Friday, May 30, 2008

May 31 migration prospects

Friday, May 30 -- I hadn't been paying much attention to the weather today, but Mark Shieldcastle pointed out to me that an interesting pattern was developing and that I should look at the maps. Sure enough, looking at the large-scale pattern, there's a large high-pressure area off to the east of us and a low-pressure area off to our northwest, and between the two of them there's a strong flow of air coming all the way up from Texas. Any concentrations of migrants that are still to the south of us are probably going to ride that train into our area during the night tonight. It's likely to be stormy overnight tonight and windy tomorrow, but still there could be a lot of birds around on Saturday, the 31st.

This late in the season, the variety is more limited than it was in mid-May. Some of the birds that are common now are just characteristic late migrants, like Red-eyed Vireo, Swainson's Thrush, and American Redstart. Among warblers there's an interesting pattern with Mourning, Canada, and Wilson's Warblers being among the latest to peak here: all three of these are species that migrate around the Gulf of Mexico instead of across it, coming around through Mexico and Texas rather than making the overwater jump from Yucatan to Louisiana. In Ohio, of course, these west-of-the-Gulf migrants overlap with Blackpoll and Connecticut Warblers, also late migrants, which come up mostly through Florida from their South American wintering grounds. Here it's not unusual to find Connecticut and Mourning Warblers together, but it would be very rare to find them together in the southernmost states of the U.S.

This period, right at the end of May, is still within the peak migration for Yellow-bellied, Alder, and Willow Flycatchers, and there are still some Leasts and Acadians moving through, making this a great time to study identification of these subtle birds. With any luck, the bird-banding demonstration at BSBO on Saturday (10 to 11:30) will include a few of these Empidonax flycatchers for some close-up study.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Migrants May 29 and next weekend

By now the spring migration is winding down, of course, but there were still good numbers of migrants today on the Magee boardwalk and on the Wildlife Beach area to the east. Wilson's Warbler was the most conspicuous migrant, with Canada and Blackpoll Warblers, American Redstart, and Swainson's Thrush also present in some numbers. For birders with a serious interest in field identification, this is an excellent time of year to study flycatchers, especially the challenging Empidonax flycatchers. I actually saw all five species of eastern Empidonax in a couple of hours today. Alder Flycatcher was the most numerous. It can't be separated visually from Willow Flycatcher, and only a few of today's birds were singing, but the callnotes are also diagnostic: Alder's odd, flat kep note sounds notably different from the sharp fwhit! of Willow Flycatcher. (One way to think of it is that the accent in Alder's callnote is at the beginning, while Willow's is accented at the end.) There were also fair numbers of Yellow-bellied and Willow Flycatchers, a few Leasts, and I was a little surprised to find an Acadian in an area of the Wildlife Beach where the habitat is fairly open. Willow Flycatchers are common breeding birds in the general area of Magee Marsh so they'll be around for the summer.

Winds have been light and variable today but they're supposed to be southerly tonight and Friday. Some of today's birds will probably move out, but I expect that the weekend will still be good for studying flycatchers (and come Sunday, it's always interesting to see how many migrants we can find on June 1st). For anyone who is in the area on Saturday, remember that we'll have a public bird-banding demonstration at the BSBO nature center from 10 to 11:30.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Migration May 26 and 27

By this stage in the migration, the birding is becoming more of a challenge: the trees are fully leafed out, there are more female migrants than males so fewer birds are singing, and the birders are harder to impress than we were back in early April when we were desperate for migrants!

Today, Monday May 26, was actually a very big day for migrants on the lakeshore in northwest Ohio. The main BSBO banding site, at the Navarre Unit of Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge, had one of its biggest days of the spring for numbers of birds. But many birders who went to the boardwalk at Magee Marsh reported that it was "slow." I was at the BSBO banding site for a while in late morning and then at the Magee boardwalk in early evening and I was impressed with the numbers of birds in both places. But the birds weren't obvious; it took patience to find them. At this time of late spring it's most effective to move slowly, pause frequently, and watch for things moving quietly in the foliage. I actually thought the birding was excellent at Magee, with two Connecticut Warblers, at least 10 Mourning Warblers, and multiple Canada, Wilson's, Blackpoll, Tennessee, Chestnut-sided, and other warblers, plus Gray-cheeked and Swainson's Thrushes, Philadelphia Vireo, Yellow-bellied and Alder Flycatchers, and Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos, all during a couple of hours on the boardwalk. (In most places, that would add up to a great day of birding!) But there were periods of a few minutes at a time when I wasn't seeing anything, so I can understand the impression that it was "slow."

The two Connecticut Warblers that I saw were both females, one in the heavy brush just northwest of number 16 on the boardwalk (seen by many during the day), the other hiding in the garlic mustard north of no. 5. I heard that a male was seen also, late in the day, near no. 23. (See our boardwalk map under "birding hotspots" on the BSBO birding pages.) Mourning Warblers and thrushes were generally distributed wherever there's dense low growth, and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were widespread in the lower middle story inside the woods. During the evening, at least 20 Common Nighthawks came over the woods.

Tonight (Monday night) the wind is still out of the southwest, and I'm guessing that there will be more turnover tonight, but it's hard to say whether Tuesday will be better or slower than today was. Sometime Tuesday, the wind will probably shift to the northeast, and whatever migrants are here will probably wind up staying for a while. Regardless, the Magee boardwalk is one of the best places in the U.S. to look for migrant Connecticut Warblers right now, and the chances should continue to be fairly good for the next few days.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Weekend of May 24-26: migration

For the last several days the winds have been mostly from the north, not really good conditions for migration, but some migrants have been moving anyway. The numbers and diversity have continued to be good in many habitats in northwestern Ohio. (This is gleaned from reports from others, since I was away in Boston for part of the week.)

Mark Shieldcastle, who has many years of experience in studying the migration here, tells me that he expects the third major wave to hit sometime late this weekend. Based on current weather predictions, I would have to agree. The forecast still calls for northeast or north winds through Saturday and Saturday night, the 24th, with winds finally shifting around to the southeast on Sunday morning and then to the south. We could see a good movement of daytime migrants on Sunday, and I expect a really good arrival of birds during Sunday night, so that Monday morning, May 26, could be excellent. (There’s likely to be some rain, but that could make it better – it appears it will be mostly clear to the south of us, so a lot of migrants could be moving north, running into weather near the lakeshore and stopping here.) May 26th is not too late in the season for an excellent variety of migrants to be around, with lots of flycatchers, thrushes, and Red-eyed Vireos expected, and a warbler flight characterized by Canada, Wilson’s, Blackpoll, Mourning, and Connecticut Warblers and lots of American Redstarts.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Migration update 5/18 and predictions for next week

The last couple of migrant waves came in about as predicted, with big-but-not-huge arrivals on May 14 and 17. Essentially all of the late-season migrants have appeared by now, with good numbers of Connecticut, Canada, Mourning, and Wilson’s Warblers, Gray-cheeked Thrush, both cuckoos, and Yellow-bellied, Alder, and Willow Flycatchers. Today, May 18, the birding was excellent in between showers. There were a couple of relatively cooperative Connecticut Warblers at the Magee boardwalk, with one in particular just inside the woods on the south side of the middle parking lot and another near 20B on the boardwalk itself. Mourning Warblers were seen at several spots including near no. 2 and near no. 31 (see our map of the boardwalk under hotspots and directions).

The weather predictions for the next week show a continued (and unusual) predominance of northerly winds. Migrants will continue to move into (and out of) the area, because this late in the season they just have to get north even if it isn’t easy for them, so I expect there will continue to be very good variety of birds in most of the lakeshore spots for the next week. Tiny woodlots on the edge of the lake, like the one at Metzger, may not hold birds very long, especially on windy days; but the larger woods, such as at Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge, Magee Marsh, Maumee Bay State Park, and East Harbor State Park, should have good variety of birds throughout the next few days. In these periods between big waves of arrivals, most migrant species are concentrated in mixed flocks, so you might walk for several minutes without finding anything at all before you run across a flock with half a dozen warbler species and others. (Note, however, that the highly sought-after Connecticut Warbler is not as sociable as most warblers in migration, and you might find it quietly walking on the forest floor in an area away from all other warbler flocks.)

Based on long-range weather forecasts, the next really big arrival of migrants COULD be next Monday and Tuesday, May 26 & 27. However, obviously, weather predictions are very uncertain that far ahead, so migrant predictions are more so! It’s possible that the fronts will move faster than predicted, so that the wave could arrive on Saturday or Sunday, May 24 – 25. Even without the wave, if weekends are your best time to get out birding, this coming weekend is probably the best time to look for Connecticut Warbler, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and Alder Flycatcher, as well as a variety of other species in the migrant traps along the lakeshore.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Kelleys Island migrants; mainland King Rails

Delores Cole reports that good numbers of migrants are being seen on Kelleys Island. Notable warblers there include the "Brewster's" hybrid, Yellow-throated, Orange-crowned, and late-season migrants like Canada, Mourning, and Wilson's Warblers. I suspect that when the wind goes to west-southwest on Friday night, the numbers there should pick up even more. A couple of days ago there was an intriguing report of a large hummingbird there that vaguely suggested the description of a Green-breasted Mango, but the bird has not been seen again and is definitely unconfirmed. Even without such tantalizing possibilities, Kelleys Island is a beautiful spot for birding and always worth a visit.

Back on the Ohio "mainland" there are apparently King Rails at three different spots right now: at Mallard Club Marsh, along the dike north from the west parking lot; at Metzger Marsh, at the curve where the road in turns from north to east-northeast; and at the Magee causeway, to west of the road near the third (northernmost) pullout. As far as I know, the latter have only been heard so far. See our maps and directions page on the website if any of these locations are unfamiliar.

Migration update May 15

A brief update on the migration for Thursday, May 15. The winds shifted back around to the north last night, and most of the birds that were new arrivals on Wednesday seemed to stick around rather than leaving. Numbers near the lakeshore may have dropped somewhat, but numbers and variety were good at some of the spots a mile or two south of the lake (see my post from before IMBD weekend for suggestions about good places to go). For example, Kim Kaufman had several warbler species including Blackpoll and Orange-crowned, plus Scarlet Tanagers, Orchard Orioles, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, on the Gallagher Trail behind the BSBO nature center today. The winds are supposed to continue northerly through Thurday night and Friday May 16 before shifting around to the west-southwest on Friday evening. Even though the conditions won't be ideal, I expect there will be a good arrival of birds on Saturday, partly because there are still so many birds dammed up to the south of us. It's likely to rain a little on Saturday morning but the diversity of birds ought to be very good in spots near the lakeshore.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Big arrival of migrants 5/14

From Tuesday May 13 to today, Wednesday May 14, there was a huge amount of turnover in the bird population at the Magee Marsh boardwalk and other migrant traps on the lakeshore. It was a striking demonstration of how migratory waves can transform this area literally overnight.

Late Tuesday night, on a tip from Ethan Kistler, I looked at the radar pictures for the area and could see that a lot of birds had taken off just after dark to go directly north across the lake, while others were pouring in from the south. Today at the Magee boardwalk it was obvious that a lot of birds had departed overnight while a lot of different birds had arrived. This was clearly the point where the migration clicked over from the early wave to the main wave of arrivals. As recently as yesterday, Yellow-rumped Warbler (the early migrant) was the most numerous warbler in the area; today American Redstart and Magnolia Warbler were the two most numerous, with good numbers of several other species including Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Tennessee, Yellow, Blackpoll, and Black-and-white Warblers. Late-season migrants were well represented with Mourning, Canada, and a number of Wilson's Warblers. In about 4 hours on the boardwalk, despite a lot of rain, I saw 25 warbler species and heard reports of two others, and the total for just the boardwalk today may reach 30 species.

Other evidence of the main migration wave included a sudden increase in Red-eyed Vireos, numbers of flycatchers including Eastern Wood-Pewees and Great Crested Flycatchers, and great studies of Acadian and Least Flycatchers from the boardwalk. Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, Orchard Oriole, and Philadelphia Vireo were among the other interesting migrants. Thrushes were in low numbers but included Swainson's, Gray-cheeked, Veery, and Wood. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Scarlet Tanagers were conspicuous again today.

At this point (3 p.m.) the rain has picked up again locally. I don't think that many of today's arrivals will leave tonight, so Thursday could also be quite good, but that assessment could change after I look at the latest weather forecast.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The next migrant waves

As of today, Monday May 12, the main part of the second migration wave has not arrived here. Although most of the migrant species are present, at least in small numbers, we have not yet seen the big influx of Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, and other warblers that would characterize the mid-May wave. This is my impression from field observation and it’s backed up by conversations with Mark Shieldcastle about the current state of the migration as reflected at the main BSBO banding site (on the Navarre Unit of the Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge, about 4 miles east of the Magee boardwalk). The banding station maintains a standardized constant effort throughout the migration season, so its results are highly comparable from year to year. This year, the first part of the migration has been unusually protracted, so that early-season migrants like Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows are still around in unusual numbers. Meanwhile, the mid-May explosion of Magnolias and their ilk has not yet begun. (Yes, there are a few around, but not thousands. Not yet.)

What this means is that a LOT of migrants are still to the south of us. I’ve been studying weather forecasts to try to figure out when the next wave will hit. The winds have been mostly out of the north for the last several days, and will continue to be northerly most of the time for the next four days. Under current predictions, the winds will shift to the southeast by early morning Tuesday (May 13) and will continue to be out of the southeast Tuesday night, and if that holds up, I expect there will be a moderate arrival of migrants on Wednesday morning, May 14th. I don’t think it will be a massive fallout but it could turn out to be anything from fairly slow to very good. Then the winds are supposed to swing around to the northwest again by Wednesday night and stay northerly through Thursday. Right now the predictions show the winds going to southwest by Friday morning and staying that way for a while, and on that basis, I think there should be a major arrival of migrants next weekend, May 17th and 18th. This should mean the biggest diversity of the season for the area, with best mix of warblers, a good arrival of vireos and flycatchers, and generally very exciting birding.

No guarantees, of course, because the weather forecasts could change in the next few days. But right now it looks like Wednesday May 14th could be fair to good, and Saturday May 17th could be good to excellent.

Friday, May 9, 2008

IMBD weekend, May 10 & 11

The way the weather predictions are looking now, we won’t have another big arrival of birds before or during the big weekend of International Migratory Bird Day (May 10 -11). But there shouldn’t be birds leaving before then, either, and there are a lot of species and individuals around right now. Almost all the migrant species have appeared. So this general area (Magee Marsh / Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge and nearby spots) currently holds most of the vireos and thrushes, about 30 species of warblers, and a wide variety of other migrants.

The winds have shifted around to northerly and they’re supposed to be some variation on north for the next few days. In these conditions you can still see a lot of birds but it will require a different strategy from what works when south winds bring in a big fallout. On a fallout day you can pick your spot close to the lake (like the Magee Boardwalk or the woodlot at Metzger) and just watch the parade go by. With these northerly winds, some of the birds in the area will move back away from the lakeshore, so to see a big variety you’ll need to visit more spots. Here are some suggestions (directions / maps for most of these can be found on the BSBO birding pages):

1. The woodlots at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge offer good shelter and often hold migrants for days. From the refuge entrance, if you go straight north to the old parking lot, the woods west and southwest of that lot are excellent. The auto tour at the refuge will be open both Saturday and Sunday and this is a great opportunity to look at superb habitat for marsh birds and waterbirds. If you haven’t seen the new (in 2007) visitors’ center, be sure to stop in.

2. The woods at the Magee Walking Trail (at the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center) often have a lot of birds even on days when the Magee Boardwalk is relatively quiet because of north winds. The Gallagher Trail behind the BSBO nature center is also worth checking.

3. The woods at Maumee Bay State Park (boardwalk and trail behind the nature center) don’t seem to get huge fallouts of migrants but there are always some migrants there, and on non-fallout days they can be better than some of the famous migrant traps.

4. East Harbor State Park (just northeast of Port Clinton) is overlooked as a migrant trap but it is often excellent, and the woods there are extensive enough to hold birds for days. This can be very good for warblers and thrushes. One of my favorite areas is along the wooded trails south of the East Beach, and the beach and adjacent bay often have some interesting gulls, terns, or ducks.

5. If it rains, you can always go check flooded fields for shorebirds. But DO NOT PARK ON THE SHOULDER OF ROUTE 2 unless you are POSITIVE that you’re in a legal spot. Seriously, people are being ticketed for parking in unsafe places. Better to find a place on a side road, and even there, you need to be completely off the road. Recently there have been shorebirds on the south side of Route 2 just west of Russell Road (near the Wild Wings store and marina) but if you stop there, you’d best park down on Russell and walk back. The water in Metzger Marsh is still too high for most shorebirds, but it’s worth going out and looking at the beach for turnstones or others (and there are still diving ducks offshore there). Benton-Carroll Road south of Route 2 has been quiet recently, but Krause and Stange Roads (see directions on our birding pages) have been productive. The observation deck on Stange just south of Krause has yielded sightings of Wilson’s Phalarope and other shorebirds (you’ll need a scope here – or look near the southwest end of the Ottawa Refuge auto tour) and Yellow-headed Blackbirds are still being seen on Krause.

If you’re visiting from out of the area, we hope you’ll have a great time here. Please pick up one of our local bird checklists (or download a copy from our website) and if you see something that’s listed as "rare" or "very rare," please let someone know about it. At the BSBO nature center, the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center, the Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge visitors’ center, and the Maumee Bay State Park nature center, you’ll find people who are keenly interested in birds and eager to give and receive information about sightings.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Predictions for migration, 5/7 and subsequently

Birders have been asking me for predictions about the next big wave of migrants, and I’ve been mulling over the weather maps and forecasts and trying to figure it out. We’ve had a lot of days and nights with major southerly wind flow over the last couple of weeks, so migrants haven’t really been dammed up to the south of us recently; they’ve been moving into the area in good numbers. That movement is likely to continue through Tuesday night and Wednesday (May 6 and 7), but then it appears that the winds will shift around to the north for several days. The migrants that are here now, or that come in tonight, are likely to stick around. This is good news for general birding because we have a lot of variety present in the area now. Later migrants like cuckoos and most flycatchers haven’t arrived yet, but most of the warblers are in, with more than 25 species in the general area every day now, along with thrushes, vireos, orioles, tanagers, a good mix of birds. And it’s worth remembering that even a slow day along the lakeshore will produce more birds than a good day at a migrant trap in the interior of the state.

The weather patterns for the next week aren’t very clear, and there’s a good chance the forecasts will change. But on the basis of current forecasts, I would guess that the coming weekend (May 10 and 11) will continue to have good variety but no massive fallout of migrants. Sunday might have more birds than Saturday. The next really big wave of migrants might not get here until the middle of next week, but the weather predictions that far out are so vague that I’m pretty much just guessing here!

"Crane Creek" entrance and BSBO center

Just a note for people who have noticed the change in the signs out front and who might be wondering about it. The big sign at the entrance road from Route 2 -- the sign that used to say "Crane Creek State Park / Magee Marsh Wildlife Area" – now just says "Magee Marsh Wildlife Area". Apparently the land that formerly made up Crane Creek State Park (the beach and about half the parking lot adjacent to the boardwalk, plus a small section on the entrance road) has been transferred to the Division of Wildlife, and will now be administered as a part of the wildlife area. I’m sure that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is planning to make some kind of official announcement about this, because they’re certainly aware that birders visit this area from all over the continent. But pending such an announcement, I wanted to post this "unofficial" note so that people wouldn’t be concerned about the change in signage.

Two notes on the BSBO nature center area: 1. The Evening Grosbeak that was at the feeders on Sunday May 4th has not been seen since. 2. There are still American Woodcocks displaying actively in the area south and west of the center, along the first part of the Gallagher Trail; they’re most active right at sunset, or around 8:30 pm.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Evening Grosbeak at BSBO nature center

News flash: there is an Evening Grosbeak at the feeders at the BSBO nature center (just north of Rt 2 at the entrance to Crane Creek / Magee Marsh) right now, just after 12:30 p.m. on Sunday May 4. I'm not aware of any being seen in n.w. Ohio within the last couple of months, so the arrival of this bird was a distinct surprise. More details later.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Magee area May 3

Weather was unsettled today (Saturday May 3) with numerous bands of rain moving through accompanying a passing front, but the birding was excellent. At least 28 species of warblers were recorded in the Magee Marsh / Ottawa NWR / Metzger Marsh area. Some of the highlights included Prairie Warbler (singing male) on the Wildlife Beach at Magee, Cerulean, Prothonotary, and Hooded Warblers on the Magee boardwalk, Orange-crowned and Yellow-throated Warblers in the woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh, and Yellow-breasted Chat on the Magee walking trail and on the Gallagher Trail behind the BSBO nature center. Yellow-rumped and Palm were still by far the most numerous warblers. A good variety of vireos, thrushes, sparrows, and other migrants such as Scarlet Tanagers and Indigo Buntings added to the diversity of the day.

The small woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger had a very high concentration of birds today, probably because there was a major hatch of midges and food was abundant. Warblers were swarming in the trees and bushes, while swallows (mostly Tree but with N. Rough-winged, Bank, Barn, and Purple Martin) were feeding on the lee side of the woodlot in the evening.

Shorebirds were scattered today -- water is high in most of the managed marshes in the area, so most of the shorebird habitat is in flooded farm fields. I looked at several such spots during the last couple of days (Benton-Carroll Road just south of Rt 2; south side of Rt 2 just west of Wild Wings store; Howard Rd half a mile north of Rt 2, etc.) and saw hundreds of Dunlins and fewer Least Sandpipers and yellowlegs, but not much more variety than that. If someone finds a really good shorebird habitat I hope they'll pass that news along.

Right now (after 9 p.m.) the winds are pretty strong out of the west. There's a major high-pressure system moving this way from the Great Plains, and the winds are likely to shift gradually from west to west-northwest by morning, with cooler temperatures (back down to the 40s). I am guessing that not many of today's birds will leave tonight. By Sunday morning (May 4), the skies should be clear and the wind should have died down somewhat. There may be slightly fewer birds around but conditions for viewing them should be more pleasant! With all the winds, it seems that something unusual ought to turn up -- maybe Franklin's Gull or American Avocet. But even without rarities, there is a lot of variety around right now!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Magee boardwalk update May 2

This is just a quick update before this evening. As predicted, a lot of migrants did move into the area by Thursday morning 5/1, with a big increase in numbers and variety. This morning (Friday 5/2) the variety was somewhat lower but numbers were still high, with the biggest concentrations along the boardwalk being very near the west end. A lot of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings have moved in, there are still tons of White-throated Sparrows but now also a lot of White-crowned and Lincoln's, more Baltimore Orioles have arrived. A number of Cape May Warblers were with the abundant Yellow-rumps and Palms, and many Northern Waterthrushes were present and singing. Between what I saw and what I heard about, there must have been at least 20 warbler species at the boardwalk today. There had been some turnover overnight Thursday night, and a lot of birds were moving during daylight Friday morning -- big flocks of Blue Jays coming over, lots of Lesser Yellowlegs and a scattering of other shorebirds flying along the lakeshore, Bobolinks flying over, big flocks of swallows and Chimney Swifts. This was before the major rain storms moved through (they hit the boardwalk about 11 a.m.; but now, a little after 2 p.m., it appears they're moving on out of the area). I doubt that many birds left with the passage of the rain, so the birding should still be good this evening for anyone who can get out there.

It appears that the strong southerly flow of air will continue through the night tonight, Friday night. Even though there will be scattered showers, I suspect that more birds will come in tonight. Birders who are willing to dodge some showers on Saturday morning should be treated to a lot of migrants. The weather should be drier and sunnier on Sunday May 4, and there may not be quite as many migrants around then, but it should still be very worthwhile.

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