Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Northern Harrier roost at Magee Marsh

Last year, Rita Schneider was the first to draw attention to the fact that numbers of Northern Harriers were roosting communally at Magee Marsh, gathering in the evening along the causeway out to the beach at Magee. Rita has just passed along word that the roost has formed again this year; she and Laura Alldridge saw at least 16 harriers together, just east of the causeway, late in the evening on December 29th. If you happen to be birding the area (where at least one Northern Shrike has been seen repeatedly in the last few weeks), it's worth waiting for dusk to watch the harriers come in. We're accustomed to seeing harriers widely dispersed in the daytime, so to see one of these evening gatherings is quite a sight.

For those who aren't familiar with the area, the road in to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is well marked from Ohio Route 2, between Rt. 19 and Rt. 590, north and west of Oak Harbor.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fox Sparrows at BSBO

One of the many great things about birding in northwestern Ohio is that Fox Sparrows can be found reliably, sometimes even in substantial numbers, during migration. They migrate mostly very early in spring and late in fall, so fair-weather birding may not turn them up; but sometimes at the end of March or in early November you can find dozens in the thickets near the Lake Erie shoreline.

Usually they're a lot harder to find in December. But right now (Saturday Dec. 6) there are two Fox Sparrows right outside Anna's Window on Wildlife at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. The birds have been there for a couple of days, and BSBO web guru Delores Cole and others have been able to get good photos of them. The observatory is open today and tomorrow, Saturday Dec. 6 and Sunday Dec. 7, from 11 to 5. Come out on Sunday between 1 and 5 p.m. and there will be other attractions of BSBO's holiday open house, including special prices, conservation-related gift ideas, refreshments and shade-grown coffee, complimentary gift wrapping, and book signings by Jim Mollenkopf and yours truly. Click here for more information and to download a savings coupon from the BSBO web site.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Magee Marsh for Northern Shrike(s)

Most birders who cover this area regularly are aware that the causeway north across Magee Marsh to the beach and boardwalk is closed for part of the fall season. This year the road was closed most days from October 13 to November 29, open only on Sundays and on Saturday afternoons. During this period, birders with flexible schedules may get out of the habit of visiting. But this is November 29th, so as of noon today the road should be open all week once again.

I went to check it out this afternoon and saw at least one Northern Shrike, possibly two. Around 2:10 - 2:30 pm I watched an adult foraging in the area west of the first (southernmost) pullout on the causeway. About an hour later I went back to the area with Ron and Ryan Steiner; we spent a considerable amount of time scanning from the first and second pullouts, and after we'd been at the third one for several minutes, Ryan spotted a shrike perched up high, far to the west. We had very good looks in scopes but it would have been less satisfying in binoculars, so that's something to keep in mind. Because of differences in distance and lighting, I couldn't be positive, but my impression was that this was a different individual than the first one I'd seen.

Hugh Rose tells me that there had been other sightings near this third pullout during recent weekends. The third pullout is the northernmost one, closest to the beach. This was a good vantage point last winter as well. But the shrike(s) can show up anywhere along the causeway, especially if I'm correct about there being more than one bird.

Also present today were good numbers of waterfowl flying around (including both Tundra and Trumpeter Swans, plus good numbers of Wood Ducks and American Black Ducks). At one point there were five Bald Eagles overhead at the same time.
Later in the season there are likely to be a lot of Common Goldeneyes and other diving ducks offshore, but today there were very few birds off the beach, just a few gulls.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Snowy alert

There have been several reports of Snowy Owls in northern Ohio during the last few days, including a couple in our immediate area, although neither of the latter two birds could be refound. Reports from nearby states and nearby areas of southern Canada indicate that this year's southward flight of Snowy Owls will be much larger than usual. The causes are still being debated -- it's possible that there was a high population of lemmings in the eastern Canadian Arctic this summer and that the population crashed abruptly during the fall; generally it's hunger that forces these big Arctic predators southward.

Whatever the reason, it's a good idea to keep an eye out for these birds. This is a species of open country, and in our area it's usually in farm areas or along the lakeshore, not in forested patches. If you find one, please let other birders know, but please remember that the owl is probably stressed by lack of food -- we should watch from a respectful distance rather than trying to approach too closely.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Bridges of Ottawa County

In Ottawa Co., where State Route 19 crosses the wide Toussaint River (about 2 miles south of Rt 2 and 4 miles north of Oak Harbor), there have been hundreds of Bonaparte's Gulls for the last few days -- almost all adults. On Thursday Nov. 6 they were joined by hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls and a few Herring Gulls, again mostly adults. A fair number of Great Blue Herons are present, and a few lingering Great Egrets. So far I haven't seen anything unusual among this concentration, but it would be worth a check for anyone who's birding in the area. The best place to park is on the north side of the river and west side of Rt 19, where there's a pulloff leading into the Toussaint Wildlife Area. From here you can scope the west side and walk across to scope the east side.

Not far away as the gull flies, Turtle Creek crosses Lemon Road about a mile south of Rt 2 and just north of Duff Washa Road (yeah, that's really the name). Turtle Creek was very low on Thursday Nov. 6, and had extensive exposed mudflats just east of Lemon Road. About 400 Ring-billed Gulls were in the area, but the flats also attracted 41 Killdeer and 17 Pectoral Sandpipers -- a good number of Pecs for so late in the season, considering that they'll mostly go to southern South America for the brief winter and still be back this way by March. The best viewing is from Duff Washa Rd but it's not safe to stop there; best to park up around the corner on Lemon Road and walk back to view the flats.

Anywhere in this general area, keep a keen eye out for Snowy Owls. There have been a couple of reports from just a few miles farther west within the last week. The birds are still on the move and might show up anywhere in open country.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Schedule notes at Magee Marsh WA and Ottawa NWR

This weekend Kim and I will be at the statewide Audubon Assembly down in Bellville, but for those who are coming up to the marsh region of northwest Ohio instead, here are a couple of scheduling notes. At this time of year, the road back to the boardwalk at Magee Marsh is closed on weekdays and on Saturday mornings, open on Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday. (The walking trail behind the BSBO center and the trails at the Sportsmen's Migratory Bird Center are open throughout this season.) Also, since this is the third weekend of the month, ordinarily the auto tour at Ottawa NWR would be open on Saturday, but this weekend it will be open on Sunday instead, along with an open house at the refuge visitors' center. This is a great time of year to be visiting, but the change in schedule at Ottawa and the timing of the closing at Magee are things you'll have to take into account.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Midges, migrants, and Connecticut Warbler

As of Thursday, Sept. 25, there are still excellent numbers of warblers and other migrants in the woods behind the Observatory. There was a large emergence of midges in the area Wednesday night. We know from studies here and elsewhere around the Great Lakes that midges provide a major food source for warblers and other insectivorous migrants, so the abundance of these small insects in the Lake Erie Marshes is one reason why the lakeshore region of northwest Ohio is so spectacular for birding. To the uninitiated, these big emergences of adult midges can be a little unnerving, because the midges (family Chironomidae) look somewhat like mosquitoes. But they don't bite, they're totally harmless, and they help the songbirds fatten up to survive the next leg of their migration, so we should be glad to see them. One notable result today (Sept. 25) was a Connecticut Warbler seen at the new water feature that's right outside Anna's Window on Wildlife, inside the Observatory building. It didn't stay long and I don't know if it will be back, but certainly people will be looking tomorrow. The Black Swamp Bird Observatory is located just north of Rt. 2 at the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, and at this season it's open to the public from 11 to 5 on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Weekend Sept. 20-21 migration

In the area of Magee Marsh / Ottawa NWR, numbers and variety of migrant songbirds have been very good over the weekend of Sept. 20-21. More than 20 species of warblers were seen each day, as well as good numbers of vireos, thrushes, and other migrants. Blackpoll Warbler has been the most numerous species, but Magnolias, Cape Mays, Am. Redstarts, and others also have been present in good numbers. Most flycatchers have gone through already (although I saw a few Least Flycatchers) and the big influx of sparrows has not arrived yet (although a few Lincoln's Sparrows and others were around).

For the last three days -- Friday through Sunday -- the numbers of birds have been excellent in the immediate area of the BSBO center, just north of Rt 2 at the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. The new water feature right outside "Anna's Window on Wildlife" in the Observatory has been attracting a steady parade of warblers and other migrants, with knockout views of Gray-cheeked Thrush, good comparisons of Blackpoll and Bay-breasted Warblers, and other treats.

Numbers of birds also have been fairly good at the famous Magee boardwalk, but in general the birds seem to be spread out over a wider area. The Observatory is a mile south of the Lake Erie shoreline, and it appears that these migrants are using a band of habitat more than a mile wide rather than concentrating along the immediate lakeshore as they sometimes do in spring.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tips for finding fall warblers

The Lake Erie shoreline in northwestern Ohio is great for finding migrant songbirds in both spring and fall, but fall birding takes a slightly different approach. In spring, you can find most of the warblers and other migrants just by wandering along the Magee boardwalk and stopping where you see clusters of birders. In fall, the birders are less numerous and the warblers and other birds are less conspicuous.

Fall warblers are generally not singing, and they even seem to give fewer callnotes. Perhaps it's because they still have much of their journey ahead of them when they come through northern Ohio, and they're intent on feeding and fattening up for the next flight. With less of the flamboyant energy of spring, the birds are quieter and less noticeable.

In fall, even more than in spring, there's a tendency for the warblers to be in flocks. These flocks may be loosely constituted, but there may be anywhere from half a dozen to thirty or forty birds traveling in the same general area. In between flocks, you may not see anything at all. So if you're birding an area like the Magee boardwalk or any of the local trails, if you see one warbler, you should pause and observe the area for a while: there's a good chance that other warblers are nearby. Likewise, if you encounter chickadees, there may be warblers flocking with them. Today on the boardwalk, each time I found one or two warblers or chickadees, I wound up spending at least 15 minutes in that exact area, and each time I found several more warblers and other migrants with them.

Just as in spring, the birds concentrate where the food is, and insects make up much of their diet. Today the wind was a light breeze from the northeast, and there were no warblers at all on the north or east side of any woodlots I checked -- they were all on the south or west sides, out of the breeze, where presumably the insects were easier to find. If you don't find migrants right away, it's always a good idea to check the sheltered side of the woods. If you're out early on a chilly morning, the warblers are likely to concentrate on the east edge, on the first areas that the sun hits, because the insects will become active there first.

Right now the dogwoods have a lot of fruit on them. In the Magee area these are mostly Rough-leaved Dogwood, with abundant white berries, and these are very popular with certain birds such as vireos and thrushes. Spending some time near heavily fruiting dogwoods can provide you with great eye-level views of Red-eyed Vireos, Philadelphia Vireos, and Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes. Even warblers will feed on these berries, though they seem to pick at them rather than swallowing them whole most of the time. Today I watched a Blackpoll Warbler picking at one cluster of dogwood berries for more than two minutes.

Fall birding may take more patience, but in its own way it can be just as rewarding as spring birding, and it can increase our appreciation for the feats of migration performed by these small travelers.

Migration update Sept. 19

During the week of Sept. 14-19 we've had several days with good numbers of fall migrant songbirds in n.w. Ohio. Today, Friday Sept. 19, there were at least 20 species of warblers found in the immediate area of Magee Marsh / Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge. I saw more Blackpoll Warblers than any other species, but there were also decent numbers of Magnolias, Am. Redstarts, and Cape Mays. Relatively "early-fall" migrants were still in evidence, with Canada and Wilson's Warblers in small numbers. I was most surprised to see a Blue-winged Warbler, one of the classic "early" migrants, on the Magee boardwalk only a few yards away from an Orange-crowned Warbler, which is a classic "late" migrant among warblers. However, the late shift definitely has not taken over yet: I saw only one Yellow-rumped Warbler, a harbinger of the hordes yet to come, and I saw numbers of Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes but no Hermit Thrushes (Hermits will be the main brown thrushes around in October).

With light northeast winds today, birds were scarce on the north side of the woods near the beach, easier to find a little farther south. One of today's hot spots was at the BSBO office / nature center itself. "Anna's Window on Wildlife" has been a source of delight for visitors for the last three years; recently it has become even more so with the addition of a rain garden and water feature, made possible by a grant from Audubon Ohio. The water feature attracts warblers like magic. I stopped at BSBO briefly today, and immediately saw Wilson's, Magnolia, and Blackpoll Warblers, plus Red-eyed Vireo, in the vicinity of the water. According to those who were there longer, the water was attracting a steady trickle of warblers, thrushes, and vireos all day. (Thanks to John Sawvel, Hugh Rose, and Kim Kaufman for info on this.)

Tonight -- Friday night, Sept. 19 -- the wind is supposed to swing around from east-northeast toward the south, and if it happens early enough, many of these migrants should stick around for the weekend. A bird banding demonstration is scheduled for 10 - 11:30 a.m. Saturday Sept 20 at the BSBO office, just north of Rt 2 at the entrance to the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. This demo is free and open to the public. Also on Saturday there will be a "BSBO Lunch Lecture" at the same place, from 12:30 to 2 p.m., for a nominal charge of $7 (members) or $10 (non-members). Lunch is included, and this Saturday's program will be by Ethan Kistler -- a phenomenal young birding expert -- talking about the nocturnal flight calls of migrating birds. If you're going to be out, consider coming to BSBO to learn about migrant birds from all angles!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Warbler migration picking up

The warbler migration had been fairly slow and scattered through last Friday, but with the shift of winds to the north on Friday night, Sept. 5, the numbers of warblers and other songbirds picked up substantially in the general area of Magee Marsh and Ottawa NWR. There has been a surprising amount of activity at the BSBO office (just north of Rt. 2 on the entrance road to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area), specifically at the new water feature outside the window on wildlife. Numerous warblers, including Wilson's, Canada, Magnolia, Mourning, and Ovenbird, have been seen visiting the water. Other migrants seen out the window here have included Swainson's Thrush and Philadelphia Vireo. Numbers and variety have been decent at the Magee boardwalk as well. With a few small fronts moving through the area, I expect the warbler numbers and variety to continue to be good for the next several days.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Maumee Bay SP terns and LBBG

In years past I've found early September to be a great time for studying terns at Maumee Bay State Park. Today (Friday Sept. 5) I visited and found about 300 terns resting on the beach there -- my estimates were roughly 160 Common Terns, 120 Forster's Terns, and 20 Caspian Terns. The opportunity to compare a lot of Forster's and Commons side by side makes it easier to recognize the species when we see smaller numbers of them separately. Right now there are still a few adult Commons that are mostly in breeding plumage, but most of the birds are in transitional plumages and showing a lot of variation. With the birds resting at close range, it's possible to check the identifications of odd individuals by considering their bill shapes, as the Common's bill is distinctly smaller and narrower, more attenuated toward the tip. When the birds get up and fly around (as happens periodically when they're disturbed), it's possible to study their flight patterns also. (While I was watching them today, all the terns took off at once, and out of the corner of my eye I saw two large dogs bounding down the beach; then I took a second look at realized that the "dogs" were White-tailed Deer!)

The flocks of gulls resting on the beaches and in the parking lots today (mostly Ring-billed, some Herring and Bonaparte's Gulls) included a single one-year-old Lesser Black-backed Gull in the 2nd lot back from the beach -- this species shows up more frequently in winter here. Along the water's edge on the beach were single juveniles of Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstone. Brian Zwiebel had seen a Buff-breasted Sandpiper in the grass near the beach a few days ago but I didn't see it today.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Tricolored Heron continues near Sandusky

As of Sunday, August 31, an adult Tricolored Heron continues in Medusa Marsh, west of Sandusky and southeast of Port Clinton. The bird was first discovered by Jen Brumfield a week ago and has been seen off and on since. This is a rare visitor to northwestern Ohio, not found every year. To locate the bird, go to the junction of Rt. 2 and Rt. 269 South, just on the south side of Sandusky Bay, and turn north toward Bay View. From the overpass over Rt. 2, if you look toward the northeast, you'll see a large open area of shallow water and exposed flats surrounded by marsh and phragmites. To view this area, you have to go north (downhill) about fifty yards to a wide spot where you can park, and then walk back uphill along the road shoulder toward the interchange to get high enough to see over the vegetation.

I was there this afternoon and the Tricolored Heron was out in the middle of the open area. It was not at all obvious and took some scanning to find; and although it would have been identifiable through binoculars, a telescope is very helpful here for getting decent looks. Other birds out on the flats included at least 20 Snowy Egrets, several Caspian Terns and Forster's Terns, one Bonaparte's Gull, two American Golden-Plovers, good numbers of Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeers, and Lesser Yellowlegs, a few dowitchers and "peeps" at great distance, many Blue-winged Teal, and a few Northern Shovelers and Green-winged Teal. A couple of times, Bald Eagles made low passes over the area, causing many of the birds (including the Tricolored Heron) to get up and fly around before landing again.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Best current shorebirding in Ohio

Late August is a great time for shorebirding in northwestern Ohio if you can find areas of good habitat. A lot of shorebirds are using habitat in the state Wildlife Areas and the Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge near the lakeshore, but access to the best spots is difficult. Right now the easiest shorebird viewing is a little farther south -- south of Sandusky and east of Fremont -- in areas of flooded farm fields just west of Bellevue, along the Seneca - Sandusky county line.

Here are notes on some specific spots, with notable birds that I observed at these places on Friday, August 22 (I saw a total of 16 shorebird species and well over 1000 individuals). To find these spots, consult any detailed road atlas, such as the DeLorme Atlas for Ohio. All observation should be from the road shoulder, since all of these places are on private property.

Seneca County, pond on the north side of C34 between T79 and T80, a mile south of the county line: the pond is some distance away from the road, so a telescope is essential. Parking is a challenge as well, since the road shoulders are narrow; exercise extreme caution here. The water level is a lot lower from last week but on 8/22 the pond still had 163 Killdeer, 71 Lesser Yellowlegs, 4 Greater Yellowlegs, 4 Pectoral Sandpipers, 2 Short-billed Dowitchers, about 20 Least Sandpipers, and one Baird's Sandpiper.

Seneca County, pond on east side of T80, half a mile south of the county line: again, water level is down, but the pond had a surprising 9 Stilt Sandpipers on August 22. Other birds included 14 Pectoral, one Solitary, 2 Spotted, one Semipalmated, and 28 Least Sandpipers, 41 Killdeer, and 6 Lesser Yellowlegs. One female Yellow-headed Blackbird was with the starlings and Red-wings on the shore.

Sandusky County, flooded area on both sides of the railroad tracks on T292 (Riddle Rd) just north of the county line: The "road closed, high water" signs are still there, but there's no longer any water across the road south of the tracks, and only a narrow strip across the road north of the tracks. Off to the sides, though, there is still a very large flooded area, with hundreds of shorebirds present. On August 22, highlights at this spot included a juvenile Wilson's Phalarope, 2 adult Black-bellied Plovers, and several Semipalmated Plovers. In one section I counted 57 Stilt Sandpipers, a great concentration any time for Ohio. (Only two of those were adults, the rest juveniles.) A couple of quick sample counts indicated that there were well over 300 Lesser Yellowlegs and over 200 Pectoral Sandpipers here, over 200 Least Sandpipers, and at least 150 Semipalmated Sandpipers. The numbers of shorebirds were in stark contrast to their scarcity of the previous Saturday, when repeated passes by a young Peregrine Falcon apparently had moved some things out. This area continues to hold many Pied-billed Grebes and a variety of ducks, including a bedraggled Bufflehead, a species that rarely summers in Ohio.

Sandusky County, flooded area on 205 (Bonham Rd) between 296 and 288, north of US 20: no shorebirds here except a few Killdeers and a Solitary. Still a lot of water. This area still held American Coots, Common Moorhens, and many ducks; it seems like a place where some really odd rarities could show up.

Sandusky County, flooded area on 175 (South Ridge Rd) east of 278, or about 2 miles east-northeast of US 20: Most of the water is gone, but the remaining four patches of water and the surrounding flats were crowded with birds, including a beautiful juvenile Red-necked Phalarope, 5 juvenile Baird's Sandpipers, one adult White-rumped Sandpiper, and 3 adult Black-bellied Plovers. Other birds there were 5 Semipalmated Plovers, 100-plus Killdeer, 4 Spotted Sandpipers, 3 Solitary Sandpipers, 100-plus Lesser Yellowlegs, 50-plus Semipalmated Sandpipers, 100-plus Least Sandpipers, 100-plus Pectoral Sandpipers, 42 Stilt Sandpipers, and 18 Short-billed Dowitchers.

The numbers and variety present right now make this the best current shorebirding in Ohio. It should continue to be good until the water dries up, which may happen soon at a couple of these sites if we don't get more rain. In the meantime, though, I expect there's daily turnover, and some of these spots would be worth checking every day for some exciting studies of migratory shorebirds.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Timing of shorebird migration

Shorebird migration seems to be proceeding at a normal pace in northwestern Ohio, in terms of both numbers and timing. Areas of shorebird habitat have been changing constantly over the last six weeks ... as is also normal. Stopover habitats for shorebirds are changeable by their very nature -- changing by the hour in tidal situations at the coast, changing by the day inland, as low-lying areas flood or dry up. The shorebirds, ever adaptable, are quick to take advantage of new habitat, quick to move on when it loses its appeal. Most migratory shorebirds are such strong fliers that they can keep going for hundreds of miles, at least, until they happen to find a good spot. In an inland region like Ohio, when an area of good habitat appears, shorebirds migrating over will drop in. So these temporary habitats give us a chance to take a sample of what is passing overhead.

I had a chance to sample what was pausing in the back country of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge on Friday, Aug. 8, and today, Monday, Aug. 11, when I tagged along with a team doing research there. (Unfortunately, as reported earlier, the auto tour at Ottawa won't be open this weekend, owing to unforeseen delays in construction, but the main shorebird concentrations right now are away from the auto tour anyway.) These are my very rough numbers from one major impoundment from today, estimated when I wasn't up to my knees in glutinous mud:
Semipalmated Plover 20 (mostly adults)
Killdeer 35
Greater Yellowlegs 14 (mostly adults)
Lesser Yellowlegs 90 (more juveniles than adults)
Solitary Sandpiper 15 (those seen well were adults)
Spotted Sandpiper 10 (adults and juvs)
Semipalmated Sandpiper 120 (roughly equal numbers of adults and juvs)
Least Sandpiper 200 (more juvs than adults)
Pectoral Sandpiper 40 (adults)
Stilt Sandpiper 2 (juvs)
Short-billed Dowitcher 25 (1 adult, the rest juvs)
Wilson's Snipe 4
The mix on Friday 8/8 was similar, but with the addition of one Long-billed Dowitcher and two Dunlin, and larger numbers of Short-billed Dowitchers. Also on Friday, slightly fewer of the Semi and Least Sandpipers were juveniles.

I'm not mentioning these birds to frustrate birders who can't get into closed areas of the refuge, but just to indicate that there are indeed good numbers migrating through. Fortunately, I didn't see anything rare on the refuge, and all of these species could be expected in visits to the Bellevue ponds and other accessible sites.

The timing of dowitcher migration is worthy of special mention. Hundreds of Short-billed Dowitchers were passing through the area a month ago; for example, I counted 86 on one impoundment at Pickerel Creek on July 4, and others had higher counts there. Western Ottawa County had very heavy rains in early July, causing damage to some local crops but creating temporary shorebird habitat, and many dowitchers (all adult Short-billeds of the prairie race, hendersoni) paused in these flooded fields. On July 10 I saw a dozen in a flooded front yard in the town of Rocky Ridge! July is the peak migration season for adult Short-billeds here; by now the great majority of the adults have departed, and numbers of juveniles have not yet reached their peak. Meanwhile, a few adult Long-billed Dowitchers can be expected now, but juveniles aren't likely to show up until September.

Many areas of shorebird habitat near the lakeshore are far more accessible to the birds than to the birders. For good viewing, for the time being, it's probably best to keep checking the flooded fields near Bellevue. One particularly good spot recently has been on TR 292 just north of the Sandusky/Seneca County line; a few days ago, these ponds still had four Black-necked Stilts and three Wilson's Phalaropes.

Mid-August is a great time to be looking at shorebirds. The differences between adults and juveniles are very obvious for many species now, and the juveniles are particularly beautiful in their crisp new plumage. Paying attention to the ages of shorebirds in fall will really pay off in increased understanding of the timing of their migrations. For most species, the adults migrate south before the juveniles, and keeping this in mind will help you to make sense out of what you're seeing.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Pickerel Creek shorebirds

Right now, as far as I know, the single best shorebird spot in n.w. Ohio is one of the impoundments at Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area, on the north side of Rt 6 in Sandusky County, about 7 miles east of Fremont. From the southwest corner of the wildlife area (corner of CR 256/Pearson Rd and Rt 6), continue east on Rt 6; in a little over half a mile you'll pass an observation platform on the north side of the road, and a quarter mile past that is a pulloff next to a pumphouse. If you park next to the pumphouse you can walk east on a dike that runs along the south side of a shallow impoundment that has excellent shorebird habitat now, with shallow water and exposed mudflats. On Friday, July 4, I counted the following there: Killdeer 24, Spotted Sandpiper 5, Lesser Yellowlegs 53, Short-billed Dowitcher 86, Least Sandpiper 104, Dunlin 3, and American Avocet 1.

This is the beginning of the fall shorebird migration, and aside from the Dunlins (surprisingly early) and the Am Avocet (surprising anytime), today's species composition was as expected. Lesser Yellowlegs show up in numbers before Greaters, Least Sandpipers show up before Semipalmateds. Within a few days or a couple of weeks, if the habitat remains as good as it is now, the diversity of shorebirds should pick up even more.

Incidentally, if you go back to Pearson Rd / CR 256 and go north a little over a mile, there's a pullout on the right with an interpretive sign about the Prairie Fringed White Orchid. As Su Snyder pointed out a few days ago, there are Sedge Wrens singing in the field east of this sign. On July 4 (in addition to seeing 2 Sedge Wrens), in a brief search northeast of the sign, I found 7 of the orchids blooming, and they're worth seeing as well.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ottawa NWR this Saturday

This Saturday (June 21) the auto tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge will be open, and as always, if you're in the area it's worth taking advantage of this chance to traverse the back sections of the refuge. A few of us made a nighttime visit to the refuge on June 14, and heard surprising numbers of Common Moorhens calling in the marsh, as well as a scattering of Virginia Rails. A Least Bittern was calling actively near the start of the auto tour (or about halfway between that road and the observation tower on the dike to the north) on both the 14th and the 18th. According to biologists who have been back in the interior of the refuge recently, Yellow-headed Blackbirds are again present near the northwest end of the auto tour. Our BSBO birding map of the refuge is not finished yet; we hope to have it available before the July date of the auto tour, and that will make it easier to communicate about specific locations there. But regardless, Ottawa NWR is a wonderful area of marshes, woods, fields, and water, and it's always worthwhile to visit.

Friday, May 30, 2008

May 31 migration prospects

Friday, May 30 -- I hadn't been paying much attention to the weather today, but Mark Shieldcastle pointed out to me that an interesting pattern was developing and that I should look at the maps. Sure enough, looking at the large-scale pattern, there's a large high-pressure area off to the east of us and a low-pressure area off to our northwest, and between the two of them there's a strong flow of air coming all the way up from Texas. Any concentrations of migrants that are still to the south of us are probably going to ride that train into our area during the night tonight. It's likely to be stormy overnight tonight and windy tomorrow, but still there could be a lot of birds around on Saturday, the 31st.

This late in the season, the variety is more limited than it was in mid-May. Some of the birds that are common now are just characteristic late migrants, like Red-eyed Vireo, Swainson's Thrush, and American Redstart. Among warblers there's an interesting pattern with Mourning, Canada, and Wilson's Warblers being among the latest to peak here: all three of these are species that migrate around the Gulf of Mexico instead of across it, coming around through Mexico and Texas rather than making the overwater jump from Yucatan to Louisiana. In Ohio, of course, these west-of-the-Gulf migrants overlap with Blackpoll and Connecticut Warblers, also late migrants, which come up mostly through Florida from their South American wintering grounds. Here it's not unusual to find Connecticut and Mourning Warblers together, but it would be very rare to find them together in the southernmost states of the U.S.

This period, right at the end of May, is still within the peak migration for Yellow-bellied, Alder, and Willow Flycatchers, and there are still some Leasts and Acadians moving through, making this a great time to study identification of these subtle birds. With any luck, the bird-banding demonstration at BSBO on Saturday (10 to 11:30) will include a few of these Empidonax flycatchers for some close-up study.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Migrants May 29 and next weekend

By now the spring migration is winding down, of course, but there were still good numbers of migrants today on the Magee boardwalk and on the Wildlife Beach area to the east. Wilson's Warbler was the most conspicuous migrant, with Canada and Blackpoll Warblers, American Redstart, and Swainson's Thrush also present in some numbers. For birders with a serious interest in field identification, this is an excellent time of year to study flycatchers, especially the challenging Empidonax flycatchers. I actually saw all five species of eastern Empidonax in a couple of hours today. Alder Flycatcher was the most numerous. It can't be separated visually from Willow Flycatcher, and only a few of today's birds were singing, but the callnotes are also diagnostic: Alder's odd, flat kep note sounds notably different from the sharp fwhit! of Willow Flycatcher. (One way to think of it is that the accent in Alder's callnote is at the beginning, while Willow's is accented at the end.) There were also fair numbers of Yellow-bellied and Willow Flycatchers, a few Leasts, and I was a little surprised to find an Acadian in an area of the Wildlife Beach where the habitat is fairly open. Willow Flycatchers are common breeding birds in the general area of Magee Marsh so they'll be around for the summer.

Winds have been light and variable today but they're supposed to be southerly tonight and Friday. Some of today's birds will probably move out, but I expect that the weekend will still be good for studying flycatchers (and come Sunday, it's always interesting to see how many migrants we can find on June 1st). For anyone who is in the area on Saturday, remember that we'll have a public bird-banding demonstration at the BSBO nature center from 10 to 11:30.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Migration May 26 and 27

By this stage in the migration, the birding is becoming more of a challenge: the trees are fully leafed out, there are more female migrants than males so fewer birds are singing, and the birders are harder to impress than we were back in early April when we were desperate for migrants!

Today, Monday May 26, was actually a very big day for migrants on the lakeshore in northwest Ohio. The main BSBO banding site, at the Navarre Unit of Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge, had one of its biggest days of the spring for numbers of birds. But many birders who went to the boardwalk at Magee Marsh reported that it was "slow." I was at the BSBO banding site for a while in late morning and then at the Magee boardwalk in early evening and I was impressed with the numbers of birds in both places. But the birds weren't obvious; it took patience to find them. At this time of late spring it's most effective to move slowly, pause frequently, and watch for things moving quietly in the foliage. I actually thought the birding was excellent at Magee, with two Connecticut Warblers, at least 10 Mourning Warblers, and multiple Canada, Wilson's, Blackpoll, Tennessee, Chestnut-sided, and other warblers, plus Gray-cheeked and Swainson's Thrushes, Philadelphia Vireo, Yellow-bellied and Alder Flycatchers, and Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos, all during a couple of hours on the boardwalk. (In most places, that would add up to a great day of birding!) But there were periods of a few minutes at a time when I wasn't seeing anything, so I can understand the impression that it was "slow."

The two Connecticut Warblers that I saw were both females, one in the heavy brush just northwest of number 16 on the boardwalk (seen by many during the day), the other hiding in the garlic mustard north of no. 5. I heard that a male was seen also, late in the day, near no. 23. (See our boardwalk map under "birding hotspots" on the BSBO birding pages.) Mourning Warblers and thrushes were generally distributed wherever there's dense low growth, and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were widespread in the lower middle story inside the woods. During the evening, at least 20 Common Nighthawks came over the woods.

Tonight (Monday night) the wind is still out of the southwest, and I'm guessing that there will be more turnover tonight, but it's hard to say whether Tuesday will be better or slower than today was. Sometime Tuesday, the wind will probably shift to the northeast, and whatever migrants are here will probably wind up staying for a while. Regardless, the Magee boardwalk is one of the best places in the U.S. to look for migrant Connecticut Warblers right now, and the chances should continue to be fairly good for the next few days.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Weekend of May 24-26: migration

For the last several days the winds have been mostly from the north, not really good conditions for migration, but some migrants have been moving anyway. The numbers and diversity have continued to be good in many habitats in northwestern Ohio. (This is gleaned from reports from others, since I was away in Boston for part of the week.)

Mark Shieldcastle, who has many years of experience in studying the migration here, tells me that he expects the third major wave to hit sometime late this weekend. Based on current weather predictions, I would have to agree. The forecast still calls for northeast or north winds through Saturday and Saturday night, the 24th, with winds finally shifting around to the southeast on Sunday morning and then to the south. We could see a good movement of daytime migrants on Sunday, and I expect a really good arrival of birds during Sunday night, so that Monday morning, May 26, could be excellent. (There’s likely to be some rain, but that could make it better – it appears it will be mostly clear to the south of us, so a lot of migrants could be moving north, running into weather near the lakeshore and stopping here.) May 26th is not too late in the season for an excellent variety of migrants to be around, with lots of flycatchers, thrushes, and Red-eyed Vireos expected, and a warbler flight characterized by Canada, Wilson’s, Blackpoll, Mourning, and Connecticut Warblers and lots of American Redstarts.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Migration update 5/18 and predictions for next week

The last couple of migrant waves came in about as predicted, with big-but-not-huge arrivals on May 14 and 17. Essentially all of the late-season migrants have appeared by now, with good numbers of Connecticut, Canada, Mourning, and Wilson’s Warblers, Gray-cheeked Thrush, both cuckoos, and Yellow-bellied, Alder, and Willow Flycatchers. Today, May 18, the birding was excellent in between showers. There were a couple of relatively cooperative Connecticut Warblers at the Magee boardwalk, with one in particular just inside the woods on the south side of the middle parking lot and another near 20B on the boardwalk itself. Mourning Warblers were seen at several spots including near no. 2 and near no. 31 (see our map of the boardwalk under hotspots and directions).

The weather predictions for the next week show a continued (and unusual) predominance of northerly winds. Migrants will continue to move into (and out of) the area, because this late in the season they just have to get north even if it isn’t easy for them, so I expect there will continue to be very good variety of birds in most of the lakeshore spots for the next week. Tiny woodlots on the edge of the lake, like the one at Metzger, may not hold birds very long, especially on windy days; but the larger woods, such as at Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge, Magee Marsh, Maumee Bay State Park, and East Harbor State Park, should have good variety of birds throughout the next few days. In these periods between big waves of arrivals, most migrant species are concentrated in mixed flocks, so you might walk for several minutes without finding anything at all before you run across a flock with half a dozen warbler species and others. (Note, however, that the highly sought-after Connecticut Warbler is not as sociable as most warblers in migration, and you might find it quietly walking on the forest floor in an area away from all other warbler flocks.)

Based on long-range weather forecasts, the next really big arrival of migrants COULD be next Monday and Tuesday, May 26 & 27. However, obviously, weather predictions are very uncertain that far ahead, so migrant predictions are more so! It’s possible that the fronts will move faster than predicted, so that the wave could arrive on Saturday or Sunday, May 24 – 25. Even without the wave, if weekends are your best time to get out birding, this coming weekend is probably the best time to look for Connecticut Warbler, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and Alder Flycatcher, as well as a variety of other species in the migrant traps along the lakeshore.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Kelleys Island migrants; mainland King Rails

Delores Cole reports that good numbers of migrants are being seen on Kelleys Island. Notable warblers there include the "Brewster's" hybrid, Yellow-throated, Orange-crowned, and late-season migrants like Canada, Mourning, and Wilson's Warblers. I suspect that when the wind goes to west-southwest on Friday night, the numbers there should pick up even more. A couple of days ago there was an intriguing report of a large hummingbird there that vaguely suggested the description of a Green-breasted Mango, but the bird has not been seen again and is definitely unconfirmed. Even without such tantalizing possibilities, Kelleys Island is a beautiful spot for birding and always worth a visit.

Back on the Ohio "mainland" there are apparently King Rails at three different spots right now: at Mallard Club Marsh, along the dike north from the west parking lot; at Metzger Marsh, at the curve where the road in turns from north to east-northeast; and at the Magee causeway, to west of the road near the third (northernmost) pullout. As far as I know, the latter have only been heard so far. See our maps and directions page on the website if any of these locations are unfamiliar.

Migration update May 15

A brief update on the migration for Thursday, May 15. The winds shifted back around to the north last night, and most of the birds that were new arrivals on Wednesday seemed to stick around rather than leaving. Numbers near the lakeshore may have dropped somewhat, but numbers and variety were good at some of the spots a mile or two south of the lake (see my post from before IMBD weekend for suggestions about good places to go). For example, Kim Kaufman had several warbler species including Blackpoll and Orange-crowned, plus Scarlet Tanagers, Orchard Orioles, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, on the Gallagher Trail behind the BSBO nature center today. The winds are supposed to continue northerly through Thurday night and Friday May 16 before shifting around to the west-southwest on Friday evening. Even though the conditions won't be ideal, I expect there will be a good arrival of birds on Saturday, partly because there are still so many birds dammed up to the south of us. It's likely to rain a little on Saturday morning but the diversity of birds ought to be very good in spots near the lakeshore.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Big arrival of migrants 5/14

From Tuesday May 13 to today, Wednesday May 14, there was a huge amount of turnover in the bird population at the Magee Marsh boardwalk and other migrant traps on the lakeshore. It was a striking demonstration of how migratory waves can transform this area literally overnight.

Late Tuesday night, on a tip from Ethan Kistler, I looked at the radar pictures for the area and could see that a lot of birds had taken off just after dark to go directly north across the lake, while others were pouring in from the south. Today at the Magee boardwalk it was obvious that a lot of birds had departed overnight while a lot of different birds had arrived. This was clearly the point where the migration clicked over from the early wave to the main wave of arrivals. As recently as yesterday, Yellow-rumped Warbler (the early migrant) was the most numerous warbler in the area; today American Redstart and Magnolia Warbler were the two most numerous, with good numbers of several other species including Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Tennessee, Yellow, Blackpoll, and Black-and-white Warblers. Late-season migrants were well represented with Mourning, Canada, and a number of Wilson's Warblers. In about 4 hours on the boardwalk, despite a lot of rain, I saw 25 warbler species and heard reports of two others, and the total for just the boardwalk today may reach 30 species.

Other evidence of the main migration wave included a sudden increase in Red-eyed Vireos, numbers of flycatchers including Eastern Wood-Pewees and Great Crested Flycatchers, and great studies of Acadian and Least Flycatchers from the boardwalk. Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, Orchard Oriole, and Philadelphia Vireo were among the other interesting migrants. Thrushes were in low numbers but included Swainson's, Gray-cheeked, Veery, and Wood. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Scarlet Tanagers were conspicuous again today.

At this point (3 p.m.) the rain has picked up again locally. I don't think that many of today's arrivals will leave tonight, so Thursday could also be quite good, but that assessment could change after I look at the latest weather forecast.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The next migrant waves

As of today, Monday May 12, the main part of the second migration wave has not arrived here. Although most of the migrant species are present, at least in small numbers, we have not yet seen the big influx of Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, and other warblers that would characterize the mid-May wave. This is my impression from field observation and it’s backed up by conversations with Mark Shieldcastle about the current state of the migration as reflected at the main BSBO banding site (on the Navarre Unit of the Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge, about 4 miles east of the Magee boardwalk). The banding station maintains a standardized constant effort throughout the migration season, so its results are highly comparable from year to year. This year, the first part of the migration has been unusually protracted, so that early-season migrants like Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows are still around in unusual numbers. Meanwhile, the mid-May explosion of Magnolias and their ilk has not yet begun. (Yes, there are a few around, but not thousands. Not yet.)

What this means is that a LOT of migrants are still to the south of us. I’ve been studying weather forecasts to try to figure out when the next wave will hit. The winds have been mostly out of the north for the last several days, and will continue to be northerly most of the time for the next four days. Under current predictions, the winds will shift to the southeast by early morning Tuesday (May 13) and will continue to be out of the southeast Tuesday night, and if that holds up, I expect there will be a moderate arrival of migrants on Wednesday morning, May 14th. I don’t think it will be a massive fallout but it could turn out to be anything from fairly slow to very good. Then the winds are supposed to swing around to the northwest again by Wednesday night and stay northerly through Thursday. Right now the predictions show the winds going to southwest by Friday morning and staying that way for a while, and on that basis, I think there should be a major arrival of migrants next weekend, May 17th and 18th. This should mean the biggest diversity of the season for the area, with best mix of warblers, a good arrival of vireos and flycatchers, and generally very exciting birding.

No guarantees, of course, because the weather forecasts could change in the next few days. But right now it looks like Wednesday May 14th could be fair to good, and Saturday May 17th could be good to excellent.

Friday, May 9, 2008

IMBD weekend, May 10 & 11

The way the weather predictions are looking now, we won’t have another big arrival of birds before or during the big weekend of International Migratory Bird Day (May 10 -11). But there shouldn’t be birds leaving before then, either, and there are a lot of species and individuals around right now. Almost all the migrant species have appeared. So this general area (Magee Marsh / Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge and nearby spots) currently holds most of the vireos and thrushes, about 30 species of warblers, and a wide variety of other migrants.

The winds have shifted around to northerly and they’re supposed to be some variation on north for the next few days. In these conditions you can still see a lot of birds but it will require a different strategy from what works when south winds bring in a big fallout. On a fallout day you can pick your spot close to the lake (like the Magee Boardwalk or the woodlot at Metzger) and just watch the parade go by. With these northerly winds, some of the birds in the area will move back away from the lakeshore, so to see a big variety you’ll need to visit more spots. Here are some suggestions (directions / maps for most of these can be found on the BSBO birding pages):

1. The woodlots at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge offer good shelter and often hold migrants for days. From the refuge entrance, if you go straight north to the old parking lot, the woods west and southwest of that lot are excellent. The auto tour at the refuge will be open both Saturday and Sunday and this is a great opportunity to look at superb habitat for marsh birds and waterbirds. If you haven’t seen the new (in 2007) visitors’ center, be sure to stop in.

2. The woods at the Magee Walking Trail (at the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center) often have a lot of birds even on days when the Magee Boardwalk is relatively quiet because of north winds. The Gallagher Trail behind the BSBO nature center is also worth checking.

3. The woods at Maumee Bay State Park (boardwalk and trail behind the nature center) don’t seem to get huge fallouts of migrants but there are always some migrants there, and on non-fallout days they can be better than some of the famous migrant traps.

4. East Harbor State Park (just northeast of Port Clinton) is overlooked as a migrant trap but it is often excellent, and the woods there are extensive enough to hold birds for days. This can be very good for warblers and thrushes. One of my favorite areas is along the wooded trails south of the East Beach, and the beach and adjacent bay often have some interesting gulls, terns, or ducks.

5. If it rains, you can always go check flooded fields for shorebirds. But DO NOT PARK ON THE SHOULDER OF ROUTE 2 unless you are POSITIVE that you’re in a legal spot. Seriously, people are being ticketed for parking in unsafe places. Better to find a place on a side road, and even there, you need to be completely off the road. Recently there have been shorebirds on the south side of Route 2 just west of Russell Road (near the Wild Wings store and marina) but if you stop there, you’d best park down on Russell and walk back. The water in Metzger Marsh is still too high for most shorebirds, but it’s worth going out and looking at the beach for turnstones or others (and there are still diving ducks offshore there). Benton-Carroll Road south of Route 2 has been quiet recently, but Krause and Stange Roads (see directions on our birding pages) have been productive. The observation deck on Stange just south of Krause has yielded sightings of Wilson’s Phalarope and other shorebirds (you’ll need a scope here – or look near the southwest end of the Ottawa Refuge auto tour) and Yellow-headed Blackbirds are still being seen on Krause.

If you’re visiting from out of the area, we hope you’ll have a great time here. Please pick up one of our local bird checklists (or download a copy from our website) and if you see something that’s listed as "rare" or "very rare," please let someone know about it. At the BSBO nature center, the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center, the Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge visitors’ center, and the Maumee Bay State Park nature center, you’ll find people who are keenly interested in birds and eager to give and receive information about sightings.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Predictions for migration, 5/7 and subsequently

Birders have been asking me for predictions about the next big wave of migrants, and I’ve been mulling over the weather maps and forecasts and trying to figure it out. We’ve had a lot of days and nights with major southerly wind flow over the last couple of weeks, so migrants haven’t really been dammed up to the south of us recently; they’ve been moving into the area in good numbers. That movement is likely to continue through Tuesday night and Wednesday (May 6 and 7), but then it appears that the winds will shift around to the north for several days. The migrants that are here now, or that come in tonight, are likely to stick around. This is good news for general birding because we have a lot of variety present in the area now. Later migrants like cuckoos and most flycatchers haven’t arrived yet, but most of the warblers are in, with more than 25 species in the general area every day now, along with thrushes, vireos, orioles, tanagers, a good mix of birds. And it’s worth remembering that even a slow day along the lakeshore will produce more birds than a good day at a migrant trap in the interior of the state.

The weather patterns for the next week aren’t very clear, and there’s a good chance the forecasts will change. But on the basis of current forecasts, I would guess that the coming weekend (May 10 and 11) will continue to have good variety but no massive fallout of migrants. Sunday might have more birds than Saturday. The next really big wave of migrants might not get here until the middle of next week, but the weather predictions that far out are so vague that I’m pretty much just guessing here!

"Crane Creek" entrance and BSBO center

Just a note for people who have noticed the change in the signs out front and who might be wondering about it. The big sign at the entrance road from Route 2 -- the sign that used to say "Crane Creek State Park / Magee Marsh Wildlife Area" – now just says "Magee Marsh Wildlife Area". Apparently the land that formerly made up Crane Creek State Park (the beach and about half the parking lot adjacent to the boardwalk, plus a small section on the entrance road) has been transferred to the Division of Wildlife, and will now be administered as a part of the wildlife area. I’m sure that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is planning to make some kind of official announcement about this, because they’re certainly aware that birders visit this area from all over the continent. But pending such an announcement, I wanted to post this "unofficial" note so that people wouldn’t be concerned about the change in signage.

Two notes on the BSBO nature center area: 1. The Evening Grosbeak that was at the feeders on Sunday May 4th has not been seen since. 2. There are still American Woodcocks displaying actively in the area south and west of the center, along the first part of the Gallagher Trail; they’re most active right at sunset, or around 8:30 pm.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Evening Grosbeak at BSBO nature center

News flash: there is an Evening Grosbeak at the feeders at the BSBO nature center (just north of Rt 2 at the entrance to Crane Creek / Magee Marsh) right now, just after 12:30 p.m. on Sunday May 4. I'm not aware of any being seen in n.w. Ohio within the last couple of months, so the arrival of this bird was a distinct surprise. More details later.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Magee area May 3

Weather was unsettled today (Saturday May 3) with numerous bands of rain moving through accompanying a passing front, but the birding was excellent. At least 28 species of warblers were recorded in the Magee Marsh / Ottawa NWR / Metzger Marsh area. Some of the highlights included Prairie Warbler (singing male) on the Wildlife Beach at Magee, Cerulean, Prothonotary, and Hooded Warblers on the Magee boardwalk, Orange-crowned and Yellow-throated Warblers in the woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh, and Yellow-breasted Chat on the Magee walking trail and on the Gallagher Trail behind the BSBO nature center. Yellow-rumped and Palm were still by far the most numerous warblers. A good variety of vireos, thrushes, sparrows, and other migrants such as Scarlet Tanagers and Indigo Buntings added to the diversity of the day.

The small woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger had a very high concentration of birds today, probably because there was a major hatch of midges and food was abundant. Warblers were swarming in the trees and bushes, while swallows (mostly Tree but with N. Rough-winged, Bank, Barn, and Purple Martin) were feeding on the lee side of the woodlot in the evening.

Shorebirds were scattered today -- water is high in most of the managed marshes in the area, so most of the shorebird habitat is in flooded farm fields. I looked at several such spots during the last couple of days (Benton-Carroll Road just south of Rt 2; south side of Rt 2 just west of Wild Wings store; Howard Rd half a mile north of Rt 2, etc.) and saw hundreds of Dunlins and fewer Least Sandpipers and yellowlegs, but not much more variety than that. If someone finds a really good shorebird habitat I hope they'll pass that news along.

Right now (after 9 p.m.) the winds are pretty strong out of the west. There's a major high-pressure system moving this way from the Great Plains, and the winds are likely to shift gradually from west to west-northwest by morning, with cooler temperatures (back down to the 40s). I am guessing that not many of today's birds will leave tonight. By Sunday morning (May 4), the skies should be clear and the wind should have died down somewhat. There may be slightly fewer birds around but conditions for viewing them should be more pleasant! With all the winds, it seems that something unusual ought to turn up -- maybe Franklin's Gull or American Avocet. But even without rarities, there is a lot of variety around right now!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Magee boardwalk update May 2

This is just a quick update before this evening. As predicted, a lot of migrants did move into the area by Thursday morning 5/1, with a big increase in numbers and variety. This morning (Friday 5/2) the variety was somewhat lower but numbers were still high, with the biggest concentrations along the boardwalk being very near the west end. A lot of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings have moved in, there are still tons of White-throated Sparrows but now also a lot of White-crowned and Lincoln's, more Baltimore Orioles have arrived. A number of Cape May Warblers were with the abundant Yellow-rumps and Palms, and many Northern Waterthrushes were present and singing. Between what I saw and what I heard about, there must have been at least 20 warbler species at the boardwalk today. There had been some turnover overnight Thursday night, and a lot of birds were moving during daylight Friday morning -- big flocks of Blue Jays coming over, lots of Lesser Yellowlegs and a scattering of other shorebirds flying along the lakeshore, Bobolinks flying over, big flocks of swallows and Chimney Swifts. This was before the major rain storms moved through (they hit the boardwalk about 11 a.m.; but now, a little after 2 p.m., it appears they're moving on out of the area). I doubt that many birds left with the passage of the rain, so the birding should still be good this evening for anyone who can get out there.

It appears that the strong southerly flow of air will continue through the night tonight, Friday night. Even though there will be scattered showers, I suspect that more birds will come in tonight. Birders who are willing to dodge some showers on Saturday morning should be treated to a lot of migrants. The weather should be drier and sunnier on Sunday May 4, and there may not be quite as many migrants around then, but it should still be very worthwhile.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Magee boardwalk April 30 and coming days

The area of Magee Marsh had unsettled (and cold!) weather this week, which did not seem to produce any big arrivals of birds. But not many departed, either. On the boardwalk at Magee Marsh many of the same birds from Sunday and Monday were still there today, Wednesday, April 30, creating a satisfying amount of action for the birders who were there. At least 16 species of warblers were seen on the boardwalk today, with some of the notables being at least two Worm-eating Warblers (between numbers 5 and 10 on the boardwalk -- Hugh Rose reports that the birds were singing and easily seen during the morning), Yellow-breasted Chat (near number 30), a very cooperative Hooded Warbler (around no. 5), two active singing N. Parulas (no. 3 to 7), and a male Pine Warbler (no. 21). White-throated Sparrows and Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers were still abundant, Swamp Sparrow numbers were increasing, and a couple of White-eyed Vireos were singing and foraging conspicuously near numbers 4-8 on the boardwalk. Some individual Swainson's and Wood Thrushes and Veeries appear to have been in exactly the same spots since Sunday.

Tonight (Wednesday night) the winds locally are mostly from the east, but the larger weather maps show that there is a major air flow out of the south coming from far to the south of us and into this general area. This overall flow looks like it will continue through Friday at least. I'm predicting that a lot of birds will be riding this system and will move into the general area of northwest Ohio over the next few days, but it's hard to say whether the biggest migration day will be Thursday, Friday, or Saturday (May 1, 2, or 3). They might all be good days. A lot will depend on what happens with local rain and where the migrants get put down by inclement weather. Scattered showers are predicted for Friday and Saturday but I don't think they'll prevent the migrants from getting here.

If you're in the area on Saturday, don't forget that there will be a free bird-banding demonstration at the BSBO nature center (just north of Rt. 2 at the entrance to Crane Creek / Magee Marsh) starting at 10 a.m. and running until 11:30. And the BSBO hotdog stand and snack bar will be open during the middle of the day, in case you need to pause and refuel during your own migration!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Magee Marsh April 28

As predicted, Saturday (April 26 -- Audubon's birthday) was the best migration day of the spring so far in the Magee area. Numbers and variety were both excellent, with more than 20 species of warblers present, including southern "overflight" species like Worm-eating and Prairie and some that typically come later, such as multiple Blackpoll Warblers. Most of the vireos and thrushes were recorded, with a lot of Veeries and Swainson's Thrushes. Gray Catbirds and Yellow Warblers arrived in force, and White-throated Sparrows and Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers were again abundant.

As usual after this kind of big influx, the birding continued to be quite good on following days, with the numbers and variety falling off gradually. There were still a lot of birds on Sunday and good numbers today, Monday 4/28.

Today I didn't go to the Magee boardwalk until late afternoon and it certainly seemed that the birding was getting better later in the evening, perhaps because of birds filtering in from other areas. After 7 p.m. there was a huge amount of activity near the west end of the boardwalk, even though it was cold and threatening to rain. At one point I had a dozen Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, 30-odd warblers (Palm and Yellow-rumped), and at least 25 White-throated Sparrows around me, I was watching a Hooded Warbler and a Black-and-white Warbler while a Northern Parula and an Orchard Oriole were singing overhead, and I looked up to see an Osprey flying over carrying a fish. Lots of action! Of course the boardwalk is wonderful early in the morning, but it's worth remembering that it can also be very productive late in the day if that's the only time you can get there.

For some of today's birds that are likely to be around tomorrow as well -- the area near number 16 on the boardwalk had a lot of activity, including several Northern Waterthrushes. There are still a couple of Rusty Blackbirds near number 14 and a Winter Wren near number 4. Hooded Warbler and Blackpoll Warbler are being conspicuous between numbers 7 and 16. At least 3 Swainson's Thrushes were out working the north edge (beach side) of the west parking lot.

Tonight and Tuesday (4/29) are supposed to be fairly cold, with northerly winds and with rain tonight. The migrants that are currently in the area probably won't leave tonight, and on the basis of current weather predictions, I don't expect many to arrive before Thursday. We may get lucky again with the conditions setting things up for excellent birding again next weekend. But in the meantime there are enough birds around that it's worth getting out to any of the lakeshore migrant traps or any wooded areas if you get the chance during the week.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Weekend of April 26-27

Weather conditions seemed all wrong Thursday night (4/24), with winds mainly out of the east, but still there was a substantial arrival of migrants in the area overnight and a lot of birds around on Friday 4/25. Among the highlights reported were a Prairie Warbler at the woodlot at Metzger Marsh (Rick Nirschl and others) and a Worm-eating Warbler at the Magee boardwalk (observer?), plus more than a dozen other warbler species. There was also a good flight of Broad-winged Hawks during the day.

It looks like this weekend, April 26 and 27, should be excellent. There is still a strong wind flow out of the south but there is a weather front moving this way from the west; it appears the front will get here around dawn on Saturday, with rain and cooler temperatures, so any migrants that have gotten this far should be put down and should stay around.

Kim and I won't be there -- we're going over to the North Coast Nature Festival at Rocky River Reservation, put on by Cleveland Metroparks. (And the birding will be good there, too, of course!) If anyone is coming to Magee and wants some help finding birds, there's a guided birdwalk on Saturday morning put on by the Friends of Magee Marsh (meet at the west end of the boardwalk at 8:30) and one on Sunday sponsored by BSBO (meet at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory center at 8:00). These are free events. If you're birding the area on your own, don't forget that we have maps available for the Magee general area, for the boardwalk, and for Metzger Marsh, all of which can be downloaded if you follow the links to the right for Birding Hotspots.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Magee migrants April 24 and next weekend

After Wednesday's big arrival of migrants, today (Thursday 4/24) was a lot quieter on the boardwalk. Many of the White-throated Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes seem to have departed overnight. There were still decent numbers of Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers, lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and a scattering of other warblers like Pine, Nashville, and Black-throated Green Warblers, but it was definitely slower than the day before. The migrants may be spread out over areas south of the lakeshore; Kim K. found a Gray Catbird 8 miles south of the lake this morning, which isn't exceptionally early, but I hadn't seen any at the boardwalk yet this spring.

Local summer resident birds are continuing to build up in numbers. Yellow Warblers are becoming common along the road in to Magee Marsh, singing from all the willow thickets, even though there still aren't many migrant Yellows showing up in the lakeshore migrant traps themselves. On a day like today when the boardwalk isn't overly productive, it's worthwhile to go check out areas a little away from the lake, like the woodlots at Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge, or the Gallagher Trail or the Magee Walking Trail (to see the map for the Magee area, follow our link for birding hotspots).

Weather looks like it will be unsettled over the next few days. If the predictions hold, the wind will be some variation on easterly through tonight, shifting around to the south on Friday April 25. There may be strong south to southwest winds Friday night, possibly shifting around to west on Saturday and bringing thunderstorm activity. If the birds can dodge the storms, the next big arrival may be this Saturday, April 26.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Magee boardwalk active 4/23

Although the weather this morning didn't match the predictions, conditions overnight apparently were right and there was a big arrival of birds at the Magee boardwalk this morning. Big numbers of White-throated Sparrows, Palm Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Hermit Thrushes evidently arrived overnight, with a handful of other expected early migrants like Black-throated Green, Yellow, Black-and-white, and Nashville Warblers. More surprising was a scattering of individuals of species expected later in the spring. I found a Least Flycatcher near the west end of the boardwalk (ranging around numbers 4-5), a female Scarlet Tanager was working the area between numbers 8 and 16, and Rick Nirschl found a Great Crested Flycatcher and a Red-eyed Vireo farther east along the boardwalk. Birds seemed to be arriving in the area as the morning went on, so I expect there will be more species by later in the day.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Magee Marsh area, April 20-21

Despite the continued southerly air flow, around the Magee boardwalk and nearby areas the diversity of migrants dropped off with the cooler temperatures this weekend. Today (Monday April 21) the wind was light out of the east-northeast and it’s going to be more or less easterly tonight, gradually shifting around to south-southeast by Tuesday night. We may get an influx of migrants during the night Tuesday night if they can get here before the wind shifts again to northerly with rain, as it's possibly going to do on Wednesday morning.

Of course, there are still plenty of birds to look at. I sometimes get impatient for the arrival of the explosive full-on excitement of May migration and I have to remind myself to enjoy this time of anticipation. There aren’t many species of warblers yet but there aren’t many leaves, either, so it’s easy to see what’s around. At other times of year, like late fall, we may get used to having hordes of drab Yellow-rumped Warblers around, but right now is a good time to appreciate just how gorgeous the adult male of this species can be in full breeding plumage. It’s a good time for studying Palm Warblers and for listening to the freaky little song of Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

At Magee yesterday and today (4/20, 4/21) I was impressed with the differences between the boardwalk area and the east beach (wildlife beach) thickets. Around the boardwalk, most of the activity was near the west end: mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, a few Palms, 2 Pines, 1 Yellow, 1 Nashville, 1 Orange-crowned on 4/21, a pair of Prothonotaries and a Black-and-white on 4/20. The area also has lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a few Golden-crowneds still, and a few Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. By 4/21 there had been a considerable arrival of House Wrens, starting to outnumber the Winter Wrens. On the wildlife beach I saw no warblers in a brief afternoon visit on 4/21 but I saw 2 Fox Sparrows, 4 Am. Tree Sparrows, and 3 Eastern Towhees, and the sparrows at least seem to be gone from the boardwalk by now. (The wildlife beach seems to be a good place to find "late" birds; for example, I’ve seen Palm Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets there in mid to late May when they had pretty much disappeared from the boardwalk.)

Swamp Sparrows are singing in the marsh along the causeway although they don’t seem to be up to full numbers yet. In the meantime, a big arrival of migrants is under way, with the birds stopping over in many kinds of dense thickets and wet woods, not just in marshes, often loosely associated with White-throated Sparrows.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Magee and Metzger, April 17-18

The last several days have featured warm temperatures and winds with a strong southerly component, and a lot of migrants have been riding that train north into our area, with large numbers of arrivals the last three days. At least 14 species of warblers were reliably reported from the Magee boardwalk on April 17 - 18. The most surprising was probably the very early American Redstart found by Rick Nirschl. Others were all species expected in the early part of the migration, including multiple singing N. Parulas, Black-throated Greens, Pines, and Nashvilles, and scores of Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers. "Overshooting" southern warblers were represented by Hooded and Prothonotary (although the latter could have been a local breeder) and a Louisiana Waterthrush, found in the same area as a Northern Waterthrush near the west end of the boardwalk. The diversity of warblers present is quite good for this early date, undoubtedly just reflecting the very favorable flight conditions of the last few days and nights; as recently as a couple of weeks ago, the migration seemed to be behind schedule.
Other migrants present at Magee included very large numbers of Hermit Thrushes (I probably saw 60+ in a few hours on 4/18) and increasing numbers of White-throated Sparrows. Ruby-crowned Kinglets now far outnumber Golden-crowned. On 4/18 I saw one Blue-headed Vireo, two House Wrens, at least 10 Winter Wrens, and at least 20 Rusty Blackbirds. A push of Field Sparrows came in this week but by 4/18 I could find only one American Tree Sparrow where there had been many a few days earlier.

At both Magee Marsh and Metzger Marsh I heard Soras, Virginia Rails, and singing Swamp Sparrows. The water in Metzger is still very high, with no shorebird habitat evident yet, but on 4/17 I saw 16 species of ducks there.

Some fields on Krause and Stange Roads (between Magee and Metzger) have been burned recently, and these would be worth watching for American Golden-Plovers over the next couple of weeks. On 4/17 I saw a male Yellow-headed Blackbird with a mixed blackbird flock in a corn stubble field on Krause Road.

The forecast calls for cooler temperatures this weekend and a good chance of rain, but the southerly wind flow looks likely to continue for a few more days. There is turnover every day now, so the individuals present at migrant traps on the lakeshore will probably change, but I expect the diversity to continue to be good (for this early in the season) throughout the weekend.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Magee Marsh, April 14

Kim and I just got back from 11 days out of town. Of course I headed out to Magee for spring migrants, and of course I was not disappointed.

The marsh along the causeway still has numbers of ducks, especially Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, and Ring-necked Duck, while Lake Erie off the Crane Creek beach hosted hundreds of Ruddy Ducks (many coming into breeding plumage), Greater and Lesser Scaup, and Bonaparte’s Gulls. Along the Magee boardwalk and on the Magee walking trail (see my map at http://www.bsbo.org/Birding/pdf/Crane_Creek-Magee_map.pdf for clarification) I saw most of the expected mid-April migrants: flickers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Hermit Thrushes, both kinglet species, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Winter Wren, Fox Sparrow. Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warblers are now very common, and on this early date most are adult males molting into beautiful plumage; I also saw one Palm Warbler and two beautiful male Pine Warblers. I talked to birders who reported having seen Ovenbird and Black-throated Green Warbler, so a few other early warblers are trickling in. American Tree Sparrows have disappeared from areas a few miles farther south where they wintered, but there were groups of apparent migrants near the lakeshore. White-throated Sparrows are picking up but they’re nowhere near peak numbers yet; birders farther south in Ohio may consider this mostly a "winter" bird, but here it is most common as a migrant, and it can be abundant in early May. Apparently there are no longer hundreds of Rusty Blackbirds around as there were two weeks ago, but there are still dozens.

Local weather predictions call for SW winds on Tuesday April 15, continuing through the night and into Wednesday. There should be some kind of hawk movement during the day both days, and an influx of new songbird migrants, especially on Wednesday.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Big weekend coming

We're actually out of state right now (in Texas) but I've been watching the reports and the weather in Ohio, and it appears that this coming weekend (April 12-13) should offer great birding along the lakeshore in northwest Ohio. Friday April 11 should bring a relative heat wave, more rain, and south winds, with cooler temps Saturday but still winds from the southwest. Places like the boardwalk and trails at Magee Marsh should continue to have big numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Hermit Thrushes, and both kinglet species, and observers who watch closely for the more elusive birds should have good views of Winter Wren, Fox Sparrow, and Rusty Blackbird. (At Magee, the favored habitat for Winter Wren is under the boardwalk -- watch for these little gnomes zipping in for shelter ahead of you.) Louisiana Waterthrush continues to be a good possibility this weekend. I also halfway expect something really odd to show up -- some very early individual or some out-of-the-way stray that wouldn't normally be this far north. With big numbers of ducks still around and with new arrivals possible every day, this is a great time to be out. Those attending WingWatch in Huron this weekend should have a good time in the field as well as in the indoor sessions.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Delayed Migration -- catch-up time

As recently as four days ago (March 31), the migration appeared to be seriously behind normal schedule in our area, with many of the typical early spring arrivals either absent or in low numbers. This week the weather and wind direction have changed multiple times, but there has been enough of a strong southerly wind flow (and warm temperatures) to help bring in a lot of birds and help us catch up to a considerable degree.

The last few days, from what I saw and heard about, brought in numbers of Fox Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes and a smattering of others like Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Brown Thrasher, and Golden-crowned Kinglet. A Louisiana Waterthrush was reported, apparently in the woods near the Sportsmen's Migratory Bird Center on the road in to Crane Creek / Magee Marsh.

This weekend (April 4-6) ought to be excellent for enjoying good numbers of early migrants. The forecast now calls for SW winds on Saturday, SE winds Saturday night, and ESE winds Sunday. If that prediction holds, there should be a decent hawk flight on Saturday and the number of land bird migrants present should be good on Saturday, better on Sunday. This is still a good time to see lots of Rusty Blackbirds and there are still a lot of waterfowl in area marshes like Magee and Metzger.

This early in the spring, temperatures along the immediate lakeshore may be colder than they are just half a mile inland. If you check woodlots on the shoreline and don't find good numbers of migrants there, try going to the next woods southward. On the Crane Creek / Magee road, for example, the woods along the boardwalk might not have as many birds as the woods along the walking trail near the Sportsmen's Center. That pattern will change from day to day and it will be reversed in a few weeks, but it's a possibility to keep in mind for now.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Rusty Blackbird migration

Right now there are relatively large numbers of Rusty Blackbirds in our general area. Of course, at this stage in the migration there are very large numbers of blackbirds in general, so the Rusties don’t necessarily stand out. It takes some effort and attention to see them. And it's worth doing, too, especially since there is now a lot of speculation about population declines of the species. But today I saw about 700 individuals in less than 3 hours of actively looking for them, so they're certainly present to be found at the moment.

Rusty Blackbirds strongly favor swampy areas at this season. A swamp, by a birder’s definition, is an area with trees standing in or immediately next to slow-moving or still water. It’s different from a marsh (a more open habitat with mostly grasses or other low plants in standing water) and different from a muddy field or a pond or lake. So -- trees and water, that’s the combination. There are a lot of Rusties along the road in from Rt. 2 to Crane Creek / Magee Marsh, especially around the BSBO center (we saw several out the windows there this afternoon) and in the swampy woods just beyond the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center, past the hawkwatch tower. There are fair numbers in the woodlot near the old parking lot at Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge, and in the woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh. The biggest numbers I saw today (Saturday March 29) were south of Route 2 along Toussaint Creek. Where Benton-Carroll Road crosses the creek, about 2 miles south of Route 2, there were at least 250 Rusty Blackbirds associating with even larger numbers of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds (and smaller numbers of Brown-headed Cowbirds). I also saw a few Rusties with blackbird flocks farther south on Benton-Carroll Road and on other area roads, foraging out in flooded fields; this is another kind of situation where you find them but it doesn’t seem to be one of their favorites.

When they’re with mixed groups of other blackbirds, Rusties are sort of inconspicuous. Often they’re down foraging quietly at the water’s edge, or wading in very shallow water, singly or in little clusters of their own kind. The males are black with just a touch of iridescence and the females are mostly dark slaty. They’re a little longer-tailed than Red-winged Blackbirds but distinctly shorter-tailed than Common Grackles (and slightly shorter-tailed than Brewer’s Blackbird, a rarity here). One of the best ways to find them is by their song, a "rusty-hinge" sound, ksh-tsh-leeee, the last note high and creaking. Now, at the end of March and beginning of April, you can hear this sound regularly around the edges of swampy woods in the Magee - Crane Creek area. Numbers of Rusty Blackbirds will drop off sharply by late April, and by early May they’ll be hard to find. Right now is a good time to focus on getting better acquainted with this generally uncommon bird.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hawk Flight on Wednesday, maybe

The weather prediction has changed again (surprise!) and the forecast for Wednesday, March 26, now calls for the wind to shift from W to WSW by about 1:00 in the afternoon. If that happens, with the forecast for partly cloudy skies and temperatures up in the high 40s, there could be a significant passage of Turkey Vultures, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, and others in the afternoon. If you're going to be out anyway, pay attention to the wind direction, and think about looking for hawks if the wind shifts toward the southwest. Aside from the hawk tower at Magee, another good viewing site is the sledding hill at Maumee Bay State Park, farther west and closer to the lake.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Next Big Hawk Flight

Yeah -- like I could really predict when that will happen! But here are some notes on how to predict it for yourself.

Hawks and vultures move north across Ohio on a broad front in spring, and in this part of the state they mostly move northwest to go around the west end of Lake Erie. Under most wind conditions they are widely dispersed, but when there is a light to moderate breeze out of the southwest, they concentrate in a fairly narrow band within a mile or so of the lakeshore. Such a flight happened this Sunday. BSBO maintains a regular spring raptor count from the hawkwatch tower east of the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center on the road in to Crane Creek - Magee; I stopped up there Sunday afternoon and in less than an hour I saw more than a dozen Red-shouldered Hawks and more than 200 Turkey Vultures, plus a few Rough-legs, Red-tails, harriers, Bald Eagles, and others, all moving strongly west-northwest. The official counters had over 500 birds total for the day.

As late as midnight on Saturday night, the online weather data that I checked were predicting light north winds for the next day. But I was out Sunday afternoon and when I realized that the breeze was from the southwest, I headed for the hawk tower. At the level of the tower the wind was only about 5 mph, so it doesn’t take much to concentrate the raptors on this flight line.

Looking ahead, the weather predictions don’t show another ideal hawk day for a while. They’re calling for WSW winds on Tuesday March 25, but with strong winds (gusting to 40 mph) and a strong chance of rain, the raptors may not be moving (but I could be wrong, so I may check Tuesday anyway). Currently they’re predicting west winds on March 26, east on March 27, northeast on March 28, and north to east over next weekend. Beyond that, the predictions are too unreliable to count on anything. In short, I don’t know when the next good flight will occur.

Best bet: If you’re out in the general area anyway, watch the weather. If it’s not raining and there’s a light wind from the southwest, consider going to the hawkwatch tower. BSBO will have counters up there every day through early May, and they’ll be able to tell you whether there’s anything happening.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Magee Marsh waterfowl March 23

On Easter afternoon, despite the surrounding snowy conditions, almost all the ice was melted off of Magee Marsh. The Wildlife Area here protects a very large acreage, only a small percentage of which is readily visible from the causeway. But the open water that I could see this afternoon held at least 1200 ducks of 17 species. A telescope is useful here, and some of the more distant ducks to the east would not have been identifiable without one. But the area should be good for a variety of ducks for at least the next month. At the end of the road (Crane Creek beach), Lake Erie is still ice-covered for at least half a mile out, but when the ice melts or is moved offshore by wind, the lake should be good for rafts of diving ducks through the end of April.

There were hundreds of Tundra Swans at Magee this afternoon (out of the thousands that are currently present in the general area), mostly some distance away to the east of the causeway. A few Trumpeter Swans are there as well. As a general rule, the swans that sit unconcernedly near the road at Magee (and on the Ottawa entrance road) are Trumpeters, as the Tundras that migrate through here tend to be slightly more wary.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Metzger and BSBO, March 19-20

A week ago, the marsh areas at Metzger were still mostly frozen (but with about 5000 waterfowl in the open spots). By Wednesday March 19, the marsh was almost entirely open and the water was quite high. Numbers of ducks here are outstanding. On the 19th I made a careful estimate of 4000 Redheads, 900 Ring-necked Ducks, 700 Canvasbacks, 500 Gadwalls, 500 Mallards, and lesser numbers of 12 other ducks, 17 duck species in all. Also present were a few Pied-billed Grebes, plus hundreds of Canada Geese and American Coots. Mute and Trumpeter Swans were here in small numbers. (There are at least a thousand Tundra Swans in the general area but they seem to be feeding in the fields near Rt 163 several miles west of Oak Harbor, and roosting in Ottawa NWR and Magee Marsh WA.) Lake Erie is still mostly frozen over off Metzger, but by the evening of the 20th there was a substantial opening in the ice just off the end of the canal at the end of the road, with a collection of Lesser Scaup and Canvasback. There are a few Greater Scaup in with the Lessers on the canal and on the marsh, for some good comparisons.

On the evening of the 20th there appeared to be slightly fewer ducks present, but the birds move around a lot (for example, hundreds flush every time a Bald Eagle flies over). The spectacle will be well worth seeing for at least the next couple of weeks.

It sounds like a joke (and in some cosmic sense, it is a joke), but the National Weather Service is predicting 3 to 8 inches of snow locally for March 21-22. If you don't get snowed in, consider checking out the Lake Erie marsh scene. About sunset on the 20th, Kim and I were at the BSBO office (just north of Rt 2 at the entrance to Crane Creek / Magee Marsh). Hundreds of Tundra Swans were coming over, in groups of a dozen or two, and thousands of Canada Geese and various ducks. At one point I heard the high-pitched yelping of Greater White-fronted Goose, and sure enough, there were four White-fronts together with a V of Canadas. Rusty Blackbirds were calling with the flocks of grackles and Red-wings in the trees, and of course as the sun went down the American Woodcocks began giving their peent call. Regardless of weather, this is a fabulous time of year to be in northwestern Ohio.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Magee / Metzger March 13

In the area of Magee Marsh / Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge / Metzger Marsh, things are changing daily now, with big numbers of waterfowl moving in and moving around. Today I checked out Magee and Metzger, and found some changes already from what Karl Overman had reported yesterday. Metzger Marsh was still more than half frozen, but in the areas of open water I carefully estimated 2800 Redheads, 850 Ring-necked Ducks, 500 Gadwalls, 250 Canvasbacks, 100 N. Pintails, and lesser numbers of ten other duck species. Magee is still mostly frozen, but there was much more open water visible from the causeway today than yesterday, and a decent number of Redheads, Am. Black Ducks, Tundra Swans, and others. Killdeers are still arriving in force; I saw / heard close to 40 today, in half a dozen spots. Red-winged Blackbirds and Com Grackles are increasing in numbers daily, but I was surprised to see no Rusty Blackbirds today. The field on the north side of the road on the way in to Metzger Marsh was one good spot for them last spring; today I carefully checked the Red-wings and grackles in that field and found no Rusties, but there was one male Brewer's Blackbird there. Greg Links has recommended "scanning blackbird flocks in eastern Lucas County in March" to find Brewer's, and it worked today.

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