Monday, March 26, 2007

Ottawa County Pectorals and others

In Ottawa County (n.w. Ohio), just east of the entrance to Crane Creek State Park and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area along Route 2, Benton-Carroll Road takes off to the south. Just south of Rt 2 on both sides of Benton-Carroll is an area that floods regularly and is often good for shorebirds and other waterbirds. Today (Monday March 26), in addition to various ducks (such as Hooded Merganser, not your typical flooded-field bird), there were five species of shorebirds: about 10 Killdeer, 2 Wilson's Snipe, 5 Greater Yellowlegs, 9 Lesser Yellowlegs, and 3 Pectoral Sandpipers. None of these is unexpected for the date, as all should be here by late March. Eastern Meadowlarks (at least 2) were calling from the adjacent fields. In a partially flooded field just to the south I saw at least 300 Rusty Blackbirds along with Red-wings and others. It seemed like a plausible spot to look for Brewer's Blackbird, but in a careful study I couldn't pull out even one Brewer's.

Pectoral Sandpiper merits an additional comment because it's in a different category from most of our early spring migrants. Across all groups of birds, most of the species that come north early are those that spend the winter relatively close to us: most ducks, geese, Killdeers, American Woodcocks, Eastern Phoebes, Tree Swallows, Red-winged and Rusty Blackbirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Hermit Thrushes, etc., etc., all are common in winter in the southeastern United States. For that matter, so are Wilson's Snipes and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Pectoral Sandpiper, on the other hand, doesn't winter regularly anywhere north of the Equator -- its main wintering range is in southern South America. It may show up in the same damp fields as Killdeer and snipe, but chances are it has come ten times as far to be here. The breeding range of Pectoral Sandpiper is mostly above the Arctic Circle, so it's hard to understand why it starts north so early. It's especially interesting to compare its timing to that of White-rumped Sandpiper, which has similar wintering and breeding ranges but migrates north much later; peak numbers of White-rumpeds here may occur in the first week of June! At any rate, among our early migrants, Pectoral Sandpipers (and the American Golden-Plovers that should follow shortly) deserve special credit as our first arrivals from truly southern latitudes.

Magee area Fox Sparrows

The Lake Erie shoreline in northwestern Ohio at the end of March has to be the best place and time in the world for seeing Fox Sparrows. Today (Monday March 26th), Rick Nirschl reported seeing or hearing about 70 Fox Sparrows along the bird trail at Magee Marsh. I only spent a brief time along the west end of the boardwalk so I only saw about 20 Fox Sparrows there, but I had another 50-plus in thickets along the Wildlife Beach, about a quarter-mile east of the east end of the boardwalk. So there are clearly a lot of individuals around. This kind of concentration would be considered quite unusual in most places; Fox Sparrow is usually uncommon everywhere, seen in small numbers, seldom more than a dozen in a day.

The last couple of springs at this time I've been interested to see how the migrating Fox Sparrows are concentrated along the immediate lake shore. Even a mile or two to the south, far fewer individuals are seen. These migrant birds seem quite shy, flushing well away from the boardwalk at Magee, so it takes some careful attention to even notice that they're around, but they're beautiful enough to be worth the effort. Today a number of the Fox Sparrows were doing partial versions of their musical, haunting song, even in what I could only describe as the heat of the afternoon.

Nature Blog Network