Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Magee area overview 4/23

Mary Warren has already posted very useful and thorough lists of the bird species seen today at the Magee Marsh boardwalk, but some readers might be interested in an overview of today's migration in the general area. We have notes today from several hours at the boardwalk (Kenn K.); from the Black Swamp Bird Observatory's main banding site at the Navarre Unit of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, about five miles east of the turnoff to Crane Creek / Magee Marsh (Kim K., Julie Shieldcastle, and a team of wonderful volunteers); from the BSBO hawk watch, conducted from the tower next to the Sportsman's Migratory Bird Center at Magee Marsh, about halfway between Route 2 and the boardwalk (Dana Bollin and Lee Garling); and from the vicinity of the BSBO office, just north of Route 2 at the entrance to Crane Creek / Magee (Kim K. and others).

The numbers of migrants present today marked a dramatic increase from the end of last week. Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, and Hermit Thrushes were the three most numerous migrants at the boardwalk and at Navarre. Warbler variety was excellent, with at least 16 species seen at the boardwalk and a few others elsewhere. To give a sense of relative numbers, here are Kenn's counts from a total of five hours at the boardwalk: Orange-crowned 1, Nashville 4, Yellow 3, Yellow-rumped 500 (mostly adult males), Black-throated Green 12, Pine 5, Palm 45, Black-and-white 3, Worm-eating at least 1, Ovenbird 2, Northern Waterthrush 1, Louisiana Waterthrush 1. Seen by others here (presumably single birds) were Blue-winged, Yellow-throated, Hooded, and Common Yellowthroat. At the banding site at Navarre the overall species composition of warblers was similar, with the addition of a Chestnut-sided but with no Pine Warblers. Notable were two Worm-eating Warblers, at least two Hooded Warblers, and Louisiana Waterthrush (a record total of three were banded here the previous day). Additional warblers reported in the woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh were another Hooded, Northern Parula (John Sawvel), and a very early Blackpoll (Rick Nirschl).

In terms of non-warbler migrants, the abundance of Hermit Thrushes was notable, but the boardwalk also had at least 1 Wood Thrush and at least 2 Swainson's Thrushes (the Navarre site had Wood and Swainson's also). White-eyed, Red-eyed, and Warbling Vireos were all present in small numbers. The first Eastern Kingbird and first Bank Swallows (4) that we've had were along the beach at Magee, and at least three Lincoln's Sparrows were banded at Navarre. There were still a few Golden-crowned Kinglets but they were far outnumbered by Ruby-crowned Kinglets at both sites. Winter Wrens were still fairly numerous but we saw only one Rusty Blackbird today at the boardwalk, where there were still 30-plus last week. At Navarre, multiple Whip-poor-wills were calling pre-dawn.

There was a pronounced migration of Broad-winged Hawks but it was not evident out at the boardwalk or beach. Most of the birds were moving parallel to the lake shore but well inland, some passing south of the hawk watch tower and directly over the BSBO office, others seen south of Route 2. Ospreys and subadult Bald Eagles seemed to be moving on a broad front.

Eventually the numbers from the Navarre banding site and the hawk watch will be available on the BSBO web site ( www.bsbobird.org ). At this season, understandably, it's a challenge for us to keep up with the data! But we hope that this summary will be helpful to people who are learning about the sequence of migration through this amazing region.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Magee, lots of migrants 4/23

The boardwalk at Magee Marsh, nw Ohio, had a lot of migrants this morning. I personally saw a dozen warbler species (so far!) and heard of others. Highlights included Worm-eating, Hooded, Orange-crowned, and LA Waterthrush. Non-warblers included Swainson's and Wood Thrushes, Eastern Kingbird, Warbling and White-eyed Vireos, Bank Swallow. Very large numbers of White-throated Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Hermit Thrushes. Little Blue Heron still in area where I reported it on 4/20. I had to leave to come inside for a radio interview, going back out to the boardwalk now, will report more details later.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Little Blue Heron at Magee

There was an adult Little Blue Heron at Magee Marsh (Ottawa / Lucas counties, n.w. Ohio) this afternoon (Friday April 20). It apparently was seen by other people during the day; when I saw it about 5:30 p.m., it was west of the causeway in the marsh, just north of the first (southernmost) pullout on the east side of the road (or, the first major pullout that you come to as you drive north across the marsh toward the beach and boardwalk). An American Bittern was calling repeatedly in the same general area, but I didn't see it. At least one Barn Swallow and a couple of Northern Rough-winged Swallows were seen with the Tree Swallows in the same area. Large numbers of Blue-winged Teal and both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs are present now.

Scanning the lake from the beach north of here, I saw at least a thousand Lesser Scaup but was unable to find any Greaters. A substantial minority of Greater Scaup accompanied the Lessers there as recently as a couple of weeks ago.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Re: Forster's Tern dates in Ohio

I'm grateful to Bill Whan and Vic Fazio for going to so much effort to confirm that I was correct in my comments about the timing of Forster's Tern arrival. To recap: they pointed out that there are a few records at the end of March (notably early) and more for the first week of April (on the early side), so that multiples in northwest Ohio on April 12th would be, as I wrote earlier, right on time.

As birders, we often have a tendency to focus on early and late records rather than on the normal timing of migration. These extreme records are more fun, but from a biological standpoint they're not as important. As an example of the "fun" aspect: last fall, as I reported on this listserve, I found a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at Metzger Marsh on October 31 (not Nov. 1, as reported in the Ohio Cardinal). That cuckoo was a very late bird. It didn't set a record -- the species has been found in Ohio in November a number of times -- but these occurrences notwithstanding, the important thing to note is that the vast majority of Yellow-billed Cuckoos have departed for the south before the middle of October. We know that because a lot of observers have gathered a lot of information over multiple years. This points up the great value of keeping notes and recording the numbers of individuals that we find each day, not just the extreme dates for each species, to try to get a picture of peak numbers and the actual span of the typical migration season for each bird.

When we talk about timing of migration, we have to avoid falling into the trap of making generalizations about the state of Ohio as a whole. There are substantial differences in timing in different regions of the state. In spring, some migrants have returned to southern Ohio in numbers before there's any hint of them in the northern tier of counties. But even at the
same latitudes, there can be differences. In looking at two local publications, Birds of the Cleveland Region (by Larry Rosche) and Birds of the Toledo Area (by Matt Anderson et al.), I frequently find that they give slightly different timing for the migration of a given species. Part of that may be coincidence, with the data skewed by a few odd records, but part of it may reflect genuine differences between northwestern and northeastern Ohio. And in an era of changing climate, the timing of migration may change in unpredictable ways in the future. It's always worthwhile for birders to keep detailed records on the occurrences of birds in their own area, and not just assume that the important stuff already has been determined elsewhere.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Forster's Terns, Ottawa Co

Right now there are large numbers of Bonaparte's Gulls in Ottawa County, northwest Ohio, over the agricultural fields as well as around bodies of water. Today (Thursday April 12) I stopped to look at about 100 Bonaparte's Gulls on the south edge of Oak Harbor, where Highway 19 crosses the Portage River, and saw two Forster's Terns foraging in the same area. These were the first I've seen locally this spring (although Sheryl Young had a probable Forster's over by East Harbor State Park, a few miles east of here, a couple of days ago). According to Birds of the Toledo Area by Matt Anderson et al., April 12 is the local early record for Forster's Tern, so these birds were seemingly right on time as arrivals. The two that I saw were full adults -- with complete black caps and uniformly silvery upper surface of the primaries -- which is what I would expect the first arrivals to be, based on experience elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Metzger gnatcatchers and Gadwalls

With limited time this evening (Monday April 2) I ran out to the end of the road at Metzger Marsh (Lucas Co., east of Toledo). Saw a handful of expected migrants in the small woodlot there, such as 5 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 2 Brown Creepers, 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1 Winter Wren. Surprised to see two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers there, male and female, foraging more or less together. Matt Anderson et al. in "Birds of the Toledo Area" give the early record locally as April 3, while the early record listed by Larry Rosche in "Birds of the Cleveland Region" is March 31, so April 2nd seems about right for the very first migrants to appear -- possibly early overshoots, a week or two ahead of the main migration.

On the way out I scanned the open waters of the marsh for ducks. I had checked Metzger several times this spring in hopes of a Eurasian Wigeon, but even American Wigeons have seemed to be in low numbers. However, I was surprised (because I hadn't seen Vic Fazio's post yet) by the prevalence of Gadwalls. They were by far the most numerous waterfowl there, and when I did a careful sweep with the scope I came up with a conservative count of about 1320 Gadwalls, outnumbering all the other ducks combined. (When I checked the listserve later, I saw that Vic had estimated 850-plus here the day before, even without the benefit of a scope.) These are far higher numbers than what have been published in the past and I presume there's something unusual going on with the species this spring. Peterjohn's "The Birds of Ohio" mentions that aerial counts in November in the western Lake Erie marshes have had totals as high as 1700 Gadwalls, but these aerial surveys cover a lot of area, and to have 1300-plus visible from one spot on the ground implies that exceptional numbers are present.

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