Monday, April 29, 2013

April 30 - May 5: Lots of migrants coming!

Monday, April 29:  With rain yesterday and last night, songbird migration has been slowed down a bit, but some of the strong-flying shorebirds were on the move.  On April 28, a flock of 42 American Avocets was present for most of the day at Maumee Bay State Park, and a couple of Upland Sandpipers and some American Golden-Plovers showed up on Stange and Krause roads, just west of Ottawa NWR.  This morning, a Piping Plover was found on the beach at Camp Perry, west of Port Clinton.  Adverse weather conditions at this time in spring often result in interesting shorebird records like this.  

Weather conditions should be just about to turn from adverse to awesome.  Once again the forecast is for southerly winds, and this time I think they'll come through, with a fairly good flow of air from far to the south.  A lot of first-wave neotropical migrants should be staged a little to the south of us by now.  With the encouragement of winds, warmth, and mostly clear skies, large numbers of migrants should be moving during the next few nights.  Right now it looks as if the next three days - Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, April 30 through May 2 - all have very good potential, with daytime highs in the 70s and southerly winds.  The way the weather fronts are shaping up, there isn't any one of those three days that appears to have a clear advantage.  But the overall effect should be to pump a lot of birds into the area.  Diversity of warblers at places like Magee Marsh should jump from 5-to-10 species up to 15-to-20 species, and we should see a fine influx of thrushes, vireos, orioles, and all kinds of other wonderful spring migrants.  

By Friday, May 3, when The Biggest Week In American Birding kicks off, temperatures should be a little cooler again, with daytime highs in the 60s. Depending on the location of some approaching low-pressure areas on Thursday night, Friday may or may not be a really big day for migrants; but even if the Thursday night flight fizzles, we'll have plenty of migrants in the area by then.  And the diversity of migrants in the area through that first weekend should live up to this region's reputation.  

Summary: April 30 through May 2 should be the first really big days for diversity this season, and the variety and numbers should stay really good at least through May 5.  Beyond that point, I'll be studying the weather maps and hoping to pick out clearer patterns for the next prediction.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 25-30: Steady arrival of migrants expected

This male Hooded Warbler at Magee Marsh last weekend delighted observers by posing along the edge of the parking lot and the boardwalk. This is a regular "overflight" migrant, nesting mostly to the south of this region but showing up here in small numbers in early spring.
Wednesday, April 24:  With rain today and probably tomorrow, and cooler temperatures and westerly winds for the next two nights, migration may be slow temporarily, but not for long.  Starting Friday, April 26, temperatures should be getting warmer for the next several days, climbing into the 60s and to around 70 by Tuesday, April 30.  With winds predicted to be generally from the south, we should see many species arriving in northwestern Ohio.

Based on current weather forecasts, I expect the weekend of April 27-28 to bring good variety of species but not a huge number of individuals.  The southerly winds from Friday through Sunday don't look like they're associated with really large-scale weather systems.  By next Monday or Tuesday, April 29-30, with a  high-pressure area moving off to the east and a large low-pressure area approaching from the west, we should have a flow of air extending all the way up from the Gulf of Mexico, bringing a stronger flow of migrants.

At this point, the migrants present in the area are mainly those expected in mid to late April, dominated by Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, but joined by less-common early species such as Orange-crowned Warbler and Pine Warbler.  "Overflight" migrants (those that mostly nest to the south of here, but which overfly their targets and show up here along Lake Erie) recently have included some cooperative and crowd-pleasing birds such as Hooded, Worm-eating, and Cerulean warblers and Louisiana Waterthrush.  Many other species have begun to show up as scattered singles, and new arrivals should be widespread throughout the region during the next few days. 

Brief summary: I expect the birding to be good every day from Friday on, with good variety over the weekend, and then even better variety and numbers next Monday and Tuesday, April 29 and 30.  We may not have any huge migration days during this period but they should all be good (and a good day along the Lake Erie shoreline is much better than a good day in most places!). Since we haven't had the exceptional heat of spring 2012, the trees haven't leafed out fully yet, so the birds are relatively easy to see (and to photograph), making for a very enjoyable time in the field.  We'll hope to see you out there!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Migration Outlook April 18-23

Pine Warbler is a classic April migrant at Magee Marsh and nearby areas in n.w. Ohio, and a few are in the area right now.  Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

Wednesday, April 17:  With a notable arrival of new birds during the last three days, the diversity of migrants in northwestern Ohio is growing rapidly.  Most warblers and other neotropical migrants are present in only small numbers, but the potential for surprising finds has ramped up considerably, and seekers are finding an exciting mix of birds.

Along with a push of Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows on April 15-17, the area also received a good sprinkling of other birds, including Pine, Palm, Yellow, and Nashville warblers, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, House Wren, Snowy Egret, Chimney Swift, and others.  A Prairie Warbler was enjoyed by many along the Magee Marsh boardwalk on April 16-17.

Tonight (Wednesday night) winds are from the east, but they are supposed to swing around to the south by sometime Thursday morning.  I doubt that will happen in time to produce many new migrants overnight, especially with rain happening to the south of us; but continuing southerly winds on Thursday might produce a daytime flight of hawks and other birds along the lake shore. With winds continuing southerly through Thursday night, Friday, and at least part of Friday night, we'll probably see a good arrival of new birds Friday morning, maybe Saturday morning as well.  But at the same time, we should watch for birds from the west.  A strong low-pressure system passing by to the north of us will create a major air flow from the west, so we might see strays such as American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, more American White Pelicans, or even Swainson's Hawk.  

Over the weekend we'll see winds shifting to the north on Saturday night (along with unseasonably cold temperatures) and then to the east-southeast on Sunday, shutting down much arrival of birds from the south or the west.  There will still be a lot of birds in the area, but they may be back away from the lake shore on Saturday and Sunday - so if the Magee boardwalk isn't active, you should check other spots a mile or two south, like the woods at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.  The auto tour at Ottawa is supposed to be open this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, from 8 to 4.  

On Monday, April 22, the winds will shift to more southerly again, especially overnight, and it's likely that we'll have a moderate arrival of migrants on Tuesday morning, the 23rd.  The number and variety of warblers and other neotropical migrants should continue to gradually increase, although I don't expect a massive arrival until a little later in the week.  

Summary:  Good numbers of early migrants are in the area, so every day should be rewarding for birding.  In the near term, the best days for new arrivals of migrants may be Friday, the 19th, and Tuesday, the 23rd, although the latter is still uncertain and the forecast may change.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Update: Migration outlook April 15-17

Brief update on Sunday afternoon, April 14: As predicted in the previous post (see that post for more details), numbers of birds dropped off somewhat this weekend, although the area still had a good diversity of migrants. Single Louisiana Waterthrushes, typical "overflight" species of early spring here, were found at Maumee Bay State Park on the 13th and at the boardwalk at Magee Marsh on the 14th.  

Current weather forecasts make it appear that Monday, April 15, will bring in a new wave of migrants, possibly with some first arrivals for the year in the morning and some movement of diurnal migrants during the day.  Birds will probably move again Monday night, so Tuesday, the 16th, might be even better.  Local concentrations of migrants on Tuesday morning will depend partly on the tracks and intensity of overnight storms.  Monday night is supposed to have good south winds and scattered thunderstorms, so it's possible that a lot of migrants might ride the winds into the general area and then get put down by storms.  There probably will be scattered rain during the day on Tuesday as well, but if you get out between storms, you might see a lot of birds.  If a thunderstorm hits your favorite local spot between midnight and dawn on Tuesday, it increases the chance that the spot will be hopping with migrants in the morning.  

By Tuesday night the wind is supposed to shift around to the northeast, so on Wednesday the 17th, migrants may be more generally distributed south of the lake shore, not so concentrated at shoreline sites.  

I'll try to update later with more of a look ahead, but for the moment I wanted to point out that both Monday and Tuesday appear to have good potential for migrants.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Migration outlook April 11-15

Wednesday, April 10:  Last Saturday night, conditions were ideal for migration, and Sunday morning produced a major influx of early migrants.  Golden-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, Fox Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Field Sparrows, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers all arrived in numbers, along with other typical birds of early April. The high numbers of birds have continued through the last three days, with even more birds apparently slipping in despite the unsettled weather.  By this morning, birding the Magee Marsh boardwalk, Greg Links found additional arrivals including 2 Pine Warblers, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and major increases in Golden-crowned Kinglets (110), Ruby-crowned Kinglets (11), and Fox Sparrows (135!).  (The Lake Erie shoreline in n.w. Ohio is one of the best places in the world to see concentrations of Fox Sparrows in migration, and this is the peak of their passage here.) Other sites in the area, even several miles away from the lake shore, also held good numbers of migrants such as kinglets and several species of sparrows.  

With a lot of rain and northeasterly winds forecast for the next 36 hours, the birds are likely to be still around on Thursday and Friday, the 11th and 12th. The rain is supposed to move out by Friday morning, with winds switching around to the west or southwest. If the winds are southwesterly, we could see a decent hawk flight developing. The combination of held over migrants from today, plus daytime migrants moving, could make Friday a fine day to be out.  

On Saturday, April 13, they're forecasting a chance of snow flurries(!), with west winds and temperatures barely reaching the low 40s. But sometime Saturday night or Sunday, things will start to warm up, with a strong flow of air coming all the way up from the Gulf of Mexico, between a high-pressure area to the east and an approaching low-pressure area just to the west. The exact timing is a little uncertain, so it's hard to say whether we'll see a lot of new birds on Sunday or if Monday will be a much bigger day. At the moment, I'm afraid that Monday looks more likely, and it could be a really big day, with a lot of first-of-the-season arrivals.  Still, the whole weekend could be very good birding if you go out prepared for the weather!  

In regard to waterbirds: Shorebirds have started to show up in area wetlands, such as the Boss Unit of Ottawa NWR (Benton-Carroll Road just south of Route 2, just east of BSBO). Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, and many Wilson's Snipes are in the area. On the 8th, Tiffanie Hayes photographed three American White Pelicans in flight over Fremont, just about 20 miles south of Magee Marsh, and these birds could still be somewhere in the general area. A single Black-necked Stilt has been seen a few times northeast of Fremont, mostly on private land, but it's worth watching for this species at any shallow wetland in the area. Forster's Terns and Caspian Terns are now back along Lake Erie, including at sites like Maumee Bay State Park. 

Summary: Lots of migrants are in the area now, and the birding should be very good from here on out. Based on current weather forecasts, Friday the 12th and Monday the 15th might be particularly good days.  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Magee Marsh Migrants April 7

Fox Sparrow: All along the Magee Marsh boardwalk in early April, before most of the songbird migrants arrive, they serve as a sort of "warm-up act" for the warbler show that happens later in the spring.

Sunday morning, April 7: As predicted earlier, local winds shifted to the south on Saturday and continued that way through the night, and this morning there was a major arrival of migrants in northwest Ohio.  At the Magee Marsh boardwalk, a pass through this morning revealed major turnover and a huge increase in numbers from the day before.  

Golden-crowned Kinglets and Fox Sparrows, which had been numerous already, were even more prevalent today, and the first few Ruby-crowned Kinglets showed up.  Hermit Thrushes arrived in force.  There was a big push of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (with more than a dozen along the boardwalk), and single Northern Flickers were passing overhead along the tree line all morning.  Major numbers of Dark-eyed Juncos were all along the road into Magee and around the edges of the woods, and a big arrival of Field Sparrows had them scattered throughout the area, including in such odd spots as deep inside the woods.  Other notable arrivals or increases involved Eastern Phoebe, Tree Swallow (probably tripled in numbers from the previous day), Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Purple Finch, Eastern Towhee, and Chipping Sparrow.  I had not seen any warblers at the boardwalk before today, but this morning there were close to 20 Yellow-rumped Warblers there, the vanguard of the great warbler parade that will be coming in the next few weeks. 

Early this morning there was a serious movement of American Robins along the lake shore.  This had wound down by a couple of hours after sunrise, but a few Eastern Bluebirds continued to move through the area.  Flocks of blackbirds were moving through the area from east to west, and I estimated over 350 Rusty Blackbirds, which would be an exceptional total in most places.  An Osprey, a few Bald Eagles, and a couple of American Kestrels were the only migrating raptors that I had seen by the time I left the boardwalk area, but there could have been more by midday, although winds were beginning to shift more toward the west. 

Late this evening, winds are supposed to shift more toward the north, and be more or less northerly overnight, so many of the migrants that came in today will probably still be around tomorrow.  It's likely to rain tomorrow, but if you can get out between showers on Monday (or if you can get to any good migrant spot this afternoon), most of these birds probably will still be around.  We are still in the early stages of the migration, but the next 7 or 8 weeks will provide some of the most exciting birding of the year! 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

More migrants coming April 4

Tuesday, April 2:  Conditions are looking good for an arrival of migrants this Thursday, April 4, and for more birds to show up over the weekend of April 6 and 7.

Currently there are good numbers of early migrants in the area.  Golden-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creepers,  Fox Sparrows, Winter Wrens, and others are increasing, and Rusty Blackbird numbers have been excellent in recent days.  Great Egrets and Tree Swallows have arrived in force, and the first Purple Martins are being reported.  So another arrival of migrants will pump up the birding opportunities that are already present.

To focus on the short-term prediction:  Local winds are supposed to be variable, but more or less northerly, through tonight and most of the day Wednesday.  On Wednesday evening, however, winds are supposed to shift to the south.  With clear skies and southerly winds overnight Wednesday night, we're likely to see an arrival of migrants Thursday morning, especially where birds are concentrated near the Lake Erie shoreline.  In addition to the species mentioned in the preceding paragraph, we should look for Hermit Thrush and Yellow-rumped Warbler in wooded areas, and American Pipit and Vesper and Savannah sparrows in open habitats.  

The forecast for the day on Thursday is for temperatures reaching the mid-50s and winds from the southwest, so there should be a good flight of daytime migrants, especially Turkey Vultures and hawks.  Vantage points near the lake shore, such as the hawk tower at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area or the sledding hill at Maumee Bay State Park, should be worthwhile, especially near the middle of the day. 

Winds will probably shift again from Thursday night to Saturday morning, but they're predicted to go back to southerly on Saturday, and stay southwesterly during Saturday night.  On Sunday, despite the chance of showers, there are likely to be more migrants around.  The weather pattern for Saturday night looks as if there will be a flow of air all the way from the Gulf Coast north to the Great Lakes, so there could be some migrants coming in from a considerable distance: perhaps some unusually early arrivals, perhaps some of the regular early spring "overflight" species such as Louisiana Waterthrush or Yellow-throated Warbler.

Of course, all of these weather forecasts are subject to change.  But based on current forecasts, I expect Thursday the 4th and Sunday the 7th to produce some notable movements.  Even if they don't, we're getting to the time of year when it's worthwhile to get out whenever possible. Hope to see you out there!

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