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.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Friday, May 20, 2011
|Female Bay-breasted Warbler at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio, on May 19, 2011. During the latter part of the migration we see fewer adult males of most species, more females and young males. photo/Kenn Kaufman.|
Looking ahead, the weather pattern for the weekend is far from obvious. Winds tonight (Friday night) will be shifting around, mostly easterly but swinging northerly and southerly during the night. I expect that we’ll see some continued turnover, with many of the current crop of migrants moving out and a few birds moving in. The recent abundance of Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, and Bay-breasted warblers may diminish, and we may see larger numbers of Canada and Wilson’s warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, American Redstarts, and various flycatchers.
According to current forecasts, the winds will shift to a strong southerly flow sometime late on Saturday and continue that way through to Monday, and I think we’ll see a big arrival of birds on Sunday May 22 and Monday May 23. By this date, of course, they’re becoming harder to see as the trees and shrubs become fully leafed out, but still there should be plenty to look for. Females tend to migrate later than males for most species, so in the latter part of the migration we hear less singing and we see more subtly patterned birds.
Short prediction: Good variety but only moderate numbers on Saturday May 21; probably bigger numbers on Sunday May 22 and Monday May 23.
Mourning Warblers should be present for most of the next ten days; they stay low, often around fallen logs and dense thickets, but periodically coming up above eye level. Connecticut Warbler is less reliable: it seems to be found after every big push of migrants in late May, but often for only a brief period. For examples, a couple appeared along the Magee Marsh boardwalk on Thursday the 19th, but I don’t believe they were seen again on the 20th. So for this species, it pays to look on the big migration days, rather than waiting until the day after one is reported. Connecticut Warblers are secretive and very easy to overlook, as they walk slowly on the ground inside the forest.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Just a brief note: the weather forecast keeps changing, and it now looks possible that we'll have several hours of light south or southeast winds during the night Wednesday night. If that happens, Thursday morning, May 19, could turn out differently from what I had predicted earlier; we might see substantial turnover and the arrival of a fair number of birds. I still don't expect it to be huge, but there are a lot of birds dammed up to the south of us so I could be surprised. I'm going to be away from the computer for the rest of the day and won't have a chance to update before tomorrow morning, but if you're debating whether to come out, you might check the weather during the night or first thing in the morning.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
|Magnolia Warbler at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio, May 17, 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.|
|The Magee Marsh boardwalk isn't just for humans! Chestnut-sided Warbler at minimum-focus range, May 17, 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.|
The weather forecast for the next few days has changed a little. They’re now predicting that winds will swing around to the southeast and even south in the predawn hours of Thursday, May 19, and stay southerly for part of Thursday before swinging back to the east and then to the northeast. Thursday and Friday will also be warmer, and I expect we’ll see some turnover in the local migrants, with some of the current crop leaving and a few coming in on those days. Looking farther ahead, predictions are firming up for the wind to go strongly to the south on Saturday night. In that case, as mentioned before, Sunday May 22 and Monday May 23 should produce another big push of migrants, with a good variety of late-season warblers, probably a few more Connecticut Warblers, lots of flycatchers and vireos, and hopefully we’ll finally get our Kirtland’s Warbler for the season!
Short prediction: More extreme closeups of warblers on the morning of Wednesday May 18; some turnover and somewhat reduced numbers on Thursday May 19 through Saturday May 21, but warmer with more sunshine on Friday and Saturday, for more pleasant birding weather; another big arrival of migrants on Sunday May 22 and/or Monday May 23 (probably both days).
Monday, May 16, 2011
|From last year: this Kirtland's Warbler entertained an estimated 1000 to 3000 birders at the Magee east beach on May 14, 2010. The species should still show up before the end of May 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.|
On Sunday May 15, with rain, cooler temperatures, and north winds, birders at Magee Marsh and Ottawa NWR tallied “only” about 24 warbler species, but had extraordinarily good views of many of them: as expected in these conditions, the warblers and other songbird migrants were foraging very low and very close to the boardwalk and trails. Because the strong north winds persisted overnight, it’s doubtful that many migrants left the area. However, they may disperse back away from the immediate lake shore, so if you’re out today, it would be worthwhile to check woodlots a mile or two south of the lake: the woods behind the Ottawa NWR visitors’ center, for example, or around BSBO. A little farther west, Pearson Metropark (in the city of Oregon, east edge of Toledo) might hold a lot of birds right now in its well-sheltered woods.
Looking ahead, the forecast is for an unusually persistent pattern of northeasterly winds, cooler temperatures, and frequent showers for the next several days. Toward the latter part of the week (Thursday May 19 – Friday May 20), a couple of small high-pressure systems are supposed to move through just a little south of us, but it doesn’t look like they’ll do much to break the pattern of north winds. Birdwise, the current crop of migrants along the lakeshore should gradually decline over the next few days, without a lot of significant new arrivals. Toward Thursday and Friday, a few new birds should trickle in to give us some turnover, and more on Saturday as the north winds become lighter and more erratic.
But by that time there should be a large number of birds dammed up to the south of us. When the weather-dam breaks, we should get another big arrival of migrants. Right now the forecast is that the wind will finally swing toward the south on Saturday night; depending on just when that happens, the next really big migration day could be Sunday May 22 or Monday May 23.
Short prediction: Good diversity but gradually declining numbers of migrants through 5/18; a few new arrivals 5/19 – 5/21; big push of migrants 5/22 and/or 5/23.
Kirtland’s Warbler: So far this spring there have been no well-documented sightings in the immediate area (a surprising change after the last couple of springs, with their sightings shared by large numbers of birders). There’s still time for this year. The two birds seen by the most people in 2010 were found on May 14 and May 21, so obviously we’re still in the time frame for migration. Undoubtedly some have come through, and there may be some in the area right now, but finding a Kirtland’s is a needle-in-a-haystack proposition. Kirtland’s Warbler isn’t most likely to be found inside dense woods (such as along the Magee boardwalk or some forest-interior trails at Ottawa NWR); it favors more open, edge areas with scrubby low growth. On days with south wind or no wind, the east beach at Magee is a good place to look. With the strong north winds right now, I would look on the scrubby southern edges of large woodlots.
Connecticut Warbler: On Friday, May 13, there was a surprising push of these birds, with at least six definitely found in the immediate area. This is early for such numbers. Most Connecticut Warblers come through n.w. Ohio in late May, with some being found into the first week of June. The birds from the 13th either moved on or moved deeper into the woods, as I don’t think any were seen on the 15th. But there should be some more when the next migration pulse arrives around May 22 – 23.
Other late migrants: In addition to Connecticut Warbler, we can still look forward to the main push of Mourning Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Wilson’s Warbler – they’re all present already, but their peak passage is later. Flycatchers are a big factor in late May: the main push of Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher, and Willow Flycatcher is still to come. Swainson’s Thrush and Gray-cheeked Thrush are often most numerous in late May, and the passage of Red-eyed Vireos, American Redstarts, and others can be very impressive toward the end of the month. And of course, peak migration of shorebirds is a late May phenomenon.
In other words, the birding season isn’t over yet!
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
|male Magnolia Warbler|
Conditions are such that Friday is almost a guarantee for a lot of birds. Thursday is a little less certain. It should have more birds than today (which is already quite a lot) but it might turn out to be even bigger than Friday will be. Mark points out that there’s sometimes a phenomenon of birds ballooning out ahead of an arriving front – this is essentially what happened on the big day last Friday, May 6. A lot depends on very local weather conditions in the predawn hours, which are impossible to know with precision ahead of time. But it appears there are very large numbers of second-wave migrants fairly close to the south of us, and they’ll be arriving here soon. Mark quipped that “One of these next two days, people may feel like Magnolia Warblers have blanketed the earth.” And the second wave is the one with the biggest diversity, so even if total numbers fall short of predictions, there should be a great number of different species available.
If you can’t get out until the weekend, don’t despair – the weather is going to turn cooler again after Friday, and a good percentage of the birds arriving during the next two days should stay around for a while. But if you’re free to get out, it looks likely that Thursday May 12 and perhaps especially Friday May 13 could turn out to be memorable days here.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Tuesday night, May 10: I’ve been putting off posting another prediction because the weather has been so confusing. A few days ago, it had appeared that weather conditions would be set up for a big arrival of migrants today (Tuesday) or tomorrow (Wednesday May 11). Those weather conditions fizzled, but a lot of birds arrived today anyway. It’s hard to interpret what’s going on.
Winds have been mostly from the east, not from the south, but on Tuesday May 10 there was a big uptick in the numbers of Magnolia Warblers and American Redstarts – birds typical of the second wave – as well as a good handful of Canada Warblers, Blackpoll Warblers, and Wilson’s Warblers, all birds associated with later in May. Andy Jones reported that there was also a big arrival of migrants on South Bass Island, out in Lake Erie, so clearly a lot of birds were moving, even if it didn’t appear that conditions were favorable.
So the migration at this point doesn’t seem to fit with the weather, making it hard to predict what will happen next. I had a brief note from Mark Shieldcastle, who has been studying weather and migration in this area for years, and he agreed that conditions were confusing. He suggested that all these birds must have been just a little to the south of us before Monday night, so they didn’t have to come far to arrive here Tuesday. It still seems odd to me that they would come in without a tailwind.
My guess – and it IS mostly a guess – is that bird numbers will continue to be very good for the next couple of days, despite the prevailing easterly winds, making for decent birding on Wednesday May 11 and Thursday May 12. Then on Thursday evening, winds may shift to more southerly, and we may see a big (but not huge) arrival on Friday, May 13. Take this with a grain of salt, though, because it may turn out differently.
Notes about local spots: Metzger Marsh continues to host a Tricolored Heron, and Black Terns and Least Bitterns have been found there as well. The best local shorebirding at the moment is on Ottawa-Lucas Road, a dead-end road that runs east from Route 2 about a mile north of the big curve (between Krause Road and Veler Road – see our Ottawa NWR map). Randy Kreager checked this out on Monday and found several species of shorebirds in the flooded fields before the turnaround at the end of the road, including Semipalmated Plovers, Dunlins, Ruddy Turnstones, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and others. Cliff Swallows have returned within the last few days and can be seen locally near water; one good spot is the east end of the parking lot at Porky’s Pizza Trof on Route 2, about 5 miles east of BSBO. Common Nighthawks have also returned; they're most easily heard at night over some nearby towns, including Port Clinton and Oak Harbor.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
|Black-and-white Warbler at Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio, May 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.|
At least 30 species of warblers were recorded on Friday May 6, and at least 27 on Saturday May 7. To a surprising extent, the migration was still dominated by early-season species – Palm, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, and Nashville Warblers, plus Northern Parulas (unusually common), White-throated Sparrows and a few others – the dominant species from the first wave. This suggests to me that the birds had been held up just a little south of us, and when conditions improved we got a major influx even without major winds. Of course, that means there are huge numbers of migrants still to come. Birds that will be a big part of the second wave, like Magnolia and Chestnut-sided warblers, are still present in only small numbers. They will pick up sometime soon.
Predictions: At 10 p.m. Saturday night the winds were very light and still southerly, but they are expected to shift to the northeast before morning, slowing down any potential bird movement. Sunday May 8 should have pleasant weather, and a decent percentage of today’s migrants should remain; I don’t expect a mass departure. With winds continuing mostly easterly through Monday, I expect a pattern of gradually declining numbers through Monday May 9. (Of course, at this season even a slow day should produce at least 20 species of warblers.) It still appears that there will be another big arrival of birds on either Tuesday or Wednesday – possibly both, but right now I would bet on Wednesday May 11 as the next major push of migrants. Hard to tell just how big it might be. The weather forecast maps are showing a major low-pressure system approaching from the west, setting up a big flow of air out of the south coming all the way up from the Gulf Coast, and my only questions have to do with timing: how soon will it be close enough to affect us? My guess at the moment is Wednesday, but I’ll try to update before then.
Short prediction: Good but with gradually decreasing numbers Sunday May 8 and Monday May 9. A big arrival happening Tuesday May 10 or much more likely on Wednesday May 11.
Notes for anyone coming into the area before then: A beautiful adult Tricolored Heron continues at Metzger Marsh, now present there for 2 weeks. A Marbled Godwit has been present for the last two days in a flooded field behind the Barnside Creamery, corner of Route 2 and Route 19, 1.5 miles east of BSBO. Prothonotary Warblers were seemingly a little late showing up in the area this year, but at least a couple of males are now establishing territories along the Magee Marsh boardwalk and they should remain through the season.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
|Male Blackburnian Warbler in northwestern Ohio, May 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.|
As a result of this pattern, there will be a great diversity of birds in this area every day from now through the end of May, so the time to get out birding is whenever you can. But if you have a flexible schedule, some days will be more productive than others, which is why we try to make predictions here.
After very chilly temperatures late Wednesday night, Thursday morning is sunny but cool, with light winds out of the west-northwest. By late afternoon, winds are supposed to shift to the southwest, and later to south-southwest for much of the night. It doesn’t appear that those southerly winds are backed up by any major pressure centers or long-distance air flow, so I don’t expect a huge arrival of migrants from far to the south, but there should be at least moderate numbers of new birds in the area on the morning of Friday, May 6. With the prediction of scattered showers, the warblers and other birds should be foraging low, for excellent views. The winds will shift to west-southwest through Friday night, with clearing skies, and the moderate push of new arrivals should continue on the morning of Saturday May 7. With winds shifting around subsequently to northeast or east, those migrants should mostly stay in the area through Sunday.
|Cape May Warbler in northwestern Ohio, May 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.|
Short prediction: moderate arrival of birds on May 6 and 7; possibly a major arrival on May 10 or 11.
Recent news: On May 4, a Little Blue Heron was on the Entrance Pool at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and the Tricolored Heron was reported again from the causeway at Metzger Marsh. On the morning of May 5, ace photographer Brian Zwiebel (who took the cover photos for the brand-new Biggest Week in American Birding Visitors’ Guide) found a singing Prairie Warbler and a young male Blue Grosbeak on the east beach (wildlife beach) at Magee Marsh. The Tropical Birding guides reported a Cape May Warbler near the west end of the Magee Marsh boardwalk, along with other birds.
For lots of close-up photos and detailed info about the migration, check out the BSBO Bird Banders’ Blog at http://bsbobirdbander.blogspot.com/
And if you’re reading this on Thursday May 5, and you’re within striking distance, come over to Mango Mama’s in Port Clinton tonight for the big opening night social for the Biggest Week in American Birding! The social is hosted by the Ohio Ornithological Society (OOS) and Kaufman Field Guides. No cover charge, just lots of friendly birders, cool prizes, karaoke, a chance to share information, and tasty free munchies provided by Kokomo Bay Restaurant and OOS.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
|Nashville Warbler playing hide-and-seek with the rain, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, May 2007. photo/Kenn Kaufman.|
Today (Tuesday May 3) is chilly and raining, with light north winds, and the birds that are here now won’t be leaving soon. The rain should clear out before Wednesday, but northerly winds will persist Wednesday during the day and most of the night. A small high-pressure area may move over us and shift the winds to southerly by sometime Thursday morning, but it looks unlikely that it will happen early enough to bring a new arrival of birds for that day. Regardless, Thursday May 5 should be a pleasant day outdoors, partly sunny with moderate temperatures. If the winds stay southerly through Thursday night, as currently predicted, Friday May 6 could see a good arrival of migrants, although I don’t expect it to be a huge one unless rains hit just before dawn. Forecasts for Saturday May 7 don’t seem clear yet, but given the conditions between now and then, it’s reasonable to expect that we’ll have a very good diversity of bird species around over the weekend. I’ll update as the weekend gets closer.
A couple of notes: on Monday, May 2, two Lesser Black-backed Gulls were resting with other gulls and terns on the concrete pier at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh. Birds congregate here when no one is fishing from the pier, but at this season that doesn’t happen often. (If anyone is really keen to see a Lesser Black-back, or other gulls and terns, I’d recommend the beaches at Maumee Bay State Park or East Harbor State Park. Lesser Black-back is rare at this season but is a possibility at those sites.)
The causeway across the marsh at Magee Marsh has fewer ducks now than earlier in the season, but other marsh birds are picking up in numbers. On Sunday evening, May 1, a Least Bittern was calling consistently from east of the causeway near its north end, and Virginia Rails and Soras could be heard from the same spot.
At Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area, off Route 6 east of Fremont in Sandusky County, 19 or 20 American White Pelicans have been present for the last few days, visible from the observation platform on the north side of Route 6.
A pair of Trumpeter Swans has been highly visible on the Entrance Pool at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge recently. These are from the (re)introduced population, and opinions differ as to whether they’re “countable,” but it’s still a great opportunity to study the species up close.
Good numbers of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, White-crowned Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and other birds have been coming to the feeders outside the “window on wildlife” at Black Swamp Bird Observatory. If you’re in the area, please consider stopping in to tell us what you’ve seen.
Monday, May 2, 2011
|Cerulean Warbler at Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio, on May 1, 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.|
Non-warbler highlights included a good arrival of vireos, with at least five of the six expected species (I didn't see or hear about any Philadelphia Vireos). All five species of brown thrushes were recorded, and several Wood Thrushes were singing at Magee in the evening. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were numerous -- at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Kimberly Kaufman was able to get five males in one photo out the window. Two Blue Grosbeaks, a female and a young male, were on the beach north of the boardwalk parking lot at Magee. Eastern Kingbirds at many sites, Bobolinks and Cattle Egrets near the entrance to Ottawa NWR, and a Merlin at Metzger were among the other sightings. My own oddest bird of the day was a Whimbrel flying over the Magee causeway in the evening; this is an unusually early date for the species.
I haven't looked at the weather in detail yet, but with the sky overcast and the winds shifting to northwest during the night tonight, a fair percentage of today's birds should still be around on Monday.
|Black-throated Green Warbler at Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio, on May 1, 2011. Black-throated Greens were very numerous at both Metzger and Magee on this day. photo/Kenn Kaufman.|