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Bird-watchers flock to Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline

Dedicated bird-watchers have long known that the place to be in early May is along Ohio’s Lake Erie coast where several hundred species of birds stop at the marshes and rocky shoreline to rest and refuel.

Now birding enthusiasts in northern Ohio are reaching out to those who don’t tote along expensive binoculars, spotting scopes and high-sensitivity tape recorders.

Organizers of what is billed as the “The Biggest Week in American Birding” expect 70,000 people in just over a week to visit the shoreline east of Toledo for the event that ends Sunday.

“This was never designed to be an exclusive event for elite birder,” said Kim Kaufman, executive director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory and one of the leaders of the fourth annual gathering. “This festival is designed for beginners.”

Migrating birds that are flying from Central and South America all the way to northern Canada make a pit stop along the shoreline before continuing their journey across Lake Erie.

There are about 20 excellent bird-watching sites in the area between Toledo and Cleveland.

Two of them, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, have 20,000 acres of marshes, mud flats, ponds, grasslands and forests where birds can feast on fish, worms, mussels and plants.

The Black Swamp Bird Observatory is putting on workshops around Magee Marsh that focus on learning about the birds and how to identify them.

“I’m amazed at the number of people who are experiencing this for the first time,” Mark Shieldcastle, research director for the group, told The Blade newspaper ( ) in Toledo.

Kaufman said the experience goes beyond just introducing people to bird-watching.

“The idea is to engage new birders so they will become invested in the resource,” she said. “They will care more about it, because now it will mean something to them. That’s how we improve and preserve more habitat, and protect these birds.”

Martin McAllister and his teenage daughter Autumn Rose traveled from Pike County in southern Ohio to witness the migration.

“Seeing her enjoy this was a big thing for me,” said McAllister, who was introduced to birding as a college student nearly 30 years ago. “I wanted my daughter to experience this phenomenon.”

She said it’s amazing that many of the birds have traveled halfway around the world and all end up in the same spot.

“Before this trip, I had been a little confused about all these different birds, and I never really understood all of the sounds and the many different colors and patterns of plumage. This really brought the birds up close.”

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