Friday, May 11, 2018

Update: Changing forecast and migration outlook May 12 - 16

A female Bay-breasted Warbler pauses along the Estuary Trail at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio. Photo by Kenn Kaufman. 

Friday May 11, 2018: Three days ago, based on the weather forecast at the time, we predicted that tomorrow (Saturday the 12th) could see a major arrival of migrants. The weather pattern has changed since then. Tonight (Friday night) there will still be strong winds from the south, all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to the Midwest, but apparently they won't reach northern Ohio. A high-pressure area over southern Ontario will block that system, so here along the Lake Erie shoreline, we're supposed to get cool temperatures, east-northeast winds, and probably scattered thunderstorms during the night. Saturday and Sunday will continue to be relatively cool, with northeasterly winds and probably with scattered thunderstorms on Saturday. 

What does that mean for birding? While we probably won't see many new birds arriving, most of the migrants that are here now should stick around. Excellent numbers and variety of warblers and other migrants have been seen in all the usual spots along and near Lake Erie during the last couple of days, and that good birding continued this morning. When we get a cold spell in mid-May, it usually brings many migrants down to forage at lower levels, since fewer insects are active in the treetops in the chilly breeze. Under these conditions, photography can be excellent. But be sure to carry good waterproof covering for your camera gear in case of sudden downpours. 

When migrants are grounded here by northerly winds, the best strategy for birders is to check multiple spots instead of continuing to work the same areas. During their stopovers, some migrants move around but others stay in the same spot for several days, so it's good to visit more different places to find different individuals. At this link you can find directions to many excellent birding sites. 

A slow migration day might be the perfect time to visit the Oak Openings area, a short distance away on the west side of Toledo. Lark Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Henslow's Sparrow are being seen near the south end of Girdham Road, and Red Crossbills are in the pines near the Lodge at the south end of Wilkins Road; see this map for directions. 

Looking ahead: The winds are supposed to shift to southeasterly sometime Sunday night, and depending on when that happens, we could see some turnover on Monday, the 14th. Tuesday May 15 and especially Wednesday May 16 should produce more new birds after southwesterly winds overnight. At the moment it doesn't appear that these will be huge flight days, just fairly good ones; but as we've seen, weather forecasts can change quickly! We should at least start to see better numbers of flycatchers and of typical late migrants like Canada Warbler and Red-eyed Vireo. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

May 9 - 13: Two more waves incoming

A Northern Parula launches from a twig at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio, in early May 2018. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

Tuesday May 8, 2018: After a very slow migration up through April 30th, the birding has been outstanding locally in the week since, making for a great start to The Biggest Week in American Birding. Large numbers of migrants came in overnight on several nights, and rain helped to put birds down in local habitats around May 3rd and 4th. Numbers of new arrivals haven't been as large for the last couple of days, but warblers, thrushes, and other migratory songbirds have remained numerous in woodlots near the Lake Erie shore, as they rest and feed to build strength for the next leg of their journey. 

At Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, a Neotropic Cormorant (very rare in Ohio) was along the auto tour May 5 and 6. It was near the northeasternmost corner of the auto tour route (identified on refuge maps as the corner of Trumpeter Trail and N. Estuary Avenue) but it would be worth watching for anywhere at Ottawa, Metzger Marsh, or Magee Marsh. A Rough-legged Hawk (common here in winter but very rare in May) lingered through this morning along Stange Road north of State Route 2, on the southwest edge of Ottawa NWR.

The new Howard Marsh Metropark (off Howard Road north of State Route 2, west of Metzger Marsh) has been outstanding for shorebirds this week. Big flocks of American Golden-Plovers have been consistent, with sightings of Black-necked Stilt, Ruddy Turnstone, Wilson's Phalarope, and others. American Pipits and Horned Larks have been in open areas along the entrance road. 

Looking ahead, winds are expected to be light and variable tonight (Tuesday night) under clear skies, so some migrants will be moving, but we don't expect a big arrival Wednesday morning. However, winds are supposed to shift to the south on Wednesday and to be strong out of the south and southwest that night, with scattered thunderstorms, so Thursday morning should see a widespread arrival of migrants, at inland sites as well as along the lake shore. Northerly winds on Thursday should keep birds grounded here. Then a strong flow on Friday night, bringing southwest winds all the way from the Gulf of Mexico, should usher in another major arrival of migrants on Saturday, as long as the forecast doesn't change too much. 

The wave of birds that arrived last week included an interesting mix of species that usually push through in late April (like Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers) with species more typical of the second wave in May (like Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, and Blackpoll Warblers). Some of the typical later migrants are still scarce or absent. Very few flycatchers have arrived, and very few of the late warblers like Mourning, Wilson's, and Canada. If the weather forecast holds up, we should start to see more of such birds by this weekend. 

To recap, we expect very good birding to continue through the next six days. We should see a moderate arrival of new migrants on Thursday May 10 and potentially a bigger wave on Saturday May 12.  Conditions for the 12th should bring migrants to all good habitats along the lake shore, so if you're concerned about potential crowds at the Magee Marsh boardwalk on a big Saturday, there are several great alternatives, such as Maumee Bay State Park, Metzger Marsh woodlot, and all the woods at Ottawa NWR. Just east of Port Clinton, East Harbor State Park, Marblehead Lighthouse, and Meadowbrook Marsh are all excellent. Over in Erie County, Pipe Creek Wildlife Area and Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve can be outstanding on big flight days. You can find directions to these sites at this link. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Update: Current Conditions and Looking Ahead through May 7

This Kentucky Warbler entertained birders at the west entrance to the Magee Marsh boardwalk for hours on May 2nd. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

Thursday, May 3, 2018: As predicted, after a very slow migration through the end of April, the floodgates opened this week. Numbers and variety of migrants in sites along Lake Erie increased dramatically on Tuesday May 1 and increased even more on Wednesday May 2. The number of warbler species in the area jumped from about six to more than 25. Between rain showers today (Thursday) the birding was still outstanding, with most of Wednesday's prizes still around. As The Biggest Week in American Birding launches tomorrow, we can be certain that there will be plenty of birds around each day, even though the flow of migration will vary from day to day.

A notable feature Wednesday was the arrival of some "overflight" species: birds that mostly nest farther south than this, evidently overshooting their intended destination. Such birds tend to be early spring migrants, and are most likely here at the end of April. Kentucky, Worm-eating, and Hooded Warblers are examples. All three were seen Wednesday and again Thursday at Magee Marsh.

Thunderstorms moved through the area on Wednesday night. When this happens, we can predict that migrants will be more widespread the next day, not just concentrated on the lake shore, because they stop wherever they are when they run into rain. So as expected, today (Thursday) birds like Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles were widespread, even in woods several miles from the lake. This can make for excellent birding at sites like Pearson Metropark and Oak Openings. 

Looking ahead, tonight (Thursday May 3) we're supposed to have continued southwest winds, with scattered thunderstorms moving through between midnight and dawn. So we may get more migrants arriving, but again they should be well dispersed through all good local habitats, and many of today's specialties are likely to stick around. With more variable winds over the weekend, we should continue to see some turnover through Saturday, but then new arrivals are likely to be fewer on Sunday May 6 and Monday May 7 after northerly winds set in.  

In that weather pattern you can still have great birding, but it takes a different strategy. Instead of just scouring one hotspot (like the Magee boardwalk or the Metzger Marsh woodlot), it works better to visit a variety of spots. There are many good migrant spots in northwestern Ohio, from Erie County sites like Sheldon Marsh and Pipe Creek to state parks like East Harbor and Maumee Bay and many of the Toledo Metroparks. See this link for more ideas about places to visit. 

The wildlife drive at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, always an outstanding route for birding, will be open every day from May 4 through 20. This provides access to some of the best waterbird habitat in Ohio. The woodlots at Ottawa, accessible from the visitors' center or from the parking lot straight north from the entrance, are also wonderful places for warblers and other migrants. 

And if you want to explore, check out the brand-new Howard Marsh Metropark -- on Howard Road just north of State Route 2, just west of the entrance to Metzger Marsh near the village of Bono. Howard Marsh has only been open to the public for about a week, and it has already produced sightings of American Avocet, Willet, and American Golden-Plover, among other species.

A couple of safety notes: The boardwalk at Magee Marsh can be extremely slippery after rains! Please step carefully if it's at all wet. Also, please do not stop on any of the area roads to look at birds. If you think you've spotted something outstanding, find a safe place to pull completely off the pavement. Thank you!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

April 30 to May 4: First Big Wave Coming

Black-throated Green Warbler, one of the migrant species that should show up in good numbers during the next few days. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.
Saturday, April 28, 2018: As of today migration still seems delayed. The warblers and other stars of The Biggest Week In American Birding - which begins in six days - haven't arrived in big numbers yet. Fortunately, at this season, migration is not a gradual thing: big pulses of movement happen when conditions are right. Conditions should be right in a couple of days. With many migrants undoubtedly dammed up to the south of us, we should have a major arrival of variety and numbers starting around Tuesday, May 1, and continuing through the week.

This last week in woods near Lake Erie, the selection of species seemed more typical of early April, featuring Golden-crowned Kinglets, Winter Wrens, and other early birds. On Thursday, April 26, a modest influx brought in many White-throated Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers, plus a few other early warblers such as Palm, Pine, and Orange-crowned. But northerly winds and some overnight rains stopped the flow again by Friday night. 

For birding in northwest Ohio this weekend, April 28-29, diversity of migrants from the tropics is likely to remain low, but there are fair numbers of early species. Leaves on the trees are just budding out, so birds are easier to see (and photograph) than they will be later in the season after full leaf-out. Area marshes are still holding a fair variety of ducks and other water birds. Some low-water spots along the Magee Marsh causeway are attracting shorebirds; two Willets were there on Friday, the 27th. 

A high-pressure area will slide gradually eastward over us this weekend, with light or northerly winds, and nighttime temperatures down near freezing. But by sometime Monday, as the high moves on east and a low approaches from the west, winds should switch around strongly to the southwest, with daytime temperatures up to the high 60s on Monday and the 70s on following days. The sustained southwesterly air flow should bring large numbers and greatly increased variety of migrants. The number of warbler species along the Magee Marsh boardwalk, for example, should jump from the current 3 or 4 up to something like 10 to 20, along with an arrival of orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and others. We're overdue for a big daytime flight of Broad-winged Hawks, and that could happen as early as Monday, if the wind shifts early enough.

When will be the best birding this week? It's hard to pick a favorite because Tuesday May 1 through Friday May 4 all appear to have great potential. Based on current weather forecasts I expect each of those days to produce new birds that have arrived overnight. Thunderstorm activity beginning Wednesday afternoon may have the effect of putting more migrants down, depending on exactly when and where those storms move through. Anyway, regardless of questions about exact timing, migration is just about to kick into high gear. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Update: Weekend of April 14-15

Numbers of Purple Finches arrived in northwestern Ohio this week. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

Friday, April 13, 2018:
At the time of our last post, the extended weather forecast made it sound as if this weekend could offer very good birding. Unfortunately, the forecast has changed considerably since then. The southerly winds of the last couple of days are ending tonight. Winds will shift around to the northeast, temperatures will drop, and we're predicted to get a lot of rain over the weekend in northwestern Ohio. 

The middle of this week did see a good arrival of early migrants, as predicted. Daytime flights brought a push of Sharp-shinned Hawks and some other raptors. Among the nocturnal migrants that appeared or increased this week were Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Chipping Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Purple Finch, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. With the arrival of northerly winds and cooler temperatures, these birds are likely to stick around. So if you can get out between rain showers this weekend, and check the sheltered, downwind, edges of the woods, you may still find good birding. 

Looking ahead, we may have southerly winds and the chance for a good daytime flight on Wednesday, April 18. But overall the pattern looks like a return to cooler temperatures and winds mostly from the north, holding down the migration. 

While this weather forecast may seem a little discouraging, it's important to remember that some migrants will continue to filter into the region even if conditions aren't favorable. And when the weather does shift to bring warmer temps and southerly winds, there will be a huge backlog of migrants still south of us, waiting to move in this direction. We will keep an eye on the forecasts and try to update as soon as we have potential good news. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

April 11 to 15: More Migrants Incoming

The first major wave of Yellow-rumped Warblers should arrive in woodlots of northwestern Ohio within the next few days. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

April 8, 2018: After a month of cool temperatures and relatively few days with south winds, some aspects of spring migration seem a little behind schedule in northwestern Ohio. As a result, large numbers of migrants are probably held up to the south of us, so we can expect to see substantial movements of birds whenever conditions improve. For example, winds shifted to the south and southwest on March 31, and a huge flight of Turkey Vultures moved through the region that day. 

Waterfowl migration peaked in March as expected. The thousands of Tundra Swans that passed through are now mostly gone, and numbers of most ducks are decreasing now, although a good variety of species will be around for another couple of weeks. Good numbers of Tree Swallows, Great Egrets, and American Coots have returned to area marshes.

In the woodlots near Lake Erie, we're seeing the songbird migrants expected at the beginning of April: Golden-crowned Kinglet, Winter Wren, Hermit Thrush, Brown Creeper, Fox Sparrow, Rusty Blackbird, and others. They're around in modest numbers so far, but things are likely to pick up soon. 

If current weather forecasts don't change too much, we should see a major arrival of migrants beginning Wednesday or Thursday. There's some uncertainty caused by a small low-pressure area that may move either north of here or right through here on Thursday, but overall, we're predicted to have warmer temperatures and southerly winds from Wednesday April 11 through Sunday April 15. If I had to guess right now I would say that Wednesday and Friday might have the best daytime movements (of Turkey Vultures, raptors, and others) while Thursday and Saturday may be better for numbers of nocturnal migrant songbirds that have arrived overnight. Of course, weather predictions at this season are notoriously changeable. But any time during the latter half of the week should offer a chance to see early migrants.

So far, only a few Yellow-rumped Warblers have arrived. There should be many more by late this week, along with Palm Warbler, and possibly a few others like Black-and-white Warbler and Pine Warbler. This is a good time to look for southern species "overshooting" their ranges, so Louisiana Waterthrush and Yellow-throated Warbler may show up at hotspots near the lake. 

Speaking of hotspots - many visiting birders gravitate to the boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, and of course that's a wonderful place, but it's just one of many superb birding sites in the region. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, right next door to Magee, can be spectacularly good, and the same is true for other spots such as Maumee Bay State Park, Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, East Harbor State Park, Sheldon Marsh State Nature Reserve, and others. For ideas and directions on local birding, see this link on the Black Swamp Bird Observatory website. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Migration Update and Finding Connecticut Warbler: May 23-28

Wilson's Warbler: one of the typical late-May migrants. 
Tuesday, May 23: As predicted, last week (particularly Wednesday, May 17th) saw a great number and diversity of birds enter the region. With southerly winds each night from Tuesday through Friday, there was plenty of turnover each night with birds arriving and departing the marshes, until northerly winds took hold on Friday the 19th, retaining many migrants. With cooler daytime temperatures and some rain mixed in Friday through Sunday, any birds that were still in the area offered great looks, foraging low at eye-level. Dominating this arrival of migrants were American Redstart and Magnolia Warbler, with lesser numbers of Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Blue, Tennessee, and Red-eyed Vireo. Of special note, up until Sunday the 21st, a pair of King Rail could be heard and seen actively foraging on the eastern side of the Magee Marsh Causeway.

Corroborated with daily totals from Black Swamp Bird Observatory's Navarre Marsh Banding Station, we also saw a somewhat early arrival of Wilson's Warbler, Canada, Mourning, and Connecticut, and also a substantial push of Empidonax flycatchers. Typically these species don't make a large push until the third wave of migrants in late May. But as many observers have seen, plenty of Wilson's, Canada, and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher could be found throughout the region, with Willow and Alder Flycatchers being quite numerous for this time in May. (Note that Willow and Alder can't be separated with complete certainty if they're silent, so the old name "Traill's Flycatcher" is useful for designating this pair of species.) 

Following this southerly wind shift, the marshes saw the departure of many previously common migrant species. Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-throated Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm, Nashville, and Cape May made their final flight from the lake shore leading into Thursday. And while Hermit Thrush has completely disappeared, Swainson's and lesser numbers of Gray-cheeked have taken its place. 

Looking ahead: Heading into the third wave of migration, we can expect to see more American Redstarts, Magnolia Warbler, Wilson's, Canada, Mourning, and the elusive Connecticut. Along with Red-eyed Vireo, this is also the peak time for the Empidonax flycatchers. However, given the numbers we've already seen enter the region, it's difficult to say what the abundance of these typical late-May migrants will be. Making this prediction even more challenging is the absence of true southerly winds. Each day this week seems to shift back and forth between southerly and northerly winds, with southerly winds bringing in cooler air from the Appalachians. While this wind origin won't necessarily drive birds away, it won't direct them to Northwest Ohio either, resulting in a scattering of birds across the lake shore. At this point, it doesn't look like the real push of southerly tropical winds will come until Saturday night leading into Sunday the 28th. But by this time many of the birds that would have taken advantage of this front will probably have moved through during the earlier part of the week. In terms of birding opportunities, check each night for southerly winds for good birding the next day (at this moment, those days appear to be Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, the 24th, 25th, and 28th). Also expected on these days is intermittent rain. While not great for birding and photographing in, periods after rainfall will generally see birds move low to eye-level, and into areas where vegetation is a little more sparse.   

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. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Migration Update: May 16-21

Yellow-billed Cuckoo: a typical - yet hard to find - migrant in mid-May.
Monday, May 15: The end of the "pressure system clog" is nigh, and the birds are telling us that they are ready to arrive. Over the past week the lake shore region has seen a great diversity of incoming migrants, pushing against northerly winds to get to their breeding grounds. Because of persistent northerly winds Tuesday through Friday, birds weren't in a great abundance in the marshes, and seemed to be spread across the Midwest rather than being driven to Lake Erie. However, with calm to southerly winds leading into Saturday and Sunday, the region began to see some of the numbers and the diversity we would expect at this time in May, especially on Sunday, May 14th.

American Redstart, Black-and-white, Nashville, Magnolia, and Tennessee Warbler all increased in abundance over the weekend, and multiple Blackpoll and Wilson's Warblers were seen at key lake shore sites. An increase in flycatchers was apparent, with Willow Flycatchers beginning to populate their local breeding areas, and more sightings of Least, Great Crested, and Eastern Kingbird. Along with these more "common" migrants, there were plenty of notable finds throughout the region including Prairie, Connecticut, and Canada Warbler on the Magee Marsh boardwalk, a handful of Mournings scattered across the lake shore marshes, and Golden-wingeds seen at Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Maumee Bay SP, and Oak Openings MP. On Sunday, a Connecticut Warbler was singing south of the boardwalk at Maumee Bay State Park, and two males were singing (and a female was seen) along the Wood Thrush trail at Pearson Park. The woodlot at the end of Metzger Marsh - which may be small, but can be a great migrant trap and is worth checking when other areas seem "slow" - produced over a dozen warbler species, and has been hosting a very vocal Least Bittern just past the woodlot on the outer dike.

Rain and northerly winds pushing Lake Erie into the marshy shoreline, have over saturated many typical shorebird habitats. The platform at Ottawa NWR's Stange Prairie has benefited from this deluge and has seen both yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, American Pipit, and a female Wilson's Phalarope (although the waters there are rapidly drying up). While not holding as much as some of the other flooded fields, parts of the Magee Marsh causeway have been drawn down and have seen Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers, and Snowy Egret utilizing the exposed marsh.  

It's worth noting that, while many are excited for incoming birds, there are other migrants dwindling down and can be expected to disappear within the next few days. Hermit Thrush are virtually gone and are being replaced by Swainson's, Veery, and soon enough, Gray-cheeked. Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher have dropped down to only a handful of individuals. And White-throated Sparrow - although still somewhat abundant - will depart the region any day.

Looking ahead: Even though we've seen a less than typical movement of second-wave birds, things are about to change! Winds and temperatures are shifting, and by Tuesday afternoon, the region is expected to see an 80 degree day. While there will be some movement Monday night with a southerly wind, the real wave of birds looks like it will arrive Wednesday, May 17. This is right around the time when a second pulse of the second wave usually arrives, bringing high diversity and high volume. Combined with this time frame is a perfect setup of winds and warm fronts. Shifting mid-day Tuesday, winds will be coming from the southwest, and will be driving up tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico. If the birds don't overshoot the marshes, this could be a massive day of migrants, bringing in more warblers, vireos, thrushes, cuckoos, and flycatchers. Because temps will be in the upper 80's, the best birding will be in the cooler morning and evening hours. With great birds and high heat, it can be easy to over-exert yourself and risk heat exhaustion. Take breaks often and bring along extra water. 

These southwest winds will continue into Thursday, and will produce some turnover of arrivals and departures. Despite how many birds take advantage of these winds and warm front, and depart the marshes overnight, there will still be great diversity and numbers by Friday and Saturday, when winds shift to the north and bring cooler temperatures for a more comfortable day of birding. As Sunday rolls in, winds are predicted to shift back to the southwest. It's unclear of the timing of this shift, but we can expect it to still be a good day, with many birds most likely departing Sunday night into Monday.  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Migration Update: May 9-15

Chestnut-sided Warbler: a major player in the second wave.
Photo by Kenn Kaufman
Tuesday, May 9: Rain, wind, cold, sun, birds...last week had a mix of everything. Just before persistent northerly winds set in, the lake shore region was met with the arrival of many first-wave migrant birds - predominantly Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-throated Sparrow, and Yellow Warbler. As is typical with the first wave of movement, there wasn't necessarily an abundance of incoming migrants, but there was definitely diversity. Blue-winged, Orange-crowned, and Black-and-white Warbler made great appearances on the Magee Marsh boardwalk, and along with an influx of Baltimore Orioles, Orchard Orioles started to appear throughout the region. 

With The Biggest Week in American Birding now in full swing, there are many eyes in the area, locating birds that might otherwise be missed. Only in the past few days a Le Conte's Sparrow was seen briefly along the outer dike at Metzger Marsh WA, Upland Sandpipers were found at Grimm Prairie on St Rt 2 and Krause Rd, Black-necked Stilts were seen foraging in the fields around Metzger Marsh, and a Marbled Godwit and Black-bellied Plovers were easily observed in a flooded field behind Barnside Creamery on St Rt 2. 

It appears that - despite this clog of northerly winds - birds have been on the move. Even though the Great Lakes region has been dominated by these northerly winds, migrating birds have been making their way through the southern US. With mostly calm winds overnight, that movement is apparent today, Tuesday, May 9, as a new variety and amount of birds are already being reported. But what has so far been reported today, should only get better tomorrow!

Tonight, leading into Wednesday, May 10, winds are predicted to be mild and take a brief shift to the south. With the clog of pressure systems that have dominating the country, this shift won't be the kind we look for to see a massive movement of birds. But, as we've already seen this morning, birds are waiting to move in from the south, and this shift should be conducive enough for the region to see the second-wave of migrant birds. This wave typically brings in the greatest diversity of birds, and we can expect to see an increase in warbler species including Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, and Magnolia. Along with warblers, expect a new arrival of thrushes such as Swainson's and Veery, cuckoos, flycatchers, and an increase in shorebirds.

Even though this "pressure system clog" has made for a cold and seemingly slow migration, there is a positive note for birders and photographers. With strong northerly winds swinging back around on Wednesday, the rest of the week's forecast looks good for holding birds in the region. Any new arrivals in the next day will be here for a couple of days until the winds calm down or hormones push the birds across Lake Erie. And with mostly cool daytime temperatures, these new arrivals can be expected to be foraging lower in the vegetation throughout Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Barring any rain over the weekend, easily finding birds on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday may pose a challenge (but a fun challenge!). With temperatures in the high 60's, and heavy leaf-out, birds are going to be high and well hidden. This will be a great time to practice birding by ear, and really study tail patterns.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

Migration Update: May 1-6

Palm Warbler, one of the dominant warblers of the first wave.
Photo by Ryan Jacob
Monday, May 1: As expected, following a lull of birds, last Wednesday and Thursday, April 26th and 27th, saw a good push of first-wave migrants enter the marshes. Dominant first-wave migrants such as White-throated Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, female Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Palm were well represented throughout the lake shore region along with small numbers of Black-throated Green, Nashville, and Cape May Warblers, and Baltimore Oriole. A few other nice surprises to come out of this push were a male Golden-winged Warbler seen by many at the west entrance of the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area boardwalk, a couple of sightings of Hooded Warbler throughout the region, and a Kentucky Warbler seen at Maumee Bay State Park. Diurnal migrants like Broad-winged Hawk and Osprey were observed only in a couple of instances, but Blue Jays made a great push along the lake shore (with 5,000 being counted in one 5-hour stretch by Black Swamp Bird Observatory staff in Navarre Marsh). 

And then Friday rolled in...and the birds rolled out. With calm to southerly winds overnight and into the early morning, the majority of recent arrivals pulled out of the region to continue northward. Diversity was still well represented Friday and Saturday, but numbers were noticeably low. However, despite this turnover in songbirds, shorebirds were on the move. Throughout the state, scattered flocks of Willets were being seen (including a small flock briefly held up in Metzger Marsh); Spotted and Solitary Sandpiper have become more evident in the marshes; and Dunlin, Pectoral, Least, and Semipalmated Sandpipers, plus a rare-in-spring Stilt Sandpiper and both dowitcher species, beginning to filter into the region. Unfortunately, typical shorebird areas are holding high levels of water (Metzger Marsh, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the Boss Unit), forcing birds out into adjacent farm fields. Low areas in Magee Marsh and Pearson Metropark North could bring some birds in and will be worth scanning in the upcoming days. 

Despite a cold northerly wind, a trip out to the lake shore on Sunday was quite rewarding. Typically with northern winds, birds will move inland about a mile or so. However, exceptional numbers of Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher could be seen all along the Magee Marsh boardwalk. Present with other expected first-wave migrants, Black-throated Blue Warbler made its first appearance, as well as higher numbers of House Wren, Warbling Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Wood Thrush, and Gray Catbird.     

Looking ahead: Given yesterday's surprise bird movement and warm southerly winds overnight, the morning rain of Monday, May 1st, cannot end soon enough. Due to this temperature and wind shift, it is expected for a new set of birds to have entered the region overnight. With this expectation, a trip out today should produce many of the previously mentioned migrants, and more signs of Scarlet Tanager, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Veery, and Eastern Kingbird. With a continuance of southerly winds tonight, Tuesday May 2nd could see some turnover (depending on the condition of new arrivals) and make for another great day of birding. Beginning Wednesday, winds will shift to the north, bringing with them cold air. This shift is expected to last for well over a week (weather predictions are notoriously unreliable the further out they get, so we'll be watching for a southern shift as the days progress) so any arrivals can be expected to stay in the area while northern winds persist. In times such as this, it can be advantageous to explore areas away from the lake shore such as Pearson Metropark, the woods around the visitor center at Ottawa NWR, and the trails around Black Swamp Bird Observatory. 

A benefit to birders and photographers during these cold periods is the physical height of bird activity. During these cold times, birds tend to forage lower among the vegetation (following insects). This can bring treetop foragers such as Scarlet Tanager, Warbling Vireo, and Cape May Warbler down to eye level. 

Eventually, hormones will outweigh weather conditions and, despite northerly winds, birds will begin to filter out of the area (with somewhat calm northerly winds and a mild shift to the south, this departure should begin Wednesday night). Looking to the Gulf of Mexico, conditions are looking good for migrants to start moving up into the southern US on Wednesday, but with the next wave of migrants typically arriving between May 7th and 13th, it's still going to be a little while before we see a "big wave" of birds. 

Summary: Look for good numbers of birds and diversity in the early half of this week. Cold temperatures will make for great photo opportunities, but expect bird numbers to decrease as the week progresses. 

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