Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Migration forecast April 30 - May 3

The spectacular arrival of spring migrants that kicked into high gear last Friday, April 24, has filled all the local woods and fields and marshes with a rich variety of birds. There is daily turnover now, but the shift to cooler temperatures and rain means that many of the birds are lingering, and not just in the migrant traps along the lake shore: there are also a lot of migrants in woodlots several miles away from the lake. So birders in northwest Ohio who have time to get out just briefly (for example, over lunch hour or after work) during the next couple of days may find it worthwhile to spend that time checking out their local habitat patch rather than making a long drive to the lake shore.

Current weather predictions call for some rain on Thursday April 30 and Friday May 1, but there will be some air flow from the south during that time, so some migrants will probably continue to slip between the storms and move into the area. On Friday night, according to current predictions, a low pressure area will have passed by us to the north and the wind will shift to the northwest, so birds that are in the area late in the week will probably stay for the weekend. The numbers may not be huge but they should be fairly impressive, and there’s a lot of variety, with well over two dozen species of warblers present at the moment. The best bet for seeing a good mix of species this weekend would be to check a number of different spots -- in other words, don’t just go to the boardwalk, think about looking at other wooded areas such as the ones farther south on the Magee entrance road, the woods at Ottawa Nat’l Wildlife Refuge, end of the road at Metzger Marsh, woods at Maumee Bay State Park and East Harbor State Park, and so on. See our page on "Birding Hotspots: directions and maps" for information on these spots.

During this coming weekend, with clearer weather and a fairly strong wind flow out of the west, we might pick up some more individuals of some of the migrant species that tend to pass through to the west of here in spring, like more American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Hudsonian and Marbled Godwits, Franklin’s Gulls, Clay-colored Sparrows, et cetera. Most of those have been found in the area already this spring, but we may see more. At any rate, this weekend has great potential for numbers and variety of birds, and maybe some surprises.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

April 24-26: Next Migrant Wave

The unsettled weather and rain of the last couple of days have not stopped the movement of birds into the area. Probably these birds are moving only short distances, but their numbers in habitats near the Lake Erie shoreline have continued to increase since Saturday. On Monday, April 20, young ace birder Phil Chaon went exploring in the rain and found a couple of great species not far from BSBO. Around noon he saw two Franklin’s Gulls on Benton-Carroll Road, on the second pond south of State Route 2 (Benton-Carroll is less than half a mile east of BSBO and the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area). Late in the afternoon, on Stange Road (near the west edge of Ottawa NWR) half a mile south of Route 2, a flooded field held large numbers of Pectoral Sandpipers and American Golden-Plovers, and with them Phil found a Ruff -- a male molting into breeding plumage. I checked the spot this morning (Tuesday 4/21) and the birds had left, but they may still be somewhere in the area.

The weather is supposed to continue to be rainy, with variable winds, through much of Wednesday 4/22. But by Thursday, according to current forecasts, there will be a sustained air flow from the south or southwest, and it is predicted to continue for about three days. On the basis of current forecasts, I think that Friday, 4/24, will be the next big arrival of migrants in the woodlots and marshes along the Lake Erie shoreline, and there are likely to be more birds piling in on Saturday and Sunday, 4/25 - 4/26, probably with a lot of turnover.

This next wave should increase the variety of birds present as well as the numbers. The diversity of warbler species on the Magee Marsh boardwalk, currently stuck at three or four, should increase to at least ten or twelve over the weekend, with Black-throated Green, Palm, Nashville, and Black-and-white almost certain to show up, and a good chance for an Orange-crowned or two. This late April time frame usually produces a few male Scarlet Tanagers, looking oddly out of place among the still mostly leafless trees, and often big waves of White-throated, White-crowned, and Swamp Sparrows.

At any rate, unless the weather forecast changes (which is always possible!), Friday looks like the next big day on the lake shore.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Update 4/18

As predicted, there was a decent influx of temperate-zone migrants this morning in the area of Magee Marsh / Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Most noticeable were Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and greatly increased numbers of Hermit Thrushes and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. In addition to the Yellow-rumps, there were at least a couple of Pine Warblers (including a very obliging singing male near the entrance to theMagee boardwalk), a Northern Parula (on the boardwalk), and a Northern Waterthrush (along the north edge of the woods at Magee). I was particularly surprised to see this bird; as early as April 18th, I would say that Louisiana Waterthrush would be more likely here than Northern. There were also a few Purple Finches actively moving through this morning, as well as Northern Flickers and small flocks of Cedar Waxwings.

Along the auto tour at Ottawa NWR there was an impressively wide variety of duck species for so late in the spring, the first Common Moorhens that I've seen locally this spring, and a male Northern Harrier performing territorial/courtship displays, suggesting that the species might nest here this year. Flyover shorebirds included both yellowlegs, 50 American Golden-Plovers, Dunlins, Pectoral Sandpipers, and Wilson's Snipe. All of these species were also seen on the ground at the northwest end of the auto tour (east end of Veler Road) but they were quite distant, even in the telescope. A good hawk flight developed by late morning, with decent numbers of Broad-winged, Cooper's, and others passing over the refuge toward the west-northwest.

The current weather forecast calls for showers tomorrow (Sunday the 19th). For anyone who wasn't able to get out today, if you can get out tomorrow between showers, it should still be good for the songbirds and waterbirds (although probably not for hawks).

Friday, April 17, 2009

Big migration expected 4/18

Friday update: Last night (Thursday night, April 16) the winds were essentially calm overnight. So while they weren't exactly helping to push migrants north, the winds weren't holding them back, either, and a fair number of short-distance migrant birds arrived in northwest Ohio overnight. I just now (Friday morning the 17th) talked to Mark Shieldcastle, who is out at the main BSBO banding station, a few miles east of Magee Marsh. Mark said that there was an evident increase in numbers of Hermit Thrushes, Song Sparrows, and others. The Hermit Thrushes this morning were mostly adults, which tend to migrate north earlier in spring than the one-year-old birds, so it looks like we're still in early stages of that species' migration -- in other words, the scarcity so far doesn't mean they've slipped past us undetected, it means the bulk of them haven't arrived yet.

Mark also had looked at the weather pattern and said that it looks good for a lot more birds to arrive overnight tonight, so that Saturday could be quite a good day. We're still talking temperate-zone migrants, not arrivals from the tropics, but there could be a ton of kinglets around, a good mix of early migrant sparrows, possibly our first really big push of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and possibly some overshooting southern species like Yellow-throated Warbler or Louisiana Waterthrush. Early migrants like Fox Sparrow and Rusty Blackbird are likely to decrease in numbers after this weekend as they move on north.

At any rate, it looks like Saturday in particular will be a good day to get outside. We have to feel that fate is smiling on the birders when it happens that the big migration occurs on a weekend!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Update predictions for April 17-19

Despite the lack of favorable winds, there have been some more arrivals this week. On Wednesday the 15th, Kim Kaufman noted an influx of Hermit Thrushes and Eastern Towhees at Magee Marsh W.A., and I saw my first good-sized flock of Dunlins for the year on unit MS 2 North at Ottawa NWR (east end of Veler Rd.).

A couple of states to the west of us, in the Mississippi Valley, there has been a very strong southerly air flow for the last couple of days, with major numbers of birds moving north. It now appears that a diminished version of this same pattern will reach us by late Friday afternoon, the 17th, and I expect a good arrival of migrants overnight, so that Saturday morning the 18th could be quite good. Saturday is supposed to be quite warm (possibly up to 70 and mostly sunny), so it could be a fine day to be outside, and we could have a significant arrival of Yellow-rumped Warblers and other migrants that currently seem a bit overdue. There also might be a moderate hawk flight during the day if the west-southwest winds hold. Sunday is predicted to be not as warm and possibly rainy, but there should still be good numbers of birds around.

On Saturday, the auto tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge will be open from 9 to 4. Please note that we now have a set of birding maps available for the refuge; go to our main birding page and follow the link for "Birding Hotspots: Directions and Maps." There are actually three maps available there for free downloading: one giving an overview of the refuge, one focusing on the auto tour in the central and western parts of the refuge, and one giving a closeup of the walking trails that are open every day in the eastern section and near the Visitors' Center. Each of these maps has a page of additional notes, so you may want to print map and notes as a two-sided document. Major thanks to the refuge staff, especially Rebecca Hinkle and Ron Huffman, for providing me with a lot of information while I was drawing these maps. Any errors are my doing; please leave a comment if you have any problems with the maps.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Predictions for migration, April 15-19

Right now (Tuesday April 14) the songbird migration seems to have stalled. The expected species for this point in early spring are all here (for example, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Fox Sparrow, Rusty Blackbird), in decent numbers but not in large numbers. Persistent northerly winds, cool temperatures, and occasional rain seem to be holding back the migration to some extent.

I don’t expect many songbird migrants to show up for the next couple of days, but temperatures are supposed to warm up this week, and by Thursday night (April 16th) the wind is predicted to shift to the south. If that happens, I think that woodlots near the Lake Erie shoreline will see an arrival of migrants on Friday the 17th and more on Saturday the 18th. This weekend may produce the first big arrival of Yellow-rumped Warblers and possibly some other early warblers like Pine, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, or Northern Parula. This is a good time to start looking for "southern" warblers that overshoot their breeding ranges: Louisiana Waterthrush is particularly likely, and Yellow-throated, Worm-eating, and others are possible.

Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is a good place to look for all of these migrants, of course, and so are wooded areas at other lakeshore spots like Maumee Bay State Park and East Harbor State Park. This Saturday, the 18th, the Auto Tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge should be open. Our brand-new BSBO birding maps for the refuge may be available before the 18th; check the "birding hotspots" page on our website closer to the weekend to see if the maps are posted yet. Wooded areas on the refuge, such as the woods behind the Visitors’ Center, are excellent places to look for songbird migrants. In addition, shorebird migration is now really picking up, and there may be ten or more species present by this weekend.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Golden-plovers at Ottawa NWR, scaup concentration at Maumee Bay

The new shallow wetland at the northwest end of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge continues to be productive. From Ohio State Route 2 just a mile southeast of the small village of Bono (or one-half mile south of the entrance to Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area), turn east on Veler Road and drive less than half a mile east to where the road ends at the refuge gate. There’s room to park here (although keep in mind that this space may serve as a school bus turnaround, which could be an issue at certain times of day). From Veler Rd you can look south into the wetland. The light here will be best in the afternoon, or on overcast days. Many of the birds are distant enough that a scope is necessary.

On the afternoon of April 11, the highlight here was three American Golden-Plovers, still in basic (winter) plumage. Also present were Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpipers, and a remarkable total of more than 100 Wilson’s Snipe. Ducks on the wetland included good numbers of Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, and Northern Pintail. Purple Martins (just recently returned) were overhead, along with Barn and Tree Swallows. I heard Sandhill Cranes calling several times from somewhere to the east; didn't see them, but they're worth watching for while birding in this area.

Late in the afternoon of April 11, from the beach at Maumee Bay State Park, I estimated 9,300 scaup out on the lake. I spent a considerable time scoping through this concentration and it was indeed essentially all scaup, with just two Buffleheads mixed in. Studying head shape and bill shape on the closer scaup, and watching wing pattern on more distant flying birds, it was clear that the overwhelming majority of the birds were Lesser Scaup. I identified just seven Greater Scaup. Of course, thousands of the birds were too far away to be called anything but scaup sp., but still I don’t think that Greaters made up more than one or two percent of the flock.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Birding forecast for Easter weekend

As of mid-afternoon Thursday, April 9, weather conditions over the southern U.S. feature a very strong low-pressure area centered over western Oklahoma and a high-pressure area centered over Florida. Between these pressure centers, there is strong northward air flow over the central Gulf states. This pattern may well propel some notably early birds into our area, but after that the local migration may shut down for a few days, with occasional rain and north or northeast winds predicted.

As a result, the weekend of April 11-12 may not see any big arrivals of birds, but the migrants that are in the area will probably stay around. This is the best time of year in northwest Ohio for seeing large numbers of Fox Sparrows and Rusty Blackbirds. Both of these species are present in good numbers in the woods near the boardwalk and near the Sportsmen’s Center at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, and in wooded areas on Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. These areas (or brushy spots nearby) also have decent numbers of other early migrants such as Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Phoebe, Hermit Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Winter Wren, Eastern Towhee, and Field Sparrow.

For Easter weekend, birders visiting the area will probably want to go look for the Mountain Bluebird just west of Toledo (which was still being seen as of Thursday morning; see for updates) and perhaps spend some time birding in the beautiful Oak Openings area immediately to the south. Then if you come to the lakeshore area, you’ll find a good variety of the early migrants mentioned above, plus lots of waterfowl in the marshes, by visiting Magee Marsh, Ottawa NWR, Maumee Bay State Park, East Harbor State Park, and other traditional local birding areas. And it’s possible that you’ll find some isolated odd bird that has arrived well ahead of schedule, or some unexpected southern species, courtesy of the weather conditions that prevail right now, two days before the weekend.

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