A story about migration

A story about migration

This spring my hubby and I had big plans to visit the Magee Marsh Boardwalk near Oak Harbor, Ohio. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s one of the hot spots for spring migration of neotropical migrant birds. I first read about this place many years ago in a book by the famous birder Roger Tory Peterson.

The boardwalk is about a mile long and allows visitors to view the shores of Lake Erie as well as a 7-acre wooded lot. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a website, eBird, which contains a life list for birders to use when viewing and tabulating birds in this region.

A quick internet search of the boardwalk shows photos from previous years of birders lined up shoulder to shoulder with binoculars glued to their eyes. The life list boasts an enormous range of birds from a magnificent variety of warblers, to owls, to most of Ohio’s faithful full-time residents like chickadees and titmice.

Sadly, this spring this birding hot spot had been closed to ensure the safety of fellow birders given the current pandemic. We are hopeful next year we might visit this Ohio birding hotspot.

In the meantime many birders like me are at home, sheltering in place. That might not be such a bad thing as many are now able to observe birds while working from home. I am in several Facebook groups that target birdwatchers in West Virginia, Central Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. For the past three weeks, all of these Facebook groups have had an abundance of similar posts from birders in Central Appalachia. The subject of these posts: Baltimore orioles.

The Baltimore orioles, along with their cousins, orchard orioles, are gifting quarantined birders with the sight of their lovely black and orange plumage. I have seen Baltimore orioles in previous springs, mostly in early May and only for a day or two. I have never seen them for as long or in such quantities as I have this spring.

Every year, right around Earth Day, I put up my hummingbird feeders and, just in case, a few oranges for migrating Baltimore orioles. I keep journals every year and try to note when each of my neotropical migrant birds arrive each spring. My first sighting this year was on April 30. I quickly made sure I had fresh oranges and placed an oriole feeder out with some sugar water and grape jelly.

My hubby and I were surprised to see at least a dozen orioles over the next few days. During that time the temperatures dropped to 20 F below normal ranges. As this happened, we noticed more and more orioles in our yard. We added a few more feeders, and when we ran out of feeders, we decided to use my orange Fiesta plates for grape jelly.

By May 9 we were making emergency runs to the grocery store to get more jelly each morning. We started keeping track of jelly and oranges. As I write this, our current total of jelly use is just shy of 5 gallons, and we have used 22 pounds of oranges. The morning of May 10, I counted 35 orioles around our home. I even observed a new bird for my life list, an orchard oriole.

Not all the Facebook posts about the migrant birds were happy ones, however. The cold weather really impacted many birds, and sadly some of the posts were about migrating birds, such as scarlet tanagers, who died as a result of the cold weather and lack of their main food source: insects.

Another sad issue that is currently being reported on in the world of birding is the recent deportation of fellow birder Anwar Alomaisi, whose story has been told in birding magazines, on NPR stations and throughout social media.

Alomaisi is pretty famous among bird and nature groups in the New York Hudson River Valley region. He is known for some amazing avian and wildlife photography. He has lived and worked in the New York City area for more than 22 years.

On Jan. 28 of this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported him back to his native country, Yemen. According to a Huffington Post article, Alomaisi has been “diligently reporting for check-ins, which gave him temporary reprieve from deportation because he wasn’t a priority for removal.”

He paid taxes, has no criminal record and is a volunteer for the Red Cross in Westchester County, New York. When he went to his last check-in, he was told he was being deported back to Yemen immediately. He didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to his family or contact his lawyer.

The country of Yemen has been involved in a civil war since 2015, which has killed a reported 12,000 civilians. Another 85,000 people have died from starvation as a result of the war.

Alomaisi fears for his life as he has become very vocal about human rights abuses within the country. He said he loves his native country of Yemen, but right now it is like hell. He said, “The people in the U.S. should be grateful to live in this country: the land, the beauty. It is heaven.”

An article in the birding magazine, Bird Watching, said Alomaisi has always loved birds and began to photograph them in 2008. He is a graduate of Westchester Community College and teaches photography. His work is especially inspiring, and friends say he is one of the nicest people you could ever meet. They say he is always willing to share his techniques with other fellow birders.

In 2016 Alomaisi became a hot topic on social media when he rescued a snowy owl he found by the side of a road. Unfortunately the owl, which Alomaisi took to a rehab facility, did not recover from being severely emaciated. However, the director of the facility said at least the owl passed away in a quiet setting and not at the hands of a predator.

Our beautiful neotropical migrant birds come to Central Appalachia every spring from countries thousands of miles south of the U.S. We birders wait in anticipation for their return.

We welcome them with open arms and offerings of fruit, jelly, mealworms and sugar water. They bring beauty to our lives in much the same way Alomaisi’s photography does. He has shown us the beauty of our national symbol, the bald eagle, which is his favorite bird to photograph.

In a recent interview from Yemen, Alomaisi said of the U.S., “I love the land, the people. I made so many friendships.”

You can help Alomaisi’s family and friends bring him safely back to the U.S. by joining the Facebook group, #BringAnwarBack, donating to the family’s GoFundMe account to help pay for legal expenses and sharing his story.

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