Outdoors: Birding festival fills its virtual schedule

Matt Markey, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
·4 min read

May 4—OAK HARBOR — Although the basic format will be different and this year's Biggest Week in American Birding festival will not see the thousands of visitors from across the globe crowding into the hottest birding sites in the area as they have done in most of the past renditions of what has traditionally been a 10-day extravaganza, the virtual version promises not to disappoint.

"For this year's Biggest Week we are absolutely not looking at this as a transitional year," said Black Swamp Bird Observatory executive director Kimberly Kaufman, one of the primary driving forces behind the decade-long run of the festival. "We are putting the full force of our efforts behind this. We did exhaustive research on the best virtual platforms and we will put them to use to offer an outstanding birding experience."

The then rapidly spreading pandemic forced the cancellation of last year's event, and the lingering impact of the coronavirus-related travel restrictions and limits on gatherings have brought about the shift to an all-virtual event this year.

Kaufman stressed that no effort was spared in the push to make this a full-blown virtual birding dream ride.

"Since the Biggest Week has grown into such an international event and international travel is not possible on the kind of scale we have seen with the festival in the past, we have been moving forward as if the virtual Biggest Week is the only way to do it," Kaufman said. "Initially, some people agonized over not being able to come, but now they have seen the format and the speakers we have lined up, and they are embracing the virtual route. I think when you do something in a positive manner, the positivity comes back to you."

The virtual Biggest Week festival opens Thursday and runs through Monday, and Kaufman said there will be more than 60 presentations over the five-day run, with something to offer birders of every skill level. There will be workshops for beginners to advanced level birders, tips on selecting the best equipment and field identification guides, information on how to attract birds to your backyard, along with the top 10 things every beginning birder should know.

The wide array of warblers that pass through the area each spring are the stars of the show as they continue their long migration route from Central and South America and the Caribbean to their nesting grounds in the northern forests. But with Lake Erie's shoreline wrapped along some of the best birding locations, Kaufman said the virtual festival will also offer advanced workshops on the identification of gulls, shorebirds, and flycatchers.

The Biggest Week will also have presenters who will delve into some of the most pressing environmental topics, including the major threats birds are facing today and how conservation-minded individuals can help out. There will also be a virtual Optics Alley each day from 1-3 p.m. with live presentations from leading optics experts on the Biggest Week Facebook page.

Kaufman said each morning of the festival will kick off with a Facebook Live report from the field as experts visit the top birding sites in the region starting at 8:30 a.m. On Saturday, the 7 p.m. keynote address will be a Facebook Live forum on how to break down some of the barriers to birding experienced by people of color, called "Murmuration is the Movement: A Conversation with Bird Lovers and Leaders."

"We're particularly proud of the festival's focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion," Kaufman said, adding that there will be presentations from Birdability, an organization focused on making birding safe and accessible for people with disabilities.

"There is absolutely an intentional effort on our part to promote diversity," Kaufman said, adding that the list of presenters and speakers is the most diverse group in the history of the festival. "This is what it should look like, because this is what the country looks like and this is what the birding community really looks like, if you use the right lens."

—Registration/schedule: The 2021 virtual Biggest Week in American Birding registration is free for Black Swamp Bird Observatory members, and $35 for non-members. Membership is available at the www.bsbo.org/join-or-renew.html website. The detailed hour-by-hour daily schedule can be viewed at the biggestweekinamericanbirding.com/summary-schedule.html website. For those registered participants, there will be access to every live presentation as well as recordings of these presentations following their scheduled air time. Those recordings will be available for viewing until May 31.

—Boardwalk sold out: The popular Magee Marsh boardwalk about 10 miles north of here is closed through May 31, except to those holding a permit, and all of the permits for the five-day run of the Biggest Week in American Birding have been taken. Due to social distancing restrictions, permits were issued to access the boardwalk for two-hour time slots Friday through Monday, from 8 a.m. to noon.