Meadowbrook Marsh is a must-visit spot for birders

In the early 2000s, Dianne Rozak led a group of locals through a forested wetland along a large pond near the Sandusky Bay on the Marblehead Peninsula. 

There were no trails. The group brushed past tree branches, bushes and other wild growth while tramping through mud. Along the way, they spotted rusting antique farm equipment and noticed deer tracks on the ground, while they heard a variety of birds singing throughout the property. 

Danbury Township had just purchased this land, which was coveted by a developer for condominiums. Rozak, Danbury Township Trustee, was elated as she pictured the possibilities for the property. 

She talked about paved trails that were handicapped-accessible, an observation deck by the pond to watch waterfowl and other species and perhaps a shelter house for picnicking. 

Many of the trails at Meadowbrook Marsh are paved and wide, allowing better access for all. Today, Rozak and the township’s vision is realized with Meadowbrook Marsh, the township’s 198-acre park and nature preserve that is a popular spot for people to walk their dogs, ride bikes, enjoy a picnic and during spring bird migration, look for unusual songbirds, waterfowl, and shorebirds.

Meadowbrook is a must-visit stop for many birders because it has a huge variety of resident and migrating birds. Some of the tiny, colorful warblers – neotropical birds that are stopping to rest on their journey from South and Central America to their northern breeding grounds – land so close in the boardwalk area that birders feel like they could reach out and touch them.

“Every single bird that has been at Magee has been at Meadowbrook,” says Rozak, referring to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, which is considered one of the best birding spots in the world. “It’s nature at its finest when you see birds like that visiting.”

The birding at Meadowbrook is so good that Rozak, an avid birder and photographer, is co-leading some guided trips there for the Biggest Week in American Birding, a 10-day festival that coincides with peak migration in Ohio and brings people from across the world to the area.

The Biggest Week is organized by Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Oak Harbor and will take place May 3 -12. Paid registration is required.

Rozak also is leading some free birding excursions at Meadowbrook on her own on Tuesday, May 14, Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19. Each walk starts at 10 a.m. and meets at Meadowbrook.

Warblers are the main draw for people enjoying the Biggest Week and bird migration, but there are many other birds people love to see that frequent the area. They include American white pelicans, wrens, thrushes, cuckoos, tanagers, and Indigo buntings. 

Like Magee Marsh and other Lake Erie marshes, Meadowbrook is situated in pristine preserved wetland that is a stop for the birds to rest and refuel on insects and nectar in that habitat before flying across Lake Erie. 

“When you look at the peninsula, Meadowbrook is kind of put right in the center of the lake and bay, they’re coming up from the south and going over the bay,” she says. 

A pine warbler perches at Meadowbrook Marsh.But it’s not just a great spot for migrating songbirds. Resident birds, such as the bald eagles that have maintained two nests there for years and had young, as well as migrating and resident ducks, are among some of the species spotted. It’s also a good spot to see various types of woodpeckers, including downy and red-headed, as well as northern flickers.

“The eagles are just wonderful,” Rozak says. “We have this colony of great blue herons. It’s not uncommon to see 20 or 30 of them at a time.”

All of this was possible thanks to the Nash family, who sold the first 33 acres of land to the township at a price below market value. They loved sitting on their deck and watching the birds, and they decided they’d rather see it preserved than developed. 

Today, much of the additional acreage for Meadowbrook that the Township has purchased is inaccessible wetland that is home to birds and native animals and plants. 

“That’s fine because it’s protected,” she says. 

Through the years, Rozak and the township have applied for numerous grants and received funding from different agencies, including the Ottawa County Park District. The wide paved trails accommodate wheelchairs and motorized scooters, and the shelter house and ADA-compliant picnic tables. 

“We got chunks (of funding) here and chunks there from a lot people,” she says. “We did a long-range plan with (design firm) The Collaborative of Toledo.”

Grant funding has paid for paving trails and the parking lot, and it will also fund extending the paved driveway to the parking lot. The result of all these improvements is an area that is vibrant and thriving year-round, as well as a fertile birding ground. 

The birds have been around for generations, but turning the marsh into a park has made them accessible to see, too. Rozak recalls a story another township resident told her about two women who lived near Meadowbrook before it became a park.

“They’d walk through here in spring. They’d say, ‘There are all kinds of birds in here that don’t belong in here,’” Rozak says. “(The birds) could have been coming through here for hundreds of years, for all we know.”