Biggest Week was punctuated with a hundred of these small moments. Chatting with the 2016 Big Year birders over a beer at Maumee Bay Lodge. A trio of Black Terns magically appearing over a pond in a flock of Tree Swallows on a windy, rainy field trip in Erie County. The Peregrine Falcon that bombed the sparrow field at Oak Openings. The intake of breath from a novice birder when the male Cape May Warbler I had been trying to put them on hopped out into the open.

There are lots of old friends and new ones, drawn together by birding and unapologetically indulging in the novel experience of being among dozens or hundreds or thousands of kindred spirits. Sometimes I feel as though we birders are relative late-comers to this practice, known for decades by fans of music festivals and comic book conventions, that there’s something spiritually enriching to being among people who share the same enthusiasm for the same arcane interest. The shirts at Black Swamp Bird Observatory read “Warbler-stock” for a reason. The feel-good vibe permeates the entire festival in a way that is intoxicating. And unlike migration, it’s not weather dependent.

That doesn’t mean I won’t hope for more favorable winds on my inevitable return, though.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

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