Saturday, October 17, 2009

Railing about the Great Black Swamp

Friday's gloomy fall weather did nothing to dampen the diversity of the Lake Erie marshes, pictured here off the drive at Metzger Marsh. Between the Ohio Division of Wildlife marshes and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge system, northwestern Ohio retains most of the 10% of wetlands remaining in our state. These areas are teaming not only with hunters fare, such as ducks and geese, but every imaginable wetland creature finds a niche here. Flycatchers to dragonflies, and every wetland species in between, benefits from the vast areas preserved with Duck Stamp dollars and it is not only hunters who purchase them. More and more, birders are flocking to show their support for these habitat conservation programs.

My trip to the heart of the marshes was to visit one of Ohio's most knowledgeable bird-banders. But, calling Mark Shieldcastle a "bird- bander" is almost laughable faint praise.

Mark is a recent retiree from the Ohio Division of Wildlife and the go-to man for all things Bald Eagle, duck and rail related. The data collected by Mark's efforts could probably go to the moon and back and for many years his wife Julie has been one of the main driving forces behind the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Their combined scientific collection of bird data is mind-blowing. They are experts, usually very damp and soggy experts I might add, in these parts.

King Rail and Virginia Rail banded by BSBO Photo by Hugh Rose

Mark has studied the migration of rails through the marshes of Lake Erie and was kind enough to share information about these secretive birds in decline due to habitat loss. Spring is our best chance to hear the calls of rails as they seek mates in cat-tail marshes and margins of our once Great Black Swamp. Along with collecting scientific data, education and conservation are two of the main components of BSBO, and I hope you will visit and support them in their efforts, whenever you are in the Lake Erie marsh regions.

Their gift shop is a great place to buy a Federal Duck Stamp. It is also chock-full of warm clothes, fun birding novelties, and even plant and insect books! Kim Kaufman, Hugh Rose and many other gifted volunteers keep this place bustling with activity.
So stop by soon and peek out the window-on-nature, browse the books and tell them "Weedpicker" sent you!

1 comment:

  1. Cheryl ~ Thank you for the much deserved and well earned kudos for Mark, and for Julie. To me they represent the passion, committment, and dedication that makes working with volunteers among the most rewarding experiences I will ever be blessed with.

    BSBO, GMAS, OOS--and a whole host of organizations like them--are having a major impact on bird conservation, and we're doing it on the backs of some of the most amazing people on the planet.

    Thanks for being one of those people, Cheryl. Your efforts make a difference for our wild world, and inspire us all to do more for the things we love the most.

    ~kim kaufman