Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Migration Update and Finding Connecticut Warbler: May 23-28

Wilson's Warbler: one of the typical late-May migrants. 
Tuesday, May 23: As predicted, last week (particularly Wednesday, May 17th) saw a great number and diversity of birds enter the region. With southerly winds each night from Tuesday through Friday, there was plenty of turnover each night with birds arriving and departing the marshes, until northerly winds took hold on Friday the 19th, retaining many migrants. With cooler daytime temperatures and some rain mixed in Friday through Sunday, any birds that were still in the area offered great looks, foraging low at eye-level. Dominating this arrival of migrants were American Redstart and Magnolia Warbler, with lesser numbers of Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Blue, Tennessee, and Red-eyed Vireo. Of special note, up until Sunday the 21st, a pair of King Rail could be heard and seen actively foraging on the eastern side of the Magee Marsh Causeway.

Corroborated with daily totals from Black Swamp Bird Observatory's Navarre Marsh Banding Station, we also saw a somewhat early arrival of Wilson's Warbler, Canada, Mourning, and Connecticut, and also a substantial push of Empidonax flycatchers. Typically these species don't make a large push until the third wave of migrants in late May. But as many observers have seen, plenty of Wilson's, Canada, and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher could be found throughout the region, with Willow and Alder Flycatchers being quite numerous for this time in May. (Note that Willow and Alder can't be separated with complete certainty if they're silent, so the old name "Traill's Flycatcher" is useful for designating this pair of species.) 

Following this southerly wind shift, the marshes saw the departure of many previously common migrant species. Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-throated Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm, Nashville, and Cape May made their final flight from the lake shore leading into Thursday. And while Hermit Thrush has completely disappeared, Swainson's and lesser numbers of Gray-cheeked have taken its place. 

Looking ahead: Heading into the third wave of migration, we can expect to see more American Redstarts, Magnolia Warbler, Wilson's, Canada, Mourning, and the elusive Connecticut. Along with Red-eyed Vireo, this is also the peak time for the Empidonax flycatchers. However, given the numbers we've already seen enter the region, it's difficult to say what the abundance of these typical late-May migrants will be. Making this prediction even more challenging is the absence of true southerly winds. Each day this week seems to shift back and forth between southerly and northerly winds, with southerly winds bringing in cooler air from the Appalachians. While this wind origin won't necessarily drive birds away, it won't direct them to Northwest Ohio either, resulting in a scattering of birds across the lake shore. At this point, it doesn't look like the real push of southerly tropical winds will come until Saturday night leading into Sunday the 28th. But by this time many of the birds that would have taken advantage of this front will probably have moved through during the earlier part of the week. In terms of birding opportunities, check each night for southerly winds for good birding the next day (at this moment, those days appear to be Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, the 24th, 25th, and 28th). Also expected on these days is intermittent rain. While not great for birding and photographing in, periods after rainfall will generally see birds move low to eye-level, and into areas where vegetation is a little more sparse.   

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. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Migration Update: May 16-21

Yellow-billed Cuckoo: a typical - yet hard to find - migrant in mid-May.
Monday, May 15: The end of the "pressure system clog" is nigh, and the birds are telling us that they are ready to arrive. Over the past week the lake shore region has seen a great diversity of incoming migrants, pushing against northerly winds to get to their breeding grounds. Because of persistent northerly winds Tuesday through Friday, birds weren't in a great abundance in the marshes, and seemed to be spread across the Midwest rather than being driven to Lake Erie. However, with calm to southerly winds leading into Saturday and Sunday, the region began to see some of the numbers and the diversity we would expect at this time in May, especially on Sunday, May 14th.

American Redstart, Black-and-white, Nashville, Magnolia, and Tennessee Warbler all increased in abundance over the weekend, and multiple Blackpoll and Wilson's Warblers were seen at key lake shore sites. An increase in flycatchers was apparent, with Willow Flycatchers beginning to populate their local breeding areas, and more sightings of Least, Great Crested, and Eastern Kingbird. Along with these more "common" migrants, there were plenty of notable finds throughout the region including Prairie, Connecticut, and Canada Warbler on the Magee Marsh boardwalk, a handful of Mournings scattered across the lake shore marshes, and Golden-wingeds seen at Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Maumee Bay SP, and Oak Openings MP. On Sunday, a Connecticut Warbler was singing south of the boardwalk at Maumee Bay State Park, and two males were singing (and a female was seen) along the Wood Thrush trail at Pearson Park. The woodlot at the end of Metzger Marsh - which may be small, but can be a great migrant trap and is worth checking when other areas seem "slow" - produced over a dozen warbler species, and has been hosting a very vocal Least Bittern just past the woodlot on the outer dike.

Rain and northerly winds pushing Lake Erie into the marshy shoreline, have over saturated many typical shorebird habitats. The platform at Ottawa NWR's Stange Prairie has benefited from this deluge and has seen both yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, American Pipit, and a female Wilson's Phalarope (although the waters there are rapidly drying up). While not holding as much as some of the other flooded fields, parts of the Magee Marsh causeway have been drawn down and have seen Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers, and Snowy Egret utilizing the exposed marsh.  

It's worth noting that, while many are excited for incoming birds, there are other migrants dwindling down and can be expected to disappear within the next few days. Hermit Thrush are virtually gone and are being replaced by Swainson's, Veery, and soon enough, Gray-cheeked. Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher have dropped down to only a handful of individuals. And White-throated Sparrow - although still somewhat abundant - will depart the region any day.

Looking ahead: Even though we've seen a less than typical movement of second-wave birds, things are about to change! Winds and temperatures are shifting, and by Tuesday afternoon, the region is expected to see an 80 degree day. While there will be some movement Monday night with a southerly wind, the real wave of birds looks like it will arrive Wednesday, May 17. This is right around the time when a second pulse of the second wave usually arrives, bringing high diversity and high volume. Combined with this time frame is a perfect setup of winds and warm fronts. Shifting mid-day Tuesday, winds will be coming from the southwest, and will be driving up tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico. If the birds don't overshoot the marshes, this could be a massive day of migrants, bringing in more warblers, vireos, thrushes, cuckoos, and flycatchers. Because temps will be in the upper 80's, the best birding will be in the cooler morning and evening hours. With great birds and high heat, it can be easy to over-exert yourself and risk heat exhaustion. Take breaks often and bring along extra water. 

These southwest winds will continue into Thursday, and will produce some turnover of arrivals and departures. Despite how many birds take advantage of these winds and warm front, and depart the marshes overnight, there will still be great diversity and numbers by Friday and Saturday, when winds shift to the north and bring cooler temperatures for a more comfortable day of birding. As Sunday rolls in, winds are predicted to shift back to the southwest. It's unclear of the timing of this shift, but we can expect it to still be a good day, with many birds most likely departing Sunday night into Monday.  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Migration Update: May 9-15

Chestnut-sided Warbler: a major player in the second wave.
Photo by Kenn Kaufman
Tuesday, May 9: Rain, wind, cold, sun, birds...last week had a mix of everything. Just before persistent northerly winds set in, the lake shore region was met with the arrival of many first-wave migrant birds - predominantly Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-throated Sparrow, and Yellow Warbler. As is typical with the first wave of movement, there wasn't necessarily an abundance of incoming migrants, but there was definitely diversity. Blue-winged, Orange-crowned, and Black-and-white Warbler made great appearances on the Magee Marsh boardwalk, and along with an influx of Baltimore Orioles, Orchard Orioles started to appear throughout the region. 

With The Biggest Week in American Birding now in full swing, there are many eyes in the area, locating birds that might otherwise be missed. Only in the past few days a Le Conte's Sparrow was seen briefly along the outer dike at Metzger Marsh WA, Upland Sandpipers were found at Grimm Prairie on St Rt 2 and Krause Rd, Black-necked Stilts were seen foraging in the fields around Metzger Marsh, and a Marbled Godwit and Black-bellied Plovers were easily observed in a flooded field behind Barnside Creamery on St Rt 2. 

It appears that - despite this clog of northerly winds - birds have been on the move. Even though the Great Lakes region has been dominated by these northerly winds, migrating birds have been making their way through the southern US. With mostly calm winds overnight, that movement is apparent today, Tuesday, May 9, as a new variety and amount of birds are already being reported. But what has so far been reported today, should only get better tomorrow!

Tonight, leading into Wednesday, May 10, winds are predicted to be mild and take a brief shift to the south. With the clog of pressure systems that have dominating the country, this shift won't be the kind we look for to see a massive movement of birds. But, as we've already seen this morning, birds are waiting to move in from the south, and this shift should be conducive enough for the region to see the second-wave of migrant birds. This wave typically brings in the greatest diversity of birds, and we can expect to see an increase in warbler species including Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, and Magnolia. Along with warblers, expect a new arrival of thrushes such as Swainson's and Veery, cuckoos, flycatchers, and an increase in shorebirds.

Even though this "pressure system clog" has made for a cold and seemingly slow migration, there is a positive note for birders and photographers. With strong northerly winds swinging back around on Wednesday, the rest of the week's forecast looks good for holding birds in the region. Any new arrivals in the next day will be here for a couple of days until the winds calm down or hormones push the birds across Lake Erie. And with mostly cool daytime temperatures, these new arrivals can be expected to be foraging lower in the vegetation throughout Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Barring any rain over the weekend, easily finding birds on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday may pose a challenge (but a fun challenge!). With temperatures in the high 60's, and heavy leaf-out, birds are going to be high and well hidden. This will be a great time to practice birding by ear, and really study tail patterns.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

Migration Update: May 1-6

Palm Warbler, one of the dominant warblers of the first wave.
Photo by Ryan Jacob
Monday, May 1: As expected, following a lull of birds, last Wednesday and Thursday, April 26th and 27th, saw a good push of first-wave migrants enter the marshes. Dominant first-wave migrants such as White-throated Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, female Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Palm were well represented throughout the lake shore region along with small numbers of Black-throated Green, Nashville, and Cape May Warblers, and Baltimore Oriole. A few other nice surprises to come out of this push were a male Golden-winged Warbler seen by many at the west entrance of the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area boardwalk, a couple of sightings of Hooded Warbler throughout the region, and a Kentucky Warbler seen at Maumee Bay State Park. Diurnal migrants like Broad-winged Hawk and Osprey were observed only in a couple of instances, but Blue Jays made a great push along the lake shore (with 5,000 being counted in one 5-hour stretch by Black Swamp Bird Observatory staff in Navarre Marsh). 

And then Friday rolled in...and the birds rolled out. With calm to southerly winds overnight and into the early morning, the majority of recent arrivals pulled out of the region to continue northward. Diversity was still well represented Friday and Saturday, but numbers were noticeably low. However, despite this turnover in songbirds, shorebirds were on the move. Throughout the state, scattered flocks of Willets were being seen (including a small flock briefly held up in Metzger Marsh); Spotted and Solitary Sandpiper have become more evident in the marshes; and Dunlin, Pectoral, Least, and Semipalmated Sandpipers, plus a rare-in-spring Stilt Sandpiper and both dowitcher species, beginning to filter into the region. Unfortunately, typical shorebird areas are holding high levels of water (Metzger Marsh, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the Boss Unit), forcing birds out into adjacent farm fields. Low areas in Magee Marsh and Pearson Metropark North could bring some birds in and will be worth scanning in the upcoming days. 

Despite a cold northerly wind, a trip out to the lake shore on Sunday was quite rewarding. Typically with northern winds, birds will move inland about a mile or so. However, exceptional numbers of Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher could be seen all along the Magee Marsh boardwalk. Present with other expected first-wave migrants, Black-throated Blue Warbler made its first appearance, as well as higher numbers of House Wren, Warbling Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Wood Thrush, and Gray Catbird.     

Looking ahead: Given yesterday's surprise bird movement and warm southerly winds overnight, the morning rain of Monday, May 1st, cannot end soon enough. Due to this temperature and wind shift, it is expected for a new set of birds to have entered the region overnight. With this expectation, a trip out today should produce many of the previously mentioned migrants, and more signs of Scarlet Tanager, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Veery, and Eastern Kingbird. With a continuance of southerly winds tonight, Tuesday May 2nd could see some turnover (depending on the condition of new arrivals) and make for another great day of birding. Beginning Wednesday, winds will shift to the north, bringing with them cold air. This shift is expected to last for well over a week (weather predictions are notoriously unreliable the further out they get, so we'll be watching for a southern shift as the days progress) so any arrivals can be expected to stay in the area while northern winds persist. In times such as this, it can be advantageous to explore areas away from the lake shore such as Pearson Metropark, the woods around the visitor center at Ottawa NWR, and the trails around Black Swamp Bird Observatory. 

A benefit to birders and photographers during these cold periods is the physical height of bird activity. During these cold times, birds tend to forage lower among the vegetation (following insects). This can bring treetop foragers such as Scarlet Tanager, Warbling Vireo, and Cape May Warbler down to eye level. 

Eventually, hormones will outweigh weather conditions and, despite northerly winds, birds will begin to filter out of the area (with somewhat calm northerly winds and a mild shift to the south, this departure should begin Wednesday night). Looking to the Gulf of Mexico, conditions are looking good for migrants to start moving up into the southern US on Wednesday, but with the next wave of migrants typically arriving between May 7th and 13th, it's still going to be a little while before we see a "big wave" of birds. 

Summary: Look for good numbers of birds and diversity in the early half of this week. Cold temperatures will make for great photo opportunities, but expect bird numbers to decrease as the week progresses. 

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