Thursday, September 5, 2013

Overview: Timing of Fall Migration in Ohio

Magnolia Warbler at Magee Marsh, Ohio, in mid-September. This site is world famous for its warblers and other migrants in May, but the whole region is also visited by many migrants throughout the fall season.
by Kenn Kaufman

Spring migration in Ohio is justly famous, but fall migration lasts longer - almost half the year - and involves more birds, since the surviving adults are joined by many more young birds hatched during the summer.

After I wrote a blog post about the timing of fall shorebird migration in Ohio, several people asked me to expand it to describe the timing of fall bird migration in general. That's the aim of this article. The focus is on Ohio, but the patterns described here should apply in surrounding regions as well. I'm presenting the information in two ways: first, a breakdown of the highlights of each month; second, a description of the timing of migration for each major group of birds. 

By Month:

July: The first southbound shorebirds appear in late June, and by early July adults of several migratory shorebird species are numerous here. Juveniles of some species begin to appear before the end of July. The latter part of this month also sees large numbers of swallows staging in some areas, especially near Lake Erie and around some large reservoirs, flocking and feeding prior to their southward migration. 
Swallows, like this juvenile Barn Swallow, gather in large flocks in late summer before they start their southward migration.
  August: Shorebird migration is in full swing throughout this month, with juveniles of several species outnumbering adults, especially toward the latter part of August. A few summer resident species begin to depart very early; for example, Orchard Orioles are mostly gone by late August, and numbers of Yellow Warblers drop sharply by the second half of the month. Staging numbers of swallows diminish by late in the month. The first migrant warblers from farther north usually show up in the first week of August, and by late in the month warblers are passing through in good variety and fair numbers. Along with the warblers, some other songbird migrants such as thrushes and vireos are moving in late August. Right at the end of August and beginning of September, there may be a notable movement of Common Nighthawks. 

September: The best month for seeing a wide variety of migrating songbirds. Warblers are most numerous and diverse during the first three weeks of the month, and so are flycatchers. Thrushes and vireos are moving, and by late in the month, sparrows are also migrating. Shorebird migration continues strongly throughout September. Blue-winged Teal and Green-winged Teal appear in large numbers now, but most ducks are later migrants. Fall hawk migration isn't a major feature in Ohio, but September is the best time to see a passage of Broad-winged Hawks. 
Broad-winged Hawks, more strongly migratory than many other birds of prey, pass through Ohio mainly in September.
October: By now the warbler migration is well past peak, although a few species, such as Yellow-rumped Warbler, are moving strongly in October. Sparrow migration has picked up, and will be a major feature of the month. Many short-distance migrants have their peak passage in October: Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrush, Winter Wren, American Pipit, and others. Shorebird migration continues strongly through the first half of the month, but numbers and variety drop off thereafter. Waterfowl migration is picking up, and many dabbling ducks are numerous throughout most of October, although geese, swans, and diving ducks tend to peak later.
After most warblers have gone south, Yellow-rumped Warblers continue as common migrants through October and into November.
November: Waterfowl migration is the main feature of November, with many of the ducks and geese, plus Tundra Swans, having their peak numbers this month. Some other waterbirds, such as Common Loon and Horned Grebe, peak at the same time. Sparrow migration is still going strong, but most other groups of songbirds have mostly passed through by this time. Rusty Blackbirds pass through in largest numbers during late October and early November. Especially along Lake Erie, very large numbers of Bonaparte's Gulls and other gulls are gathering at this time. Some wintering birds, such as American Tree Sparrow, Snow Bunting, and Lapland Longspur, have their major arrival in November. 

December: Almost all species are past the peak of their migration by the first of December, but surprising numbers of stragglers will continue to move during this month. Some wintering species, such as Common Goldeneye, may not be present in full numbers until December, and some rare northern gulls may not show up until then. Sandhill Crane migration has been getting later in recent years, with the birds not moving out of staging areas northwest of Ohio until forced out by weather, so their peak passage through Ohio is now often in December.

By Group:

Waterfowl: With a few exceptions, these are mostly later migrants. Several of the dabbling ducks are migrating in September, but only Blue-winged Teal reaches peak numbers then. Most other dabblers pick up in numbers from late September through November, while the main movement of diving ducks is from the end of October into early December.   
Pair of Lesser Scaup in flight (male on left, female on right): diving ducks such as these tend to arrive or pass through in peak numbers later in the fall than the dabbling ducks.
Raptors: Ohio has few well-defined corridors of fall raptor migration. Concentrations are sometimes seen in the Toledo area, where hawks have come down the north shore of Lake Erie and turned southward just south of Detroit. The Lake Erie islands (such as South Bass and Kelleys) may have notable flights of Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, and others, island-hopping across the lake. Elsewhere, only small numbers of raptors are seen, as they move on a broad front. Broad-winged Hawks move mainly in September, Merlins mainly in late September and October. A notable push of Red-tailed Hawks may occur in late October and November, while Rough-legged Hawks begin to arrive in early November.

Shorebirds: Fall migration of shorebirds is prolonged, with some southbound birds appearing by late June, and some still moving in early December. As a general rule, adults migrate earlier than juveniles, so many species show two well-defined peaks. Within the shorebird group, there is much variation by species. Short-billed Dowitcher is among the earliest migrants, peaking in July and August, while Dunlins are mostly late, peaking in October or even early November. See this post for much more specific information on the timing of shorebird migration.
In most shorebird species, juveniles migrate later than adults. This juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher was photographed in late August; adults of the species pass through Ohio mostly in July.
Gulls: Purely local movements by Ring-billed and Herring gulls can make actual migrations hard to detect, but patterns emerge for other species. Bonaparte's Gulls are scarce in early summer, but they usually appear in fair numbers along Lake Erie in late July, with numbers building gradually, and then a huge influx in late October or November. Franklin's Gulls are usually found in very small numbers at any time in fall, but major storms from the west can bring small flocks, especially in October or November. Scarce northern gulls such as Thayer's, Iceland, or Glaucous start to appear in November and December. 

Terns: Most terns are moving in early fall. The main passage of Black and Caspian terns is in August and early September. Common and Forster's terns may have their largest movements in September and October, with numbers tapering off through November and a few lingering into December. Although there is considerable overlap, Forster's may be more likely than Common in late fall.
Caspian Tern is among the earlier migrants in Ohio, reaching peak numbers in late summer.
Owls: The migration of owls is often difficult to detect. We now know from banding studies that significant numbers of Northern Saw-whet Owls pass through Ohio in late October and November. Short-eared and Long-eared owls may arrive for the winter, or pass through, starting in October. Snowy Owls may appear as early as the end of October, but most arrive in December.

Flycatchers: Most flycatcher migration peaks in late August and the first half of September. Bucking that trend is Eastern Phoebe, with peak migration mostly from mid-September through mid-October. 

Vireos: Major numbers of Red-eyed Vireos pass through during September, but they are easily overlooked in the dense foliage. Warbling and Philadelphia vireos also generally migrate through in September. Blue-headed Vireo peaks a little later, in late September and early October.

Swallows: The largest concentrations of swallows are actually seen in late July and August, as flocks of Barn, Bank, and Tree swallows gather in favored areas of open country, and large roosts of Purple Martins form at traditional sites. Numbers of most drop off by early September, although Tree Swallows remain numerous into at least mid-October. Following storms with winds from the southwest in late fall, including late October and November, Ohio birders have learned to look for vagrant Cave Swallows along the Lake Erie shoreline.
Swainson's Thrush is a very common fall migrant through Ohio, especially in September.
Thrushes: Migration of the brown thrushes is centered on September. Wood Thrush and Veery tend to migrate early, and may be actively moving in late August. In September, Gray-cheeked and Swainson's thrushes overlap completely, but Gray-cheeked is less numerous and peaks a little later. Hermit Thrush is later than the others, appearing in the latter part of September and reaching peak numbers in October.

Warblers: September is the biggest month for fall warbler migration. A few individuals may begin to show up away from breeding areas by about the first of August, but such migrants aren't easy to find until about the second week of the month. By the third and fourth weeks, migrants are widespread, and good variety and numbers can be found by the end of August. The migration is strongest during the first three weeks of September. After the first of October, numbers and variety are beginning to drop off.
Tennessee Warblers are among the earlier species of warblers to pass through Ohio in fall, often appearing in numbers during the last days of August.
Of course, timing of the migration differs by species. Warblers that come through mostly in the early part of this span include Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Tennessee, Prothonotary, Golden-winged, and Blue-winged warblers, plus Northern Waterthrush. Notably late migrants include Yellow-rumped, Palm, and Orange-crowned warblers, all species that are among the earliest warblers in spring. Yellow-rumped Warblers are very common through October and fairly common through much of November, with some remaining for the winter. 

Some species such as Black-and-white, Black-throated Green, and Blackpoll warblers have a relatively long season of passage. Blackpoll Warblers may be abundant in late September and early October, but mainly in northern Ohio, close to Lake Erie; these birds are passing through the state on an eastward course, heading toward the Atlantic Coast. 
During September and early October, Blackpoll Warblers pass through Ohio in large numbers, heading toward the Atlantic Coast and ultimately toward their winter range in South America.

Sparrows: In general, sparrows migrate later than warblers, with the main passage for most species centered on late September and October. Fox Sparrow averages later, moving mostly in late October and November, while the major numbers of wintering American Tree Sparrows arrive in the state in November.
The migration of native sparrows (such as this White-throated Sparrow) adds to the excitement of birding in mid-autumn, from late September through October, after the main migration of warblers.
Blackbirds: This diverse family is all over the calendar in the timing of their fall migration. Orchard Orioles begin to leave before the end of July, and many Baltimore Orioles leave before the end of August. The main southward passage of Bobolinks occurs in August and early September, while Eastern Meadowlark migration peaks in late September and October. The most numerous summering species, such as Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, and Brown-headed Cowbird, begin gathering in large flocks in late summer, and their numbers may increase during September and October before they start to drop off in November. Rusty Blackbirds, uncommon migrants from the north, move through mainly during late October and November, with some staying through the winter.

Finches: Members of this family are notorious for their irregular migrations. American Goldfinches are common in Ohio all year, but individuals move around a lot, and there may be a substantial migration during October and early November. Purple Finches move south through Ohio every fall, mainly from late September through October, but their numbers can vary a lot from year to year. Pine Siskins are even more variable in numbers, but they sometimes have major invasions beginning in October or November. Other "winter finches," such as redpolls and crossbills, tend to show up later if at all, but their movements are so unpredictable that they are hard to generalize.
White-winged Crossbills sometimes reach Ohio in winter, but the timing of their arrival is variable and unpredictable.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Timing of fall shorebird migration in Ohio

Adult Greater Yellowlegs in flight, late July.

by Kenn Kaufman

The shorebirds - sandpipers, plovers, and related birds - are very popular with birders. More than 40 species have been found in Ohio, and more than 30 of those are found in good numbers every year. Only about five can be found nesting in the state, and only Killdeer and Wilson's Snipe regularly stay through the winter. All the rest are migratory, passing through in spring and/or fall.

For many of us, the southbound migration of shorebirds is among the highlights of the year, and one that we can enjoy for months. We call it the "fall" migration but it is in full swing by the first of July, and a few shorebirds are still passing through at the beginning of December, so it's a phenomenon that lasts for well over one-third of the year.

Shorebird identification can be a challenge. It helps to distinguish between adults and juveniles of most species, and it helps to know which species to expect at different times during the season. I've put together some information on the expected timing in northern Ohio; much of this will be applicable in surrounding regions as well. The info is presented here in two forms: as an outline of what to expect as the season progresses, and as details for each species. If you take note of this information, or print it out, you can go out better prepared to recognize the shorebirds you see.

General patterns:

Most of our migratory shorebirds nest in the Arctic, where the breeding season is quite short, which helps to explain their early southward movement. Some may head south in June if their first attempt at nesting fails, because there may not be time, in the brief Arctic summer, for a second attempt. In a number of species, one member of the pair will leave before the young are full-grown (or even before the eggs hatch), leaving the other parent to finish raising them. For all of these reasons, adult shorebirds of many species begin to show up in Ohio by the end of June, and the fall migration is in full swing before the Fourth of July. Juveniles of most shorebird species migrate later than adults. There is often a full month between the peak passage of adults and the peak passage of juveniles. 
Adult Hudsonian Godwit showing the remains of breeding plumage. In Ohio, adults are most likely to occur in late August, at least four weeks before the peak passage of juveniles. 
Of course, a few individuals occur outside the main dates listed here. Some shorebirds present in Ohio on random dates in midsummer may be one-year-old birds that did not go all the way to the breeding grounds. 

By Season:

Early July:  By the end of June or the first of July, a few southbound shorebirds are showing up already. The first to arrive are all adults. Least Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Short-billed Dowitcher are often among the first species to arrive. The peak southbound migration of adult Short-billed Dowitchers actually occurs in mid July, and they are often most common in flooded fields after heavy summer rains.
Adult Short-billed Dowitchers (of the prairie subspecies, hendersoni) in a flooded soybean field in mid-July.

Late July:  The variety of shorebird species picks up considerably in the second half of the month. Most of those arriving are still adults, but the first few juveniles (of Least Sandpiper, for example) will show up late in the month.

August:  This is my favorite month for shorebirding. Most other groups of birds aren't migrating in an obvious way until near the end of the month, but the shorebird passage is in full swing. It's the best month for seeing a mix of juveniles in very fresh plumage and adults in the remains of breeding plumage, for great studies of ID.  

September:  Numbers and diversity of shorebirds are high throughout the month. They still include a mix of adults and juveniles, but the juveniles may not look as fresh (the brightness of this plumage fades quickly) and the adults may look more worn. For some species, such as Semipalmated Sandpiper and Short-billed Dowitcher, the adults are mostly gone by now and most of those present are juveniles. On the other hand, some species such as Dunlin and White-rumped Sandpiper are still represented mostly by adults, with the juveniles coming later.

October:  Variety and numbers continue to be good, especially during the first half of the month. Juveniles of some long-distance migrants, such as American Golden-Plover and Hudsonian Godwit, are most likely to be seen during this time. Numbers of Dunlins increase throughout the month. Along Lake Erie, the largest numbers of juvenile Sanderlings may occur in October. 

November: Quite a few species linger into early November, but variety and numbers drop after about the first week. A few species are seen in numbers through most of the month, including Greater Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, Dunlin, and Wilson's Snipe. Also present in smaller numbers are American Golden-Plover, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Sanderling, and Long-billed Dowitcher. This is also the time to look for certain rarities such as Purple Sandpiper and Red Phalarope. 

By Species:

Black-bellied Plover:  Found mainly from late July to late October, although a few may be found from early July to early December. Mostly adults at first, with juveniles appearing mainly from September on.

American Golden-Plover:  Found in fair numbers from early July through November. Those seen before the end of August are mostly adults, with juveniles beginning to arrive in late August and early September. Peak passage is usually during October, mostly juveniles.

Semipalmated Plover:  Adults appear in good numbers by mid to late July, with juveniles appearing from mid-August into September. The species remains common into early October and fairly common through the end of that month, with a few straggling into November.
Juvenile Semipalmated Plover. The pale scalloped markings that distinguish the juvenile from the adult are difficult to see from a distance. Photographed in early September.

Piping Plover:  Rare migrant, any time from July to November.

Killdeer:  Abundant through early November, with stragglers into December.

American Avocet:  Rare in fall, any time from July through October.

Spotted Sandpiper:  Breeds locally, so present all summer. Most numerous from late July through early September, as local breeders are joined by migrants from the north. Still fairly common through October, with a few into November.

Solitary Sandpiper:  The first adults appear in early July, while juveniles peak in mid to late August. The species is most numerous during August, with fair numbers through September and fewer through late October. 

Greater Yellowlegs:  Adults begin to show up in late June or early July, and they peak in numbers during August. Juveniles start to appear by about the first of August, and their peak numbers occur in late September. The species as a whole is fairly common through October, with smaller numbers through the end of November.  
Juvenile Greater Yellowlegs in late October. The pattern of white spots along the edges of the tertials and coverts, separating the juvenile from the adult, is becoming less obvious by this late in the season.

Lesser Yellowlegs:  The first adults appear by the beginning of July, with peak numbers from mid July through early August. The first juveniles arrive at the end of July or early August, with peak numbers in late August and early September. The species as a whole is fairly common through early October, with a few lingering through November. Although the timing overlaps broadly with that of Greater Yellowlegs, the Lesser tends to peak earlier in the season. 

Willet:  A scarce fall migrant, appearing any time from July through October. Willets that pass through Ohio are from of the western subspecies, and in fall they are migrating eastward toward the Atlantic Coast. 

Upland Sandpiper:  Now practically gone as a breeder, and only a scarce migrant. Formerly occurred in flocks in mowed fields in late July and early August, and small numbers still pass through at that time; unlikely to be seen after the first week of September.

Whimbrel:  A scarce fall migrant that might be seen any time from July through early October. 

Hudsonian Godwit:  A handful of adults may appear any time from the end of July through November, with a minor peak in late August. Juveniles begin to show up at the end of August. They may occur in larger numbers, sometimes into the double digits or even the low dozens, mainly from mid-September to mid-October.
Juvenile Hudsonian Godwit in early October. Usually a rare migrant here. When habitat conditions are right, dozens may stop over in the Lake Erie Marsh region of n.w. Ohio, especially at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

Marbled Godwit:  A scarce fall migrant with a handful of individuals seen in most years, any time between July and late October.

Ruddy Turnstone:  Less common in fall than in spring, but may be seen (most commonly along Lake Erie) from mid-July to mid-October, with a few into November. The first juveniles usually arrive in mid to late August, with peak numbers in September and early October.

Red Knot:  A rare fall migrant, mainly along Lake Erie. Adults may appear by mid to late July, with the first juveniles arriving in mid to late August; they might be seen any time through October or even into November. 
Juvenile Red Knot in late August on the Lake Erie shoreline. The neatly scalloped pattern of the upperparts was illustrated in some older books as "winter plumage," but in fact it is characteristic of juveniles; adults in winter plumage are a much plainer gray above.

Sanderling:  Seen mainly along the immediate shoreline of Lake Erie, much more uncommon inland. Lingering birds are sometimes seen on random dates in summer, but southbound adults begin to appear by mid-July. The first juveniles show up by mid to late August, but their peak numbers don't occur until late September and October. A few Sanderlings may be seen through the end of November. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper:  A common fall migrant, with adults appearing by the beginning of July and building to large numbers by mid to late July. Juveniles begin to arrive around the first of August, and build to large numbers by early September. The species remains common through September, but only rare stragglers are seen after the middle of October.
Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper in late August. The bright, crisp patterns of juvenile shorebirds are beautiful at close range, and they provide another incentive for us to observe this group of birds.

Western Sandpiper:  An uncommon migrant, passing through in very small numbers. Adults may appear by the beginning of July, with the first juveniles arriving in early August. Most sightings are from mid-August to mid-September, but a few may be seen through October and into November, after essentially all the Semipalmated Sandpipers have departed.

Least Sandpiper:  A very common fall migrant. The first southbound adults usually appear in late June, and they are common by mid-July. The first juveniles arrive in the latter part of July. The species is very common from late July through September, with good opportunities to compare the plumages of adults and juveniles. It remains fairly common through October, and small numbers may be seen through November. 

White-rumped Sandpiper:  A regular migrant in small numbers. The spring migration is notably late, with some still passing through in mid-June. A few adults are seen in July, with more showing up in August. Juveniles may not appear until sometime in September, and their peak numbers are usually in October, with a few lingering into November.

Baird's Sandpiper:  A regular migrant in small numbers. Few adults occur in the state, although a handful have been found in late July and August. Juveniles begin to arrive in August, and are seen mainly from mid-August to mid-September, although some are found through October and stragglers have been seen as late as December.

Pectoral Sandpiper:  A common migrant, seen in numbers from early July to early November. The earliest migrants are adults, and juveniles begin to show up by mid-August; but juvenile and adult Pectorals are hard to distinguish at a distance, so many fall birds aren't aged in the field. Substantial numbers may still be present in November, with stragglers into December.

Purple Sandpiper:  A rare migrant, found mostly on rocks along the edge of Lake Erie, late in the fall. Some have been found as early as October, but most are seen in November or December.

Dunlin:  A common migrant with a long season of occurrence, but peaking relatively late in the fall. A handful of adults may be seen at any time during the summer, possibly birds that did not go all the way to the Arctic breeding grounds, and small numbers are seen regularly through August. Numbers do not pick up appreciably until the end of September, and they are most common from early October through mid-November. A few linger into the winter, and the species has overwintered in the state. Juveniles are rarely seen before the very end of September.
Juvenile Dunlin in early October. These birds begin to molt out of juvenile plumage before they leave the Arctic; on this individual, a couple of the brightly patterned scapulars already have been replaced by plain gray feathers. 

Stilt Sandpiper:  A regular migrant, most common in northwestern Ohio and usually seen in small numbers farther east and south. Adults appear by early July and are most common from late July through August. The first juveniles arrive by early August, with peak numbers from mid-August through September. Fair numbers are seen regularly through October. 

Buff-breasted Sandpiper:  A regular migrant in very small numbers, occurring in extensive short-grass areas near Lake Erie and at the edges of flooded areas inland. A very few adults may appear from late July through August, but most individuals in Ohio are juveniles, found between late August and early October.  
Juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper in early September. This species really should be considered a "grasspiper," and it is often found in expanses of short grass or in dry fields, away from typical shorebird habitat.

Short-billed Dowitcher:  Adults arrive by the end of June or early July, and become very common by mid to late July. Juveniles first appear around the first of August, with peak numbers from mid-August to early September. Small numbers are seen through late September and into early October, but dowitchers seen after mid-October are more likely to be Long-billed.
Juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher at the end of August. In fresh plumage, these juveniles may seem as brightly colored as spring adults, but a glance at the calendar and a study of the crisp, fresh feather edgings on the upperparts will make it obvious that these are young birds.

Long-billed Dowitcher:  Much less common than the preceding species, and generally occurs later in fall. More likely to be seen in northwest Ohio than elsewhere in the state. A few adults may appear in July, but they become most numerous in mid to late August. The first juveniles usually arrive in late August or early September, with peak numbers from mid-September to mid-October. Small numbers are found regularly through mid-November, with stragglers into early December. 

Wilson's Snipe:  A few snipes stay through the summer in northern Ohio, and small numbers spend the winter, especially in the southern counties. In between, the species is a common migrant. A few begin to show up at new spots by mid-July, and migrants are fairly common from early August through November, with peak numbers in October. 

Wilson's Phalarope: A very rare breeder in Ohio and a very uncommon migrant. Fall migration begins very early, with adult females on the move by mid-June and adult males by early July. Juveniles may be seen as early as mid-July. Small numbers are found in Ohio wetlands as late as October or even early November, but peak numbers usually occur in August. 
Male Wilson's Phalarope. Among phalaropes the females are the more brightly colored ones, and many adult males look quite drab.

Red-necked Phalarope:  A very uncommon migrant, with the first adults appearing as early as late July and the peak passage in late August. Juveniles occur in small numbers from late August to mid-October, occasionally later.

Red Phalarope:  A rare migrant, found mostly along Lake Erie, very rarely on inland impoundments. There are scattered records of adults as early as August, and stragglers have been found into January, but most likely to be seen in October or November, especially mid-November.


Sources for more information: 

Black Swamp Bird Observatory has been doing shorebird surveys in n.w. Ohio for years. Several years' worth of annual reports on these surveys can be found by going to this link and scrolling down to "Shorebird migration studies." 

It's also possible to see some overall patterns by going to the eBird database. From the eBird home page, select "Explore Data" and then follow the instructions for creating a bar chart of timing for the state of Ohio, or for specific counties or sites of interest. 

Thanks to Mark Shieldcastle for suggestions that improved this summary, and thanks to all the birders who have collected data on shorebird migration over the years.  



Saturday, May 25, 2013

Next migrant wave: May 28-29

Willow Flycatcher at Magee Marsh, late May 2013. Willow and Alder flycatchers are almost identical in appearance, and individual variation in both makes it dangerous to try to identify them by sight.  However, their callnotes are distinctly different: a dry "whit" from Willow, a liquid "kep" from Alder Flycatcher.  Fortunately, this Willow Flycatcher was calling  a lot, and even sang a couple of times.
Saturday, May 25:  An excellent movement of birds during the early part of this last week was pretty much shut down when winds shifted around to the north on Thursday.  By that time, however, the woodlots near Lake Erie had filled up with migrants typical of the third wave.  Flycatchers were abundant, Red-eyed Vireos and American Redstarts had become numerous, and the predominant warblers were late-season birds like Blackpoll, Canada, Wilson's, and Mourning warblers.  The prized find among late species, Connecticut Warbler, proved elusive; one or two were heard or seen along the Magee Marsh boardwalk on some days, but most people have missed the species so far this spring.

After the wind shifted to the north, most of the birds that had been around earlier in the week seemed to be pinned down where they were, so that birding continued to be good on Friday and today.  As often happens with north winds, some of the birds filtered southward away from the Lake Erie shoreline, so that there were many in the woods near BSBO, for example.

At this point on Saturday evening, with winds still out of the northeast, it appears that we won't see much new arrival on Sunday or Monday.  But by Monday night, a high-pressure area to the east of us and a low-pressure center to the west should create a strong flow of air all the way up from the Gulf of Mexico, and this will increase during Tuesday and Tuesday night, along with temperatures getting much warmer again.  So we should see a big turnover on Tuesday May 28 and probably even more on Wednesday morning, May 29.  

After Wednesday, the current forecast shows southerly or southwesterly winds persisting through the latter part of the week, right up to Sunday morning, June 2nd.  Along the Lake Erie shoreline, it's usually possible to find a lot of lingering migrants through the first week of June.  However, these favorable winds are likely to sweep a lot of the migrants on toward their destinations, so things may be getting a little thin by the weekend.  If you are still determined to find that Connecticut Warbler, or to practice on Empidonax flycatchers, you may have better luck if you can get out on the 28th or especially the 29th, rather than waiting for the weekend.  

Of course, even after the songbird migration winds down, we'll still have shorebird passage up through the second week of June... and the first southbound shorebirds of the "fall" will show up before the first of July.  So in reality, in this corner of the world, migration is happening most of the time!  And regardless of the weather conditions, every day holds the potential for exciting discoveries, so it's never a bad day to go birding.

  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Next pushes of migrants expected: Wednesday and next weekend

Tuesday, May 14:  As predicted, today turned out to be a good day for migrants in n.w. Ohio.  The star of the day, without a doubt, was the Kirtland's Warbler found on the East Beach (Wildlife Beach) at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, seen by many people through most of the day.  Diversity of warblers continued to be good elsewhere in the area as well, along with improved numbers of thrushes, vireos, and others.  

At this point (late evening on Tuesday), all indications are that there's a major movement of birds going on.  The radar picture shows huge numbers migrating over southwestern Ohio, and many of these birds will reach the Lake Erie shoreline by dawn, aided by fairly strong southerly winds.  So Wednesday, May 15, should be an excellent day in any migrant traps in northwestern Ohio.  We'll probably see a lot of turnover, with many birds departing as well as birds arriving, so total numbers may not be strikingly higher, but the mix of birds present should be clearly different from today's.  

After Wednesday morning, the forecast is for the winds to be much more variable for a couple of days, and I don't expect a lot of arriving migrants on Thursday or Friday.  But things could improve on Saturday, May 18, and especially on Sunday and Monday, May 19 & 20, with major weather systems bringing in a strong flow of air from far to the south.  

By Sunday, the composition of the migrant flocks near the lake shore should be noticeably different from what we've seen the last few days.  Numbers of Yellow-rumped, Palm, Nashville, and Black-and-white Warblers should drop. At the same time, we should see a pickup in numbers of Magnolia, Blackpoll, Canada, and Wilson's Warblers, plus Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Red-eyed and Philadelphia Vireos, and several of the flycatchers.  By this weekend we'll also have a reasonable chance of finding Connecticut Warbler, a late-May specialty, although the following weekend is closer to its peak dates.  So there are still plenty of reasons to go birding!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Next influx: May 14, more birds May 15

Quick note on Sunday, May 12:  Yesterday's good numbers and variety of birds are probably mostly pinned down by the chilly temperatures and northwest winds overnight.  Today, they'll be concentrated low on the downwind (east) side of the woods.

According to current weather forecasts, we should have a new arrival of migrants overnight Monday night, making for a new mix of birds on Tuesday, My 14.  But I expect that Wednesday, May 15, will be a much bigger day for numbers, with a lot of migrants coming in on higher temperatures and south winds. 

American White Pelicans were seen over Magee again yesterday.  Keep an eye on the sky for them to circle overhead any time, especially after the day warms up a little. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Quick update: weekend May 11-12

Friday, May 10:  As predicted in the previous post, we had a good arrival of migrants yesterday and an excellent push today.  Highlights of today's flight included good looks at Golden-winged Warblers, Blue-winged Warblers, and at least 27 other warbler species, lurking Black-billed Cuckoos, surprising numbers of passing Pine Siskins, and a huge morning flight of Blue Jays.  At Magee Marsh, an "Audubon's Warbler" (western form of Yellow-rumped Warbler) was found near the west end of the boardwalk parking lot, and a Clay-colored Sparrow was found near the beginning of the Estuary Trail west of the parking lot.  

At this point (late afternoon) winds are still from the southwest, but they are likely to shift around to north during the night.  A high percentage of the birds now present in the area are likely to stick around, but they may move away from the immediate lake shore.  So if you go to traditional shoreline sites and don't see as many birds as you'd expected, try some spots a mile or two to the south.  The area around Black Swamp Bird Observatory continues to be productive, and Pearson Park (west of Maumee Bay State Park on S.R. 2) has held a lot of migrants also.  

In short, Saturday and Sunday may not be big flight days, but enough birds have arrived in the area that birding should be quite good.  I will update again late tonight if I get a chance. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

More birds coming May 9-10

Tuesday, May 7: After a big arrival of birds last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, things have slowed down.  As usually happens after such an influx, the numbers of migrants in the woodlots along the lake shore have gradually declined for the last four days.  Variety continues to be good, and a handful of notable birds, faithful to particular spots, have been crowd-pleasers.  For example, a very early Mourning Warbler showed up on May 1 at the west end of the Magee boardwalk and has been seen every day since.  One or two Worm-eating Warblers have been similarly cooperative.  But by today, overall numbers have become a little sparse.  

Weather conditions haven't been good for producing new flights since last Friday.  Persistently easterly winds haven't been especially favorable for bringing in new birds, and persistent bad weather to the south of us seems to have blocked a lot of migrants from coming north.  Typical May arrivals like Indigo Bunting and Eastern Wood-Pewee are still essentially absent, and migrants that will be abundant later in the month, like Red-eyed Vireo and American Redstart, have hardly begun to arrive.  Probably a lot of these birds are just a few hundred miles south of us, waiting for the weather to break and the wind to shift.  


The news is that such a weather change is about to happen.  After talking with Mark Shieldcastle, research director for BSBO, I'm confident that we'll see a lot of new birds between now and the weekend.  Even though no really large-scale weather patterns are set up to deliver birds to us, the migrants dammed up just to the south of us should show up as soon as conditions for them improve.

The timing still looks a little uncertain.  But it's likely that a few new migrants will show up Wednesday morning, May 8, as the weather improves to the south of us.  During the night Wednesday night, winds will be quite variable but they'll probably be from the south for at least part of the night, favoring the arrival of many more birds on Thursday.  During the day Thursday, according to current forecasts, winds will swing to the west and back to the south, with a good southerly flow Thursday night, so on Friday the 10th we should see a major arrival of birds.  It's likely to rain on Friday also, but in between showers the birding should be excellent.  We should see a major arrival of Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, and Bay-breasted Warblers, the first decent push of flycatchers, many more Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, a few Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, and so on.  

In the meantime, for birding on Wednesday, before the big arrival starts: if the Magee boardwalk is quiet, go check out sites a little farther away from the lake shore.  The woods behind the visitors' center at Ottawa NWR are always worth checking, as is the trail behind BSBO.  The auto tour route at Ottawa NWR (open every day through the 12th) has been consistent for Red-headed Woodpecker, and has a few pockets of shorebirds.  East Harbor State Park, just east of Port Clinton, is well worth exploring; many warblers were found there Tuesday.  Pearson Park, west of the turnoff to Maumee Bay State Park, has had good migrant numbers as well.  Or go farther west and explore some of the other units of the Toledo Metroparks, such as Swan Creek or Oak Openings.

Summary: Things should pick up just a little on Wednesday, May 8. We should see many more birds on Thursday, May 9, and even more on Friday, May 10.  Friday is likely to be rainy, but the birding should be very productive between showers, so bring your rain jacket or umbrella, and some waterproof protection for your optics and field guides, and come on out to join the fun!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May 1 update: Explosion of diversity

Wednesday, May 1: Winds were favorable for the last two nights, so the birding improved somewhat yesterday and then by a huge amount for today's fortunate birders.  Between Magee Marsh and other nearby sites, at least 25 warbler species were found today, along with orioles, tanagers, vireos, thrushes, and other birds of the season.  

Mark Shieldcastle characterized today's flight as representing the second pulse of the first wave of neotropical migrants.  In terms of numbers, the flight was still dominated by Yellow-rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, and White-throated Sparrows, with lesser numbers of Nashville Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers, but today there were many other species represented by a few individuals each.  

More than 20 warbler species were found at the Magee Marsh boardwalk.  Some of the best sightings were near the west entrance, where a crowd-pleasing male Cerulean Warbler was present for most of the day along with a very early Mourning Warbler.  Blackburnian, Blue-winged, Prothonotary, Orange-crowned, Black-throated Blue, and Cape May warblers were represented by a few individuals each in this area.  Veery, Lincoln's Sparrow, and Scarlet Tanager were also along the boardwalk. 

At the small woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh, at least 13 warbler species were seen, including a Hooded Warbler, Cape May Warbler, and early Blackpoll Warbler.  Red-eyed Vireo and White-eyed Vireo were among the other migrants present.

Baltimore Orioles were widespread for the last couple of days, although still in small numbers.  Orchard Orioles were seen at several sites, including the east beach (Wildlife Beach) at Magee Marsh and Maumee Bay State Park.  The latter site also hosted a Prairie Warbler.

Magee boardwalk note: The Ohio Division of Wildlife, which administers the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, has closed off a section of the parking lot adjacent to the new Bald Eagle nest.  The boardwalk is still open, and most of the parking lot is still open.  The closed area is clearly marked; please show your respect for the regulations of the area and stay out of this closed section.

Outlook for May 2-6: It appears that winds will be generally from the southeast over the next few days, with slightly cooler temperatures after Friday and an increasing chance of rain on Sunday and Monday.  We should continue to see more arrivals of migrants in the area, although perhaps not as dramatically as today, through next Monday, and then a shift to northwesterly winds may slow things down a bit.  Still, there are enough migrants present in the area now that the birding should be productive every day.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

April 30 - May 5: Lots of migrants coming!

Monday, April 29:  With rain yesterday and last night, songbird migration has been slowed down a bit, but some of the strong-flying shorebirds were on the move.  On April 28, a flock of 42 American Avocets was present for most of the day at Maumee Bay State Park, and a couple of Upland Sandpipers and some American Golden-Plovers showed up on Stange and Krause roads, just west of Ottawa NWR.  This morning, a Piping Plover was found on the beach at Camp Perry, west of Port Clinton.  Adverse weather conditions at this time in spring often result in interesting shorebird records like this.  

Weather conditions should be just about to turn from adverse to awesome.  Once again the forecast is for southerly winds, and this time I think they'll come through, with a fairly good flow of air from far to the south.  A lot of first-wave neotropical migrants should be staged a little to the south of us by now.  With the encouragement of winds, warmth, and mostly clear skies, large numbers of migrants should be moving during the next few nights.  Right now it looks as if the next three days - Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, April 30 through May 2 - all have very good potential, with daytime highs in the 70s and southerly winds.  The way the weather fronts are shaping up, there isn't any one of those three days that appears to have a clear advantage.  But the overall effect should be to pump a lot of birds into the area.  Diversity of warblers at places like Magee Marsh should jump from 5-to-10 species up to 15-to-20 species, and we should see a fine influx of thrushes, vireos, orioles, and all kinds of other wonderful spring migrants.  

By Friday, May 3, when The Biggest Week In American Birding kicks off, temperatures should be a little cooler again, with daytime highs in the 60s. Depending on the location of some approaching low-pressure areas on Thursday night, Friday may or may not be a really big day for migrants; but even if the Thursday night flight fizzles, we'll have plenty of migrants in the area by then.  And the diversity of migrants in the area through that first weekend should live up to this region's reputation.  

Summary: April 30 through May 2 should be the first really big days for diversity this season, and the variety and numbers should stay really good at least through May 5.  Beyond that point, I'll be studying the weather maps and hoping to pick out clearer patterns for the next prediction.  


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 25-30: Steady arrival of migrants expected

This male Hooded Warbler at Magee Marsh last weekend delighted observers by posing along the edge of the parking lot and the boardwalk. This is a regular "overflight" migrant, nesting mostly to the south of this region but showing up here in small numbers in early spring.
Wednesday, April 24:  With rain today and probably tomorrow, and cooler temperatures and westerly winds for the next two nights, migration may be slow temporarily, but not for long.  Starting Friday, April 26, temperatures should be getting warmer for the next several days, climbing into the 60s and to around 70 by Tuesday, April 30.  With winds predicted to be generally from the south, we should see many species arriving in northwestern Ohio.

Based on current weather forecasts, I expect the weekend of April 27-28 to bring good variety of species but not a huge number of individuals.  The southerly winds from Friday through Sunday don't look like they're associated with really large-scale weather systems.  By next Monday or Tuesday, April 29-30, with a  high-pressure area moving off to the east and a large low-pressure area approaching from the west, we should have a flow of air extending all the way up from the Gulf of Mexico, bringing a stronger flow of migrants.

At this point, the migrants present in the area are mainly those expected in mid to late April, dominated by Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, but joined by less-common early species such as Orange-crowned Warbler and Pine Warbler.  "Overflight" migrants (those that mostly nest to the south of here, but which overfly their targets and show up here along Lake Erie) recently have included some cooperative and crowd-pleasing birds such as Hooded, Worm-eating, and Cerulean warblers and Louisiana Waterthrush.  Many other species have begun to show up as scattered singles, and new arrivals should be widespread throughout the region during the next few days. 

Brief summary: I expect the birding to be good every day from Friday on, with good variety over the weekend, and then even better variety and numbers next Monday and Tuesday, April 29 and 30.  We may not have any huge migration days during this period but they should all be good (and a good day along the Lake Erie shoreline is much better than a good day in most places!). Since we haven't had the exceptional heat of spring 2012, the trees haven't leafed out fully yet, so the birds are relatively easy to see (and to photograph), making for a very enjoyable time in the field.  We'll hope to see you out there!

 
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