Thursday, September 25, 2008

Midges, migrants, and Connecticut Warbler

As of Thursday, Sept. 25, there are still excellent numbers of warblers and other migrants in the woods behind the Observatory. There was a large emergence of midges in the area Wednesday night. We know from studies here and elsewhere around the Great Lakes that midges provide a major food source for warblers and other insectivorous migrants, so the abundance of these small insects in the Lake Erie Marshes is one reason why the lakeshore region of northwest Ohio is so spectacular for birding. To the uninitiated, these big emergences of adult midges can be a little unnerving, because the midges (family Chironomidae) look somewhat like mosquitoes. But they don't bite, they're totally harmless, and they help the songbirds fatten up to survive the next leg of their migration, so we should be glad to see them. One notable result today (Sept. 25) was a Connecticut Warbler seen at the new water feature that's right outside Anna's Window on Wildlife, inside the Observatory building. It didn't stay long and I don't know if it will be back, but certainly people will be looking tomorrow. The Black Swamp Bird Observatory is located just north of Rt. 2 at the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, and at this season it's open to the public from 11 to 5 on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Weekend Sept. 20-21 migration

In the area of Magee Marsh / Ottawa NWR, numbers and variety of migrant songbirds have been very good over the weekend of Sept. 20-21. More than 20 species of warblers were seen each day, as well as good numbers of vireos, thrushes, and other migrants. Blackpoll Warbler has been the most numerous species, but Magnolias, Cape Mays, Am. Redstarts, and others also have been present in good numbers. Most flycatchers have gone through already (although I saw a few Least Flycatchers) and the big influx of sparrows has not arrived yet (although a few Lincoln's Sparrows and others were around).

For the last three days -- Friday through Sunday -- the numbers of birds have been excellent in the immediate area of the BSBO center, just north of Rt 2 at the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. The new water feature right outside "Anna's Window on Wildlife" in the Observatory has been attracting a steady parade of warblers and other migrants, with knockout views of Gray-cheeked Thrush, good comparisons of Blackpoll and Bay-breasted Warblers, and other treats.

Numbers of birds also have been fairly good at the famous Magee boardwalk, but in general the birds seem to be spread out over a wider area. The Observatory is a mile south of the Lake Erie shoreline, and it appears that these migrants are using a band of habitat more than a mile wide rather than concentrating along the immediate lakeshore as they sometimes do in spring.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tips for finding fall warblers

The Lake Erie shoreline in northwestern Ohio is great for finding migrant songbirds in both spring and fall, but fall birding takes a slightly different approach. In spring, you can find most of the warblers and other migrants just by wandering along the Magee boardwalk and stopping where you see clusters of birders. In fall, the birders are less numerous and the warblers and other birds are less conspicuous.

Fall warblers are generally not singing, and they even seem to give fewer callnotes. Perhaps it's because they still have much of their journey ahead of them when they come through northern Ohio, and they're intent on feeding and fattening up for the next flight. With less of the flamboyant energy of spring, the birds are quieter and less noticeable.

In fall, even more than in spring, there's a tendency for the warblers to be in flocks. These flocks may be loosely constituted, but there may be anywhere from half a dozen to thirty or forty birds traveling in the same general area. In between flocks, you may not see anything at all. So if you're birding an area like the Magee boardwalk or any of the local trails, if you see one warbler, you should pause and observe the area for a while: there's a good chance that other warblers are nearby. Likewise, if you encounter chickadees, there may be warblers flocking with them. Today on the boardwalk, each time I found one or two warblers or chickadees, I wound up spending at least 15 minutes in that exact area, and each time I found several more warblers and other migrants with them.

Just as in spring, the birds concentrate where the food is, and insects make up much of their diet. Today the wind was a light breeze from the northeast, and there were no warblers at all on the north or east side of any woodlots I checked -- they were all on the south or west sides, out of the breeze, where presumably the insects were easier to find. If you don't find migrants right away, it's always a good idea to check the sheltered side of the woods. If you're out early on a chilly morning, the warblers are likely to concentrate on the east edge, on the first areas that the sun hits, because the insects will become active there first.

Right now the dogwoods have a lot of fruit on them. In the Magee area these are mostly Rough-leaved Dogwood, with abundant white berries, and these are very popular with certain birds such as vireos and thrushes. Spending some time near heavily fruiting dogwoods can provide you with great eye-level views of Red-eyed Vireos, Philadelphia Vireos, and Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes. Even warblers will feed on these berries, though they seem to pick at them rather than swallowing them whole most of the time. Today I watched a Blackpoll Warbler picking at one cluster of dogwood berries for more than two minutes.

Fall birding may take more patience, but in its own way it can be just as rewarding as spring birding, and it can increase our appreciation for the feats of migration performed by these small travelers.

Migration update Sept. 19

During the week of Sept. 14-19 we've had several days with good numbers of fall migrant songbirds in n.w. Ohio. Today, Friday Sept. 19, there were at least 20 species of warblers found in the immediate area of Magee Marsh / Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge. I saw more Blackpoll Warblers than any other species, but there were also decent numbers of Magnolias, Am. Redstarts, and Cape Mays. Relatively "early-fall" migrants were still in evidence, with Canada and Wilson's Warblers in small numbers. I was most surprised to see a Blue-winged Warbler, one of the classic "early" migrants, on the Magee boardwalk only a few yards away from an Orange-crowned Warbler, which is a classic "late" migrant among warblers. However, the late shift definitely has not taken over yet: I saw only one Yellow-rumped Warbler, a harbinger of the hordes yet to come, and I saw numbers of Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes but no Hermit Thrushes (Hermits will be the main brown thrushes around in October).

With light northeast winds today, birds were scarce on the north side of the woods near the beach, easier to find a little farther south. One of today's hot spots was at the BSBO office / nature center itself. "Anna's Window on Wildlife" has been a source of delight for visitors for the last three years; recently it has become even more so with the addition of a rain garden and water feature, made possible by a grant from Audubon Ohio. The water feature attracts warblers like magic. I stopped at BSBO briefly today, and immediately saw Wilson's, Magnolia, and Blackpoll Warblers, plus Red-eyed Vireo, in the vicinity of the water. According to those who were there longer, the water was attracting a steady trickle of warblers, thrushes, and vireos all day. (Thanks to John Sawvel, Hugh Rose, and Kim Kaufman for info on this.)

Tonight -- Friday night, Sept. 19 -- the wind is supposed to swing around from east-northeast toward the south, and if it happens early enough, many of these migrants should stick around for the weekend. A bird banding demonstration is scheduled for 10 - 11:30 a.m. Saturday Sept 20 at the BSBO office, just north of Rt 2 at the entrance to the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. This demo is free and open to the public. Also on Saturday there will be a "BSBO Lunch Lecture" at the same place, from 12:30 to 2 p.m., for a nominal charge of $7 (members) or $10 (non-members). Lunch is included, and this Saturday's program will be by Ethan Kistler -- a phenomenal young birding expert -- talking about the nocturnal flight calls of migrating birds. If you're going to be out, consider coming to BSBO to learn about migrant birds from all angles!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Warbler migration picking up

The warbler migration had been fairly slow and scattered through last Friday, but with the shift of winds to the north on Friday night, Sept. 5, the numbers of warblers and other songbirds picked up substantially in the general area of Magee Marsh and Ottawa NWR. There has been a surprising amount of activity at the BSBO office (just north of Rt. 2 on the entrance road to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area), specifically at the new water feature outside the window on wildlife. Numerous warblers, including Wilson's, Canada, Magnolia, Mourning, and Ovenbird, have been seen visiting the water. Other migrants seen out the window here have included Swainson's Thrush and Philadelphia Vireo. Numbers and variety have been decent at the Magee boardwalk as well. With a few small fronts moving through the area, I expect the warbler numbers and variety to continue to be good for the next several days.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Maumee Bay SP terns and LBBG

In years past I've found early September to be a great time for studying terns at Maumee Bay State Park. Today (Friday Sept. 5) I visited and found about 300 terns resting on the beach there -- my estimates were roughly 160 Common Terns, 120 Forster's Terns, and 20 Caspian Terns. The opportunity to compare a lot of Forster's and Commons side by side makes it easier to recognize the species when we see smaller numbers of them separately. Right now there are still a few adult Commons that are mostly in breeding plumage, but most of the birds are in transitional plumages and showing a lot of variation. With the birds resting at close range, it's possible to check the identifications of odd individuals by considering their bill shapes, as the Common's bill is distinctly smaller and narrower, more attenuated toward the tip. When the birds get up and fly around (as happens periodically when they're disturbed), it's possible to study their flight patterns also. (While I was watching them today, all the terns took off at once, and out of the corner of my eye I saw two large dogs bounding down the beach; then I took a second look at realized that the "dogs" were White-tailed Deer!)

The flocks of gulls resting on the beaches and in the parking lots today (mostly Ring-billed, some Herring and Bonaparte's Gulls) included a single one-year-old Lesser Black-backed Gull in the 2nd lot back from the beach -- this species shows up more frequently in winter here. Along the water's edge on the beach were single juveniles of Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstone. Brian Zwiebel had seen a Buff-breasted Sandpiper in the grass near the beach a few days ago but I didn't see it today.

Nature Blog Network