In early May, one of the best places for watching migrating warblers is Crane Creek State Park in northwestern Ohio, on the southern shore of Lake Erie. That's where award-winning bird photographer Cliff Beittel was when he took the photo of the colorful Blackburnian Warbler on the cover of our April issue.
Crane Creek is an ideal spot for neotropical migrants to rest and eat before attempting to cross miles of open water to Canada, and that fact is not lost on the birdwatching community.
Surrounding Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is 2,600 acres, but the park itself is only 42 acres. And the wooded area where the migrants take shelter is even smaller. "There's a boardwalk through the forest, and it's packed with people when the migration is at its peak," he says. "The parking lot is full of hundreds of cars, and the Jiffy Johns get full."
Cliff's strategy is to stay outside of the wooded area on the northern edge of the woods, with his back to Lake Erie. "You can get good shots from the outside when the wind is right," he says. "It's easy to do." He walks up and down the edge of the forest and sees dozens of species from morning through the afternoon.
Even though only about 25 feet from the Blackburnian, Cliff used a 600mm f/4 lens with a 1.4x teleconverter and a fill flash to bring out the intense color. Other birds seen through his viewfinder include Blackpolls, Cape Mays, Black-throated Blues and Greens, Ceruleans, Wilson's, and Redstarts. "It's very good for vireos," he says, adding that many birds can be photographed or seen at eye level. He's photographed 36 different species at the location.
Cliff first visited the park in 2005 and has returned twice since then, typically in the second week of May. But if you're thinking of heading to the park on the second Sunday in May, then Cliff has another observation: You'll be sharing the park not only with hundreds of birders but also with their moms, too. --E.M.