Saturday, May 23, 2015

Finding Connecticut Warbler in late May


Connecticut Warbler. Photo by Kristin Mylecraine.

Saturday, May 23: The next few days, especially Monday May 25 and Tuesday May 26, should be a good time to seek Connecticut Warbler in n.w. Ohio. Below, we repeat and update some essential information that we published last year.

Connecticut Warbler is a highly sought-after migrant: It's uncommon, quiet, and secretive, and it migrates late in spring, after the peak of birding activity. In northwestern Ohio, May 20 to 30 is the best time to find it. 

This species forages mostly by walking slowly on the ground, occasionally jumping up onto a log or low branch. Males will sing from high perches on their breeding grounds in northern forest, but when they sing here in Ohio, they usually do so from just a few feet off the ground. So the birds are almost always very low or on the ground, inside forest or dense thickets, where they are hard to see. 

The best way to seek these elusive migrants is to get out at dawn and listen for their loud, distinctive song. You can search more area by walking quickly and quietly, or driving slowly, along the edge of good habitat. At this link, you can hear a good recording of the song from the Macaulay Library at Cornell. And at this link, you can hear several recordings from Xeno-Canto.

Migrants usually stop singing shortly after dawn. After they've fallen silent, the best way to search is to walk very slowly on boardwalks or trails, stopping to scan any place where you can actually see the ground inside the forest. The Connecticut will be walking very slowly and methodically, its colors looking surprisingly obscure in the forest shadows. With great luck, you might see one pop up onto a log as you're going past. On the Magee Marsh boardwalk, some consistent areas have been between numbers 3 and 6, near number 10, near number 16, at the west end of the west parking lot, and along the Estuary Trail to the west. (For a map of the boardwalk showing the locations of the numbers, see this link.)   But this is very much a needle-in-a-haystack kind of search, so it's best if you can be out early enough to locate one by sound. 

Where should you search? Greg Links, an ace birder with experience throughout this region, shared this list of specific places to look for Connecticut Warblers: 

"In no particular order:

1. Magee Marsh - no details necessary. 

2. Maumee Bay State Park - boardwalk behind the nature center, easternmost dike in the park that leads north from the parking area at the far east end of the cabin road. Also some of the grassy trails in the NW corner of the park.

3. Far east end of Cedar Point Road, at Decant Road. 

4. North end of Yondota Road at entrance gate area to Cedar Point NWR (no access to refuge, and area around belong to water treatment plant. Stay on road.)

If west of Toledo in Oak Openings area: 

1. Wolfinger Road, between Secor Metropark and Bancroft Road (accessed from either).

2. Irwin Road, especially between Wolfinger and Bancroft. 

3. Schwamberger Road between Bancroft and Old State Line Road.

4. In Oak Openings Park, Sager Road between just west of Wilkins and Girdham roads."

In addition to the places listed above by Greg Links, we have found Connecticut Warbler on the Gallagher Trail behind Black Swamp Bird Observatory; inside the woods behind the visitors' center at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge; and in the woods at East Harbor State Park, east of Port Clinton. 

So those are some places to look, and suggestions about how to look; the next few days are prime time for Connecticut Warbler. Best of luck to everyone who seeks this prized migrant!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Migration Forecast May 19-22

Alder Flycatcher: a migrant worth seeking in late May
Tuesday, May 19: Beginning last Friday, the 15th, the past weekend has brought songbird numbers expected at this point in migration. However, with southerly winds every night since Friday, the volume of birds has declined, resulting in limited amounts of each species still present today, Tuesday the 19th. Although, regardless of how many birds departed each night and how many replaced them, no one walked away from a day of birding without having seen at least one American Redstart, if not a dozen or more. Along with the plethora of redstarts and Magnolia Warblers, many other non-warbler species such as Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Warbling and Red-eyed Vireo, and Eastern Wood-Pewee added their (sometimes unnoticed) songs to most habitats. 

Other notable species over the past week included Ruddy Turnstone, White-faced and Glossy Ibis, and Marbled and Hudsonian Godwit seen in or near Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area. One of the biggest surprises last week was the always-sought-after Kirtland's Warbler found Wednesday the 13th in Oak Openings Preserve.

As for the next three days, expect a series of slow days with fewer migrating songbirds, as a high pressure system over the area brings northerly winds. Many birds departed last night, Monday the 18th, riding the last of the southerly winds that had prevailed since the past weekend. Very little turnover occurred last night, but observations today (Tuesday the 19th) still produced many warbler species such as Tennessee, Canada, Wilson's, Chestnut-sided, and Cape May, predominantly females.

Northerly winds are forecast to continue until at least the weekend, so most of these migrants should be in the area for a few days building up fat reserves and waiting for southerly winds again. With daytime highs in the 60s and nighttime lows reaching the 40s, most birds should be foraging fairly low, providing excellent views and photo opportunities.

Once again, with winds coming from the north off Lake Erie, try searching suitable habitat a mile or so inland as the birds will typically move away from the lake shore. But a trip to the Magee Marsh boardwalk can always prove contrary to this thought, and it's always worth checking out the downwind side of the woods.

The Biggest Week in American Birding may be over, but migration is still going on. It's too early to know exactly which day the weather will turn back around, but it looks as if the shift will occur later in the upcoming weekend or early next week, bringing up the next wave of migrating songbirds. The third wave usually occurs around Memorial Day and is dominated by female Magnolia Warbler and female American Redstart, but also Cedar Waxwing, Red-eyed Vireo, and the Empidonax flycatchers. 

With a slow week expected, this would be a good time to prepare for the confusion of those Empids. Songs and calls are by far the best way to decipher the various species -- especially Willow and Alder Flycatchers -- but also study wing bar patterns, eye ring presence and color, bill size, and overall coloring for each species.  

Update: As of tonight, Friday the 22nd, weather predictions are still showing favorable conditions during Monday and Tuesday, the 25 and 26, for the arrival of the next wave of migrating songbirds. Over the weekend, winds will be coming from the south -- which will move any birds that have been held up along the shoreline this past week, out of the area. However, these southerly winds will be coming off of the Atlantic Ocean and are not expected to bring any new birds into the area on Saturday or Sunday. Winds are predicted to shift to a more direct southerly origin (from the Southern US rather than the Atlantic) on Sunday night, and thus should begin to bring in new birds by Monday. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Migration Forecast May 12-15 plus 16-17 update: Looking forward to the weekend

Male Bay-breasted Warbler: Good numbers have been seen for the last few days.

Tuesday, May 12: The opening weekend for The Biggest Week in American Birding may not have seen quite the volume expected, however, diversity was ever present in most areas along Lake Erie. Finding close to (or over) twenty species of warbler over the past weekend wasn't too difficult a task as more species like Tennessee, Magnolia, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, American Redstart, and Canada Warbler began to move into the marshes. Along with some of the "regular" migrants, many birders at the Magee Marsh boardwalk were fortunate enough to also observe Mourning Warbler, a Kentucky Warbler, and a few Hooded Warblers -- the latter two being overflight species that have flown too far north during migration.  

Other notable sightings from around the area include a few Summer Tanagers seen at both Magee Marsh and Oak Openings Preserve Metropark, a Chuck-will's-widow heard multiple nights in the campground at Maumee Bay State Park, and a Yellow-headed Blackbird seen during the auto-tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. And -- continuing the productivity it has had over the past couple of weeks -- Metzger Marsh has been host to upwards of 500 American Golden-Plovers, a few Black-bellied Plovers, two Black-necked Stilts, a Marbled Godwit, a few American White Pelicans, and even a rare-in-spring Hudsonian Godwit.

Bird activity during the upcoming week will mostly be affected by wind direction Tuesday night. With a cold front advancing towards the east, many birds may try to ride ahead with the receding southwest winds and cross Lake Erie. But the volume of remaining migrants on Wednesday and Thursday will mostly be determined by the timing of the shift from southerly winds to northerly winds on Tuesday night, May 12. 

If winds shift late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning, many birds will be gone on Wednesday and Thursday -- as songbirds travel at night, riding a tailwind from the south. But if winds shift early enough Tuesday night as forecast, many birds that have recently arrived should stick around for the next couple of days while winds continue from the north. On days with northerly winds most birds will move away from the shoreline, so these will be good days to explore areas a mile or so away from the lake such as Pearson Metropark, the trail behind BSBO, and the woods behind/north of the visitor's center at Ottawa NWR. 

This temperature and wind shift will be caused by a high pressure system that is expected to cover much of the eastern U.S. until Thursday night. But by Friday, when a new low pressure system is expected to move and winds shift back to the south, we could see the departure of any birds that were held up during the week and potentially the arrival of a few new birds. The good news with this high pressure system holding over the area throughout Wednesday and Thursday is that many migrating birds still heading north could become trapped in the southern U.S. waiting for the winds to change. So, by Saturday and Sunday (but most likely Saturday assuming favorable conditions) the second pulse of the second wave of migrants -- which is dominated by male Magnolia Warblers and usually has the largest volume of birds -- could bring a high number of birds into the area. If this back up does occur, there is also the potential that signs of the third wave may be present as well, bringing more flycatchers into the area. 

With the way the weather has been changing, it may be too early at this point to say that Saturday will be a big day. Further monitoring of the weather and radar over the next few days should reveal a clearer picture by the weekend and an update will be posted with any changes and new predictions. But for the moment, expect a moderately slow week picking up by Friday May 15, hopefully leading up to a big weekend.   

Update: Per tonight's forecast, conditions still look good for a high volume of birds -- as expected at this point during migration -- to move into the area this weekend. Late tonight (Friday the 15th) winds will begin to shift to the southwest, bringing high temperatures again and also some rain. Depending on the time and place this rain hits, many birds could be forced to land along the shoreline or be dispersed throughout the surrounding area -- only Saturday and Sunday morning observations will confirm where the majority of birds are being seen.

Be prepared to cover any equipment as scattered thunderstorms and a chance for rain are predicted throughout the day for both Saturday and Sunday, May 16 and 17. Check the weather periodically while out, as birding should be excellent when a break in the rain does occur. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Big Weekend for Biggest Week: Migration forecast for May 7 - 11

Chestnut-sided Warbler: a major player in the second wave.

Wednesday, May 6th: The first real push of migrating songbirds appeared on Monday, as we had predicted. With a delayed shift to northerly winds on Monday night, much turnover of birds was seen on Tuesday (especially an increase in Yellow-rumped Warblers and a decrease in White-throated Sparrows). Northerly and easterly winds did dominate on Tuesday night, but even so, a big movement of birds came in overnight. The BSBO main banding station at Navarre Marsh (east of Magee Marsh) had their biggest day of the spring so far today, the 6th, with even more birds than on Monday. The reasons for this are obscure, since the weather patterns didn't seem conducive to a large flight. At any rate, excellent numbers and variety of birds are in the area. And conditions look good for a great start for The Biggest Week in American Birding festival on Friday, May 8th.

The current mix of birds includes many nocturnal migrants, such as warblers, but also daytime migrants such as goldfinches and siskins. Despite the wind direction a surprising amount of Pine Siskins have moved into the area today, with counts of up to thirty birds at a time flocking to feeders. 
One of many Pine Siskins visiting the feeders at BSBO's window on wildlife.

Even though winds are expected to blow from the east tonight, they should be calm enough to allow for some movement and the arrival of some new birds by Thursday. But the best days to expect new (and more) birds will be Friday and Saturday, May 8th and 9th. With two low pressure systems hovering near the Gulf and over the central U.S., southwest winds will be pushing directly towards NW Ohio bringing warm tropical air and migrants. 

With this next flight, we should be experiencing the second wave of migrating songbirds, which provides the greatest species diversity. Numerically, this wave is dominated by White-throated Sparrow, Swainson's Thrush, female Yellow-rumped Warbler, female Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and male Magnolia Warbler. From a birding standpoint, this wave is notable for the big increase in diversity of warblers, with Chestnut-sided and Bay-breasted both becoming numerous, and for the first notable arrival of thrushes, flycatchers, and other migrants.

Along with birds, these days will also bring an increase in temperature and precipitation. Forecasts show that Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will exceed 80 degrees so remember to dress for the weather and stay hydrated. The other thing to expect with warm days and low pressure from the Gulf is rain. Thunderstorms and rain are expected on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with the most rain expected during the evening on Saturday and Sunday. Keep an eye on the weather and be prepared to cover any electronic equipment and camera lenses. 

Many birds may move along through the weekend with the continuing southerly winds, but there is a slight chance for rain both Saturday and Sunday night which may help keep some birds in place.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Good arrival of migrants

Palm Warbler at the Magee Marsh boardwalk: Things are looking up. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

Posted by Ryan Jacob and Kenn Kaufman on Monday, May 4: As predicted in our last post, the birding situation has improved tremendously since the end of last week. A decent trickle of migrants arrived Saturday, many more on Sunday, and today was the best day so far this spring in the Magee Marsh area.

According to our observations and conversations, at least 27 species of warblers were confirmed between the Magee Marsh and Metzger Marsh Wildlife Areas today. Yellow-rumped Warblers were still the most numerous by far, with good numbers of Palm, Black-throated Green, Nashville, Yellow, and others, plus a good sprinkling of other species. Highlights included Canada and Hooded Warblers at Metzger, and Kentucky and Golden-winged Warblers at Magee. Many orioles and Scarlet Tanagers were in evidence. A major flight of Pine Siskins developed over the last two days, with flocks moving along the lake shore and small groups visiting feeders in the area. 

Birding should continue to be good this afternoon between rain showers. Winds are supposed to shift around to the north late tonight, and to stay northerly through at least midday Wednesday, so we probably won't see many migrants arriving during the next couple of days. Most of the birds that are here should stick around, though. And even with a lot of rain in the forecast, the birding should be excellent in between showers. 

A tip for birding the area when the wind shifts to the north or northeast: areas right along the lake, such as the woodlot at Metzger Marsh and the parking lot edge at Magee, won't be as good in these conditions. Some of the migrants seem to filter inland, so birding might be better just a little south of the lake. Try the woods at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge or the Gallagher Trail behind Black Swamp Bird Observatory. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Monday May 4th Looking Good

Male Yellow-rumped Warbler: coming soon to a tree near you
Note: I'm very pleased to introduce Ryan Jacob as a contributor to these updates. Ryan is working as an Outreach Specialist at Black Swamp Bird Observatory, and he's a very skilled birder with strong knowledge of birds and migration throughout n.w. Ohio. Ryan and I, with input from migration guru Mark Shieldcastle, will be working to keep these updates current throughout May. - Kenn Kaufman

Posted by Ryan Jacob on Friday May 1st: The beginning of May can only mean one thing...songbird migration will soon be in full swing. Rusty Blackbirds, American Tree Sparrows, and Golden-crowned Kinglets are mostly gone and by now finding around twenty species of warbler shouldn't be a difficult task. Unfortunately for those of us in Northwest Ohio, persistent northerly winds have kept the first wave of migrating songbirds far south of the western basin of Lake Erie.

Despite the wind direction, a sparse number of migrating males have made the push to head north. The past couple of nights (particularly a slight southern wind Tuesday night) have allowed for a minor rise in diversity, but not volume. Recent visits to the Magee Marsh boardwalk and area have produced around ten species of warbler including Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white, Palm, and Nashville. 

Looking ahead, weather forecasts show that Friday May 1st will bring a rise in temperatures and a steady shift in wind direction throughout Friday and Saturday. This shift coincides with the eastward movement of the high pressure system that has been looming over Ohio and a new low pressure system developing in the central U.S. This low pressure system is the kind that is needed to bring the overdue southwest winds and birds that have been expected for the past week. 

This steady shift should bring in some new birds to the area (at least a small a amount of new species) by Sunday May 3rd. But at this time it is expected that Monday May 4th should be a fairly good day to get out and look for new arrivals. Depending on the effects of the low pressure system, a huge volume of birds may not be seen but diversity should definitely increase. Assuming that conditions are favorable through Sunday night, there is an expectation for high numbers of male Yellow-rumped Warblers as well as decent numbers of Palm, Nashville, Black-and-white, and Black-throated Green Warblers, with smaller amounts of other warblers scattered throughout stopover habitat. Other high numbers to look forward to will be Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, and White-throated Sparrows (which have already begun to move in along the lake shore). Along with these migrants, also be prepared for sightings of male Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. 

Since this wave is arriving so late (usually occurring around April 25th) it is unclear exactly which wave or waves will be arriving. Banding results from Black Swamp Bird Observatory's Navarre Unit research station and general observations from around the area will help indicate whether a normal (albeit delayed) migration schedule is occurring or if we are seeing some elements of the second wave mixing in with the first. If the latter is happening, along with high numbers of male Yellow-rumped Warblers, a good number of female Yellow-rumpeds can be expected as well. And if any significant numbers of Magnolia, Bay-breasted, and Chestnut-sided Warblers are present on Monday, that would be a strong suggestion that some of the second wave is trickling in. Ordinarily, the average date for the second wave is around May 7. 

For those who can't get out Monday and Tuesday it is still worth exploring the area this weekend, May 2nd and 3rd. Along with the potential for Sunday to produce new warblers, good numbers of Dunlin, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Snowy Egret, and Semipalmated Plover have been seen throughout Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area -- which  has also been host to Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, White-faced Ibis, American Avocet, and Black-necked Stilt throughout the past week (the Stilt being seen as recently as April 30th and the Ibis and Avocet reported this morning, May 1st). The Black-necked Stilt was discovered Thursday evening foraging in the mudflats near the second and third pulloffs beyond the major bend, and around fifty Avocets are being seen near the second pulloff. 

Due to conflicting wind maps, pressure system maps, and daily temperature forecasts it is unclear what will happen after Wednesday night. Further monitoring over the weekend should give a more accurate idea of what we can expect during the upcoming week and an update will be added soon. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Waiting for the first big wave

Black-throated Green Warbler, one of the typical migrants of the first major wave. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

Sunday, April 26, 2015: So far this has been a relatively cool spring in northwestern Ohio. The passage of early-season, short-distance migrants seemed a little later than usual. Migration of ducks and other water birds in March was held up by the scarcity of open water, and other early migrants (like Fox Sparrows in early April) seemed to peak a few days later than average. 

Currently, the stage of the songbird migration here is about what we would expect in the third week of April, but numbers are low. Prevailing northerly winds have not favored the arrival of large numbers of migrants, although a good variety of species have been trickling in. 

On average, the first major wave of songbird migrants is expected to arrive in this area on April 25. That's according to long-term research by Mark Shieldcastle and others at Black Swamp Bird Observatory. So far this season there have been no signs of that first wave, and it doesn't look likely in the next few days. The weather forecast shows highs in the 50s and low 60s for the early part of this week, with winds mostly from the north. Not until the evening of Friday, May 1st, are the winds predicted to shift around to the southwest. 

The timing of this wind shift is uncertain, because other models show a high-pressure system parked over this region on Friday, and it will have to move on eastward before the real southerly or southwesterly winds can kick in. But it looks likely that sometime next weekend -- possibly on Saturday May 2nd, more likely on Sunday May 3rd and carrying over through Monday -- northwest Ohio should see a major arrival of migrants. This first wave should be dominated by Yellow-rumped Warblers and lesser numbers of Nashville, Black-and-white, and Black-throated Green Warblers, as well as Hermit Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows, and others. Many other regular migrants are likely to be represented by a few individuals. This wave often also produces some "overflight" birds: species that mostly nest farther south, overshooting their intended destination and reaching the Lake Erie shoreline. Yellow-throated, Prairie, Hooded, Kentucky, and Worm-eating Warblers are examples of this phenomenon.

So the first weekend of May is likely to produce very good birding here -- good news for people who have to work on weekdays. But in the meantime, there is still plenty of reason to get out birding. There has been a massive amount of migration occurring to the south of us (for example, along the Gulf Coast), and some of those migrants will work their way north, even if conditions aren't favorable. The boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is already hosting early migrants such as Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Blue-headed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Winter Wren, and others. An Eastern Whip-poor-will was enjoyed by many near the #10 marker on the boardwalk today. More interesting species are likely to trickle in this week before the next big arrival.
Eastern Whip-poor-will at the Magee Marsh boardwalk on April 26, 2015. Photo by Katie M. Andersen.
In other nearby birding sites: some good exposed mudflats at Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, near the second pulloff beyond the major bend, have hosted several species of shorebirds recently, and a small flock of American White Pelicans stopped through Metzger last week. This evening, April 26, Ryan Lesniewicz found two White-faced Ibises at Metzger. Two American Avocets stopped at the inland lake at Maumee Bay State Park on April 24. And at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, the auto tour (wildlife drive) will be open from sunrise to sunset every day from May 1 through May 17. So there are plenty of birding possibilities in the area, even on days when migration at the Magee boardwalk is a little slow. 

I'll try to update later in the week, but at the moment it certainly looks as if the first weekend in May should be excellent for birding here!

Update as of 11:30 pm on Tuesday April 28.  Right now, local winds over Ohio are practically calm or very light out of the north, but on the radar it appears that a fair amount of migration is happening. Birds have been held up to the south of us for so long that it's not surprising that some are moving, even without south winds. So if you have a chance to get out Wednesday morning, it's likely that some new migrants will have arrived in good stopover habitats.



Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Next Hawk Flight: April 2nd

A migrating adult Red-shouldered Hawk glides over Magee Marsh. Early spring is the best time to see this species in the local area.

Tuesday, March 31: The colder-than-average temperatures of February and March may be having an effect on the early stages of spring migration. Some of the typical early migrants seem somewhat delayed - for example, we're seeing only small numbers of Fox Sparrows, Eastern Phoebes, American Woodcocks, and Tree Swallows so far. Rusty Blackbirds are moving through in fair numbers, but probably haven't hit their peak yet. All of these short-distance migrants are more influenced by weather across the eastern U.S., and more likely to delay their movement in a cold spring. The current weather won't have any impact on the timing of long-distance migrants that arrive here from the tropics in April and May.

One of the features of early spring here in n.w. Ohio is the potential for hawk flights. Unlike many smaller birds, raptors migrate in the daytime. On many days the migrants are widely dispersed, and not very noticeable at any one spot. But southwest winds will push the birds up against the Lake Erie shoreline, and then we can witness concentrations of them moving west-northwest along the lake shore. 

According to current weather forecasts, this Thursday, April 2nd, could produce a good flight. With temperatures reaching the low 70s and southwest winds of over 20 mph, we could see a good passage of raptors and other diurnal migrants along the lake. At this season we can expect many Turkey Vultures and smaller numbers of Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Northern Harriers, and others. Rough-legged Hawks left over from winter may still be moving through, and we're still within the migration window for Golden Eagle. Other daytime migrants that could be following the lake shore include American Crow, Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur, Eastern Meadowlark, and various blackbirds. 

A classic spot for watching these spring flights is the sledding hill at Maumee Bay State Park. But any open spot within a half-mile of the lake in Lucas County or western Ottawa County could provide a good vantage point. 

Currently the 10-day forecast doesn't show any other days that look as good as April 2nd for hawk migration. But of course the weather forecast changes a lot. Any time you notice that it's a warm day with southwest winds, from now through the end of April, it would be worthwhile to look for migrating hawks. 

Right now (end of March / beginning of April) it's also a great time to see migrant waterfowl. Peak numbers of Tundra Swans already have moved through, but there are thousands of ducks on areas of open water, such as Metzger Marsh, Magee Marsh, and Ottawa NWR.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Migration update: May 20-26 and Connecticut Warbler advice

Connecticut Warbler: This big-eyed beauty, skulking in the forest shadows, is the most sought-after of the late May migrants through northwestern Ohio. Photo by Kristin Mylecraine.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014: The weather forecast has changed a lot since the last time I posted four days ago, and as a result, the outlook for migration has changed as well. 

In the woodlots near the Lake Erie Shoreline, migrant activity stayed good through the weekend and actually picked up a little on Monday, the 19th. A southerly wind flow, combined with unsettled weather during the night, put many new migrants down in the area. That pattern is predicted to continue through tonight, with a mild warm front coming through as well. It appears that Wednesday morning, May 21, could produce a large arrival of migrants. It's likely to be raining in the morning, but the timing and location of the rains could be just right for dropping good numbers of migrant songbirds all over northwestern Ohio. (It's also possible that the rain will shut things down to the south of us, making for a slow day locally, so there are no guarantees.) 

Sometime between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, winds will swing around to the west and then the northwest. Winds are predicted to stay northerly through Saturday morning, so many birds that arrive Wednesday will probably stay in the area through the first part of the weekend. Then Saturday night the winds are supposed to go back to the west-southwest and then south. Based on current forecasts, there could be a good arrival of birds on Sunday, May 25, and especially on Monday, May 26. That is six days from now, so of course the forecast could change in the meantime. 

Prediction summary: Based on current weather forecasts, I expect arrival / turnover of migrants on Wednesday May 21, Sunday May 25, and Monday May 26, with good numbers of birds lingering locally on the days in between.

Late May migrants: The period May 20-30 is after the peak, but excellent diversity still can be found in all the stopover habitats near Lake Erie. Among the warblers and some other songbirds, adult males tend to migrate earlier in spring than females or second-year males, so late May features more of the duller plumages. Some species pass through in excellent numbers during late May; this is a good time to see Yellow-billed and Black-billed cuckoos, many flycatchers (such as Olive-sided, Yellow-bellied, and Alder), Red-eyed Vireo, Swainson's and Gray-cheeked thrushes, and a set of late-migrating warblers that includes American Redstart, Blackpoll, Canada, Wilson's, Mourning, and Connecticut. 

Connecticut Warbler is a highly sought-after migrant. It has eluded many birders because it is uncommon, quiet, and secretive, and it migrates late in spring, after the peak of birding activity. In NW Ohio, May 20 to 30 is the best time to find it. 

This species forages mostly by walking slowly on the ground, occasionally jumping up onto a log or low branch. Males will sing from high perches on their breeding grounds in northern forest, but when they sing here in Ohio, they usually do so from just a few feet off the ground. So the birds are almost always very low or on the ground, inside forest or dense thickets, where they are hard to see. 

The best way to seek these elusive migrants is to get out at dawn and listen for their loud, distinctive song. You can search more area by walking quickly and quietly, or driving slowly, along the edge of good habitat. At this link, you can hear a good recording of the song from the Macaulay Library at Cornell. And at this link, you can hear several recordings from Xeno-Canto.

Migrants usually stop singing shortly after dawn. After they've fallen silent, the best way to search is to walk very slowly on boardwalks or trails, stopping to scan any place where you can actually see the ground inside the forest. The Connecticut will be walking very slowly and methodically, its colors looking surprisingly obscure in the forest shadows. With great luck, you might see one pop up onto a log as you're going past. On the Magee Marsh boardwalk, some consistent areas have been between numbers 3 and 6, near number 10, near number 16, and at the west end of the west parking lot. (For a map of the boardwalk showing the locations of the numbers, see this link.)
But this is very much a needle-in-a-haystack kind of search, so it's best if you can be out early enough to locate one by sound. 

Where should you search? Greg Links, an ace birder with experience throughout this region, shared this list of specific places to look for Connecticut Warblers: 

"In no particular order:

1. Magee Marsh - no details necessary. 

2. Maumee Bay State Park - boardwalk behind the nature center, easternmost dike in the park that leads north from the parking area at the far east end of the cabin road. Also some of the grassy trails in the NW corner of the park.

3. Far east end of Cedar Point Road, at Decant Road. 

4. North end of Yondota Road at entrance gate area to Cedar Point NWR (no access to refuge, and area around belong to water treatment plant. Stay on road.)

If west of Toledo in Oak Openings area: 

1. Wolfinger Road, between Secor Metropark and Bancroft Road (accessed from either).

2. Irwin Road, especially between Wolfinger and Bancroft. 

3. Schwamberger Road between Bancroft and Old State Line Road.

4. In Oak Openings Park, Sager Road between just west of Wilkins and Girdham roads."

In addition to the places listed above by Greg Links, I have found Connecticut Warbler on the Gallagher Trail behind Black Swamp Bird Observatory; inside the woods behind the visitors' center at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge; and in the woods at East Harbor State Park, east of Port Clinton. 

So those are some places to look, and suggestions about how to look; the next ten days are prime time for Connecticut Warbler. Best of luck to everyone who seeks this prized migrant!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Migration forecast: May 16-18 and beyond


Friday, May 16: Starting with the major wave last Thursday, the 8th, we've had a series of good days in all the main stopover habitats of NW Ohio. Impressions from the lakeshore migrant hotspots, backed up by data from the main BSBO banding station, indicate that there haven't been any really huge migration days yet this spring; instead, we've had a long series of days with numbers somewhat above average. So the birding has been consistently decent, without the  kind of boom-and-bust swings that sometimes occur at this season.

Today, Friday the 16th, with cool temperatures all day, birds have been foraging relatively low, making for fine views at the woods near the lake. The Magee Marsh boardwalk was quite productive today, with multiples of Golden-winged Warbler and Olive-sided Flycatcher, a late Louisiana Waterthrush, a couple of singing Alder Flycatchers, and many other treats, including at least 25 warbler species. 

Looking ahead at the weekend of May 17-18, with cooler temperatures continuing and with some rain forecast for this evening, most of today's birds should still be around on Saturday the 17th, and probably on Sunday the 18th as well. There are likely to be scattered showers on Saturday, but the birding should be quite good in between. 

With a high pressure center sitting on top of us on Sunday the 18th and Monday the 19th, there won't be any major weather systems to bring in notable waves of migrants. I suspect we'll have more birds leaving than arriving on those nights, so Monday and Tuesday are likely to have lower numbers than the weekend, although still with good variety. Beyond Tuesday the weather forecasts are a little obscure, but it looks as if there could be another big wave of migrants coming in on Wednesday or Thursday, the 21st or 22nd. 

In recent days, Pearson Metropark (along Rt. 2 in the city of Oregon, farther west than Magee Marsh or Ottawa NWR) has been very productive. Many migrant warblers have been seen there, and Yellow-throated Warblers seem to be on territory near the building that has the "window on wildlife." The wetlands in the north section of the park, accessed from Seaman Road, have hosted a number of interesting waterbirds, including a Red-necked Phalarope and the amazing flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks that paid a brief visit. 

Shorebird migration has been very good this week also. The (self-guiding) Auto Tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is scheduled to be open this Saturday and Sunday, the 17th and 18th, and then closed for the rest of the month, so this would be a good time to check it out. Recently the Auto Tour has produced a decent variety of shorebirds, including Wilson's Phalarope, as well as American Bittern, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and other species. 

Finally, don't forget that the Friends of Magee Marsh are collecting funds for renovation of the famous Magee boardwalk, while the Ottawa NWR Association is raising money for enhancements to the Auto Tour on the Refuge. Both of these projects will be of direct benefit to birders visiting the area, and I encourage everyone to support both of these. 

 
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