Thursday, May 26, 2011
By this date, in inland areas of Ohio, songbird migration is essentially over: some are still passing through, but they are so scattered that they're hard to detect. By contrast, here in northwest Ohio, in the "migrant trap" areas along the Lake Erie shoreline, northbound songbirds will be obvious into the first week of June.
Yesterday (Wednesday May 25), Kim and I took a few friends back to the boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, to show them this world-famous migrant trap and to see what birds were around. With east-northeast winds, the birds were concentrated back inside the woods, not out along the north edge as they had been during the strong southwest winds on Monday. In a little less than two hours in late morning, covering just a small part of the western section of the boardwalk (west entrance to about no. 12), we saw or heard 17 warbler species, plus a handful of other migrants. Birds are harder to detect now than earlier in the spring: the trees are almost fully leafed out, and most of the warblers passing through now are females or young males, much less vocal than the adult males. So the following numbers are certainly only a fraction of the numbers actually present, but they do give an idea of relative numbers:
Tennessee Warbler - 3
Northern Parula - 1
Yellow Warbler - 15 (some of these are local breeders)
Chestnut-sided Warbler - 17
Magnolia Warbler - 22
Black-throated Blue Warbler - 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1 (getting late)
Black-throated Green Warbler - 2
Bay-breasted Warbler - 10
Blackpoll Warbler - 12
American Redstart - 24
Prothonotary Warbler - 4 (local breeders)
Northern Waterthrush - 1
Mourning Warbler - 1
Common Yellowthroat - 6 (probably includes local breeders)
Wilson's Warbler - 8
Canada Warbler - 3
No doubt we could have pulled out a few more species if we had spent more time. Also near the west end were all five eastern species of Empidonax flycatchers (we saw/heard Yellow-bellied 2, Acadian 1, Alder 3, Willow 1, Alder/Willow 1 silent bird, Least 2). Other migrants noticed included Swainson's Thrush (2) and Red-eyed Vireo (8) -- the latter species breeds in this general region, of course, but these numbers are still indicative of migration at this site.
Very stormy weather later in the day and overnight Wednesday probably meant that few birds left the area, despite the southwest winds. Today (Thursday May 26) the southwest winds continue, but they're predicted to switch around to northwest this evening, with more rain overnight. So it looks as if the mix of birds present on Friday May 27 should be similar to what was around on Wednesday. After that, the winds are supposed to shift around to southerly during the night Friday night, and stay southerly through Saturday and Sunday. So there should be a lot of turnover of migrants during the weekend.
The "grail bird" for late May, Connecticut Warbler, is still an excellent possibility on these dates. To have a chance of seeing one, the best approach is to walk quietly on the boardwalk or trails inside deep woods, watching for this quiet and inconspicuous warbler walking on the ground. This is also a great time to study female and young male plumages of warblers, and to see and hear Empidonax flycatchers (all 5 eastern species are possible now at the lakeshore migrant traps, and Alder and Yellow-bellied should be in good numbers).
Late May is also an excellent time for shorebirds. The best spot in recent days had been on Ottawa-Lucas Road on the west side of Ottawa Nat'l Wildlife Refuge. To get there, go west from the main Ottawa NWR entrance road on State Route 2. After 3 miles, SR 2 makes a big curve to run straight north. Half a mile north you'll pass Krause Road, and about a mile north of that, Ottawa-Lucas Road (the county line road) runs straight east. Take it to near the dead end, about a quarter mile in, and look at the big shallow impoundment to the south as well as the flooded field to the north. Recently this area has had large flocks of Dunlins and a few Semipalmated Plovers, yellowlegs, Least and Semipalmated sandpipers, and others; two Red-necked Phalaropes were there on May 23. However, the very heavy rains of May 25 have probably created a lot of temporary shorebird habitat in fields in the general area, so the birds may be more dispersed for the next few days.