Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Trio of late migrants

Kim and I had been out of town (Autumn Weekend at Cape May) and I should have been catching up on work, but a glance at the weather patterns of the last few days prompted me to go out and see if any odd birds were around today (Tuesday October 31). None of the birds that I saw would be considered rarities for Ohio, but three were very unusual for the end of October. In the small woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh, I saw one each of Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Wood-Pewee, and Yellow Warbler.

My source for expected dates here is Birds of the Toledo Area by Matt Anderson et al. (2002), backed up by info from The Birds of Ohio by Bruce Peterjohn (1989) and Birds of the Cleveland Region by Larry Rosche (2004). Yellow-billed Cuckoos are essentially gone from the area by the middle of October, although there is a mid-November record for Toledo (and other November records for Cleveland and elsewhere in the state). The latest dates listed for Eastern Wood-Pewee are October 14 for the Toledo area and October 26 for the Cleveland area (Peterjohn's latest date listed for the state is October 21). Considering the lateness of this bird, I studied it carefully for the possibility of Western Wood-Pewee, but it looked typical for an Eastern in all respects. Yellow Warbler is a very early fall migrant, with most leaving northwestern Ohio before mid-September. The late date listed for the Toledo area is November 1, although there are later records elsewhere in the state, but any individual in October has to be considered late. Remarkably, Brian Zwiebel had seen and photographed a Yellow Warbler at Maumee Bay State Park, just a few miles west of Metzger, Oct. 26-30. Looking at his photos, I think my bird was probably a different individual.

This concentration of late dates raises the question: are these just lingerers that haven't made their way south yet, or could they be birds that came up from farther south on the recent strong southwesterly winds? The latter kind of phenomenon is believed to occur at some heavily birded spots on the Atlantic Coast, where strong south winds in fall are often followed by records of such "late" birds. In this case it can't be proven, but I didn't see any of these birds on multiple visits to Metzger in mid-October, so it's possible that they came north in recent days.

Aside from these three, there were very few migrants in the woods at Metzger. The most interesting were a Blue-headed Vireo (also rather late, but not strikingly so) and an Eastern Towhee. A handful of birds seen in a scan of Lake Erie from the end of the road included at least 20 Forster's Terns, 2 Common Terns, one Caspian Tern (getting late), 2 Common Goldeneyes, 14 Lesser Scaup, and 30 Ring-necked Ducks. All of these birds were some distance offshore.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Hermit Thrushes, Com. Moorhen, northwest Ohio

With limited time today, I went out to the small patch of woods at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh, Lucas County. This woodlot on the edge of Lake Erie is small enough to concentrate any migrants that are in the area and it gives me a quick read on what birds are moving. The bird of the day there today (Friday Oct. 20) was unquestionably Hermit Thrush -- I saw / heard at least 50 in an area of woods that can't be much more than an acre in size. Several times there I had five or six visible at once. No other thrushes (except robins) were seen or heard.

Later I heard that this had also been a huge day for Hermit Thrushes at the main Black Swamp Bird Observatory banding site, on the shoreline of the Navarre Unit of Ottawa NWR, about 10 miles east of Metzger. But Kim and I checked out another wooded site south of Magee Marsh, a mile or two south of the lake, late in the day, and had only a few Hermit Thrushes, so the species may have been quite localized along the lakeshore itself.

At Metzger and south of Magee, Ruby-crowned Kinglets were abundant today, far outnumbering Golden-crowns. Other migrants were in expected numbers. The Metzger woods had one Orange-crowned Warbler (foraging in the goldenrods) and one Blackpoll Warbler along with the Yellow-rumpeds, as well as an Eastern Phoebe, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and five Brown Creepers.

Out on the marsh itself there are still hundreds of American Coots, and I saw one Common Moorhen with them. According to published reports, moorhens were common in the Lake Erie Marshes half a century ago, and late October would have been well within the expected span of dates; but these days the species occurs here only in very small numbers in summer, so the date seemed notable.

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