Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Exciting news about access at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

Wilson's Phalarope - just one of the many cool species possible on good shorebird habitat in northwest Ohio.
Many birders in the northwest Ohio region may be unaware that Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (halfway between Toledo and Port Clinton along State Route 2) has a new Manager. Jason Lewis started there just last March. While the previous manager was a great guy and very committed to conservation, Jason Lewis has the added quality of being a keen birder. He understands the importance of the Magee Marsh / Ottawa NWR area to local and visiting birders, and he’s going to take steps to increase birder access to the Refuge. Several of us from Black Swamp Bird Observatory have met with Jason Lewis repeatedly and we’ve been excited and pleased to learn about his plans.

One immediate effect involves shorebird habitat (which has been a scarce commodity in n.w. Ohio this season). Ottawa NWR staff are now working to draw down the water level in the impoundment called MS 5 to create ideal shorebird habitat. (To see where MS 5 is located, see our map of the Refuge at ) This impoundment is located along the auto tour route. Kimberly Kaufman from BSBO talked to Jason Lewis about the Midwest Birding Symposium happening in this region in September, and Jason agreed to open up the auto tour for all three days of the Symposium: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, September 16, 17, and 18. The hours for those dates haven’t been finalized yet. But it’s great news for birders that we can expect good shorebird habitat and an extended period in which to check it out. A couple of years ago, at another point when MS 5 was in peak condition, I saw 17 shorebird species on this one impoundment in one morning, so I guarantee that there’s good potential!

In another exciting development, plans are being finalized to extend the Magee Marsh boardwalk to the west, into the adjacent section of Ottawa NWR. BSBO has done some work in that area, and we know that the concentrations of migrant birds there in spring are just as impressive as those along the boardwalk, but these woods have been inaccessible to most birders before now. Extending the trail into this area will relieve the crowding on the current sections of boardwalk and will make a great birding site even better! With luck, this new section of trail will be ready in time for next spring’s migration.

In a further development, many birders are aware of the good shorebird habitat sometimes present on Benton-Carroll Road just south of Route 2, but birding there has been difficult because of the lack of parking spots. The best of the habitat there has been acquired by Ottawa NWR, and Jason Lewis is planning to add a parking pulloff and eventually a raised viewing platform. So the news just keeps getting better!

I hope that everyone birding n.w. Ohio will show their support for Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. We’re lucky to have this protected habitat here, and lucky to have a Refuge Manager who wants to improve access for birders.

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