Friday, August 28, 2009

Magee boardwalk migrants 8/28

Early fall birding at the boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area has a very different feel from birding there in spring. In mid-April, you can traverse the boardwalk and feel pretty certain that you're seeing every warbler there, even if it's only four or five species. In early fall there are a lot more individuals and a LOT more variety, but you can't even hope to see every bird. The vegetation is just so thick that it's a challenge to see birds. But you can tell that there are a lot of them around, so it's sort of like reaching into a grab bag to see what selection you can come up with.

Between rain showers today (Friday, August 28 -- it would have been Roger Tory Peterson's 101st birthday) I made a quick check of the west end of the boardwalk. As expected at this season, migrants are strongly clustered in small flocks, with essentially no birds in between flocks. Still, in a short visit I was able to find a couple of mixed flocks and a good diversity of migrants. The two good concentrations were near number 6 on the boardwalk and between numbers 8 and 9. For the locations of these numbers, go to our birding pages and follow the links for "birding hotspots: maps and directions."

It was interesting to see five Veeries and no other brown thrushes; Veery is quite an early migrant in fall. Three Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were of interest also, and migrant warblers included three Chestnut-sided, three Tennessee, two Nashville, one Wilson's, one Black-and-white, and one Black-throated Blue. I also saw one Prothonotary Warbler, something of a surprise; Prothonotaries nest here, but the species is such an early fall migrant that it's quite possible that the local nesters have left already and that this was a stray from elsewhere. A Philadelphia Vireo and several Warbling Vireos were feeding on the conspicuous whitish fruits of Roughleaf Dogwood (Cornus drummondii), as were two of the Veeries, several Cedar Waxwings, and a couple of Downy Woodpeckers. The most anomalous sighting was of a single Red-breasted Nuthatch in the cypress trees near no. 6 on the boardwalk ... I'm not sure what it was doing here at this season.

Be advised that there are a lot of mosquitoes in the woods at Magee now, enough that I actually used repellant, which I seldom do. Be sure to carry repellant if you want to have an enjoyable birding experience there in the next few days. Also note that some fallen leaves have accumulated on the boardwalk, and these can be extremely slippery, especially when they're wet.

At the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (just north of Ohio State Route 2 at the entrance to Magee Marsh), Karen Zach saw several migrants this afternoon visiting the water feature outside the Window on Wildlife, the most notable being a Mourning Warbler. BSBO will be open 11 to 5 both days this weekend, August 29 and 30.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Shorebirds at Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area

Today I spent about two and a half hours in early evening at Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area, Sandusky Co., concentrating on one impoundment that has been most productive recently (see below for directions). The highlight was the presence of two Red Knots, juveniles in beautiful fresh plumage, silvery gray with fine dark subterminal scalloping on the scapulars and coverts. Red Knots are very uncommon migrants in Ohio and this is on the early side of the migration for juveniles; the reports I'd heard so far for this fall, elsewhere near Lake Erie, had been of adults.

These two Red Knots were present the whole time I was there, but there was a marked amount of turnover in the species composition and numbers of other shorebirds. Most of the birds seemed flighty, flushing repeatedly (often for no obvious reason) and flying around before settling again, thus "shuffling the deck" in terms of which birds were located where.

This is a very interesting time of the fall to be looking at shorebirds, because of the mix of adults and juveniles. Although it's fairly consistent for the peak migration of adults to be earlier than the peak migration of juveniles, the ratio of ages on a given date will vary by species. So today, in late August, I was seeing no adult Short-billed Dowitchers (they've mostly gone farther south or at least to the coast by now) and I was seeing no juvenile White-rumped Sandpipers (they probably won't show up here until September).

Other notables on the evening of the 24th included:
Hudsonian Godwit: one molting adult, undoubtedly the same individual that was here last week. This bird didn't appear until I had been there for almost two hours, and after Sheryl Young had also been there for half an hour; we looked up from our scopes and the godwit was out in an obvious spot in the open. I assume that it flew in silently while we were glued to our scopes.
Western Sandpiper: one brightly patterned juvenile was present when I first arrived, but then I didn't see it again.
Baird's Sandpiper: one juvenile was flying around calling for a while, then landed for a few minutes, then left.
White-rumped Sandpiper: up to eight present at once, a good number. All were adults.
Pectoral Sandpiper: up to 50 present, still mostly adults, but with a few juveniles mixed in.
Semipalmated Sandpiper (at least 100) and Least Sandpiper (at least 20): almost all juveniles now, just a few adult Semis.
Lesser Yellowlegs: still a mix of ages, mostly juveniles but a few adults.
Short-billed Dowitcher: five juveniles. No Long-billeds were present.
Interesting (and further evidence of the turnover here) was the absence of Stilt Sandpipers; observers last week were finding good numbers of these.

Aside from shorebirds, other interesting birds included several flocks of Bobolinks (possibly coming into the marshes to roost for the night) and a migrant Northern Waterthrush in the small woodlot.

For those who haven't been there, Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area is well marked with signs along U.S. Highway 6 between Fremont and Sandusky, and the easiest way to find the exact spot is to find the observation deck on the north side of Route 6, about 8 miles east-northeast of Fremont. From the the observation deck, drive a couple of hundred yards east to where a canal runs straight north from the highway, and pull in and park in the large dirt parking area on the east side of this canal. Then walk north a quarter mile on the road that follows the canal, past a small woodlot, and look in the large impoundment just north of this woodlot. The best view is looking east from up along the west side, so the light is best in the afternoon, and a scope is essential for decent views. I didn't check the impoundment just north of the observation deck, but it had good numbers of birds reported last week.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Shorebirds at Ottawa NWR

The auto tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge will be open on Saturday, August 15. I was at the refuge today (Friday the 14th), and found that the best shorebirding along the auto tour route was at MS 3. (To see where this is located, follow the links from the BSBO birding pages for "Birding Hotspots: maps and directions"). To see the birds on MS 3, the best approach is to park near the southeast corner of this impoundment and walk 10 or 20 yards north to a vantage point between the southeast corner of MS 3 and the southwest corner of MS 4. A telescope will be almost essential here.

Shorebirds on this impoundment today included one American Golden-Plover, several Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Snipe, Pectoral Sandpipers, a few Semipalmated Sandpipers, and large numbers of Least Sandpipers, almost all of the latter being juveniles in beautiful fresh plumage. A Peregrine buzzed the shorebirds here at least once. A few Snowy Egrets were far back on the impoundment with the more numerous Great Egrets, and several Bald Eagles were seen in the area.

Elsewhere on the refuge, I heard Sedge Wrens singing at Stange Prairie at first light, but they were silent when I checked the area again near midday. At least 30 Black-crowned Night-Herons were along the north-south causeway between MS 4 and MS 5. Along the walking trails (away from the auto tour) there are still some shorebirds on Pool 2a, but conditions are becoming less favorable there.

In terms of shorebirds that avoid the shore -- just after noon on the 14th, an American Woodcock was preening out in the open just outside the Window on Wildlife at BSBO. No guarantees that it will show up there again soon, but the observatory will be open on both Saturday and Sunday this weekend.

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