Friday, April 29, 2011

UPDATE for 4/30 - 5/1

Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, April 29, 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.
UPDATE Friday night, April 29. The weather forecast for tonight has changed somewhat but it still shows the wind shifting to the southeast before morning, and I still expect that Saturday morning will produce at least a fair arrival of birds in the migrant traps along the Lake Erie shoreline. Please read the previous post for more details.

It appears now that Saturday should have beautiful weather, but Sunday may have many more migrants, because southerly winds will persist through Saturday night and rain showers will move in before dawn on Sunday.   Short prediction: Saturday will provide very pleasant birding, a wonderful chance to get outside and enjoy the spring.  Sunday will be messy weather, but with a lot of birds to look at for those who are willing to risk a little rain. 

On Friday, the numbers and variety of birds in the lakeshore sites were reduced considerably from the three preceding days. There were still large numbers of Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warblers, Palm Warblers, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. The boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area produced a few notable birds. A male Hooded Warbler was moving around (and sometimes singing) north of the boardwalk in the vicinity of numbers 7A to 10; at times it moved a little farther north and was visible from the edge of the parking lot, just east of the platform by the west entrance. A Kentucky Warbler was present for much of the day near number 16, mostly hopping on the ground on both sides of the boardwalk. A couple of male Blackpoll Warblers (notably early) were being seen near the west end of the boardwalk, including near number 6. A Red-breasted Nuthatch was working the trees near numbers 3 and 4. Two Eastern Screech-Owls were spotted on day roosts, one south of the boardwalk and just a few yards west of number 13, the other north of the boardwalk and just opposite the short spur that goes off by number 10. For a reference on all of these numbered spots, see our map of the boardwalk at

Also in the area, on the east beach (wildlife beach) at Magee, Sherrie Duris found a Red-headed Woodpecker Friday morning. Metzger Marsh was relatively quiet, but the Tricolored Heron was seen again.

Late Friday afternoon, I checked the woodlot north of the entrance at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (see “East parking for trails” on our Ottawa map: ). The birds were actually more concentrated there than out at the Magee boardwalk; they were mostly Yellow-rumped and Palm warblers, but a Prothonotary Warbler was there as well. The east side of this woodlot was hopping, probably because it was sheltered from the west-northwest winds. In birding this area in spring, we'll always do better if we pay attention to wind direction!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Weekend Outlook 4/30 - 5/1

Palm Warbler at Magee Marsh, April 28, 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.
It’s showtime! For the last three days, Tuesday through Thursday, April 26-28, warblers and other neotropical migrants have been all over n.w. Ohio, especially the migrant traps along the Lake Erie shoreline. Looking ahead, it appears that the weekend of April 30 / May 1 should be very good in the area. Although I don’t expect a massive arrival, the numbers and variety should be enough to keep us busy and happy through the weekend.

Mark Shieldcastle and I both have been looking at the weather forecasts independently, to try to get a read on what the migration will be like. The weather has been so unsettled that the forecasts are being revised frequently, so any bird predictions are a little uncertain, but here is how it looks at the moment.

Tonight (Thursday April 28) the wind was still strong out of the west-southwest at dusk. With overcast skies and wind shifting to west, it’s not a great night for migration, so some of the hordes of birds present today should stick around. By mid-morning Friday, the winds are supposed to shift toward the west-northwest. Those winds (not conducive to local migration) are supposed to continue through Friday evening, shifting to more northwest and then north during the night – and then swinging back around to southwest and then south just before dawn on Saturday! That might sound as if it would merely leave the birds confused; but forecasts show a low-pressure area approaching from the west and a high-pressure area moving off eastward over the Appalachians, and between them a sustained flow of air from the south. So despite the seemingly contrary winds for much of Friday night, I’m guessing that we’ll have a good arrival of new birds on Saturday morning. Saturday should be a good day to be outdoors, too, with diminished winds and fairly warm temperatures. Sunday may produce even more migrants, but it’s also likely to rain again, so that’s a factor to take into account.

Okay, so what has been around? Thursday 4/28 produced a phenomenal movement of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and excellent numbers of Palm Warblers, to go with the abundant Yellow-rumped Warblers. Based on what I saw and on reports from others, at least 23 warbler species were present between Magee Marsh and Metzger Marsh on this day, with highlights including Yellow-throated Warbler at both sites and Kentucky, Hooded, and Prairie warblers at Magee. These four warblers are all “overflight” species: they nest mostly to the south of us, and they often show up on the lake shore in late April when they overshoot or overfly their breeding range. (Several years ago, Mark Shieldcastle dubbed the late April wave the “Overflight Wave” because of the predictable occurrence of these southerners.)

Northern Parula at Metzger Marsh, April 28, 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.
In addition to the warblers, medium-sized songbirds like Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, and Baltimore Oriole have shown up, and there have been big daytime flights of Blue Jays. Broad-winged and Sharp-shinned hawks are widespread as single birds, perhaps wind-scattered. I saw a Black Vulture, rare in n.w. Ohio, flying north over the town of Oak Harbor during strong winds on Wednesday April 27. The Tricolored Heron found by Sherrie Duris several days ago was seen as recently as Thursday morning along the causeway at Metzger Marsh.

If you’re coming into the area this weekend, the best strategy for seeing a lot of birds would be to spend time in multiple locations. The boardwalk at Magee Marsh and the woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh are obvious spots, but the area around BSBO headquarters (just north of Route 2 at the entrance to Magee) has been very active, and the woods behind the visitors’ center at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge should be hopping as well – especially if the wind shifts to the north. East Harbor State Park, just east of Port Clinton, is often jammed with migrants at this time of year, but I haven’t had a chance to check yet. In windy conditions, the downwind side of the woods is likely to have more birds; on a chilly but sunny morning, the birds are likely to be in the areas of the trees that sunlight hits first.

The gift shop / window on wildlife at Black Swamp Bird Observatory will be open essentially every day from now through the end of May; if you’re birding in the area, we’d be pleased if you would stop by and tell us what you’ve seen. Remember that you can download our birding maps for several local sites from the section of the BSBO birding pages titled “Birding hotspots: directions and maps.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

4/27 should be big

Late evening Tuesday, 4/26:  As reported earlier today, this turned out to be a major day for migrants all over n.w. Ohio.  Huge numbers of Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warblers were around, and one Audubon's Yellow-rumped was found near the west entrance to the boardwalk at Magee Marsh.  This western form (which probably will be treated as a full species again in the future) is very rare in Ohio, and I can't resist pointing out that it showed up on John James Audubon's birthday!  Other notables at the boardwalk area included Kentucky Warbler (on the boardwalk near number 27) and Blue Grosbeak (near the west end of the Crane Creek beach). 

Myrtle Warblers swamped everything else in numbers today, but other birds present in numbers included Blue Jays (which stage a massive migration here each spring), Palm Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks put in their first appearance of the year locally.  Warblers that I saw or heard about at either Magee or Metzger Marsh were Blue-winged, Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Nashville, Northern Parula, Yellow, Cape May, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Yellow-throated, Pine, Palm, Black-and-white, Ovenbird, Kentucky, and Com. Yellowthroat.  Seventeen warbler species is a good total for this early in the season, and a big jump from the day before!

Tonight (Tuesday night) a lot of birds are moving, as indicated on the Nexrad radar images from Cleveland and Cincinnati.  There may be a lot of turnover before morning, but tomorrow (Wednesday 4/27) could be a very big day.  Mark Shieldcastle pointed out this evening that the conditions looked classic for bringing in a lot of birds from the south. 

From the Weather Channel, here are conditions just before 6 p.m. Tuesday.  The low-pressure area centered over eastern Iowa / n.w. Illinois and a high-pressure area off the screen in the Atlantic are contributing to the air flow from the south, which is clearly coming all the way up from the Gulf.  There will be areas of rain overnight, but not enough to shut down the migration.

Also from the Weather Channel, here's a graphical presentation of those winds just before 6 p.m. -- strong winds out of the south, heading right up through our area.  Although the wind speed slowed down considerably after dark, the overall flow is the same.  It's almost certain that Wednesday morning will produce a major number of birds in northern Ohio.  There may be stormy weather in the morning, but in between showers there could be a ton of migrants to sift through. 

Update: 4/26, migrant wave

Tuesday morning, April 26: Although the weather still was not looking good for migration as recently as midnight last night, a front came in from the south and there is a good arrival this morning along the Lake Erie shoreline.  Mark Shieldcastle reports that the main BSBO research site (Navarre unit of Ottawa NWR, just east of Magee Marsh) is experiencing big numbers of Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers, along with a good scattering of other birds such as Yellow-throated Vireo, Pine Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -- and, as the day warms up, lots of Broad-winged Hawks.  In Oak Harbor, 8 miles south of the lake shore, numbers of White-throated Sparrows and Gray Catbirds have appeared in areas where they weren't present yesterday.  According to Mark Shieldcastle's analysis of the weather, "The front has stalled just south of the lake but major movement normally balloons in front of the big warm fronts  ... birds are falling out along the front and north of it. These birds normally "filter" migrate during the day on atmospheric situations like today. So that means get out whenever you can today as new arrivals will be making their appearance all day."

The current south winds are supposed to continue today, tonight, and tomorrow, and there could be even more migrants around tomorrow (Wednesday 4/27).  But tomorrow could also produce a lot of heavy rain, and it's also possible that many birds will move out overnight and fewer will move in to take their places.  The variables in weather make the migration forecast tricky at best!  So if it's possible for you to get out today, go for it; don't put it off until tomorrow.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Next migrant wave 4/27 or later?

Late evening Sunday, April 24: In an earlier post, I had suggested that we might have a good arrival of migrants in n.w. Ohio on Tuesday, April 26. That still might happen, but the latest weather forecast is making it look less likely. The latest prediction shows a lot of rain overnight Monday night, and winds mostly from the east, not shifting to southeast until shortly before dawn Tuesday. That’s not a good formula for a big overnight arrival of migrants.

Winds are supposed to be southerly on Tuesday and through Tuesday night. We may have a lot of rain and even strong thunderstorms during the day, but overnight it appears there may be a lot less rain. With southerly winds and a break in the rain, a lot of migrants could be moving, especially if there are clear skies anywhere to the south of us. So at the moment, it looks as if Wednesday April 27 could be a moderately good day in the migrant traps along the Lake Erie shoreline. A lot of species could put in their first appearance of the season. At the moment, diversity of warblers and other tropical migrants is a little lower than expected for this date, but that will change in a hurry as soon as a wave arrives.

Looking a little farther ahead, we’ll have rain and shifting winds off and on this week, but there’s a chance that Saturday could offer very good birding. According to some forecasts, by late Friday a large high-pressure area may have moved off to the east of us, with a couple of low-pressure areas lined up just a little to the west, and these could produce a strong southerly flow coming all the way from the Gulf states Friday night. If that forecast holds, that could be a setup for a really major arrival of birds Saturday morning – a good situation for the many birders who can get out most easily on weekends!

In the meantime, unsettled weather often produces records of interesting birds. Good finds today (Sunday) included a beautiful adult Tricolored Heron found by Sherrie Duris at Metzger Marsh, seen from the second pulloff on the causeway on the way in to the marsh. A Yellow-headed Blackbird was being seen on Veler Road, just west of the n.w. corner of Ottawa NWR (please be respectful of private property if you go to look for this bird!). The Black-necked Stilt and Cattle Egret mentioned in the previous post were both seen again today.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Update April 23: songbirds, raptors

Saturday, April 23:  Mark Shieldcastle, Research Director for Black Swamp Bird Observatory, reports that the main BSBO banding station (on the Navarre Unit of Ottawa NWR, a few miles east of Magee Marsh) had a good push of migrants today.  Hermit Thrushes and White-throated Sparrows dominated, but there were 8 species of warblers recorded also.  Biggest surprises were a Great Crested Flycatcher and a Northern Parula.  Mark reports that Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet were in relatively low numbers; he suggests that they may arrive in force next week, as these are usually among the dominant species in this period.  We both have been looking at the weather forecasts to try to figure out what will happen next, and it still appears that Tuesday or Wednesday, the 26th or 27th, may produce a good arrival of songbird migrants. 

To see results of the banding operation at Navarre, go to:

As expected with the warm temperatures and southwest winds, a good hawk flight developed by the middle of the day today. Conditions were right for these migrating raptors – moving north on a broad front across Ohio – to concentrate near the lake shore, moving west-northwest to continue their migration around the west end of Lake Erie at Toledo. I spent the period from about 1:10 to 3:40 p.m. today on the observation tower (“hawkwatch tower”) near the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, and counted the following apparent migrants:

Turkey Vulture 55 (see note below)
Osprey 3
Bald Eagle 4 (immatures – didn’t count the resident nesting pair)
Sharp-shinned Hawk 47
Cooper’s Hawk 19
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Broad-winged Hawk 11 (see note below)
Red-tailed Hawk 5 (evident migrants – didn’t count apparent local residents)
Merlin 1
The tally of Turkey Vultures and Broad-winged Hawks certainly would have been higher if I had been counting a little earlier and/or a little farther south. Around 12:30 p.m. I saw significant numbers of both along State Route 2 between SR 19 and the entrance to Magee Marsh. They were moving west, more or less paralleling the highway. It’s my impression that some of the soaring raptors may tend to stay south of the open marshes on these windy days. Other birds, such as some of the Accipiters, may follow lines of trees right through the heart of the marsh region, while still others follow the immediate lake shore itself. Therefore, even on good days, the migrating raptors may be spread out somewhat in the areas where marshes line the lake shore (Magee, Ottawa, Metzger, Mallard Club, Cedar Point NWR). To the west of there, where the marshes are less extensive and the end of the lake may be in sight for a flying bird, the raptors may be more concentrated in a narrow band near the shore. If anyone was counting at Maumee Bay State Park today, I expect their hawk totals will have been higher, but I haven't heard reports yet.

In other area news, the Black-necked Stilt on Benton-Carroll Road just south of State Route 2 was there again today.  Sherrie Duris reported a Cattle Egret and a flock of American Golden-Plovers along the entrance road to Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area.  

Again, Mark Shieldcastle and I have both independently suggested that this Tuesday or Wednesday, April 26 or 27, may produce a major arrival of migrants. But for those who want to brave the weather and get out before then, there are already good numbers of birds in the general area.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter Weekend outlook (April 23-24)

Thursday, April 21, 2011: We’re entering the period when the first really big wave of migrants from Neotropical regions could arrive in n.w. Ohio. The weather forecasts for the next few days hold out the possibility that we might have a moderate arrival of birds on Saturday, the 23rd, although my best guess at the moment is that we’re more likely to have big numbers next Tuesday, the 26th. The uncertainty about Saturday is because of doubts about conditions to the south of us. Winds may be favorable Friday night, for at least part of the night, but major rain to the south of us could shut down most of the small birds that are nocturnal migrants. Regardless, the winds are likely to be from the west-southwest on Saturday afternoon, and if they are, we may see the last really good hawk flight of the season in areas near the lake shore.

Even if no big wave of new birds arrives for the weekend, there are interesting early-season migrants around now. Today I made a brief pass through the Magee Marsh boardwalk to assess the situation. Birds were scarce near the west end of the boardwalk (perhaps because of strong west winds yesterday) but fairly numerous in sheltered areas near the east end.

For reference to the numbered spots mentioned below, see our map of the boardwalk on the main BSBO birding pages under “Birding Hotspots: directions and maps.” A pair of Eastern Phoebes appears to be attempting to nest again under the observation tower at the west end (between numbers 2 and 3). Hermit Thrushes are now widespread along the boardwalk, especially toward the east end. A somewhat early Wood Thrush was photographed by Ryan Lesniewicz, and later seen by several of us, foraging close to the boardwalk between numbers 29 and 32. Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned kinglets, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Brown Creepers are present in fair numbers, mainly toward the east side. Small numbers of Winter Wrens are present – a tiny bird seen disappearing UNDER the boardwalk is likely to be this species – and a few House Wrens have arrived. A couple of Eastern Towhees are being seen consistently toward the west end, near number 6, and a few small groups of White-throated Sparrows are roaming through the woods. Rusty Blackbirds are past their peak migration but a few can still be heard; a good area for actually seeing them is near numbers 12 to 14, where there is some shallow water on both sides of the boardwalk.

With the trees not yet leafed out, it’s still easy to watch the sky from the boardwalk. Today we saw four Sandhill Cranes fly over near number 28, headed out toward the Magee causeway. Tree Swallows are up to their usual summer abundance, and Bank Swallows have returned and may be seen over the parking lot. Large numbers of Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Duck were still just offshore today.

The best local find today was by Barb Padgett, who spotted a Black-necked Stilt in flooded fields just south of State Route 2 and just east of Benton-Carroll Road (half a mile east of the Magee Marsh entrance road). If you go to look for this, exercise extreme caution – do not stop or slow down on S.R. 2! With care, you can check out the area by turning down Benton-Carroll road (there is room for a couple of cars to park on the west side, a couple of hundred yards south of S.R. 2).

Again, the outlook for this weekend is still up in the air – I’ll update if the weather forecast is clarified. The birding could be anything from fair to excellent. Next Tuesday might be a big day, but it should be easier to predict as we get closer to the time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Weekend outlook, April 16-17

April 15: We are definitely into the season of full-on migration, with new species appearing practically every day. The birds arriving now are mostly those that winter in the southeastern U.S., but a few of the long-distance migrants from deep in the tropics are starting to show up.

The weather word for the next few days is "unsettled." A strong low-pressure area, currently centered over the Kansas City region, is expected to track toward the northeast, passing north of our area over the weekend. Local conditions over the weekend are likely to be windy (winds near 20 mph), with some periods of rain, and temperatures not rising past the mid-50s. But birders who get out and look are probably going to see a lot of early migrants and perhaps some rarities.

As of Friday morning, April 15, local winds are from the east or east-northeast. Winds should shift to the southeast during the night, and to the south or southwest for much of the day Saturday. Rain is very likely late Friday night and early Saturday morning. By early Saturday afternoon, with south winds and an end to the rain, we may see a moderate movement of birds of prey along the Lake Erie shoreline. Magee Marsh, Metzger Marsh, and Maumee Bay State Park would all be good vantage points. Saturday night will probably produce some more rain, and winds will shift more toward the west by Sunday morning, but Sunday should be mostly clear. Depending on exact wind direction on Sunday, it could also produce some raptor migration along the lake shore: more if the wind is more southwesterly, less if it's directly from the west, so check the wind before you decide to go hawkwatching.

The auto tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge will be open on Saturday, the 16th. Two American White Pelicans were seen at the refuge on April 13th (near the Crane Creek estuary) and a male Eurasian Wigeon was found on April 9-10 on MS 8b, which is the first major impoundment to your right as you begin the auto tour route. These birds may still be in the area, and Ottawa usually holds some surprises at this time of year.

Although I don't expect any big waves of songbird migrants to arrive over the next couple of days, there are already many birds in the area, and both days this weekend should provide good birding if you stick to the downwind sides of the woodlots. Sparrow numbers and variety are excellent. Seven sparrow species were at the feeders at Black Swamp Bird Observatory on April 14. There are still surprising numbers of Fox Sparrows around (mainly in thickets very close to the lake) and American Tree Sparrows are still widespread, while we're seeing a good arrival of Chipping, Field, and Swamp sparrows at the woods and marshes, and Savannah and Vesper sparrows in more open country.

Purple Finches have been widespread in the area during the last few days, and we're seeing a decent passage of Winter Wren, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Towhee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Hermit Thrush, and other typical early migrants. Rusty Blackbirds are past their peak but still present. Both kinglet species are around, although they seem to be in surprisingly low numbers. Many local breeders are arriving back on territory, including Brown Thrasher, Barn and Northern Rough-winged swallows, and Purple Martins.

The warblers, the stars of the show in May, are just now appearing. At least 9 species have been reported in nw Ohio during the last week, mostly in very small numbers. In addition to Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers, of course, this early part of the migration is good for Pine and Palm warblers, and some others such as Black-and-white Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler have shown up as scattered singles. The first Prothonotary Warblers should be here any day now. The latter part of April is the best time in spring to look for Orange-crowned Warbler. This is also the season for "overflight" species: warblers that nest to the south of us, which sometimes overshoot their nesting territories and show up here. Louisiana Waterthrush is annual in April in swampy spots along the Magee Marsh boardwalk, and other "southern" warblers such as Hooded, Worm-eating, Prairie, and Yellow-throated are worth watching for.

Finally, with all the unsettled weather and with winds shifting to the west by Sunday, it would be a good idea to check the lakeshore and open water areas for stray birds such as Franklin's Gull or American Avocet. Wherever you go, have a superb time, and please consider stopping by BSBO to let us know what you've seen.

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