Birding week to draw 64,000 to NW OhioWritten by John P. McCartney | | firstname.lastname@example.org
An expected 64,000 visitors will flock to Northwest Ohio for “The Biggest Week in American Birding” festival, May 4-13 in Oregon and Port Clinton.
People from all over the world attend, according to Kim Kaufman, executive director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Port Clinton and festival director. Last year, Kaufman said, visitors came from as far away as Spain and Australia.
“The reach of this place is huge,” she said. “This wildlife area has become the most iconic area in birding in the Western Hemisphere.”
The birding festival’s headquarters will be at Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, 1750 State Park Road No. 2, Oregon, on Lake Erie about 15 minutes from Downtown Toledo.
The festival, organized by Black Swamp Bird Observatory, is expected to generate close to $30 million for the Northwest Ohio economy, Kaufman said.
The entire area will enjoy the benefits of the birding festival, said Larry Fletcher, executive director of the Lake Erie Shores and Islands Welcome Center in Port Clinton.
“Indirectly, everyone benefits because of how tourism dollars trickle down into the economy,” Fletcher said. “People may come here for the festival in May and find out other things to do in the area, and then return later in the year. People who come here find so many other events and attractions, like the islands and the beaches, to see and return to. This area has a high concentration of family fun and recreation in a relatively small area.”
In 2011, bird watchers, commonly called “birders,” reported seeing 234 species of birds during the festival; expectations this year are for 225 species.
Kenn Kaufman, one of the world’s most renowned bird experts and keynote speaker for the birding festival, believes local residents should take an interest in birding.
“It won’t increase your income, but it makes the world more three-dimensional,” he said. “It makes life more interesting to know what’s going on. Birds live fascinating lives. Knowing about birds captures the imagination.”
Festival birders will be served by more than 200 volunteers, including 55 professional guides, who will give guided walks from dawn to dusk, Kim Kaufman said. She said what she “loves so much about this area is the amount of diversity in the people I see here. This has become a melting pot of all different kinds of people.”
Kenn Kaufman said he has known birders as young as 9 and as old as 90.
“The best birders are people who are aware, have a natural curiosity about things, have active minds, want to know ‘What’s up with that?’” he said. “The best birders are friendly, open-minded, accepting, willing to use all of their senses and can watch and listen well.”
The festival will close with the celebration of International Migratory Bird Day, May 12, with a Silent Auction for Conservation scheduled at Black Swamp Bird Observatory. In 2011, the silent auction raised $20,000 for bird research, education and conservation in Northwest Ohio. Kim Kaufman said she expects to generate another $20,000 this year.
The festival takes place in Northwest Ohio because it is the best place to witness spring migration of songbirds in North America, Kenn Kaufman said. The southern edge of Lake Erie acts as a barrier that birds are reluctant to cross during migration.
The birds tend to “pile up” in the woodlots surrounded by marshland on the lake’s southern edge to rest and refuel before crossing the lake. The timing of their arrival is early enough in spring that the trees have few leaves, there are no bugs and the birds fly incredibly low.
Festival workshops will be held morning, afternoon and evening from May 4-11, and range in price from free to $40 per workshop.
Participants are encouraged to register online. A 44-page downloadable PDF document that outlines the schedule of events is available online. The website’s home page has 30 links where someone can explore all the festival’s events and opportunities and find answers to almost any question, Kim Kaufman said.
The website address is biggestweekinamericanbirding.com.
Local residents are encouraged to attend. They do not have to preregister for events like guided bird walks, family/beginner bird walks and shoreland and waterbird bird walks.
“Someone who lives here locally may be interested to know that people would travel so far just for these birds,” Kenn Kaufman said. “It implies that there’s something special here. Just come out. Birders are friendly, and you’re likely to get caught up in it.”