Thursday, May 28, 2015

Migration Forecast May 28-31

Thursday, May 28: As expected, the third wave of migrating songbirds began to move into the area this past week with the highest volume occurring Sunday (May 24). Numbers trickled down each day from Monday through Thursday but expected species for the third wave such as Eastern Wood-Pewee and the Empidonax flycatchers, Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-eyed Vireo, Cedar Waxwing, American Redstart, and Mourning Warbler were all present in suitable habitat (mostly limited to a handful of individuals of each species).

For those still coming up short on a Connecticut Warbler sighting there is still hope. A second pulse to this last wave is expected for this upcoming weekend, bringing in the last of the migrating songbirds. Steady easterly winds tonight should keep any birds still residing along the lake shore in place for Friday, but by Friday morning winds will begin to shift back to the south and hold throughout the night producing favorable southwest winds for migrants. This means that by Saturday morning, May 30, we should see a whole new group of birds in stopover habitat. The species in this pulse will remain the same -- flycatchers, waxwings, cuckoos, Red-eyed Vireo -- but late-migrating warblers will also be present (predominately females and some second-year males). This weekend could be one of the last opportunities this spring to see breeding plumage warblers such as Amreican Redstart, Blackpoll, Canada, Wilson's, Mourning, and the elusive Connecticut Warbler. 

Aside from passerines, the end of May is also the peak time for migrating White-rumped Sandpipers and one of the last opportunities to view other migrating shorebirds. This weekend and next week should bring in White-rumped as well as Semipalmated Sandpiper into suitable wetland habitat, mudflats, and flooded fields. An ideal place to check for these birds would be Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area adjacent to the road near the first and second pulloffs -- as these areas tend to be fairly muddy with low water levels. Also, walking around the pools at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and scanning the water along the causeway and walking the beach at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area could produce some shorebirds.

By mid-June mostly all shorebirds that are not breeding in Ohio will be gone until fall migration. Along with White-rumped and Semipalmated Sandpiper, this upcoming weekend and the first week of June will be the last time to potentially see any lingering individuals such as Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, and Short-billed Dowitcher -- but there is always the possibility that a second-year bird that has failed to make the journey to its breeding grounds could hold out in the area until fall

Beginning Sunday night and continuing through Tuesday, winds are expected to shift back to the north and be fairly strong, keeping any new arrivals in the area for a few days. With temperatures in the low 60's and 70's and little chance of rain, it appears as if there will be a good string of days this weekend and upcoming week for catching the last bits of spring migration through Northwest Ohio -- until fall migration and the challenge of identifying fall female warblers begins! 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Finding Connecticut Warbler in late May

Connecticut Warbler. Photo by Kristin Mylecraine.

Saturday, May 23: The next few days, especially Monday May 25 and Tuesday May 26, should be a good time to seek Connecticut Warbler in n.w. Ohio. Below, we repeat and update some essential information that we published last year.

Connecticut Warbler is a highly sought-after migrant: It's uncommon, quiet, and secretive, and it migrates late in spring, after the peak of birding activity. In northwestern 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, at the west end of the west parking lot, and along the Estuary Trail to the west. (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, we 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 few days are prime time for Connecticut Warbler. Best of luck to everyone who seeks this prized migrant!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Migration Forecast May 19-22

Alder Flycatcher: a migrant worth seeking in late May
Tuesday, May 19: Beginning last Friday, the 15th, the past weekend has brought songbird numbers expected at this point in migration. However, with southerly winds every night since Friday, the volume of birds has declined, resulting in limited amounts of each species still present today, Tuesday the 19th. Although, regardless of how many birds departed each night and how many replaced them, no one walked away from a day of birding without having seen at least one American Redstart, if not a dozen or more. Along with the plethora of redstarts and Magnolia Warblers, many other non-warbler species such as Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Warbling and Red-eyed Vireo, and Eastern Wood-Pewee added their (sometimes unnoticed) songs to most habitats. 

Other notable species over the past week included Ruddy Turnstone, White-faced and Glossy Ibis, and Marbled and Hudsonian Godwit seen in or near Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area. One of the biggest surprises last week was the always-sought-after Kirtland's Warbler found Wednesday the 13th in Oak Openings Preserve.

As for the next three days, expect a series of slow days with fewer migrating songbirds, as a high pressure system over the area brings northerly winds. Many birds departed last night, Monday the 18th, riding the last of the southerly winds that had prevailed since the past weekend. Very little turnover occurred last night, but observations today (Tuesday the 19th) still produced many warbler species such as Tennessee, Canada, Wilson's, Chestnut-sided, and Cape May, predominantly females.

Northerly winds are forecast to continue until at least the weekend, so most of these migrants should be in the area for a few days building up fat reserves and waiting for southerly winds again. With daytime highs in the 60s and nighttime lows reaching the 40s, most birds should be foraging fairly low, providing excellent views and photo opportunities.

Once again, with winds coming from the north off Lake Erie, try searching suitable habitat a mile or so inland as the birds will typically move away from the lake shore. But a trip to the Magee Marsh boardwalk can always prove contrary to this thought, and it's always worth checking out the downwind side of the woods.

The Biggest Week in American Birding may be over, but migration is still going on. It's too early to know exactly which day the weather will turn back around, but it looks as if the shift will occur later in the upcoming weekend or early next week, bringing up the next wave of migrating songbirds. The third wave usually occurs around Memorial Day and is dominated by female Magnolia Warbler and female American Redstart, but also Cedar Waxwing, Red-eyed Vireo, and the Empidonax flycatchers. 

With a slow week expected, this would be a good time to prepare for the confusion of those Empids. Songs and calls are by far the best way to decipher the various species -- especially Willow and Alder Flycatchers -- but also study wing bar patterns, eye ring presence and color, bill size, and overall coloring for each species.  

Update: As of tonight, Friday the 22nd, weather predictions are still showing favorable conditions during Monday and Tuesday, the 25 and 26, for the arrival of the next wave of migrating songbirds. Over the weekend, winds will be coming from the south -- which will move any birds that have been held up along the shoreline this past week, out of the area. However, these southerly winds will be coming off of the Atlantic Ocean and are not expected to bring any new birds into the area on Saturday or Sunday. Winds are predicted to shift to a more direct southerly origin (from the Southern US rather than the Atlantic) on Sunday night, and thus should begin to bring in new birds by Monday. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Migration Forecast May 12-15 plus 16-17 update: Looking forward to the weekend

Male Bay-breasted Warbler: Good numbers have been seen for the last few days.

Tuesday, May 12: The opening weekend for The Biggest Week in American Birding may not have seen quite the volume expected, however, diversity was ever present in most areas along Lake Erie. Finding close to (or over) twenty species of warbler over the past weekend wasn't too difficult a task as more species like Tennessee, Magnolia, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, American Redstart, and Canada Warbler began to move into the marshes. Along with some of the "regular" migrants, many birders at the Magee Marsh boardwalk were fortunate enough to also observe Mourning Warbler, a Kentucky Warbler, and a few Hooded Warblers -- the latter two being overflight species that have flown too far north during migration.  

Other notable sightings from around the area include a few Summer Tanagers seen at both Magee Marsh and Oak Openings Preserve Metropark, a Chuck-will's-widow heard multiple nights in the campground at Maumee Bay State Park, and a Yellow-headed Blackbird seen during the auto-tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. And -- continuing the productivity it has had over the past couple of weeks -- Metzger Marsh has been host to upwards of 500 American Golden-Plovers, a few Black-bellied Plovers, two Black-necked Stilts, a Marbled Godwit, a few American White Pelicans, and even a rare-in-spring Hudsonian Godwit.

Bird activity during the upcoming week will mostly be affected by wind direction Tuesday night. With a cold front advancing towards the east, many birds may try to ride ahead with the receding southwest winds and cross Lake Erie. But the volume of remaining migrants on Wednesday and Thursday will mostly be determined by the timing of the shift from southerly winds to northerly winds on Tuesday night, May 12. 

If winds shift late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning, many birds will be gone on Wednesday and Thursday -- as songbirds travel at night, riding a tailwind from the south. But if winds shift early enough Tuesday night as forecast, many birds that have recently arrived should stick around for the next couple of days while winds continue from the north. On days with northerly winds most birds will move away from the shoreline, so these will be good days to explore areas a mile or so away from the lake such as Pearson Metropark, the trail behind BSBO, and the woods behind/north of the visitor's center at Ottawa NWR. 

This temperature and wind shift will be caused by a high pressure system that is expected to cover much of the eastern U.S. until Thursday night. But by Friday, when a new low pressure system is expected to move and winds shift back to the south, we could see the departure of any birds that were held up during the week and potentially the arrival of a few new birds. The good news with this high pressure system holding over the area throughout Wednesday and Thursday is that many migrating birds still heading north could become trapped in the southern U.S. waiting for the winds to change. So, by Saturday and Sunday (but most likely Saturday assuming favorable conditions) the second pulse of the second wave of migrants -- which is dominated by male Magnolia Warblers and usually has the largest volume of birds -- could bring a high number of birds into the area. If this back up does occur, there is also the potential that signs of the third wave may be present as well, bringing more flycatchers into the area. 

With the way the weather has been changing, it may be too early at this point to say that Saturday will be a big day. Further monitoring of the weather and radar over the next few days should reveal a clearer picture by the weekend and an update will be posted with any changes and new predictions. But for the moment, expect a moderately slow week picking up by Friday May 15, hopefully leading up to a big weekend.   

Update: Per tonight's forecast, conditions still look good for a high volume of birds -- as expected at this point during migration -- to move into the area this weekend. Late tonight (Friday the 15th) winds will begin to shift to the southwest, bringing high temperatures again and also some rain. Depending on the time and place this rain hits, many birds could be forced to land along the shoreline or be dispersed throughout the surrounding area -- only Saturday and Sunday morning observations will confirm where the majority of birds are being seen.

Be prepared to cover any equipment as scattered thunderstorms and a chance for rain are predicted throughout the day for both Saturday and Sunday, May 16 and 17. Check the weather periodically while out, as birding should be excellent when a break in the rain does occur. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Big Weekend for Biggest Week: Migration forecast for May 7 - 11

Chestnut-sided Warbler: a major player in the second wave.

Wednesday, May 6th: The first real push of migrating songbirds appeared on Monday, as we had predicted. With a delayed shift to northerly winds on Monday night, much turnover of birds was seen on Tuesday (especially an increase in Yellow-rumped Warblers and a decrease in White-throated Sparrows). Northerly and easterly winds did dominate on Tuesday night, but even so, a big movement of birds came in overnight. The BSBO main banding station at Navarre Marsh (east of Magee Marsh) had their biggest day of the spring so far today, the 6th, with even more birds than on Monday. The reasons for this are obscure, since the weather patterns didn't seem conducive to a large flight. At any rate, excellent numbers and variety of birds are in the area. And conditions look good for a great start for The Biggest Week in American Birding festival on Friday, May 8th.

The current mix of birds includes many nocturnal migrants, such as warblers, but also daytime migrants such as goldfinches and siskins. Despite the wind direction a surprising amount of Pine Siskins have moved into the area today, with counts of up to thirty birds at a time flocking to feeders. 
One of many Pine Siskins visiting the feeders at BSBO's window on wildlife.

Even though winds are expected to blow from the east tonight, they should be calm enough to allow for some movement and the arrival of some new birds by Thursday. But the best days to expect new (and more) birds will be Friday and Saturday, May 8th and 9th. With two low pressure systems hovering near the Gulf and over the central U.S., southwest winds will be pushing directly towards NW Ohio bringing warm tropical air and migrants. 

With this next flight, we should be experiencing the second wave of migrating songbirds, which provides the greatest species diversity. Numerically, this wave is dominated by White-throated Sparrow, Swainson's Thrush, female Yellow-rumped Warbler, female Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and male Magnolia Warbler. From a birding standpoint, this wave is notable for the big increase in diversity of warblers, with Chestnut-sided and Bay-breasted both becoming numerous, and for the first notable arrival of thrushes, flycatchers, and other migrants.

Along with birds, these days will also bring an increase in temperature and precipitation. Forecasts show that Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will exceed 80 degrees so remember to dress for the weather and stay hydrated. The other thing to expect with warm days and low pressure from the Gulf is rain. Thunderstorms and rain are expected on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with the most rain expected during the evening on Saturday and Sunday. Keep an eye on the weather and be prepared to cover any electronic equipment and camera lenses. 

Many birds may move along through the weekend with the continuing southerly winds, but there is a slight chance for rain both Saturday and Sunday night which may help keep some birds in place.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Good arrival of migrants

Palm Warbler at the Magee Marsh boardwalk: Things are looking up. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

Posted by Ryan Jacob and Kenn Kaufman on Monday, May 4: As predicted in our last post, the birding situation has improved tremendously since the end of last week. A decent trickle of migrants arrived Saturday, many more on Sunday, and today was the best day so far this spring in the Magee Marsh area.

According to our observations and conversations, at least 27 species of warblers were confirmed between the Magee Marsh and Metzger Marsh Wildlife Areas today. Yellow-rumped Warblers were still the most numerous by far, with good numbers of Palm, Black-throated Green, Nashville, Yellow, and others, plus a good sprinkling of other species. Highlights included Canada and Hooded Warblers at Metzger, and Kentucky and Golden-winged Warblers at Magee. Many orioles and Scarlet Tanagers were in evidence. A major flight of Pine Siskins developed over the last two days, with flocks moving along the lake shore and small groups visiting feeders in the area. 

Birding should continue to be good this afternoon between rain showers. Winds are supposed to shift around to the north late tonight, and to stay northerly through at least midday Wednesday, so we probably won't see many migrants arriving during the next couple of days. Most of the birds that are here should stick around, though. And even with a lot of rain in the forecast, the birding should be excellent in between showers. 

A tip for birding the area when the wind shifts to the north or northeast: areas right along the lake, such as the woodlot at Metzger Marsh and the parking lot edge at Magee, won't be as good in these conditions. Some of the migrants seem to filter inland, so birding might be better just a little south of the lake. Try the woods at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge or the Gallagher Trail behind Black Swamp Bird Observatory. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Monday May 4th Looking Good

Male Yellow-rumped Warbler: coming soon to a tree near you
Note: I'm very pleased to introduce Ryan Jacob as a contributor to these updates. Ryan is working as an Outreach Specialist at Black Swamp Bird Observatory, and he's a very skilled birder with strong knowledge of birds and migration throughout n.w. Ohio. Ryan and I, with input from migration guru Mark Shieldcastle, will be working to keep these updates current throughout May. - Kenn Kaufman

Posted by Ryan Jacob on Friday May 1st: The beginning of May can only mean one thing...songbird migration will soon be in full swing. Rusty Blackbirds, American Tree Sparrows, and Golden-crowned Kinglets are mostly gone and by now finding around twenty species of warbler shouldn't be a difficult task. Unfortunately for those of us in Northwest Ohio, persistent northerly winds have kept the first wave of migrating songbirds far south of the western basin of Lake Erie.

Despite the wind direction, a sparse number of migrating males have made the push to head north. The past couple of nights (particularly a slight southern wind Tuesday night) have allowed for a minor rise in diversity, but not volume. Recent visits to the Magee Marsh boardwalk and area have produced around ten species of warbler including Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white, Palm, and Nashville. 

Looking ahead, weather forecasts show that Friday May 1st will bring a rise in temperatures and a steady shift in wind direction throughout Friday and Saturday. This shift coincides with the eastward movement of the high pressure system that has been looming over Ohio and a new low pressure system developing in the central U.S. This low pressure system is the kind that is needed to bring the overdue southwest winds and birds that have been expected for the past week. 

This steady shift should bring in some new birds to the area (at least a small a amount of new species) by Sunday May 3rd. But at this time it is expected that Monday May 4th should be a fairly good day to get out and look for new arrivals. Depending on the effects of the low pressure system, a huge volume of birds may not be seen but diversity should definitely increase. Assuming that conditions are favorable through Sunday night, there is an expectation for high numbers of male Yellow-rumped Warblers as well as decent numbers of Palm, Nashville, Black-and-white, and Black-throated Green Warblers, with smaller amounts of other warblers scattered throughout stopover habitat. Other high numbers to look forward to will be Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, and White-throated Sparrows (which have already begun to move in along the lake shore). Along with these migrants, also be prepared for sightings of male Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. 

Since this wave is arriving so late (usually occurring around April 25th) it is unclear exactly which wave or waves will be arriving. Banding results from Black Swamp Bird Observatory's Navarre Unit research station and general observations from around the area will help indicate whether a normal (albeit delayed) migration schedule is occurring or if we are seeing some elements of the second wave mixing in with the first. If the latter is happening, along with high numbers of male Yellow-rumped Warblers, a good number of female Yellow-rumpeds can be expected as well. And if any significant numbers of Magnolia, Bay-breasted, and Chestnut-sided Warblers are present on Monday, that would be a strong suggestion that some of the second wave is trickling in. Ordinarily, the average date for the second wave is around May 7. 

For those who can't get out Monday and Tuesday it is still worth exploring the area this weekend, May 2nd and 3rd. Along with the potential for Sunday to produce new warblers, good numbers of Dunlin, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Snowy Egret, and Semipalmated Plover have been seen throughout Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area -- which  has also been host to Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, White-faced Ibis, American Avocet, and Black-necked Stilt throughout the past week (the Stilt being seen as recently as April 30th and the Ibis and Avocet reported this morning, May 1st). The Black-necked Stilt was discovered Thursday evening foraging in the mudflats near the second and third pulloffs beyond the major bend, and around fifty Avocets are being seen near the second pulloff. 

Due to conflicting wind maps, pressure system maps, and daily temperature forecasts it is unclear what will happen after Wednesday night. Further monitoring over the weekend should give a more accurate idea of what we can expect during the upcoming week and an update will be added soon. 

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