Last year 10,000 Birds celebrated Wood Warbler Week, which gave me an opportunity to describe exactly what a Wood Warbler (aka Phylloscopus sibilatrix) really was. And to inform North Americans that their so-called wood warblers would be more aptly named Silly-Canaries. Despite fairly convincing arguments, it seems the entire North American ornithological community has completely ignored all logic and we have yet to see any major changes in naming logic.

Prothonotary Silly-Canary (Protonotaria citrea) at The Biggest Week

This May saw a dramatic change in my life as a birder. One might even go as far as to say it was a turning point – a point to measure and assess my life – before and after The Biggest Week in American Birding.

Crowds on the Magee Marsh boardwalk soaking up all the warbler action. Polite. Excited. Sharing.

 My first morning at Magee Marsh and the Biggest Week in American Birding was absolutely incredible. At least as good as all the warblers were the crowds of birders. Everywhere I went there were people loving the birds and hanging out with other birders. And I found the people incredibly polite, friendly and helpful. Now, I really wasn’t expecting that as crowds of people are normally rather pushy and I tend to be a small group or solitary birder – avoiding the crowds and talking. But this was an absolute spectacle.

It would be hard to deny the beauty of the incredible burning Blackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca). I believe my first words on seeing a Blackburnian Warbler were: “Holy crap, what the hell is that!” It was that amazing.

The Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata coronata) are said to be the most abundant warbler at Magee Marsh in the spring migration, and we certainly did see lots of them. But I never got remotely bored with them.

But my personal favorite of all the wood-warblers I saw during the Biggest Week were the Magnolia Warblers (Setophaga magnolia). Relatively common, beautifully coloured and with wonderful personalities. I also liked their distinctive black and white tails.

On seeing my first Hooded Warbler (Setophaga citrina), I took a few digiscoping snapshots and as I was starting to move off I told someone about it and they almost freaked out: where? where? where? Funny how contextual birds are, I just had no idea that this would be something special there. It was just another of the dozens of incredible warblers about.

The Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina) also seemed to stir up a fair amount of excitement whenever one was about…

… as did the Bay-breasted Warbler (Setophaga castanea).

Black-throated Blue Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers also came by to check out my digiscoping equipment 😉

Well, the Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum) might not have much to compete with a Blackburnian, but I grew to really like them.

The thing that surprised me the most when walking through the boardwalk was the abundance and variety of gaudiness, both in the birds and people. Everywhere I looked, there was a bird even more brightly coloured and interesting. The same went for the people.

If you have never been to the Biggest Week in American Birding, or Magee Marsh in May then you are seriously missing out. If you have any remote interest in wildlife or nature, then this needs to be put on your bucket list right now. Yup, go ahead and do it. Don’t be coy. Pen. Paper. That easy.

All images digiscoped (c) me with a Swarovski STM80 HD, TLS800 and Canon 7D.


Written by Dale Forbes
Dale grew up in the forests and savannas of South Africa, developing a love for nature from a young age. After studying Zoology and Wildlife Science, he moved to Central America to continue his work in conservation biology. He is a member of BirdLife International’s Advisory Board and is Swarovski Optik’s Head of Strategic Business Development.