Monday, August 24, 2009

Shorebirds at Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area

Today I spent about two and a half hours in early evening at Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area, Sandusky Co., concentrating on one impoundment that has been most productive recently (see below for directions). The highlight was the presence of two Red Knots, juveniles in beautiful fresh plumage, silvery gray with fine dark subterminal scalloping on the scapulars and coverts. Red Knots are very uncommon migrants in Ohio and this is on the early side of the migration for juveniles; the reports I'd heard so far for this fall, elsewhere near Lake Erie, had been of adults.

These two Red Knots were present the whole time I was there, but there was a marked amount of turnover in the species composition and numbers of other shorebirds. Most of the birds seemed flighty, flushing repeatedly (often for no obvious reason) and flying around before settling again, thus "shuffling the deck" in terms of which birds were located where.

This is a very interesting time of the fall to be looking at shorebirds, because of the mix of adults and juveniles. Although it's fairly consistent for the peak migration of adults to be earlier than the peak migration of juveniles, the ratio of ages on a given date will vary by species. So today, in late August, I was seeing no adult Short-billed Dowitchers (they've mostly gone farther south or at least to the coast by now) and I was seeing no juvenile White-rumped Sandpipers (they probably won't show up here until September).

Other notables on the evening of the 24th included:
Hudsonian Godwit: one molting adult, undoubtedly the same individual that was here last week. This bird didn't appear until I had been there for almost two hours, and after Sheryl Young had also been there for half an hour; we looked up from our scopes and the godwit was out in an obvious spot in the open. I assume that it flew in silently while we were glued to our scopes.
Western Sandpiper: one brightly patterned juvenile was present when I first arrived, but then I didn't see it again.
Baird's Sandpiper: one juvenile was flying around calling for a while, then landed for a few minutes, then left.
White-rumped Sandpiper: up to eight present at once, a good number. All were adults.
Pectoral Sandpiper: up to 50 present, still mostly adults, but with a few juveniles mixed in.
Semipalmated Sandpiper (at least 100) and Least Sandpiper (at least 20): almost all juveniles now, just a few adult Semis.
Lesser Yellowlegs: still a mix of ages, mostly juveniles but a few adults.
Short-billed Dowitcher: five juveniles. No Long-billeds were present.
Interesting (and further evidence of the turnover here) was the absence of Stilt Sandpipers; observers last week were finding good numbers of these.

Aside from shorebirds, other interesting birds included several flocks of Bobolinks (possibly coming into the marshes to roost for the night) and a migrant Northern Waterthrush in the small woodlot.

For those who haven't been there, Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area is well marked with signs along U.S. Highway 6 between Fremont and Sandusky, and the easiest way to find the exact spot is to find the observation deck on the north side of Route 6, about 8 miles east-northeast of Fremont. From the the observation deck, drive a couple of hundred yards east to where a canal runs straight north from the highway, and pull in and park in the large dirt parking area on the east side of this canal. Then walk north a quarter mile on the road that follows the canal, past a small woodlot, and look in the large impoundment just north of this woodlot. The best view is looking east from up along the west side, so the light is best in the afternoon, and a scope is essential for decent views. I didn't check the impoundment just north of the observation deck, but it had good numbers of birds reported last week.

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