Thursday, April 28, 2016

Migration outlook: April 28 - May 2

Black-throated Green Warbler, one of the typical early migrants among the warblers. Photo / Kenn Kaufman.

Thursday, April 28: As predicted last week by Ryan Jacob, this Monday (the 25th) produced an excellent flight in habitats near the Lake Erie shoreline, and the good numbers and variety continued through Tuesday. The dominant migrants were White-throated Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler, Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, all typical April birds. Warblers expected on the early side of the flight, aside from Yellow-rumped and Palm, include Pine, Nashville, Black-and-white, and Black-throated Green warblers, and multiples of all these were present. At least one Prothonotary Warbler had returned to the Magee Marsh boardwalk, and one or two Orange-crowned Warblers were being seen consistently near the boardwalk's west end; more than a dozen warbler species have been found here. A few Blue-headed and Warbling vireos and at least one White-eyed Vireo were among the other migrants at Magee. Throughout the area there were reports of returning House Wren, Gray Catbird, Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Scarlet Tanager.

A wind shift and some rain during Monday night meant that nocturnal migrants were less concentrated on the immediate lake shore on Tuesday. But Tuesday and Wednesday brought major flights of migrating Blue Jays, with flocks cruising the lake shore and dozens swarming around some area bird feeders. 

Shorebird numbers have been good recently, although peak diversity will occur later in May. Water levels are high in many local impoundments, so shorebirds are concentrating around the edges and in adjacent fields. The Boss Unit of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (on Benton-Carroll Road south of Route 2, just east of the entrance to Magee Marsh) has high water mostly suitable for yellowlegs, but large flocks of American Golden-Plovers have been seen in the grass on the southwest side (a scope is essential for viewing from the observation platform). Other flocks have been seen in fields adjacent to Metzger Marsh. Metzger hosted a concentration of more than 60 Willets on Monday, April 25, in the marsh near the second pulloff, but they didn't linger. Incidentally, one area with lower water levels is along the causeway in to Magee Marsh; Solitary Sandpiper and other species have been there recently, and this will continue to be worth checking for shorebirds if the water stays low. 

Looking ahead: Based on current weather forecasts, we don't see any huge arrivals of migrants happening in the next five days. Temperatures will be on the cool side (40s and 50s) and winds mostly from the east and northeast. Some migrants will continue to arrive even without helpful winds, but conditions don't look right for producing any major wave. Tuesday May 3 or Wednesday May 4 may have better potential, but the long-range forecast is uncertain. However, the longer we wait for the next wave, the bigger it's likely to be when it does finally get here.

Birding in the counties along Lake Erie is still quite rewarding. Most of the migrants that arrived recently are still in the general area. Trees have barely begun to leaf out, so conditions for viewing (and photography) are excellent. If you visit on a day with northerly winds, remember that many of the migrants may be a mile or two south of the lake shore. Consider checking spots like the Gallagher Trail behind Black Swamp Bird Observatory, woods behind the visitors' center at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, sheltered spots at East Harbor State Park or Maumee Bay State Park, or trails at Pearson Metropark. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Migration Forecast: April 23-27

Pine Warbler
Saturday, April 23rd: As expected, a slight shift in wind direction to the south earlier this week carried away most of the waterfowl and Fox Sparrows lingering in the area. While there wasn't quite the boost in songbird numbers as was expected last Monday, there has been a trickle of birds streaming in throughout the week. Fairly calm winds over the past few nights have allowed for short-distance migrants to work their way into the marshes, with a noticeable increase in Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, White-throated and Swamp Sparrows, House Wrens, and the first arrival of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Nearing the end of their stay in northwest Ohio, Rusty Blackbirds are still quite numerous along the boardwalk in Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and the woods surrounding Black Swamp Bird Observatory. 

Although we're still about a week away from seeing some serious warbler movement, individual birds including Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Palm Warbler, Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, and Orange-crowned Warbler have made appearances in various locations. Yellow-rumped Warblers remain the dominant warbler species throughout much of the region and are becoming more numerous each day. Though not as numerous as the Yellow-rumped, and not that prolific in northwest Ohio, Pine Warblers (often two to three at a time) are being seen along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh and Maumee Bay State Park. Also, Wildwood Metropark saw the first arrival of Yellow-throated Warbler this week (uncommon for northwest Ohio), and Magee Marsh had the first Prothonotary Warbler of the season appear.

Also taking advantage of these calm nights, shorebirds have been on the rise. Increased numbers of Pectoral Sandpiper and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs are are being found utilizing flooded fields and low areas in the marshes, as well as small flocks of Dunlin around Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area. A trip to the Boss Unit of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Complex this week produced 40+ American Golden-Plover, with another 100+ birds in the fields around Metzger Marsh. Other birds that have made brief visits to the area this week include American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Willet, and American White Pelican. These latter birds are difficult to predict when and where they will show up, so keep an eye out and expect the unexpected in suitable fields and marshes as shorebird migration ramps up.

Looking ahead: Saturday night should see some movement as winds begin to steadily shift from the southeast to the south overnight into Sunday. With this slight shift, Sunday should see more Ruby-throated Hummingbirds as well as an increase in warblers and thrushes. With southerly winds and higher temperatures on Sunday, raptors such as Broad-winged Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Osprey should show some decent movement throughout the day--utilizing a tailwind and thermals. But it appears that the best day--as of now--for migration and a new wave of birds will be Monday the 25th. With two Low pressure systems forming over the Mississippi, southwest winds from the Gulf of Mexico will be aimed at northwest Ohio Sunday night into Monday Morning. Accompanying these Lows will also be some rainfall, so be prepared to cover any equipment. By Tuesday, winds are predicted to shift back to a more northerly direction and hold through Wednesday, keeping any new arrivals in the area for at least a few days. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Migration Forecast April 14-18

Hermit Thrush: The earliest of the "brown" thrushes to move through northwest Ohio.

Thursday, April 14th: Despite a rather unwelcomed snowfall over the past weekend, a quick shift of winds to the south last Sunday night led to a noticeable bump in short-distance migrant numbers in the marshes on Monday. In one night there was an immediate boost in Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Hermit Thrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Winter Wrens, Brown Creepers, and Brown Thrashers. These species and numbers continue to be present in northwest Ohio -- especially in areas such as the boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area -- and can be expected to stick around while these northerly and easterly winds persist. Other passing species such as the Fox Sparrow can still be found in good numbers, but may take advantage of the next southerly wind and continue their journey northward.  

While we are mostly at the tail-end of waterfowl migration, areas along the causeway at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, the pools at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area have been holding good numbers of American Coot, Green-winged Teal, and Blue-winged Teal. Other dabblers and a few species of divers can still be found mixed in with the deluge of teals and coots, but these birds (like the Fox Sparrow) may soon be gone with the next favorable wind. 

With all of the recent rain and snowmelt, areas typically frequented by shorebirds have been too saturated for this group of birds to forage in. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, Dunlin, and Wilson's Snipe are present in the region, but are being found in fields accustomed to flooding such as the Boss Unit of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Complex. 

Looking ahead: A persistent high pressure system is expected to move south along the Atlantic coast, driving northerly and easterly winds our way throughout most of the weekend. However, at some point during the night, winds from the south are predicted to arrive. But the exact night this shift will occur is unclear at this time. Conflicting weather maps are forecasting southerly winds Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday night (with each map predicting a different night). Although it's a fairly broad time period, at least one day this weekend (Saturday the 16th, Sunday the 17th, Monday the 18th) should see some movement. This movement may include the departure of waterfowl, Fox Sparrows, and Eastern Towhees, but may also include another boost in Hermit Thrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, kinglets, and the arrival of a few Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. 

Update: After checking multiple forecast maps this afternoon, the current consensus is that winds will briefly shift to the south Sunday night, meaning there could be some movement overnight into Monday the 18th. There still seems to be some uncertainty about the timing of this wind shift, so paying attention to overnight wind direction throughout the weekend could prove advantageous for a good day of birding.  

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