Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Early start to the spring migration

We know that northwest Ohio is one of the great migration hotspots of the continent, but it seems odd to be reminded of that as early as February 11th -- especially after some of the extreme cold and snow of the last two weeks. But I was out this morning between rain showers (and in 50-degree temperatures) near BSBO headquarters and saw two Killdeers flying over, two individuals several minutes apart, calling as they flew toward the northwest.

However, these weren't the only birds on the move. Small flocks of Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings were also flying over, also headed northwest. (Because of the configuration of the shoreline here, that's the usual direction of diurnal migrants in early spring.)

The strong southerly winds of the last couple of days probably played a role in the early appearance of the Killdeers here, giving an extra push to birds already on the move in areas south of us. Killdeers usually arrive in this area in late February, but the 11th is distinctly early. However, the other open-field birds had already shown signs of movement. Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings had all been flying over in a northward direction in this general area since the weekend. (Mark Shieldcastle saw significant numbers of all three species northbound yesterday, the 10th; Greg Links saw many Horned Larks northbound in southern Michigan on the 8th.) I've seen a few American Crows moving north as well; there's a big migration through this area in late February, and it may be under way already.

It was inspiring to have this reminder of the fact that we're located in such a fabulous area for migration! Even if the big warbler waves are still ten weeks away, there will be action from here on out as the whole spectacle unfolds. Within a couple of weeks we should have American Woodcocks displaying on territory, a movement of raptors along the lakeshore with south winds, a big influx of waterfowl, more Rusty Blackbirds, more Red-winged Blackbirds, more American Robins. It's definitely time for me to start making more frequent updates.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

February Fun Suggestions

Male White-winged Crossbill. Photo by Kim Kaufman.

February is often considered to be "the doldrums" of birding, the time of year with the least amount of excitement. It doesn't have to be that way. In northwest Ohio we'll start to see the first stirrings of northward migration of waterfowl, etc., by the end of the month. But even before that, there are things to do. Here are three suggestions:

1. Go looking for White-winged Crossbills. The huge invasion that began late last fall is continuing undiminished. In the estimation of Greg Links and other local experts, this is one of the biggest invasions ever for this species. The crossbills might show up in literally any conifer in the northwest quadrant of the state -- even an isolated spruce or hemlock with a few cones on it. For some more sure-fire ideas of places to look, check out the RareBird site for places in the immediate Toledo area where the birds have been seen recently (our biggest concentrations of exotic conifers are in the city and in the Oak Openings area).

2. Go looking for Rusty Blackbirds -- and do it during the period February 7-15, when a continent-wide "blitz" will be trying to quantify where these birds are wintering. In recent years there has been a lot of concern about apparent population declines of Rusty Blackbirds. Scientists from the Smithsonian and other institutions are working to understand the current status of the species, and this "blitz" is part of the effort. Admittedly, there aren't many Rusty Blackbirds in northwest Ohio in February; there will be hundreds here by late March, even thousands in some favored areas, but most of them winter well to the south of us. But for this survey, even negative data are useful. I plan to go out and census some of the swampy woods near Oak Harbor for the blitz, and even if I find no Rusties, I'll report that fact to the central survey. You can do the same thing -- details are at this website.

3. If you don't want to get bundled up and go out in the cold, you can still make a contribution to citizen science by looking out the window and taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count. This event, sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, garnered the participation of tens of thousands of birders last year, and counted more than nine million birds. The data can be used in a variety of ways, but more to the point, taking part in the count is a great way to involve friends, neighbors, kids, casual birders, etc., in identifying and counting birds. The GBBC happens this year from February 13 through 16, so you can even make it a part of your Valentine's Day celebration if you get creative about it. All the information you need is on this website.

Who says February is a dull month? For birders, there are plenty of things to do!

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