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SHREVE -- The Saturday, March 18 weather was raw, drizzly -- just a couple of clicks above the freezing mark on the thermometer -- but Tom Romito and his wife, Mary Anne from Cleveland, and their friends, Rob and Peg Bobel from Copley, thought it was the perfect day to be out on the soggy and windswept Killbuck Marsh looking for ducks and birds of all descriptions.
"There's no bad weather to go out birding; only bad clothing," mused Rob who carried a sophisticated spotting scope and appeared dressed more appropriately for a trek to the peak of Mount Everest than through the Shreve swamps.
Tom said the two couples are ardent birders and get together annually for the Shreve Spring Migration Sensation, enjoying the out-of-doors, local restaurants and the educational opportunities the event affords.
They said they had seen impressive numbers of ducks in the marshland, including Northern Shovelers, Grebes, Tundra Swans, diving ducks and dabblers. They also encountered what they said were record numbers of ring-necked ducks, American Wigeons and pintails.
The couples, who noted that later in the day they planned to observe birds at the Funk Bottoms and Shreve Lake area, said they take counts of the duck populations and send them to ebird at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.
Across the marshlands, knots of bird watchers armed with long-lens cameras, recording equipment and binoculars of all types could be seen throughout the swamp, braving the penetrating cold and occasional drizzle.
Along Willow Road, Krista Pochedly-Davis of Plain Township, an education specialist and naturalist for The Wilderness Center, distributed long-handled dip nets to children and adults alike and let them dredge up sediments from the marsh to examine for signs of smaller living things.
Excited children pawed through mud and rotting leaves to discover a plethora of invertebrates such as water beetles, include backswimmers, boatmen and whirlygigs, daphnea, cyclops and many others. Pochedly-Davis assisted the children with getting what she called their "really cool creatures" under microscopes for a closer look.
Among those enjoying making the discoveries were Courtney Stephens of Lakeville, who had brought along his 5-year-old daughter Clare.
"She loves the outdoors and loves learning," said Courtney, noting the family lives out in the country and he wants his children to grow up with an appreciation for nature and the out-of-doors.
Brenda Wile of Shreve was one of several adults shepherding a group of eight Girl Scouts ages 7 to 13 from Troop 2436. She said the girls would use the experience toward earning their naturalist badges.
"This is a good way for them to learn more about the world around them," said Wile.
A drier and more welcoming environment was found at Shreve Elementary School, which served as headquarters for the 17th annual edition of the event, which is sponsored by the Shreve Business Association.
Heidi Garst, a member of the association, said the event typically draws between 500 and 1,000 participants, and that the business group typically manages to break even on it financially. Garst said its primary purpose is to help promote the Shreve area.
New to the event this year, Garst noted, was a passport that participants could have stamped at all the various venues to earn a souvenir, and a fishing event at Whispering Hills underwritten by a grant through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
An especially popular attraction at the school was the Wilderness Center booth, where education manager Lynda Rice showed visitors a variety of live animals, including a corn snake, black rat snake of impressive size, Barney the box turtle and Pooka, a rehabilitated possum.
Pochedly-Davis, who keeps the possum, said the animal is very affectionate, which it demonstrates by the act of "slubbing," in which it drools copious amounts of saliva onto the object of its affection, and then rubs its face in it.
Across the roomfull of vendors of various nature products, volunteers from the Medina Raptor Center let visitors get up close and personal with a variety of rehabilitated birds, including an American kestrel, snowy owl and a barn owl that had been blinded as a fledgling when it swooped down on a rodent and was heavily sprayed with pesticide by a farmer applying it to his field.
Volunteer Jackie Mahland of Akron said it took the owl three years to successfully grow a new set of feathers, but it never recovered its vision.
Debra Swank from the Akron Zoo did a presentation for an audience of about 100 people, which included showing a kinkajew from the Amazon rain forest and a 35-pound seven-and-a-half-foot crown boa constrictor from Madagascar, which she let a trio of local children hold while she talked about it.
A variety of other speakers throughout the day focused on such subjects as turtles of the Killbuck region, trees that birds need, the decline of the chimney swift and the ups and downs of Ohio birdlife.
Reporter Paul Locher can be reached at 330-682-2055, or at email@example.com.