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Western Lake Erie Marshes Loop

Greater Yellowlegs along the Lake Erie Birding Trail

About the Western Lake Erie Marshes Loop

The vast marshlands that buffer extensive areas of the Lake Erie shore are a cradle of biodiversity. This globally significant region stretches from Toledo to Sandusky Bay and is the most heavily birded part of Ohio.

On the second Saturday in May, which is International Migratory Bird Day, as many as 10,000 birders from all over the country and beyond will be in the area. While great swaths of the original marshes have been destroyed, huge tracts have been protected as wildlife areas or as part of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. The total species list for this loop is 350, and eleven of these species have been found only in this region.

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What to Look For

There is never a dull season in the western Lake Erie marshes, but spring brings the most birders. They’re there for good reasons: Magee Marsh and vicinity supports one of the greatest migration spectacles to be found anywhere in North America. Scores of flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, tanagers, and others pass through in May. Stars of the show are the warblers, though. Thirty-seven species occur annually, and many of them can be found in jaw-dropping numbers. Early spring and fall see large movements of nearly all of the regularly occurring waterfowl. Raptor migrations can be sensational, and this is Ohio’s premier region for shorebird migration.

Noteworthy Rarities

There are probably more records of the federally endangered Kirtland’s Warbler from the western Lake Erie marshes region than anywhere else outside of the species’ breeding and wintering grounds. The warbler is but one of scores of rarities that have turned up in this region: 17 species with five or fewer Ohio records have been found, and the only Ohio records for four species come from western Lake Erie. The ODNR Division of Wildlife publishes A Field Checklist to the Birds of Magee Marsh (Publication 342), which details all of the birds found to date in the western Lake Erie marsh region.

Natural Features

The largest remaining marshes in Ohio buffer the western end of Lake Erie. In addition to supporting tremendous numbers and diversity of birds, these wetlands also harbor many other animals and an impressive diversity of plants. Species of plants that are now threatened or endangered, such as wild rice and bullhead-lily, can still be found. Two interesting reptiles that occur are the Blanding’s turtle and Eastern fox snake, both of which are largely confined to the western Lake Erie shoreline in Ohio. Incomprehensible numbers of dragonflies of many species live in the marshes, and occasionally rare migrant dragonflies are found, such as the striped saddlebags.