Magee Marsh Wildlife Area
Featuring some of the finest wetland remaining in the state of Ohio, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area (also known locally as the Black Swamp birding area) is a birding hotspot in the month of May. Why? Because spring migration draws an amazing variety of traveling birds through the area, including a large number of rare and endangered warblers, such as the Kirtland’s Warbler, as well as other songbirds, waterfowl, and others.
Nestled on the shore of Lake Erie, the Wildlife Area accommodates several birding habitats within an easy walk of each other, and has been managed to take advantage of this with a walking-friendly agenda. Shorebirds populate the lake and beach area, which you can explore from the parking lots that adjoin the marsh proper. On either the east or west side of the park you can enter the boardwalk trail, the most popular of the four trails available. The boardwalk meanders for almost a mile inside marsh, allowing easy access to the diversity of habitat, flora and fauna that can be seen. Once you walk its carefully-maintained path, you’ll appreciate how the path has been plotted to work with the habitat. As a bonus, much of the boardwalk takes place in the heavily-shaded marsh, meaning that even if you linger in an area, heat will be less of an issue. Be sure to bring plenty of insect repellent, however, and sunscreen is always a good idea, especially if you plan to explore the shoreline.
During spring migration of Magee Marsh hosts the Biggest Week in American Birding, a two-week birdwatching festival where thousands of birders from around the world come to the park to take in the songbird bonanza. Crowds are large but respectful of each other, offering hints and tips, along with detailed directions of where specific birds can be found. Optics companies and nature clubs set up tents to offer information and helpful tips on how to best utilize the area. The festival is a well-oiled machine, primed and ready to handle the number of returning guests and first-time visitors who make this spring hotspot a yearly destination for birders. If you have the time and the dedication, it’s recommended that you make this a Birding Destination, allowing anywhere from four days to two weeks to take in the breadth of migrants available.
Other trails in the marsh include the Wildlife Beach Trail, following the shoreline east along the banks of Lake Erie, away from the parking lot and on to areas where birds who are less cautious around humans would prefer to hang out. There’s also the Magee walking trail, the Woodies Trail, and Gallagher Memorial trail, all three of which take you away the boardwalk and onto paths around the ponds and grasslands to enjoy the ducks and other waterfowl who visit the area away from the marsh proper. In addition to the trails, there are two publicly-available watchtowers for hawkwatching, or for giving a top-down view into the habitat for spotting birds lurking in the reeds.
During May, the birding opportunities are so dense, in fact, that the area has been broken into several zones in order to make it easier to identify where birds may or have already been seen. Check out the Visitor Center for the latest information.
But even in the less-crowded off-season, Magee Marsh makes for a lively spot to watch shorebirds and other species common to the area, with fewer crowds to deal with, and a more relaxed, leisurely approach to exploring the different habitats of the area.
Wildlife to Watch
Bald Eagle, Sora, American Woodcock, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech-owl, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Kirtland’s Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Blanding’s Turtle, Muskrat, Raccoon, Whitetail Deer.
If you can, plan to spend as much time as possible in the area during the month of May, as the number and variety of songbirds varies greatly from day-to-day.
There are no trash receptacles in the Marsh and littering is, of course, strictly prohibited. Bring something with you to store and remove your trash.
Do not stop your car on the OH-2 road on your way into or out of the Marsh. This is a safety hazard, and police issue tickets to cars pulled over to the side of this highway.
During peak migration, the boardwalk will be packed with people, so please be mindful of how much space your backpacks and gear take up.
Black Swamp Bird Observatory Office, Visitor Center and Gift Shop is open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday year-round from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., as well as Mondays in April and September. During the month of May, however, it is open every day to accommodate the large crowds for the Biggest Week in American Birding festival.
There is also the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center features a wealth of information on the history and wildlife, focused on hunting and fishing in the area.
In January to September, the Magee Marsh Wildlife area is open daily from sunup to sundown. However, the area behind the birding center is also periodically closed to allow for controlled hunting opportunities from late-September to the end of December. During these periods, popular birding areas such as the wildlife area road, boardwalk and beach will be accessible after 2 pm on Saturdays and all day on Sundays until sunset. For more information, call (419) 898-0960 or District 2 (419) 424-5000.
The Black Swamp Bird Observatory volunteer group features activities year-round, including pelagic trips on Lake Erie to see waterfowl, Christmas Bird Counts, symposiums and conferences for the wide variety of birding groups in the area, Big Sits wherein groups count the number of birds seen or heard in a day all while constrained to a particular area, optics events, and field trips. You can check out an updated calendar of events here: http://www.bsbo.org/calendar-of-events.html
The Biggest Week in American Birding requires registration, which can be done online or on-site. It features numerous programs, including keynote speeches from noted bird experts, workshops, and field trips to other birding hotspots nearby. Visit http://www.biggestweekinamericanbirding.com
Basic Written Directions to the Visitor Center
The nearest town to Magee Marsh is Port Clinton, Ohio. From there, go west on State Route OH-2. The entrance to the marsh is between State Routes OH-19 and OH-590.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Port Clinton, Ohio
Those wishing to purchase a Federal Duck Stamp to support wildlife conservation may now do so at the Gift Shop.