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. 

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