Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Warbler wave, Sept. 27-30

Despite the very strong winds of September 28-29, there have been large numbers of warblers and other migrants in the woodlots close to Lake Erie. The BSBO main banding station (at the Navarre unit of Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge, about five miles east of Magee Marsh) had 16 species of warblers on Monday, Sept. 28, with Blackpoll, Cape May, and American Redstart leading the charge. Species composition was similar on Tuesday; the unsettled weather of Monday night probably prevented many birds from leaving. At this point it appears that the numbers of birds present on Wednesday, Sept. 30, should be good as well, and with the winds diminishing, they should be easier to see.

At this season, as I've mentioned before, it's essential to find the little mixed flocks of birds. On Sunday Sept. 27, when I visited the west end of the Magee Marsh boardwalk, I spent 20 minutes not seeing or hearing a single migrant -- and then suddenly I was surrounded by a flock that contained at least 17 Blackpoll Warblers, 4 Cape May Warblers, 2 Nashville Warblers, a Yellow-throated Vireo, and various other migrants. If I had given up after the first 15 minutes, I might have thought there were no birds there at all.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lots of migrants Sept. 22

Just a quick heads up for anyone who's close to the lake in northwest Ohio. I'm stuck in meetings today but I just talked to Kim over at Black Swamp Bird Observatory, and she told me there are a LOT of migrants in that area today (Tuesday Sept. 22). Just outside BSBO's window on wildlife in the last few hours there have been more than a dozen species of warblers (BT Blue, BT Green, Blackpoll, Bay-breasted, Nashville, Magnolia, etc.), plus Philadelphia Vireo, Gray-cheeked and Swainson's Thrushes, Am. Woodcock, and many more birds. I would guess that all the woodlots in that general area (Magee Marsh, Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge, etc.) would be good this afternoon for anyone who can get out. And tonight's weather prediction suggests it may be a bit unsettled, so today's birds may stick around for Wednesday as well.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Kirtland's Warbler at East Harbor State Park

One side-effect of having 700 birders in the area for the Midwest Birding Symposium is that there's a lot of birding coverage right now. So it was almost expected that something rare would appear, but we didn't expect the Kirtland's Warbler found today (Friday Sept. 18) at East Harbor State Park.

The bird was found during the morning and seen several more times (I saw it about 2 p.m.). To find the bird, go to East Harbor State Park, drive in the entrance, and take the first left/north (after about 100 yards) signed for Lockwood Picnic Area. From the parking lot for Lockwood, walk back south almost to the stop sign and take the trail entrance signed for the Meadow Trail. (There are three entrances for for Meadow Trail, this is the southernmost one.) Walk in (west) on the Meadow Trail for about 20-30 yards and turn right at the first fork; walk another 20-30 yards right (north) and watch the trees off to your right. The last tall tree off to the right is a locust (feathery foliage) and beyond that it's all shorter dogwood scrub. The Kirtland's was hanging around this locust, occasionally foraging up quite high and being fairly easy to see, then moving down into the lower cover and becoming more difficult to find.

There's no way to predict whether the bird will still be there on Saturday. Weather tonight won't prevent it from leaving, but fall migrants of other species often stop over for several days in this area.

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
http://www.bsbo.org/birding/ 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 (
http://www.bsbo.org/birding/ ) and following the links for "birding hotspots: directions and maps."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Migration Prediction, Sept. 15 to 20

So far this fall season, conditions have not been ripe for a major fallout of migrants in northwestern Ohio. Good numbers of birds are passing through, but no days so far have produced exceptional numbers. As far as I can tell from the weather forecasts, that general situation will continue through this next weekend.

Tonight (Monday night, Sept. 14) may be the best conditions for bringing a strong flight, with winds out of the northwest for at least part of the night, so there may be a good influx of migrants right along the Lake Erie shoreline on Tuesday morning. After that, most of the forecasts suggest that the wind will be light and variable out of the east or northeast for most of the week. There will still be a lot of migrants around, but they’re likely to be in scattered flocks within two or three miles of the lake shore, not concentrated in woodlots on the lake shore itself. So the key to successful birding will be to cover a variety of areas, and to keep moving until you find a concentration of migrants.

Of course, weather forecasts can change, and I’ll be watching to see if conditions seem to favor a big arrival of birds on a particular day. And even on a slow day, as I've pointed out before, there are more migrants to be seen here than in most areas of North America.

Access to local birding sites

With many birders coming into northwest Ohio now for fall migration, and especially for the Midwest Birding Symposium scheduled for Sept. 17-20, here are a couple of notes about access to birding sites.

Pipe Creek Wildlife Area (on the east edge of Sandusky) is closed at the moment except for those with special use permits. It will probably be open again after September 20, but I don’t have confirmation of this.

At Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, there is currently some construction along the entrance road. (Please note, the timing is an unfortunate coincidence, and not the fault of the Division of Wildlife, which is making sure that the road stays open through this coming weekend.) You may have to plan a couple of extra minutes for driving back to the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center, the Wildlife Beach, or the Boardwalk, but these areas will remain accessible through September 20. The road will be closed at its junction with State Route 2 on Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 21 and 22, so those would be good days to bird other sites. The trails at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge or the woodlot at Metzger Marsh would be good alternate sites in the same immediate area to look for songbird migrants.

For those visiting before Sept. 21, note that BSBO’s Window on Wildlife and the trail behind the observatory (just north of SR 2 at the entrance to Magee Marsh)have had a lot of action during the last few days, with birds like Cape May, Magnolia, and Wilson’s Warblers, Ovenbird, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-throated Vireo, et cetera. With northerly winds, the birds seem to be well dispersed through woods a short distance south of the lake, and not concentrated in the woodlots on the immediate lake shore.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Finding Fall Warblers: the importance of flocks

A Blackpoll Warbler in typical fall plumage, lurking among the leaves

Woodlots along the Lake Erie shoreline in northwest Ohio hold excellent numbers of migrant warblers in fall as well as in spring, but fall is more challenging and requires a different strategy. In spring, you can find many warblers just by wandering along the Magee Marsh boardwalk and stopping wherever you see clusters of birders. In fall, birders are less numerous and the warblers and other birds are less conspicuous.

In fall, even more than in spring, there is a strong tendency for the warblers to be in flocks. These flocks may be only loosely organized, but there may be anywhere from three or four to thirty or forty birds traveling in the same general area. So if you see one warbler, it is a good idea to stop and look around very carefully for others. Chances are you’ll find more nearby.

These individuals and flocks tend to be inconspicuous, so you need to watch for movement and listen for chip notes. Often the warblers will be associated with Black-capped Chickadees or sometimes with Downy Woodpeckers, so if you see or hear those species, again, it’s a good idea to check the surrounding area, even spending a couple of minutes scanning and waiting for warblers to appear. And when you do find warblers, stick with the flock for a while, until you’re sure that you’re seeing every individual bird for at least the second time.

In fall, in between flocks, things can seem extremely quiet -- almost scary-quiet. Spring warblers may be concentrated in flocks as well, but between flocks in spring we have other birds, resident birds, actively singing on territory. With those lacking in fall, the woods can seem dead until we find a flock. It takes a certain amount of resolve to keep going and searching when the woods seem absolutely birdless. But with persistence, practically any day in fall along the lake shore, we’ll eventually find those roving flocks to make the effort worthwhile.

Friday, September 11, 2009

East Harbor State Park, Sept. 11

Late this afternoon (Friday Sept. 11) I checked out several areas in East Harbor State Park, just east of Port Clinton. In the area of the swimming beach and around the small offshore islands there were good numbers of Ring-billed, Herring, and Bonaparte's Gulls, plus two Lesser Black-backed Gulls (both in second-cycle plumages). There didn't seem to be any other small gulls associated with the approximately 100 Bonaparte's, but this would be a logical time and place to look for Little Gull.

The area south of the southernmost beach parking lot has extensive trails through the woods, and in the past I've often found this area to be very good for fall migrants. Today it was surprisingly quiet, with few birds of any kind and almost no migrants. The wind was strong out of the east and it has been that way a lot recently, so this rather exposed eastern edge of the park may have had the birds blown out. With a shift in wind direction, of course, it could be excellent again sometime in the next few days.

Checking other areas in the park, I found a couple of mixed flocks of warblers in the thickets of dogwood and other trees around the edge of the "frisbee golf" course, northeast of the Lockwood picnic area near the park exit. Most interesting were two Mourning Warblers, only loosely associated with the other warblers. As usual at this season, I noticed them first by their odd "thick" chipnote, and managed to pish them up out of the thickets. Notable among the larger birds were three Bald Eagles overhead and more than 50 Wood Ducks on the sheltered bays.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Migration prediction, Sept. 8 to 12

Over the Labor Day weekend that just ended, numbers of songbird migrants were fairly low in the woodlots along the Lake Erie shoreline. Most of the expected species were around, but it took some digging to find them.

Looking at the weather predictions for the next few days (Tuesday through Saturday, Sept. 8 to 12), I don’t expect any major arrival of warblers and other songbirds before the weekend. A few will probably slip in between rain showers overnight Monday night and probably a few more Tuesday night, on east-northeast winds, so there may be modest turnover and fair variety in the migrant traps on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 8 - 9. After that, the winds are supposed to be strong out of the east and southeast for several days and nights, not good conditions for bringing in more migrants. Determined birders still will be able to find a decent variety but not without some effort.

I don’t have a lot of faith in the weather predictions beyond Saturday, and things may change before then anyway, but the current forecast is for winds to stay mostly east or southeast through the middle of next week. If that happened and then the winds switched to northwest, there COULD be a huge influx of migrants around September 17th -- just in time for the Midwest Birding Symposium. That would be a sweet deal for all the visiting birders.

Of course, there’s a good chance that the weather forecast will change, as it often does! But we’ll be watching the weather maps closely to try to predict when the next big arrival of migrants will be. In the meantime, remember that there are great possibilities for birds here even on a "slow" day, so it’s always worthwhile to get out and look around.

Red Knot at Maumee Bay State Park

A juvenile Red Knot was found at Maumee Bay State Park, on the inland beach just 100 yards south of the Lake Erie beach, several days ago. I expected that it would be driven away by all the weekend crowds going to the state park over Labor Day weekend, but the bird was seen all three days of the weekend, Saturday through Monday, Sept. 5 through 7, so there's a fair chance that it will stick around for a few days more. Apparently it has become habituated to the presence of people so it is unusually approachable. This is a good chance for local birders to get a close look at this striking plumage, with the sharp scalloping on the gray feathers of the back, scapulars, and wing coverts.

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