Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Current Conditions at Local Birding Sites

Updated 5 p.m. Sept. 18: More on Ottawa and Magee
Updated 10 p.m. Sept. 16: More information on Ottawa NWR

For anyone birding in northwestern Ohio the weekend of Sept. 17-20, and particularly for those visiting from out of the area for the Midwest Birding Symposium, here are updates on current birding conditions at some key sites. This posting will be updated through the weekend as new information becomes available.

It appears that weather will be good throughout the weekend, with moderate temperatures and little chance of rain until Monday. There are not likely to be any major fallouts of migrant birds, but there should be decent numbers just about everywhere. Note that mosquitoes are common at most local birding sites, and can be pretty fierce at dawn and dusk, so be sure to carry repellant everywhere.

For "BSBO birding maps" referenced here, go to and follow the links for "Birding hotspots: directions and maps."

In these notes, the sites are listed in order roughly from west to east; they include a couple that are not "official" sites for the Midwest Birding Symposium (MBS).

Maumee Bay State Park (not an MBS site) -- The whole park can be good for birding, but when I have limited time for a visit, I go out to the beach (to the left from the main entrance road) and check both the Lake Erie beach and the small inland beach just to the south of it. Often there will be a handful of interesting shorebirds there, as well as good concentrations of gulls and terns. A juvenile Red Knot spent a week there recently, and there are often Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, and others, even on days when there are a lot of people on the beach.

Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area (not an MBS site) -- See our BSBO birding map. The small woodlot at the end of the road often has an interesting selection of songbird migrants, and gulls and terns hang around the breakwater. Water is high in the marsh now, so there are no shorebird flats to speak of, but this is a good place to look for Common Moorhen and other marsh birds. Least Bitterns nest here (and some are still around through September), and occasionally can be seen flying low over the marsh.

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge -- Note that the birding possibilities here differ between Friday and Saturday. On Friday Sept. 18, the best areas to visit are the woods behind the visitors’ center and the trails in the east section of the refuge (see the BSBO birding map of the trails). On Saturday Sept. 19, the auto tour through the entire refuge will be open. In observance of the MBS, the auto tour will be opening early this Saturday, at 6:30 a.m., and it will be open through 4 p.m. (see the BSBO birding map of the auto tour).

Update on the walking trails: In late afternoon on Sept. 16, Pool 2b held good numbers and variety of birds. Exposed mudflats, mostly on the west side and in the northernmost section of this pool (see BSBO birding map of the trails section of the refuge), held 12 species of shorebirds, including 1 juv. Baird's Sandpiper, 1 adult White-rumped Sandpiper, 3 juv. Western Sandpipers, 9 juv. Long-billed Dowitchers, and larger numbers of both yellowlegs plus Least, Semipalmated, and Pectoral Sandpipers. The adjacent east edge of Pool 2a had 2 juv. Short-billed Dowitchers associating with 1 juv. Long-billed, 8 juv. Stilt Sandpipers, and several yellowlegs. Pool 2b also had 23 Snowy Egrets and several species of ducks. It is at least a mile's walk from the parking lot to the southwest corner of Pool 2b, and a spotting scope is almost essential for decent views here, so be prepared for a substantial hike. There are likely to be other shorebirds along the auto tour, open only on Saturday.

update on the Auto Tour: The best numbers of shorebirds seem to be on Unit MS 3 (see our birding map), toward the north side. From the road paralleling the north side of this impoundment you can see into the area, but it's a bit of a challenge because there's a channel and a dike between the road and the impoundment. Watch where you are, and try to climb up on top of your car when you're across from the northeast corner of MS 3. Looking south into the impoundment from there, with a scope, you may be able to see Buff-breasted Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper, or various other shorebirds that have been there during the last few days.

Magee Marsh Wildlife Area -- The boardwalk at Magee is the most famous birding site in Ohio, and even though it’s not quite as spectacular in fall as in spring, most birders will probably want to drop by to pay their respects and see some warblers. (See the BSBO birding maps of the boardwalk and of the general Magee area.)

Seeing fall warblers requires a different strategy from spring birding, with special attention to flocks (see the posting on "Finding Fall Warblers" on our birding pages on Sept. 13). The warblers and other migrants may be less concentrated near the lake shore at this season, more generally distributed in the mile or two of lake plain south of the shoreline itself. The walking trails behind the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center and Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) are worth checking, especially if the boardwalk doesn’t produce. I’ve seen good diversity of warblers and others recently, just looking out the Window on Wildlife at BSBO.

At BSBO (just north of Route 2 at the entrance to Magee Marsh) there will be free public demonstrations of bird-banding on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 18 and 19, from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

Note that there is construction on the Magee Marsh entrance road, so it may take a little extra time to drive in. The road is supposed to be open through the weekend, but closed on Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 21 and 22.

update from Friday Sept. 18: good numbers of thrushes were in the area, especially around BSBO, where Gray-cheeked, Swainson's, and Wood Thrushes were all present in the morning. Numbers of warblers on the boardwalk were not notable today, but some were present, and Ethan Kistler saw two Philadelphia Vireos along with other migrants.

Toussaint Wildlife Area -- This MBS site is seriously under-birded, so I don’t want to discourage you from going; there may be fabulous rarities lurking there, waiting to be discovered. When I checked the area on Sept. 15, it was fairly quiet. There are currently no good shorebird flats on the area, and few waterfowl aside from Wood Ducks and a family of Trumpeter Swans. I saw a few small flocks of migrants, and fair numbers of Swamp Sparrows, but I couldn’t find Nelson’s or Le Conte’s Sparrows, which might be expected to occur here.

East Harbor State Park -- The area of the swimming beach had good numbers of gulls, including two Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a few days ago. The woods to the south of the southernmost beach parking lot are often very good for fall migrants, but not after strong east winds; I saw very few birds in that area in such conditions last week. If those woods fail to produce warblers and other migrants, check the area north and east of the Lockwood Picnic Area (east of the "frisbee golf" course) near the park exit on the west side.

Pipe Creek Wildlife Area -- Recently removed from the list of MBS field trip sites, because it’s currently closed except for those with special use permits. It may be open to the public again after Sept. 20, so it might be worth checking, for those who are around after the weekend.

Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve -- This site just east of Sandusky can be excellent for warblers (I saw 15 species there last Saturday) and other songbird migrants. Note that we have a brand new BSBO birding map for this site -- more detailed than anything else available on the web. If you’re considering a trip east to Sheldon, be sure to consult our map by going to the main birding pages ( ) and following the links for "birding hotspots: directions and maps."

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