Thursday, October 7, 2010

October Shorebirds at Ottawa NWR

On the afternoon of Thursday, October 7, there was a lot of bird activity at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. For those unfamiliar with ONWR, the comments and directions here will make more sense if you consult the birding map of the trails in the eastern section of the refuge, available through the BSBO birding pages under "Birding hotspots: directions and maps."

The best shorebirding on Oct. 7 was in the Crane Creek estuary. To reach this area, drive straight north from the refuge entrance to the lot marked "East parking for trails" on the map, and hike north from there for about a mile on the dike road alongside the impoundments labelled MS 8b, Pool 2c, and Pool 2b. In about a mile the dike road angles northwest and then southwest, and the estuary becomes visible on the right (north) side, while the open areas of Pool 2b are visible to the left.

Water levels in Crane Creek estuary are very much affected by winds. Southwest winds push water out into Lake Erie and expose good mudflats, while northeast winds push water into the estuary from the lake and raise the water levels, covering the flats. On Oct. 7 there was a moderate amount of open mudflat surface and a lot of shallow water, and 16 shorebird species were present. Highlights were 23 Hudsonian Godwits (all juveniles, as would be expected on this date), 3 Marbled Godwits, 2 Red-necked Phalaropes, 2 Stilt Sandpipers, 6 White-rumped Sandpipers, 32 Black-bellied Plovers, and 2 American Golden-Plovers. Historically, Ottawa NWR probably has been the best place in Ohio to find numbers of Hudsonian Godwits; there are records of over 100 in a day there in late September and early October, although normally it's unusual for us in Ohio to see more than a dozen at a time.

Other water birds of interest on the estuary or on Pool 2b included 2 Snowy Egrets (getting late), about 190 Northern Pintails, about 450 Ruddy Ducks, and 7 Ring-necked Ducks (slightly early).

Songbird migrants were abundant in the woodlot adjacent to the parking lot and in the shrubbery along the dike roads, with big numbers of kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-crowned and White-throated sparrows, and a scattering of other birds such as Winter Wrens, Swamp Sparrows, and Blackpoll Warblers. The southeastern corner of Pool 2b is often particularly good for migrants, and this area had Orange-crowned Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Fox Sparrow, and Rusty Blackbird, among other things.

This Sunday, October 10, the auto tour at the refuge will be open. (Incidentally, the usual route for the auto tour doesn't come close to the Crane Creek estuary, so hiking out there would be a separate activity.) Also this Sunday, the Ohio Young Birders Club will be holding a "Big Sit" at Ottawa NWR from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and any interested birder is invited to stop by and join them. More information is here:

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