Birding TipsThe following sections give detailed tips on birding at Magee:
Click on numbered sites in map
Click on numbered sites in mapThere are a small number of sites off the boardwalk that can be productive, when conditions are right. When the wind is blowing from the south, birds will often come to the edge of the forest bordering the parking lots, and then it may be better to view them from the various sites in and around the West Lawn, than on the actual boardwalk. Conversely, when the wind is howling out of the north, the parking area will generally be devoid of birds, and then you'll want to hit the back part of the boardwalk that faces the marsh (to the south). Click on the numbered sites below, or scroll down further to browse the complete list.
1. West Platform
The platform is the first thing you'll see when you approach the west entrance to the boardwalk. The platform itself isn't great for seeing birds (though sometimes you'll spot a few coming out of the woods there), and it's not very big, but there is a panel illustrating the field markings of the various warblers, which can be useful for beginners (see also the Field Guide page of this web site).
Plaque on the platform showing species of warblers that can be seen at Magee Marsh.
Another view of the platform, showing the entrance to the boardwalk (at right).2. Corner near Platform
Large tripod-mounted camera rigs are not recommended on the boardwalk, but
on the platform and atop the west tower there's more room.
This corner is sometimes productive, as the birds will occasionally come out here and along the other edges of the West Lawn. There's a rather large tree that grows in the lawn near this corner, where birds will sometimes forage, so when you're birding this corner it's a good idea to keep an eye on the tree behind you. Note that people often place oranges (and occasionally more exotic fruits such as bananas, canteloupes, and even pineapples) in the trees here, so this tends to be a good place to see orioles.
Corner of west lawn, near the platform. When conditions are right, birds sometimes3. Corner of West Lawn
come out to the forest edge and can be seen from the lawn. This corner is sometimes
good. The annual Big Sit on International Migratory Bird Day takes place here. Some birds
come all the way out to the big tree in the midst of the lawn, so don't forget to look there.
This corner is just a few feet from the previous site, and is similar in character. When the other corner is swamped with people, sometimes it's worthwhile checking out this corner.
Northern Parula with insect. Birding the edge of the west lawn is sometimes productive.4. Southern Edge of West Lawn
The southern edge of the West Lawn can also be good when conditions favor the birds coming out to the forest edge. This is also a prime location to see the mourning and Connecticut warblers, and you'll often see large crowds here straining to get a glimpse of the bird back among the dense foliage inside the forest. Wading through such a mob with a large, tripod-mounted camera can be difficult, so many photographers avoid these crowds when they form.
Highly desirable birds (particularly Connecticut and mourning warblers) sometimes hang out5. Pedestrian Road
just inside the forest edge by the west lawn, and this attracts large crowds to the edge of the lawn
(crowd in center of photo). Note the separate crowd to the left; this is where the pedestrian
road begins (or ends), and can also be productive in the right conditions (see below).
Starting at this corner and stretching eastward along the pedestrian road (which is closed to automobiles) is another section of forest edge that can be productive in the right conditions. It can also be utterly dead in the wrong conditions. When the birds are present here, they're often at eye-level (though not always).
The pedestrian road is closed to traffic and provides a lot of room, so setting up a
large tripod-mounted camera rig here is feasible. (Photo by Linda Huber)
6. West Entrance to Boardwalk
As you enter the boardwalk at the west end, you'll see a relatively open area to your left, which the boardwalk curves around to embrace. This is often a good spot to see birds, and can be good for photography due to the openness of the area. Birds often come out of the forest, cross the semi-open area, cross over the boardwalk (where you can get excellent close-up views) and then continue out toward the parking lot (see site #20); sometimes they go in the opposite direction, but either way you can often get great views of the birds here. Unfortunately, it tends to get very crowded here because most visitors start out here at the west entrance and end up clogging up the way.
Just inside the west entrance to the boardwalk, there's a semi-open area of forest
on the left that sometimes offers some good views of warblers and other birds.
The crowd is often much more dense than what you see here.
The area at and around the west tower can be very good for birding. The marsh is right at hand, so you have marsh habitat on one side and open forest on the other. The tower itself is a wooden structure with a platform at the top. Atop the tower you get a great view of the upper canopy, and this is often very useful in getting close-up photos of birds foraging high up.
The west tower. Left: view from below. Note how crowded it gets at the top.The area at the bottom of the tower can often be productive too. Flycatchers sometimes nest under the tower steps, and prothonotaries nest in boxes nearby. On days when there's a lot of bird activity atop the tower, it can be very difficult to get a spot on the upper platform, especially for photographers using a tripod (tripods are not recommended on the boardwalk, for this reason, though technically they are permitted).
Right: looking down from the tower.
Tennessee warbler foraging upside-down, high in a tree. At the top of the tower8. Corner Near Tower
this bird was at eye-level, permitting an exquisitely detailed view at close range.
Just beyond the tower is a corner featuring a tiny resting space with a bench. There are some bushes here where you can sometimes get eye-level views of birds. Across from the little resting area is a small, semi-open area of forest where you'll often see birds foraging quite low. It's not uncommon for warblers to forage in branches hanging directly over the boardwalk, literally three feet from your face.
At the corner bench a little ways past the tower, you'll often see9. Connecticut Avenue
birds foraging at extremely close range.
This long stretch of boardwalk features both high trees and low shrubs. Many of the birds seen along here are high in the trees, making photography almost pointless. However, there are spots along here where Connecticut and mourning warblers are seen every year, and this is the spot on the boardwalk that becomes most congested with people when rarer species are sighted. Golden-winged warblers have also been sighted here numerous times in the past. When the crowds form, most photographers simply pass by (when it's even possible); shooting in dense crowds with a tripod-mounted rig is simply too frustrating.
Crowds form regularly along "Connecticut Avenue" to search for highly desirable birds such
as the Connecticut, mourning, and golden-winged warblers.
Connecticut warblers are hard to photograph at Magee, because they tend to stay in dense thickets
where stray branches are likely to be in the way of a clear view.
10. Small Loop
This small loop of the boardwalk encloses a semi-open area of forest, and on some days the birding here can be excellent. Look for birds both within the enclosed area and all along the outer periphery, particularly to the north and east. Prothonotary warblers sometimes nest here.
The small loop on the Magee boardwalk can sometimes produce some excellent birds, and because11. Pier
the forest is semi-open there, it's often possible to get a relatively unobstructed shot of the bird.
This is a short section of boardwalk that extends out into the marsh like a "pier". The very end of the pier is typically not very productive, though the area where the pier connects to the main boardwalk can be quite good. Prothonotary warblers often nest here. Most of the activity is usually on the pier side of the boardwalk, though screech owls are sometimes sighted on the other side (and further up) and there are some nest boxes out at the edge of the pond.
The stretch of boardwalk along where the pier juts out can produce some12. Northwest Corner of Big Loop
great birds. This immature summer tanager was a great find in 2008.
Approaching the big loop from the west, you'll cross over a small bridge, where you'll have the choice of proceeding straight or turning right. Turning right leads to an area that is often quite productive. Here at the corner the woods on the east are somewhat open, and you'll often see thrushes foraging low, and sometimes nesting prothonotary warblers.
Prothonotary warblers nest in a number of places along the boardwalk.13. West Edge of Big Loop
And they don't mind if you get close. Nor do they mind if you use flash.
This bird eventually came out of its nest cavity and proceeded to preen
on a branch mere feet from a dozen flash-wielding photographers,
without batting an eyelash. They really don't care about flash.
This area sometimes offers the best birding at Magee. To the west is a creek and to the east is a mix of trees and open bushy areas. Warblers will sometimes forage on the ground right next to the boardwalk, literally inches from your feet, or on vines or the bark of an enormous tree. Further south toward the corner the activity often drops considerably, so there's something about this spot that the birds seem to like.
On really good days the birds will actually walk on the boardwalk searching for tiny morsels.14. South Edge of Big Loop
So please be careful not to step on any warblers.
The entire stretch from the southwest corner of the loop to the "Big Tree Corner" some distance to the east can, one some afternoons, be very productive if you're willing to patiently stalk the birds. Photographers with a 400mm lens can do exceedingly well here on some days, as the birds often forage in bushes right next to the boardwalk at eye level. In mid-May it does get leafy here, so photographing the birds can be challenging, but an entire afternoon spent here on a good day can net a large number of "keepers". This stretch is generally better in the afternoon than in the morning.
The birding can sometimes be really great along the south edge of the big loop, though15. North Edge of Big Loop
the habitat is very "sticky" and it's sometimes hard to get a clear shot of the bird without
lots of branches in the way. Afternoons are typically better than mornings along this stretch.
This stretch is typically the least productive part of the big loop, though the east end (at and around the corner) can sometimes produce birds. Robins and tree swallows often nest along this stretch.
The north edge of the big loop is not the best part of the boardwalk for seeing16. East Edge of Big Loop
warblers, but there are often robin or swallow nests here (and sometimes warblers too).
This part of the loop can sometimes be productive, though for photography it's often frustrating because of the foliage and viny thickets. On good days you can see birds along this entire stretch. Note that this whole area of the boardwalk tends to attract fewer crowds, making photography easier.
Like the southern edge of the big loop, the east edge is very "sticky", so that even when17. Big Tree Corner
you find some good birds there you're likely to be looking through branches.
Though the map shows one corner, this is actually a tight series of little turns that go around an enormous tree bordering the marsh to the south. To the north the trees open up to reveal eye-level bushes, where you can sometimes see warblers foraging. In 2010 a yellow warbler nest was located here, mere feet from the boardwalk.
Yellow warbler nest at the Big Tree Corner in 2010.18. East Stretch
Though the easternmost stretch of the boardwalk is sometimes productive, the main attraction here is the lack of crowds. Whereas the west end of the boardwalk often gets so crowded that you literally can't get through, here at the east end you have room to move around, so that you can stalk the birds. To the north is woodland, while to the south is a marshy channel bordered by bushes and in some areas a thin line of trees. Herons and egrets are sometimes seen in the channel, and three or more species of swallows (tree, barn, bank) are often seen hawking for insects.
The best thing about the easternmost stretch of the boardwalk is that there are usually very19. East Entrance to Boardwalk
few people there. And sometimes there are birds.
On good days you can see some warblers here at the east entrance, including a small stretch along the road and just inside the boardwalk. Out on the road you can walk east and see the edge of the open marsh, where blackbirds and swallows are often found among the reeds.
Swallow in the marsh on a rainy day, close to the east entrance of the boardwalk.20. Scrub Line
Along the southwest edge of the westernmost parking lot is a line of scrub bordering the marsh, where you can sometimes get lucky and catch one of the rarer warblers such as Connecticut, mourning, or orange-crowned. Most of the time, though, this area is dead. The restrooms are located here. Some birders park their cars here and eat lunch at their cars, keeping an eye on the scrub for any warblers emerging from the marsh.
The southwest edge of the parking lot is often dead, but occasionally you'll get lucky and21. West Edge of Parking Lot
see a great bird sneak out through the brushy vegetation bordering the marsh.
Like the southwest edge of the lot, this western edge features some scrub habitat where birds are occasionally seen.
The west end of the parking lot isn't a great place to find birds, but sometimes22. West End of Beach
you do see them there. And there's rarely a crowd here to contend with.
Just past the parking area, out on the beach, public access is forbidden due to nesting birds. There is a short trail just inside the woods here where you may see some birds. Visitors with dogs often let them swim here at lunchtime.
Visitors with dogs often let them swim in the lake during their lunch break.
Note that dogs are allowed in the park, but not on the boardwalk.
23. East End of Beach
Most years at Magee a Kirtland's warbler is reported, and very often it's out on the beach to the east of the boardwalk area. Public access is permitted here, and you can walk quite far along the beach. Though not prime birding (compared to the boardwalk), birders often come out here to try their luck at finding a Kirtland's that has strayed from its normal migration path up into Michigan.
Kirtland's warbler seen by thousands of viewers along the east beach at Magee in 2010.
Field Guide section of this web site provides a very crude introduction to warbler identification, though you'll likely want to buy a real, print guide such as the ones by Kaufman, Sibley, Peterson, Audubon, etc. During peak migration season you'll often be surrounded by many other birders, many of whom are experts at identifying birds. Don't be afraid to ask for help from other birders in identifying any bird you see; if it's a bird they haven't caught sight of yet, they'll typically be grateful for having the bird's presence pointed out, and won't mind ID'ing the bird for you.
Palm warbler behind the sportsman's center at Magee.
minimum focus distance (MFD); sometimes the birds at Magee get so close that binoculars with a large MFD can't focus on the bird. It's also advisable to choose a pair that are waterproof, so that you don't have to stay at home (or in the hotel) on rainy days.
Spotting scopes tend to be rare on the boardwalk at Magee. They require a tripod, which is extremely inconvenient on the boardwalk, and they can be easily knocked over by passers-by. Though the birds are sometimes high in the trees (where a spotting scope can be handy), on good days they're at eye-level and you really don't need the scope.
eBird, the online database of bird sightings. The eBird database is useful to conservationists and scientists studying migration and population trends, so we highly recommend that you enter your checklists into eBird.
Click here for the Magee Marsh Boardwalk Checklist
Click here for the eBird checklist for Ohio.
Click here for the USGS checklist for Magee Marsh.
minimum focus distance) can be ideal on days when the birds are foraging at eye level. Note that you can use an extension tube to decrease the MFD if necessary. Many birders use a rig consisting of a 400mm f/5.6 lens (zoom or non-zoom) attached to a DSLR camera and an external flash unit. On our Photography Tips page you'll find lots and lots of information about techniques for photographing warblers.
If you have a handheld web device such as an iPhone or Blackberry, there are several web sites that might be useful for keeping up on current conditions and recent sightings: