Join Naturalist Journeys on this spring migration tour to Ohio, a place that is quickly gaining recognition as one of North America’s best places to bird during spring migration. Take part in the Biggest Week in American Birding Festival on the teeming shores of Lake Erie where, each spring, migrant songbirds, shorebirds, waders, and raptors pass through by the thousands on their way to Canada.
Northwest Ohio is unofficially the Warbler Capital of the World; Ohio is home to 7 designated Globally Important Bird Areas (IBA). Over 325 species have been recorded here, with daily spring tallies reaching 120 species! While Canada’s Point Pelee has long been the Great Lakes’ star location, just across the Lake, the Ohio shoreline (with its extensive wetlands and preserves) serves as the staging side before migrating birds head north. Crane Creek, Magee Marsh, and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge are gems of this unique geography, and until now have been a long-kept secret. Today, the word is out and it’s considered one of the top birding areas in the country.
Enjoy the popular Biggest Week in American Birding Festival while expert guide Dan Donaldson helps you avoid the crowds and find the hot spots. Dan lives and works in the region and we are fortunate to have him share his contacts and expertise.
- Bird Northeast Ohio's best wildlife areas that includes a stop at a massive Great Blue Heron rookery, before heading west to Maumee Bay
- Attend festival activities and talks, plus enjoy optional festival field trips
- Bird the famous Magee Marsh Boardwalk, teeming with feeding migrants, some at arm’s length!
- Explore the marshes and upland scrub-shrub forests of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge
- Spend time in the Oak Openings region, home to 80% of Ohio’s endangered species
- Ferry to Kelley's Island to see one of the world's very best examples of glacial grooves
- Witness Marblehead Island and its endangered Lakeside Daisy
- Watch a bird-banding demonstration at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory
- Enjoy the Maumee Bay State Park Lodge, where festival events take place
“… A ‘Peg trip’… bring[s] together people who like to explore new places and share the joy of finding new birds … under the guidance of someone who knows the birds and the area. The accommodations are always excellent and special to the place we visit.”
— Maggie Clark
Sat., May 7: Arrive in Cleveland | Downtown Lake Front Birding
Please plan to arrive no later than 2:00 PM at the Cleveland International Airport. Please plan to take our hotel’s free airport shuttle to the hotel. Drop your bags at the hotel, freshen up, and then depart for some afternoon birding in the downtown lakefront areas of Cleveland. These green islands and lakeside woodlots are often very productive for birds and offer interesting views of the city.
We then enjoy dinner at a fun restaurant in one of the up and coming “hipster” Cleveland neighborhoods before return to our hotel in time to relax and settle in before our first morning of birding tomorrow.
Accommodations at the Hilton Garden Inn Cleveland Airport, Cleveland (D)
Sun., May 8 : Cuyahoga Valley National Park | Lakefront Birding to Maumee Bay
This morning, after breakfast at our Cleveland hotel, we depart early for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Here we bird a very mature beaver marsh where thick vegetation can produce many warblers, and perhaps our best chance for Yellow-throated Warbler, River Otter, and a good variety of waterfowl and water birds. We also visit a heron rookery that offers terrific views and photo opportunities of over 60 nests, many with chicks by this time. We then make a stop at one of the most viewable Bald Eagle nests in Ohio.
We enjoy lunch in the historic town of Peninsula and then depart for areas west as we make our way to the Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center, our lodging for the rest of the week; it also happens to be the headquarters for the Biggest Week in American Birding Festival. Today is casual, guide’s choice for locations, and the plan is to get acquainted, bird Maumee Bay State Park, and enjoy a welcome dinner at the lodge.
Accommodations at Maumee Bay State Park Lodge (B,L,D)
Mon., May 9: Magee Marsh & Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge
Jump start your birding today with a walk on the Magee Marsh boardwalk. While the boardwalk can be busy with other birders, it is always rewarding. See 15+ warbler species including, Cape May, Blackburnian, Magnolia, Yellow-rumped, and Canada Warblers, plus Black-billed Cuckoo, both Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrush, and American Redstart.
After lunch we explore the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), 6,700 acres of protected Lake Erie marshes and upland scrub-shrub forests. We make a quick stop in the new, LEED-Certified visitor center, then drive the auto tour through many of the wetland units. Trumpeter Swan were reintroduced here in the late 1990s, and these swans are easy to identify by their bright, orange-red necks and heads, stained from the water’s high iron content. We take time to seek out shorebirds and waterfowl, including Blue-winged Teal, both Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, and Wood Duck, plus Bald Eagle, and even Great Horned Owl (one year we saw a young owl that had been reared in a vacant Bald Eagle nest — what a treat!). (B,L,D)
Tues., May 10: Oak Openings | Metzger Marsh — International Migratory Bird Day
Today we venture west of the Lake Erie marsh region to visit the Oak Openings region of Ohio. An ancient sand dune area, Oak Openings boasts nearly 80% of the state’s rare and endangered species. This unique dune and wetland complex creates a habitat that replicates the oak savannas and sand barren areas far into the Midwest. Here we hope to spot Lark and other sparrows, both Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, and Hooded, Pine, and Yellow-throated Warblers, and we may even see Eastern Meadowlark.
After lunch, we head to Pearson Metropark to explore the newly-created Metzger Marsh, part of a large wetland restoration project. Common finds include Marsh Wren and Least, Spotted, and Semipalmated Sandpipers. We also network with other guides and experts to monitor the migration, so as activity calls, we follow! (B,L,D)
Wed., May 11: Kelley’s Island & Catawba Island | East Harbor State Park | Magee Marsh Boardwalk
We begin the day with a ferry trip to Kelley’s Island. Kelley’s Island offers unique habitats for birding, interesting cultural history, and North America’s best example of glacial grooves. After a late lunch we head back to the mainland and bird the under birded areas surrounding the Sandusky Bay and Catawba Island. We visit Marblehead and if we’re lucky, we may catch the endangered Lakeside Daisy in abundant bloom. We keep our eyes out for Mississippi Kite, as well as other species. While we’re here, we make sure to stop at the picturesque Marblehead Lighthouse.
We move on to East Harbor State Park, where we’re sure to spot Great Blue Heron in the bays, and forest dwellers like Red-eyed Vireo along the park’s woodland trails.
Depending on how productive the day has been, we head back to Magee Marsh Boardwalk for a late-afternoon check in; birds are (almost) a guarantee here — we like to check often! (B,L,D)
Thurs., May 12: Magee Marsh | Ottawa Marsh | Metzger Marsh | Maumee Bay State Park
This morning we hit Magee Marsh Boardwalk early. We keep our eyes peeled for Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Chestnut-sided and other warblers, and thrushes: Hermit, Swainson’s, and Gray-cheeked.
Moving on we explore Ottawa NWR once again in search of songbirds, as well as waterfowl. We also seek out Northern Parula, both Yellow and Black and White Warblers, and American Redstart that work low in the flowering dogwoods and willows along the wetland management canals. We also watch for Sandhill Crane; two years ago, we had the pleasant surprise of a family — two adults and two chicks — feeding in the grassy fields along the driveway to the refuge’s visitor center. We explore Metzger Marsh again; so close to the lake, we may catch glimpses of Common, Forster’s, and Caspian Terns. We also watch for raptors, like Merlin, streaking past and causing a ruckus.
We make time today to participate in some of the festival activities, right at the lodge. This is a great opportunity to listen to a keynote speaker and visit the many vendor booths at the festival. (B,L,D)
Fri., May 13: Magee Marsh | Ottawa Marsh | Metzger Marsh
We start the day with another sunrise shuttle to Magee Marsh. Although the boardwalk may be busy, we can hope that more visitors equals more birds. Spot Cerulean, possible Kirtland’s, and Blackpoll Warblers; Scarlet Tanager; Willow, Alder, and Least Flycatchers; Eastern Kingbird; and Eastern Wood-pewee.
We make quick stops at Ottawa NWR and Metzger Marsh again in hopes of picking up a few more species, then head back to the lodge early for a little down time (or festival time — your choice). Tonight we enjoy a final dinner together at one of Dan’s favorite restaurants, The Beirut, famous for fresh, authentic Lebanese food. (B,L,D)
Sat., May 14: Departures
A great week of birding comes to an end. Please make your airline reservations to depart after 12:00 PM. (B)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the tour is $2790 DBL / $3290 SGL, per person based on double occupancy from Cleveland, Ohio. The cost includes seven nights’ accommodation, all meals as noted in the itinerary, airport transfers, land and boat transportation during the journey, professional guide services, park and other entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. Not included in the tour cost is round-trip airfare to and from Cleveland, personal expenses such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, and gratuities for luggage handling or other services. Guide gratuities are at your discretion.
Airport is Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), Ohio. Plan to arrive no later than 2:00 PM on Wednesday, May 4; plan to take the hotel’s free shuttle from the airport to the hotel. Please schedule flights to depart after 12:00 PM on Wednesday, May 11.
Items of Note
Weather and wind direction greatly impact bird migration and which locations offer the best birding for the day. Our goal is to visit all the locations and more during the trip, but days and locations will be arranged to accommodate the weather and local conditions.
Dining is casual at restaurants that feature regional foods, some picnic lunches, and a few restaurants that feature some international flair.
Pace is moderate; full days of birding and walks on sometimes wet, but established roads and trails; a typical walk is half a mile to two miles. You can opt to return to the hotel on several days if you would like a lighter pace.
Dan Donaldson is an accomplished naturalist-birder based in Northeastern Ohio and has been guiding for Naturalist Journeys for nearly 20 years. Dan has developed his skills while working as a naturalist for a local park district for 25 years as well as with his full-time job as director of the local soil and water conservation district. Acustomed to varied audiences from novices to experts, Dan incorporates much more than just identification in his tours and programs. Dan has led tours for The Nature Conservancy, National Parks Conservation, and other tour companies. While now an international guide, his specialization in birding locales ranges from the Great Lakes to coastal destinations ranging from the Maritime Provinces of Canada and Maine, to the Florida Keys.
Other trips with Dan Donaldson
Bryan Shirley graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Japanese/International Economics. He lived in Japan for 3 years when he was 20 and fell in love with the language and culture and has been guiding and birding there ever since. Besides guiding in Japan, he regularly leads tours for Japanese birding groups around the US and other countries. When not guiding he has been involved with various DWR and USFWS projects such as relocating Sage Grouse, breeding bird surveys, and bird-related projects for private environmental consulting firms. He also has volunteered his time to serve as president of Utah County Birders and organizes the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Counts for Provo and Payson, Utah where he currently resides. He currently is a member of the Utah Bird Records Committee.
Other trips with Bryan Shirley
Photo credits: Banners: Warbler Hunting, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Blackburnian Warbler by Tom Dove; Black-throated Green Warbler, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Chestnut-sided Warbler by Doug Pratt; Eastern Screech-Owl by Greg Smith; Bay-breasted Warbler, Tom Dove; Black-throated Blue Warbler, Tom Dove; Blackburnian Warbler, Tom Dove; Red-headed Woodpecker, Doug Greenberg; Eastern Screech Owl, Terry Peterson; Magee Marsh Boardwalk, Dan Donaldson; Cerulean Warbler, Tom Dove; Northern Shoveler, Tom Dove; Magnolia Warbler, Homer Gardin; Scarlet Tanager, Doug Greenberg; Magee Marsh group photo, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Prothonotary Warbler, Doug Pratt; Wilson’s Snipe, Steve Wolfe; Prothonotary Warbler, Ruth Guillemette; Baltimore Oriole, Mahlon Hale; Eastern Bluebird, Doug Greenberg; Kirtland's Warbler, Doug Greenberg; Nashville Warbler, Doug Greenberg; Northern Cardinal, Doug Greenberg; Red-bellied Woodpecker, Doug Greenberg; Scarlet Tanager, Doug Greenberg; White-breasted Nuthatch, Doug Greenberg.