2019—The Challenge of Magee Marsh

After spending a week at Magee Marsh on the south shore of Lake Erie photographing migrating warblers, I was reminded how challenging this kind of bird photography can be. Not only are these birds very small, less than 5 inches including tails, they are not easily seen because they are hidden among the branches and twigs of willows or the fallen leaves and twigs on the forest floor. Most stay higher in the trees so it is necessary to lean back and crane one’s neck to locate them. Hours of this activity can result in a common complaint experienced by Magee Marsh visitors called Warbler Neck. It is so common among birders, the Audubon Society has even published a video that shows exercises that might help prevent this painful condition.

The thick woods create backgrounds that are busy and distracting. The gray skies that pierce the leafy canopy like bright polka dots add another distraction. Then there are the people who crowd the narrow boardwalk, eager for a warbler sighting and who jostle and bump those around them and cause the walkway to shake and vibrate. However, these drawbacks aside, seeing these small, lovely birds, hearing their warbling songs, and enjoying the moment is an unforgettable experience. There are even a few warblers, among them the Yellow Warbler, that are so brightly colored they stand out from their surroundings and are easily seen. Fortunately, Yellow Warblers were abundant on our visit. This male Yellow Warbler paused on a nearby perch in the open and looked over his shoulder as if to tell me he was ready for his closeup.