People from Ontario, Alaska, Maryland, Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, a host of other states and Ohio too were crowding the boardwalk at Magee Marsh Monday, seeking to spot any number of colorful, migratory birds.
Some of those people I met in person - such as two ladies from Ontario who make the trip every year and a couple from Pennsylvania who were excited to be at Magee Marsh for the first time. But a look at the license plates in the full parking lot tells the story of distances traveled.
I was invited to attend a VIP birding tour hosted by Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Black Swamp Conservancy Monday at Magee Marsh. The tour is part of the Biggest Week in American Birding going on through this weekend at Magee and neighboring Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.
Among those joining Kim Kaufman of BSBO and Kevin Joyce of the conservancy on the tour were U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo; Vicki Mountz, ODNR's acting chief of the Division of Wildlife; representatives of state and local tourism bureaus; and other community leaders.
One of the bird experts on the tour was Sam Woods, a guide from a business called Tropical Birding, based in Ecuador. Originally from England, he and a group of bird guides make the trek to the southern shore of Lake Erie every May to take part in the event.
I asked him why he and his guide friends come to northwest Ohio when he frequently travels the world birding in exotic locations.
Vicki Johnson is The A-T's outdoors and agriculture news reporter. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He said the Magee Marsh boardwalk is one of the best places in the world to see the warbler migration because colorful birds can be seen lower in the trees than anywhere else. It provides a great spot for seeing birds up close.
Woods said the newest phenomenon is the use of Twitter to share rare bird sightings on the boardwalk.
If someone sees a rare find at marker 5, for example, he or she can tweet it and anybody who wants to see that bird can converge on marker 5.
Woods said he's never seen anything like it.
Kenn Kaufman, author of Kaufman Field Guides birding directories who moved to Oak Harbor a few years ago, said the same thing.
He's often invited to other places in the world to watch the migration, but he says the best birding is right here in his back yard. Why go anyplace else?
"I have been birding on seven continents and I have never seen anything like this for bringing birds and people together," he told the group.
Kim said 1,000 people have officially registered to take part in the Biggest Week, but that's only a drop in the bucket of the number of people who visit the area during spring migration.
A counter placed on the road back to the Magee Marsh boardwalk registered 50,000 vehicles in May last year.
That's only one location for one month.
While Magee and Ottawa are the "crown jewels" for birding, there are probably hundreds of lesser-known locations where people can see spring warblers along the lakeshore.
Kim was pointing out to the movers and shakers of the area that nature tourism is very important to the economies of lakeshore communities. But the benefits go beyond the local area to all of northwest Ohio.
When people converge on Ottawa and Erie counties in early spring, they need places to sleep and eat, and they buy supplies and spend money in countless ways.
After last spring, Kim said a survey was conducted of people from 40 states who signed various registries in April and May. She said there was a 20-percent return rate, and a low-end estimate of the economic impact is $19 million.
This year, people from 44 states have been officially signed in, as well as four countries. But she said she knows there are more than four.
In case you're looking for something to do Saturday, it would be an excellent day to visit.
Bird expert Tom Bartlett of Tiffin will be conducting his annual Big Sit Saturday as a BSBO fundraiser. People pledge a specific amount of money for each bird Tom sees from inside his circle from 5 a.m.-5 p.m. Or you can just give a donation. Or you can just watch.
It's all in fun and for a good cause. Some people even pledge money for the number of hours Tom lasts in the circle without making a trip to the bathroom. Many years he's made it the whole 12 hours, but he confesses it's getting more difficult to do as he gets a bit older.
If you can't make it this weekend, the migration continues for the next few weeks. May is great time for new birders to visit because there are bird guides on the boardwalk who love to teach people how to find them and identify them. (It's true. I asked Sam.)
Make it a point to take your family up to the spot less an hour away. The same spot where people from the whole world literally the entire world ... gather to see the spring migration.