Where The Wild Birds Are

Author: Nathaniel Smalley

Seeds Of Spring | Northen Parula Warbler
Northen Parula Warbler

Birds were my first love. I became captivated by the avian world at the tender age of eight. Growing up in Maine I was in the great outdoors at every chance watching these masters of flight and identifying new ones to add to my life list. Today birding has become a far more mainstream hobby than it was back then.

Warden Of The Woods | Black and White Warbler
Black and White Warbler

In those days the bird watching field trips that I went on were attended by elderly birders – and me. I didn’t care though, those folks thought it was great to see someone from the younger generation as passionate as they were and they eagerly shared their knowledge. I studied everything about my feathered friends and was inspired to draw pictures and even wrote some poems about them.

As I became more serious about my artwork I wanted to ensure that my drawings were my own rendering from start to finish. So I saved my money for a few years and bought myself a Pentax K-1000 camera and a Sigma 500mm mirror lens which allowed me to capture an image of my subjects to draw from. During the next couple years my love of photography continued to grow, eventually overtaking my interest in drawing. I had hopes of one day embracing this hobby as a career and in time I set aside my sketch pad

Great Blue Heron at Sunset
Great Blue Heron

altogether and jumped into my new found passion feet first.

Fast forward a few decades and my love for birds is still as strong as ever. I‘ve since realized those childhood dreams of becoming a full time nature photographer. These two factors led me to visit Magee Marsh during the spring of 2014 during The Biggest Week In American Birding to participate in one of the largest birding events in the world, and in hopes of expanding my portfolio with some of these colorful songsters. Known as one of the birding meccas in North America, Magee Marsh covers a vast area on the shores of Lake Erie and is the perfect combination of marsh, wooded areas and open water, with a variety of fringe habitats that attracts songbirds by the thousands. The neo-tropical migrants (some from as far as South America) stop here to feed and rest up, awaiting the ideal weather conditions so that they can finish their journey across the vast expanse of Lake Erie up into Canada. The area is primarily known for its many different warbler and songbird species, but one can also find a variety of shore birds, wading birds, ducks and even owls!

It’s been just a year since that trip and I can’t help but think how some of the very same individual birds that I marveled at last year are making the same journey now, just as they will next year, oblivious to the lasting joy they have brought to the hundreds of people that have gathered to see them. Some have said that the crowds of bird enthusiasts keep them from Magee Marsh during this incredible migration ~ and there certainly is a beauty found in the wildness that can only be found in solitude. Yet there is another kind of beauty when hundreds of people gather for the simple, undeniably pleasure of watching our feathered friends up close. I recall the a strong feeling of comradery with my fellow birders and photographers last year, as we all sought after the same sight and longed for the same sounds, exchanging knowing smiles after gazing on the elusive blue-winged warbler.

There’s a bit of sadness in my heart that I didn’t make the trip this year. However, the songbirds can be counted upon to be back next year, and I’ll be there too. I certainly hope you can come experience this magical location as well!


Nathaniel Smalley is a professional nature photographer and Arizona Highways Photo Workshops instructor. Visit his website at NathanielSmalleyPhotography.com