Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Migration update: May 20-26 and Connecticut Warbler advice

Connecticut Warbler: This big-eyed beauty, skulking in the forest shadows, is the most sought-after of the late May migrants through northwestern Ohio. Photo by Kristin Mylecraine.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014: The weather forecast has changed a lot since the last time I posted four days ago, and as a result, the outlook for migration has changed as well. 

In the woodlots near the Lake Erie Shoreline, migrant activity stayed good through the weekend and actually picked up a little on Monday, the 19th. A southerly wind flow, combined with unsettled weather during the night, put many new migrants down in the area. That pattern is predicted to continue through tonight, with a mild warm front coming through as well. It appears that Wednesday morning, May 21, could produce a large arrival of migrants. It's likely to be raining in the morning, but the timing and location of the rains could be just right for dropping good numbers of migrant songbirds all over northwestern Ohio. (It's also possible that the rain will shut things down to the south of us, making for a slow day locally, so there are no guarantees.) 

Sometime between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, winds will swing around to the west and then the northwest. Winds are predicted to stay northerly through Saturday morning, so many birds that arrive Wednesday will probably stay in the area through the first part of the weekend. Then Saturday night the winds are supposed to go back to the west-southwest and then south. Based on current forecasts, there could be a good arrival of birds on Sunday, May 25, and especially on Monday, May 26. That is six days from now, so of course the forecast could change in the meantime. 

Prediction summary: Based on current weather forecasts, I expect arrival / turnover of migrants on Wednesday May 21, Sunday May 25, and Monday May 26, with good numbers of birds lingering locally on the days in between.

Late May migrants: The period May 20-30 is after the peak, but excellent diversity still can be found in all the stopover habitats near Lake Erie. Among the warblers and some other songbirds, adult males tend to migrate earlier in spring than females or second-year males, so late May features more of the duller plumages. Some species pass through in excellent numbers during late May; this is a good time to see Yellow-billed and Black-billed cuckoos, many flycatchers (such as Olive-sided, Yellow-bellied, and Alder), Red-eyed Vireo, Swainson's and Gray-cheeked thrushes, and a set of late-migrating warblers that includes American Redstart, Blackpoll, Canada, Wilson's, Mourning, and Connecticut. 

Connecticut Warbler is a highly sought-after migrant. It has eluded many birders because it is uncommon, quiet, and secretive, and it migrates late in spring, after the peak of birding activity. In NW Ohio, May 20 to 30 is the best time to find it. 

This species forages mostly by walking slowly on the ground, occasionally jumping up onto a log or low branch. Males will sing from high perches on their breeding grounds in northern forest, but when they sing here in Ohio, they usually do so from just a few feet off the ground. So the birds are almost always very low or on the ground, inside forest or dense thickets, where they are hard to see. 

The best way to seek these elusive migrants is to get out at dawn and listen for their loud, distinctive song. You can search more area by walking quickly and quietly, or driving slowly, along the edge of good habitat. At this link, you can hear a good recording of the song from the Macaulay Library at Cornell. And at this link, you can hear several recordings from Xeno-Canto.

Migrants usually stop singing shortly after dawn. After they've fallen silent, the best way to search is to walk very slowly on boardwalks or trails, stopping to scan any place where you can actually see the ground inside the forest. The Connecticut will be walking very slowly and methodically, its colors looking surprisingly obscure in the forest shadows. With great luck, you might see one pop up onto a log as you're going past. On the Magee Marsh boardwalk, some consistent areas have been between numbers 3 and 6, near number 10, near number 16, and at the west end of the west parking lot. (For a map of the boardwalk showing the locations of the numbers, see this link.)
But this is very much a needle-in-a-haystack kind of search, so it's best if you can be out early enough to locate one by sound. 

Where should you search? Greg Links, an ace birder with experience throughout this region, shared this list of specific places to look for Connecticut Warblers: 

"In no particular order:

1. Magee Marsh - no details necessary. 

2. Maumee Bay State Park - boardwalk behind the nature center, easternmost dike in the park that leads north from the parking area at the far east end of the cabin road. Also some of the grassy trails in the NW corner of the park.

3. Far east end of Cedar Point Road, at Decant Road. 

4. North end of Yondota Road at entrance gate area to Cedar Point NWR (no access to refuge, and area around belong to water treatment plant. Stay on road.)

If west of Toledo in Oak Openings area: 

1. Wolfinger Road, between Secor Metropark and Bancroft Road (accessed from either).

2. Irwin Road, especially between Wolfinger and Bancroft. 

3. Schwamberger Road between Bancroft and Old State Line Road.

4. In Oak Openings Park, Sager Road between just west of Wilkins and Girdham roads."

In addition to the places listed above by Greg Links, I have found Connecticut Warbler on the Gallagher Trail behind Black Swamp Bird Observatory; inside the woods behind the visitors' center at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge; and in the woods at East Harbor State Park, east of Port Clinton. 

So those are some places to look, and suggestions about how to look; the next ten days are prime time for Connecticut Warbler. Best of luck to everyone who seeks this prized migrant!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Migration forecast: May 16-18 and beyond

Friday, May 16: Starting with the major wave last Thursday, the 8th, we've had a series of good days in all the main stopover habitats of NW Ohio. Impressions from the lakeshore migrant hotspots, backed up by data from the main BSBO banding station, indicate that there haven't been any really huge migration days yet this spring; instead, we've had a long series of days with numbers somewhat above average. So the birding has been consistently decent, without the  kind of boom-and-bust swings that sometimes occur at this season.

Today, Friday the 16th, with cool temperatures all day, birds have been foraging relatively low, making for fine views at the woods near the lake. The Magee Marsh boardwalk was quite productive today, with multiples of Golden-winged Warbler and Olive-sided Flycatcher, a late Louisiana Waterthrush, a couple of singing Alder Flycatchers, and many other treats, including at least 25 warbler species. 

Looking ahead at the weekend of May 17-18, with cooler temperatures continuing and with some rain forecast for this evening, most of today's birds should still be around on Saturday the 17th, and probably on Sunday the 18th as well. There are likely to be scattered showers on Saturday, but the birding should be quite good in between. 

With a high pressure center sitting on top of us on Sunday the 18th and Monday the 19th, there won't be any major weather systems to bring in notable waves of migrants. I suspect we'll have more birds leaving than arriving on those nights, so Monday and Tuesday are likely to have lower numbers than the weekend, although still with good variety. Beyond Tuesday the weather forecasts are a little obscure, but it looks as if there could be another big wave of migrants coming in on Wednesday or Thursday, the 21st or 22nd. 

In recent days, Pearson Metropark (along Rt. 2 in the city of Oregon, farther west than Magee Marsh or Ottawa NWR) has been very productive. Many migrant warblers have been seen there, and Yellow-throated Warblers seem to be on territory near the building that has the "window on wildlife." The wetlands in the north section of the park, accessed from Seaman Road, have hosted a number of interesting waterbirds, including a Red-necked Phalarope and the amazing flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks that paid a brief visit. 

Shorebird migration has been very good this week also. The (self-guiding) Auto Tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is scheduled to be open this Saturday and Sunday, the 17th and 18th, and then closed for the rest of the month, so this would be a good time to check it out. Recently the Auto Tour has produced a decent variety of shorebirds, including Wilson's Phalarope, as well as American Bittern, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and other species. 

Finally, don't forget that the Friends of Magee Marsh are collecting funds for renovation of the famous Magee boardwalk, while the Ottawa NWR Association is raising money for enhancements to the Auto Tour on the Refuge. Both of these projects will be of direct benefit to birders visiting the area, and I encourage everyone to support both of these. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Migration Forecast May 12-16

Monday, May 12: Last Thursday, the 8th, things picked up in a major way as predicted, and excellent numbers and variety have been in the area since, especially on Friday and Saturday. Continuing southwest winds and some overnight rain have combined to keep creating turnover every night, with new birds showing up each morning. The variety has been outstanding, with good studies of many of the uncommon migrants, such as Black-billed Cuckoo, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Golden-winged Warbler. A rather early Connecticut Warbler was found at Pipe Creek, and a Kirtland's Warbler was heard in Oak Openings, so 37 species of warblers have been found in the region already, although we are still waiting for Kirtland's and Connecticut in the immediate area of Magee Marsh. 

Tonight, Monday night, will continue the very warm temperatures and good south-southwest winds, with scattered thunderstorms during the night. So Tuesday morning should be another one with quite a bit of turnover and fairly good numbers of birds in the spots near the Lake Erie shoreline. But by sometime late Tuesday night, a cool front will move in, with temperatures dropping and winds shifting around to the west and then the northwest. With northerly winds and with much cooler temperatures on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I don't expect a lot of new birds to arrive on those mornings. 

This means that many of the birds that have arrived by tomorrow will stick around for several days. So to see more variety, it will become more important to check a variety of different spots, rather than making repeat visits to the same spots. 

For birding in those conditions, if winds are from northerly directions, the birds are likely to be concentrated in different places. The edge of the lake (as along the Magee East Beach, the outer part of the Estuary Trail, or the woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh) typically isn't as productive with those winds; the birds move a short distance inland. So those would be good days to bird the protected southern parts of the Magee boardwalk, or woodlots just a little inland, such as behind BSBO or the Sportsmen's Migratory Bird Center, the woods behind the visitors' center at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, or the woods of Pearson Park. For water birds, the auto tour at Ottawa NWR is always worth taking; it has produced such birds as Wilson's Phalarope and Eared Grebe in recent days. 

A special note for Thursday May 15: It's predicted to be a much cooler day, with temps ranging from the low 40s to the mid 50s. In the past, when we've had a sudden cool-down in mid-May, it has resulted in lots of birds foraging very low at the Magee boardwalk and all the other woods in the area (yes, even lower than they usually do). It's probably going to rain off and on during the day, but if you carry a waterproof covering to protect your camera from sudden downpours, Thursday might be a very good day for photography - one of those days when you repeatedly have to back up to get the bird in focus. Something to think about, if the weather forecast stays unchanged. 

Some notable rarities have turned up in the last few days. Most surprising was the flock of ten Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks discovered by Dr. Andy Jones during a Biggest Week field trip to Pipe Creek, Erie County, on the 11th. On the morning of the 12th, eight of these birds (probably from the same flock?) appeared at the north area of Pearson Park (s.w. of Maumee Bay, town of Oregon), accessed from the entrance on Seaman Road. This colorful tropical duck has been recorded only about 3 times previously in Ohio.

Summary: no huge waves of migrants expected before the weekend, but a great diversity of species should continue in the area all week. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Biggest Week begins: Migration forecast for May 6 - 10

Although the weather forecast isn't black and white, it's virtually certain that we will have a big arrival of migrants (like this Black-and-white Warbler) during the middle to latter part of this week.
Monday, May 5, 2014: After a big pickup in numbers and variety last Wednesday, locally favorable winds continued to bring new birds into the area through the first part of the weekend. Despite the cool temperatures and occasional rain, stopover habitats near the lakeshore produced higher numbers and diversity of migrants than expected on Saturday and Sunday. These impressions from field observers were borne out by the standardized data from Black Swamp Bird Observatory's main banding station, at the Navarre unit of Ottawa NWR (a few miles east of Magee Marsh, a refuge unit closed to the public). More than 20 species of warblers were found in the general area over the weekend, including Prairie Warbler at the Magee boardwalk and on the estuary trail to the west. Orange-crowned and Golden-winged warblers and Summer Tanagers were among the other crowd-pleasers at Magee.

While the birding is very good right now, everyone is waiting for the next really big wave, which will bump the diversity and numbers up to the levels that make this region famous. Looking at the weather forecasts, it appears we won't have to wait too long. A stationary front that's parked just south of Ohio right now will turn into a warm front and move this direction, probably passing through NW Ohio sometime Wednesday. Some birds may be pushed ahead of the front and may arrive Wednesday morning. Based on current weather forecasts, though, I think the best bet is Thursday morning, May 8. The warm front will have gone through, we should have a good flow of wind from the south all night Wednesday night, and many new arrivals should be along the Lake Erie shoreline on Thursday morning. 

Right now it appears that the good southerly flow will continue Thursday night, bringing turnover and new birds Friday, and then temperatures will cool off in time for Saturday. Bird numbers on Saturday, May 10th - to be officially celebrated as the first Bird Ohio Day - may not be quite as high as on Thursday, but the variety should be outstanding and it should make for a memorable weekend!

With the beginning of The Biggest Week In American Birding tomorrow, many birders are scouring the area, and updates on notable sightings will be available via Twitter. For a few things to look for in the area: a Tricolored Heron, undoubtedly the same one seen earlier at Ottawa NWR, has been at Metzger Marsh for the last couple of days, seen near the second bend and from the second pulloff on the long straightaway (see map of Metzger at this link). Upland Sandpipers have been seen along Krause and Stange Roads, just west of the main part of Ottawa NWR (see map at this link). Along the auto tour in the refuge, Black Terns have been seen, and there was a report of a dark ibis identified as a Glossy Ibis. 

Summary: Lots of birds are in the area right now, and a warm front arriving on Wednesday should bring many more. The timing of the movement of this front will dictate which day of this week is the best one. There may be a "bubble" of migrants ahead of the front on Wednesday morning, but the most likely scenario is that Thursday May 8 will bring the biggest push, with another arrival and turnover on Friday May 9, and big numbers and variety staying around for the weekend of the 10th and 11th. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Migration Update: Weekend of May 3-4 and beyond

Crowd pleaser: During the last few days, as expected at this time of year, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have shown up to gobble sunflower seeds at bird feeders all over northwestern Ohio
Friday, May 2, 2014: As expected, Wednesday the 30th was a big migration day throughout the region. The Black Swamp Bird Observatory's main banding station (at Navarre Marsh, in an area of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge that's closed to the public) had a big influx of birds, highlighted by a Swainson's Warbler -- only the second or third record ever for this southern warbler in NW Ohio. 

Throughout the region, numbers of birds have dropped off somewhat since Wednesday, but a good variety of warblers and other migrants can be found at all the standard stopover habitats. (Incidentally, you can check this link for information about various birding sites in this region.) Within the last three days, I've heard dozens of reports of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks coming to feeders all over the area, and less-conspicuous migrants are probably equally widespread. 

Tonight, Friday night, winds will be out of the southwest locally and they may bring in some new birds, but these winds are not part of a large-scale weather pattern so I don't expect them to produce a major flight. A high percentage of the birds that have been seen for the last few days are likely to stay through the weekend. 

If you are out birding the area, pay attention to wind direction. If winds are blowing from the north or northeast, birds are likely to move away from the immediate lake shore, so you may have better success birding the woodlots that are a mile or two inland. These are good conditions for checking the woodlots at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, immediately to the west of Magee Marsh. And this is a good time to take the self-guiding auto tour at the refuge as well. The auto tour is now scheduled to be open from 8 to 4 every day from now through May 18, giving access to productive habitats throughout this superb refuge. A map of the auto tour route is at this link, or you can get a map at the refuge visitors' center. 

An exciting find on the refuge this week -- not on the auto tour route, but on a hiking trail that's open every day -- was a Tricolored Heron. It has been seen near the northeast corner of impoundment MS 8a. See this map for the location and the best ways to walk there. 

Looking ahead: this weekend, May 3-4, will have cool temperatures, with occasional showers on Saturday. In between showers the birding should be good, with decent numbers of typical early migrants. The full variety of warblers and other migrants are not here yet, but this is a good time to look for some of the early species (like Rusty Blackbird) that will be harder to find after the next big movement. 

At this time of year, some birds will be pushing north even when conditions aren't good, so we can expect new arrivals every day. And there are already enough birds in the area to make for a rewarding time in the field. But based on current weather forecasts, it appears that the next really big wave may hit NW Ohio on Thursday May 8 and Friday May 9. I will update as we get closer to those dates. But in the meantime, good birding, and I hope to see you out there!

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