Saturday, May 25, 2013

Next migrant wave: May 28-29

Willow Flycatcher at Magee Marsh, late May 2013. Willow and Alder flycatchers are almost identical in appearance, and individual variation in both makes it dangerous to try to identify them by sight.  However, their callnotes are distinctly different: a dry "whit" from Willow, a liquid "kep" from Alder Flycatcher.  Fortunately, this Willow Flycatcher was calling  a lot, and even sang a couple of times.
Saturday, May 25:  An excellent movement of birds during the early part of this last week was pretty much shut down when winds shifted around to the north on Thursday.  By that time, however, the woodlots near Lake Erie had filled up with migrants typical of the third wave.  Flycatchers were abundant, Red-eyed Vireos and American Redstarts had become numerous, and the predominant warblers were late-season birds like Blackpoll, Canada, Wilson's, and Mourning warblers.  The prized find among late species, Connecticut Warbler, proved elusive; one or two were heard or seen along the Magee Marsh boardwalk on some days, but most people have missed the species so far this spring.

After the wind shifted to the north, most of the birds that had been around earlier in the week seemed to be pinned down where they were, so that birding continued to be good on Friday and today.  As often happens with north winds, some of the birds filtered southward away from the Lake Erie shoreline, so that there were many in the woods near BSBO, for example.

At this point on Saturday evening, with winds still out of the northeast, it appears that we won't see much new arrival on Sunday or Monday.  But by Monday night, a high-pressure area to the east of us and a low-pressure center to the west should create a strong flow of air all the way up from the Gulf of Mexico, and this will increase during Tuesday and Tuesday night, along with temperatures getting much warmer again.  So we should see a big turnover on Tuesday May 28 and probably even more on Wednesday morning, May 29.  

After Wednesday, the current forecast shows southerly or southwesterly winds persisting through the latter part of the week, right up to Sunday morning, June 2nd.  Along the Lake Erie shoreline, it's usually possible to find a lot of lingering migrants through the first week of June.  However, these favorable winds are likely to sweep a lot of the migrants on toward their destinations, so things may be getting a little thin by the weekend.  If you are still determined to find that Connecticut Warbler, or to practice on Empidonax flycatchers, you may have better luck if you can get out on the 28th or especially the 29th, rather than waiting for the weekend.  

Of course, even after the songbird migration winds down, we'll still have shorebird passage up through the second week of June... and the first southbound shorebirds of the "fall" will show up before the first of July.  So in reality, in this corner of the world, migration is happening most of the time!  And regardless of the weather conditions, every day holds the potential for exciting discoveries, so it's never a bad day to go birding.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Next pushes of migrants expected: Wednesday and next weekend

Tuesday, May 14:  As predicted, today turned out to be a good day for migrants in n.w. Ohio.  The star of the day, without a doubt, was the Kirtland's Warbler found on the East Beach (Wildlife Beach) at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, seen by many people through most of the day.  Diversity of warblers continued to be good elsewhere in the area as well, along with improved numbers of thrushes, vireos, and others.  

At this point (late evening on Tuesday), all indications are that there's a major movement of birds going on.  The radar picture shows huge numbers migrating over southwestern Ohio, and many of these birds will reach the Lake Erie shoreline by dawn, aided by fairly strong southerly winds.  So Wednesday, May 15, should be an excellent day in any migrant traps in northwestern Ohio.  We'll probably see a lot of turnover, with many birds departing as well as birds arriving, so total numbers may not be strikingly higher, but the mix of birds present should be clearly different from today's.  

After Wednesday morning, the forecast is for the winds to be much more variable for a couple of days, and I don't expect a lot of arriving migrants on Thursday or Friday.  But things could improve on Saturday, May 18, and especially on Sunday and Monday, May 19 & 20, with major weather systems bringing in a strong flow of air from far to the south.  

By Sunday, the composition of the migrant flocks near the lake shore should be noticeably different from what we've seen the last few days.  Numbers of Yellow-rumped, Palm, Nashville, and Black-and-white Warblers should drop. At the same time, we should see a pickup in numbers of Magnolia, Blackpoll, Canada, and Wilson's Warblers, plus Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Red-eyed and Philadelphia Vireos, and several of the flycatchers.  By this weekend we'll also have a reasonable chance of finding Connecticut Warbler, a late-May specialty, although the following weekend is closer to its peak dates.  So there are still plenty of reasons to go birding!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Next influx: May 14, more birds May 15

Quick note on Sunday, May 12:  Yesterday's good numbers and variety of birds are probably mostly pinned down by the chilly temperatures and northwest winds overnight.  Today, they'll be concentrated low on the downwind (east) side of the woods.

According to current weather forecasts, we should have a new arrival of migrants overnight Monday night, making for a new mix of birds on Tuesday, My 14.  But I expect that Wednesday, May 15, will be a much bigger day for numbers, with a lot of migrants coming in on higher temperatures and south winds. 

American White Pelicans were seen over Magee again yesterday.  Keep an eye on the sky for them to circle overhead any time, especially after the day warms up a little. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Quick update: weekend May 11-12

Friday, May 10:  As predicted in the previous post, we had a good arrival of migrants yesterday and an excellent push today.  Highlights of today's flight included good looks at Golden-winged Warblers, Blue-winged Warblers, and at least 27 other warbler species, lurking Black-billed Cuckoos, surprising numbers of passing Pine Siskins, and a huge morning flight of Blue Jays.  At Magee Marsh, an "Audubon's Warbler" (western form of Yellow-rumped Warbler) was found near the west end of the boardwalk parking lot, and a Clay-colored Sparrow was found near the beginning of the Estuary Trail west of the parking lot.  

At this point (late afternoon) winds are still from the southwest, but they are likely to shift around to north during the night.  A high percentage of the birds now present in the area are likely to stick around, but they may move away from the immediate lake shore.  So if you go to traditional shoreline sites and don't see as many birds as you'd expected, try some spots a mile or two to the south.  The area around Black Swamp Bird Observatory continues to be productive, and Pearson Park (west of Maumee Bay State Park on S.R. 2) has held a lot of migrants also.  

In short, Saturday and Sunday may not be big flight days, but enough birds have arrived in the area that birding should be quite good.  I will update again late tonight if I get a chance. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

More birds coming May 9-10

Tuesday, May 7: After a big arrival of birds last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, things have slowed down.  As usually happens after such an influx, the numbers of migrants in the woodlots along the lake shore have gradually declined for the last four days.  Variety continues to be good, and a handful of notable birds, faithful to particular spots, have been crowd-pleasers.  For example, a very early Mourning Warbler showed up on May 1 at the west end of the Magee boardwalk and has been seen every day since.  One or two Worm-eating Warblers have been similarly cooperative.  But by today, overall numbers have become a little sparse.  

Weather conditions haven't been good for producing new flights since last Friday.  Persistently easterly winds haven't been especially favorable for bringing in new birds, and persistent bad weather to the south of us seems to have blocked a lot of migrants from coming north.  Typical May arrivals like Indigo Bunting and Eastern Wood-Pewee are still essentially absent, and migrants that will be abundant later in the month, like Red-eyed Vireo and American Redstart, have hardly begun to arrive.  Probably a lot of these birds are just a few hundred miles south of us, waiting for the weather to break and the wind to shift.  

The news is that such a weather change is about to happen.  After talking with Mark Shieldcastle, research director for BSBO, I'm confident that we'll see a lot of new birds between now and the weekend.  Even though no really large-scale weather patterns are set up to deliver birds to us, the migrants dammed up just to the south of us should show up as soon as conditions for them improve.

The timing still looks a little uncertain.  But it's likely that a few new migrants will show up Wednesday morning, May 8, as the weather improves to the south of us.  During the night Wednesday night, winds will be quite variable but they'll probably be from the south for at least part of the night, favoring the arrival of many more birds on Thursday.  During the day Thursday, according to current forecasts, winds will swing to the west and back to the south, with a good southerly flow Thursday night, so on Friday the 10th we should see a major arrival of birds.  It's likely to rain on Friday also, but in between showers the birding should be excellent.  We should see a major arrival of Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, and Bay-breasted Warblers, the first decent push of flycatchers, many more Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, a few Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, and so on.  

In the meantime, for birding on Wednesday, before the big arrival starts: if the Magee boardwalk is quiet, go check out sites a little farther away from the lake shore.  The woods behind the visitors' center at Ottawa NWR are always worth checking, as is the trail behind BSBO.  The auto tour route at Ottawa NWR (open every day through the 12th) has been consistent for Red-headed Woodpecker, and has a few pockets of shorebirds.  East Harbor State Park, just east of Port Clinton, is well worth exploring; many warblers were found there Tuesday.  Pearson Park, west of the turnoff to Maumee Bay State Park, has had good migrant numbers as well.  Or go farther west and explore some of the other units of the Toledo Metroparks, such as Swan Creek or Oak Openings.

Summary: Things should pick up just a little on Wednesday, May 8. We should see many more birds on Thursday, May 9, and even more on Friday, May 10.  Friday is likely to be rainy, but the birding should be very productive between showers, so bring your rain jacket or umbrella, and some waterproof protection for your optics and field guides, and come on out to join the fun!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May 1 update: Explosion of diversity

Wednesday, May 1: Winds were favorable for the last two nights, so the birding improved somewhat yesterday and then by a huge amount for today's fortunate birders.  Between Magee Marsh and other nearby sites, at least 25 warbler species were found today, along with orioles, tanagers, vireos, thrushes, and other birds of the season.  

Mark Shieldcastle characterized today's flight as representing the second pulse of the first wave of neotropical migrants.  In terms of numbers, the flight was still dominated by Yellow-rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, and White-throated Sparrows, with lesser numbers of Nashville Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers, but today there were many other species represented by a few individuals each.  

More than 20 warbler species were found at the Magee Marsh boardwalk.  Some of the best sightings were near the west entrance, where a crowd-pleasing male Cerulean Warbler was present for most of the day along with a very early Mourning Warbler.  Blackburnian, Blue-winged, Prothonotary, Orange-crowned, Black-throated Blue, and Cape May warblers were represented by a few individuals each in this area.  Veery, Lincoln's Sparrow, and Scarlet Tanager were also along the boardwalk. 

At the small woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh, at least 13 warbler species were seen, including a Hooded Warbler, Cape May Warbler, and early Blackpoll Warbler.  Red-eyed Vireo and White-eyed Vireo were among the other migrants present.

Baltimore Orioles were widespread for the last couple of days, although still in small numbers.  Orchard Orioles were seen at several sites, including the east beach (Wildlife Beach) at Magee Marsh and Maumee Bay State Park.  The latter site also hosted a Prairie Warbler.

Magee boardwalk note: The Ohio Division of Wildlife, which administers the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, has closed off a section of the parking lot adjacent to the new Bald Eagle nest.  The boardwalk is still open, and most of the parking lot is still open.  The closed area is clearly marked; please show your respect for the regulations of the area and stay out of this closed section.

Outlook for May 2-6: It appears that winds will be generally from the southeast over the next few days, with slightly cooler temperatures after Friday and an increasing chance of rain on Sunday and Monday.  We should continue to see more arrivals of migrants in the area, although perhaps not as dramatically as today, through next Monday, and then a shift to northwesterly winds may slow things down a bit.  Still, there are enough migrants present in the area now that the birding should be productive every day.  

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