Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sabine's Gull 11/25 at Metzger, plus access to Magee Marsh

On Thursday, November 25, Delores Cole reports that the Sabine's Gull is still present at Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, still providing good looks from the area of the parking lot at the end of the road at around 10:30 a.m. See previous posts for more information.

Delores (along with observers Bill and Ann Toneff) also saw large flocks of Snow Buntings along the entrance road into Metzger. The fields on the north side of the entrance road, just after the turnoff from State Route 2, are often very good for open-country birds like Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, Horned Larks, blackbirds, etc., and are always worth a look.

On a different listserve, I received a question about access to the causeway at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area (where a Northern Shrike has probably settled in for the winter). According to information from the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the causeway and the areas beyond (boardwalk and wildlife beach) will be open to the public on Saturday afternoon, Nov. 27, and all day Sunday, Nov. 28. These areas will be closed the rest of the time for the next week and a half, through Friday, December 3. Then they should be open on Saturday, December 4, and for the rest of December. So if anyone is considering coming up to look at the Sabine's Gull -- it may not stick around after today -- it has already stayed longer than most previous Sabine's in Ohio. But if you can't get here until Saturday, looking for the Northern Shrike on Saturday afternoon would be an additional possibility.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sabine's Gull at Metzger 11/24

The Sabine's Gull at Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, mentioned in the previous post, is still present as of about 9 a.m. on Wednesday, November 24. Thanks to Erik Bruder for getting the word out quickly. The wind and the cold front that came through yesterday don't seem to have pushed the bird out, but this is a species that nests in the high Arctic, after all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sabine's Gull at Metzger Marsh

A juvenile Sabine's Gull turned up at Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area on the afternoon of Sunday, November 21. Sabine's Gull is a very rare migrant in Ohio; records are now almost annual along the Lake Erie shoreline in the eastern half of the state, but there are very few records for the region between Toledo and Sandusky. Sabine's Gulls found in fall are often seen for only very brief periods, but this individual actually has stayed for more than a day, and it is still present on Tuesday morning, November 23.

See our map of Metzger Marsh (under "birding hotspots: directions and maps" on the BSBO birding pages) if you're not familiar with the area. The road in to the wildlife area ends at a parking lot on the edge of Lake Erie, with a concrete fishing pier extending out into the lake. The Sabine's Gull has been spending time in the area just east of this pier. Part of the time it rests on the water out on the lake, often with Bonaparte's Gulls, at which time the Sabine's can be picked out by its much darker upperparts. Occasionally it gets up and flies around, showing its spectacular wing pattern.

When I first found the bird I was afraid that it would not even stay long enough for anyone else to see it. Now that it has stayed for more than 24 hours, there is a chance that it will stick around for a few more days. I'll try to post updates here as they become available.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Northern Shrike, Rough-legged Hawk, and other birds near Magee Marsh

At least one Northern Shrike has returned to the causeway that runs north across the marsh at Magee Marsh. This has been a reliable site to find the species for the last couple of winters. This afternoon (Sunday Nov. 7) I saw an apparent adult near the north end of the causeway (closest to the beach), and then later in the afternoon I saw one in flight near the south end of the causeway -- likely the same individual, but not necessarily.

Birders who want to look for this shrike will have to wait until next weekend. At this season the road in to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is closed for waterfowl hunting on weekdays and on Saturday mornings. But it is open on Saturday afternoons (after about 12:30) and all day Sunday, and it's well worth a visit then.

This afternoon I took advantage of the opportunity to check out the causeway and the east (wildlife) beach at Magee. The beach yielded nothing rare, but it held a good number of typical late-fall birds, including 13 Fox Sparrows, 9 American Tree Sparrows, 60 Rusty Blackbirds, and a Winter Wren. Along the causeway there were still Swamp Sparrows, and fair numbers of American Coots and Pied-billed Grebes. Three flocks of migrating Tundra Swans (totalling 31 birds) flew over headed west to east; the next couple of weeks will be an excellent time to watch for migrating swans anywhere in northern Ohio.

At about 3:30 this afternoon, a Rough-legged Hawk (my first one for the fall) flew past, just north of the parking lot for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (just north of Route 2, at the entrance to Magee Marsh). It could have been a migrant, but the species does usually winter in this general area, especially over fields on Ottawa NWR just to the west of us. Jeff Gordon, the new president of the American Birding Association, had stopped by BSBO for a brief visit, and he got to see this bird just before he left to continue his drive west -- so the Rough-leg provided a bit of Ohio birding hospitality.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

October Shorebirds at Ottawa NWR

On the afternoon of Thursday, October 7, there was a lot of bird activity at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. For those unfamiliar with ONWR, the comments and directions here will make more sense if you consult the birding map of the trails in the eastern section of the refuge, available through the BSBO birding pages under "Birding hotspots: directions and maps."

The best shorebirding on Oct. 7 was in the Crane Creek estuary. To reach this area, drive straight north from the refuge entrance to the lot marked "East parking for trails" on the map, and hike north from there for about a mile on the dike road alongside the impoundments labelled MS 8b, Pool 2c, and Pool 2b. In about a mile the dike road angles northwest and then southwest, and the estuary becomes visible on the right (north) side, while the open areas of Pool 2b are visible to the left.

Water levels in Crane Creek estuary are very much affected by winds. Southwest winds push water out into Lake Erie and expose good mudflats, while northeast winds push water into the estuary from the lake and raise the water levels, covering the flats. On Oct. 7 there was a moderate amount of open mudflat surface and a lot of shallow water, and 16 shorebird species were present. Highlights were 23 Hudsonian Godwits (all juveniles, as would be expected on this date), 3 Marbled Godwits, 2 Red-necked Phalaropes, 2 Stilt Sandpipers, 6 White-rumped Sandpipers, 32 Black-bellied Plovers, and 2 American Golden-Plovers. Historically, Ottawa NWR probably has been the best place in Ohio to find numbers of Hudsonian Godwits; there are records of over 100 in a day there in late September and early October, although normally it's unusual for us in Ohio to see more than a dozen at a time.

Other water birds of interest on the estuary or on Pool 2b included 2 Snowy Egrets (getting late), about 190 Northern Pintails, about 450 Ruddy Ducks, and 7 Ring-necked Ducks (slightly early).

Songbird migrants were abundant in the woodlot adjacent to the parking lot and in the shrubbery along the dike roads, with big numbers of kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-crowned and White-throated sparrows, and a scattering of other birds such as Winter Wrens, Swamp Sparrows, and Blackpoll Warblers. The southeastern corner of Pool 2b is often particularly good for migrants, and this area had Orange-crowned Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Fox Sparrow, and Rusty Blackbird, among other things.

This Sunday, October 10, the auto tour at the refuge will be open. (Incidentally, the usual route for the auto tour doesn't come close to the Crane Creek estuary, so hiking out there would be a separate activity.) Also this Sunday, the Ohio Young Birders Club will be holding a "Big Sit" at Ottawa NWR from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and any interested birder is invited to stop by and join them. More information is here:

Friday, August 13, 2010

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck at Pipe Creek

Friday, August 13, 2010: Today, ace birder Larry Richardson (former director of the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, and former board member of BSBO) found a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck at Pipe Creek Wildlife Area, on the east side of Sandusky, Ohio. This strikingly patterned tropical and subtropical duck is known to wander, and indeed there had been records from some surrounding states and provinces within the last few weeks. The bird was seen by a number of birders during the day, and was still present in the evening. It was associating with Mallards on a small island near the north dike of the wildlife area (on Unit B, as shown on the map linked below).

Pipe Creek is at the base of the causeway that goes out to the Cedar Point amusement park. Here are directions from our BSBO birding pages: From U.S. Highway 6 on the east side of Sandusky, turn north on Cedar Point Drive, then turn right at River Avenue (just after the McDonald’s). The small parking lot for Pipe Creek is at the end of River Avenue. Impoundments are good for shorebirds, waterfowl, and wading birds, while the woods hold fallouts of songbirds during migration. Note that traffic going to Cedar Point can be very heavy on warm weekends. For a map of Pipe Creek from Ohio's Division of Wildlife, click here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Arctic Tern at Maumee Bay State Park

Wednesday, August 11, 2010: Maumee Bay State Park, on the Lake Erie shoreline in Lucas County just east of Toledo, Ohio, is a superb place to study terns in late summer and early fall. The concentration of Common and Forster's terns there often reaches 200-300 individuals, offering a fine opportunity to compare their plumages, shapes, and flight patterns.

I went to the park today mostly to look at juvenile Ring-billed Gulls, but while I was there I scanned through the flock and was surprised to find an adult Arctic Tern resting with the Common and Forster's terns. This species is generally quite rare in the interior of eastern North America; Ohio had only a few previous records. The Arctic Tern was present for at least half an hour, long enough for me to shoot some photos and call some other birders, but by the time anyone else arrived, the bird had disappeared. Fortunately it came back in mid-afternoon, and many other birders got to see it late in the day.
Field guide treatments may emphasize bill colors: usually solid red on adult Arctic Tern, red with a black tip on Common Tern. However, many adult Commons in late summer become entirely red-billed. The Arctic Tern present today, however, had a very dark bill, which is an uncommon phenomenon for so early in the season but more expected later on in fall.

Here are some photos and some discussion of how today's bird was identified.
While standing, this bird was noticeable by its overall dark gray look and its short legs, but these are both tricky points. Both Common and Arctic terns vary in their overall shade of gray, and Common Tern can look shorter-legged depending on its posture and the position of its feathers. To confirm the I.D., it's very helpful to see flight pattern.
Here, with the bird taking off, we can see that all of its primaries are about the same shade of gray on the upperside, rather than having the outer primaries much darker than the inner ones. And the trailing edge of the primaries (outer part of the wing) is traced by a narrow black line. On Common Tern, there is a broader, smeary dark trailing edge but it involves the tips of fewer feathers.
Here's another angle showing the relatively uniform color on the upperside of the wing and the narrow black trailing edge on the whitish underside of the wingtip, as well as the strong wash of gray on the underparts. Notice also that the wings appear to be set far forward on the body, an illusion enhanced by the small head and long tail.
This photo compares the Arctic Tern (above) with a Common Tern, perhaps a two-year-old bird rather than a full adult, with a different shape and different wing pattern.
With practice, the wing pattern of Arctic Tern can be seen from a number of different angles.

In this photo, the Arctic Tern is seen flying with several Common and Forster's terns. The differences in shape and wing pattern are evident here.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Migration update May 28

Friday, May 28: After the good numbers of migrants last weekend in the woodlots near Lake Erie, things were gradually trailing off from Monday through Thursday of this week, and then dropped off sharply today. The weather has been very warm all week, so even though the winds have not been favorable for migration, birds obviously have been continuing their northward trek.

Up through mid-week, there were still good numbers of such typical late migrants as Wilson's, Blackpoll, and Canada warblers, American Redstarts, Swainson's Thrushes, Red-eyed Vireos, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and Least, Yellow-bellied, Willow, and Alder flycatchers. By today (Friday), only the cuckoos were really in evidence. This doesn't mean that the migration is over: some birds like Swainson's Thrush and Wilson's Warbler should still be passing through as late as June 5. But evidently a lot of birds left on Thursday night, and (perhaps because of thunderstorms that came through the area very late) no new birds came in to replace them.

The most sought-after migrant at this season is that elusive skulker, Connecticut Warbler. There were reliable reports each day this week, from the boardwalk at Magee Marsh or from the boardwalk behind the nature center at Maumee Bay State Park, but none of these birds proved cooperative for numbers of birders to see them. The only individual that I heard about today (Friday May 28) was along the Magee boardwalk near number 5.

Looking at the weather predictions for tonight and for the next few days, I don't see any conditions that would produce huge numbers of late migrants, although there undoubtedly will be some minor pushes of migrants during the next week or ten days. If you're in the area and want to look for Connecticut Warbler, my best advice is to walk quietly on trails inside the woods (like the Magee boardwalk, trails at Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge, Maumee Bay State Park) and keep watching wherever you can see the ground back in the deep shade. Connecticut Warbler walks slowly and deliberately on the ground, and you just might get lucky and spot one. If you're out early in the morning, you might hear a male singing its choppy song and you might be able to track it down by sound.

Shorebird migration will still be going on for another couple of weeks, if you can find a patch of good habitat. The entrance pool at Ottawa NWR is still worth checking -- Dan Sanders and Doreene Linzell found a Black-necked Stilt there on May 25 -- as is the area of Krause and Stange roads on the southwest edge of the refuge. The beaches at East Harbor State Park and Maumee Bay State Park get some interesting shorebirds, but on this holiday weekend you would have to arrive early before the crowds scare the birds away.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday update, 5/22

Saturday May 22: Brief update on the current situation in the migrant traps on the Lake Erie shoreline in n.w. Ohio. The Kirtland's Warbler found on the east beach at Magee yesterday has not been refound today. (Incidentally, analysis of photos last night showed that the May 21 bird was definitely a different individual from the one found on May 14.) As of 2 p.m., there hasn't been a cooperative Connecticut Warbler in the area either, but there have been brief looks at a couple of spots, including near 20b and 24b on the Magee boardwalk (see the BSBO map of the boardwalk for specifics) and on the trail behind the Sportsmen's Migratory Bird Center. There are probably multiple individuals in the area, so it's just a matter of patient searching (and luck, of course). The best habitat is probably in the woods behind the visitors' center at Ottawa NWR.

Aside from these two specialty warblers, there has been a good movement of migrants in general in the area, including good numbers of Empidonax flycatchers, Yellow-billed and Black-billed cuckoos, and various late-season warblers like Mourning and Wilson's.

Illustrating the perils of trying to predict bird migration on the basis of weather, none of the weather forecasts for the last two days have turned out to be correct here in n.w. Ohio! The heavy rains predicted for last night failed to materialize, and right now the wind is from the west, even though it was supposed to be out of the south all day. So this should be taken with a grain of salt ... but if tonight's weather is as predicted, with light winds from a southerly direction all night, there should be a good arrival of birds on Sunday morning, May 23. Best bets for first thing in the morning would be the woodlots right along the lake shore, such as at Magee, Metzger Marsh, or East Harbor State Park, but later in the day there might be as much action a little farther inland, such as the interior woods at Ottawa NWR.

Incidentally, Jerry Jourdan saw a first-cycle Little Gull at Pt Mouillee in s.e. Michigan this morning, and it was last seen flying east over Lake Erie. If anyone is near the beach at Magee, Metzger Marsh, Maumee Bay State Park, etc., this weekend, it would be worthwhile to take a second look at any gatherings of gulls or terns.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Weekend forecast, 5/22 - 5/23

Friday, May 21: Predictions for the migration can't be any more accurate than the weather forecasts, and of course sometimes the latter can be a little off. The heavy rain in n.w. Ohio this morning took us by surprise, as most forecasts hadn't predicted it. After the showers cleared off, birders found a few decent birds in the area of Magee Marsh. As mentioned in the previous post, a Kirtland's Warbler was found on the east beach (wildlife beach) in early afternoon; it was elusive part of the time, but part of the time it was allowing good views, even through late afternoon. It was being seen about 100 yards east from the entrance to the beach (see BSBO map of Magee for clarification). A Connecticut Warbler was found along the lakefront dike between the boardwalk parking lot and the east beach parking lot, and it skulked in that area, singing occasionally, for several hours midday. There were also reports of another Connecticut along the large eastern loop of the boardwalk.

Looking ahead at the weather forecast, it's hard to tell whether tomorrow (Saturday 5/22) will be a good day. There should be good southerly winds tonight, but there's also a strong chance of rain storms overnight, diminishing around dawn. Depending on just where the rains are located, they could pretty much shut down migration. There's also a chance that the rains will be less widespread than predicted now, and that a lot of migrants could come in from the south and got stopped right here, but that's a long shot. At any rate, rain is supposedly going to stop shortly after dawn, and southerly winds are supposed to continue through Saturday and all night Saturday night. With clear skies and light southerly winds Saturday night, there should be a strong movement of migrants, and there may be a lot of new arrivals on Sunday May 23. At this time of the season, such migrants should include flycatchers like Alder and Yellow-bellied, Red-eyed and Philadelphia vireos, Swainson's and Gray-cheeked thrushes, and Mourning, Canada, and Wilson's warblers -- and if we're lucky, more Connecticut Warblers.

So: hard to tell what the birding will be like on Saturday morning, but if you're really eager to see today's individual Kirtland's or Connecticut warblers, they may stick around for one more day. If you just want to see a different selection of birds, Sunday may have better possibilities. There are still a lot of individual migrants somewhere to the south of us, and they have to come through here (or over us) before too long.

Connecticut & Kirtland's warbler 5/21

Friday, May 21, at 1:50 pm: At Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, a Connecticut Warbler has been heard and occasionally seen during the last couple of hours, out along the lakefront dike northeast of the boardwalk's east parking lot. As of about 1 p.m., there was a Kirtland's Warbler on the east beach (wildlife beach) at Magee -- this is about a quarter-mile east of the boardwalk parking lot; see the BSBO birding map of Magee for clarification (through the BSBO main birding pages, follow the links for "birding hotspots -- directions and maps"). The Kirtland's was about 100 yards east along the beach from the point where the trail begins.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Next wave 5/21 - 5/22

Wednesday, May 19: The hard-working guides from Tropical Birding were back out on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh today, finding a decent diversity of birds and more pleasant weather than the last couple of days. Golden-winged Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Black-billed Cuckoo were among their highlights. Jim Witter and Shane Roberts also did a census of Magee for the Division of Wildlife today, coming up with 21 warbler species including Orange-crowned, Mourning, and Canada, as well as Philadelphia Vireo and a good variety of flycatchers and thrushes. So there are certainly birds around for those who are willing to search, despite the northerly winds that have prevailed recently.

Tonight a high-pressure system will pass over the area and the wind will shift around during the night. A few new migrants will probably come in (and some of the current crop probably will leave) but I don't expect a big arrival of birds on Thursday, May 20. Friday and Saturday, May 21 and 22, are looking more promising. The weather forecasts are somewhat contradictory so I can't guess which of those two days will be best, but it appears the winds will be mostly southerly on Thursday and Friday nights and there should be at least moderate numbers of birds showing up on Friday and Saturday mornings. This may be the best weekend to find Connecticut Warbler in the migrant traps near Lake Erie. Numbers of the species could be even higher later in the month, but the adult males tend to be the first migrants to appear, and they are more likely to be singing (giving us a fighting chance to find these elusive skulkers).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Update 5/17; next wave 5/21-5/22?

Monday, May 17: Strong north winds for the last couple of nights seem to have shut down the migration temporarily. At the BSBO main banding station today, a high percentage of the migrants encountered were recaptures from previous days, so birds seem to be staging in the area and waiting for the weather and winds to change. Birders who were out on the trails of Magee Marsh and Ottawa NWR today did manage to find a fair diversity of migrants, including Mourning Warblers lurking in the undergrowth, but wind and rain put a damper on the action during the latter part of the afternoon.

It doesn't appear that Tuesday May 18 will be a good day for birding -- the weather forecast calls for more rain and more north winds. Wednesday the 19th should be more pleasant, as a high-pressure system should pass just to the north of us. The winds won't be right for more migrants to show up on Wednesday. Perhaps this would be a fine day for looking at local nesting birds out at Oak Openings, checking for shorebirds on the Ottawa NWR entrance pool or in the Stange Rd - Krause Rd area, or enjoying the Black Terns and other wetland birds at Metzger Marsh.

Sometime after Wednesday, however, the winds will shift and we'll have another big arrival of birds. I just talked to Mark Shieldcastle, Research Director at BSBO, and he's been looking at the long-term forecast also. We can't tell for sure when the wind is going to change. If the fronts accelerate, we might have south winds Wednesday night and a decent flight on Thursday, but at this point it looks more likely that Friday and Saturday will be the big days -- May 21 and 22. This weekend should be a good time for seeing sought-after flycatchers like Olive-sided, Yellow-bellied, and Alder, and numbers of some of the other late-spring migrants like Red-eyed Vireo and Mourning, Canada, and Wilson's warblers. The next two weeks represent the best time of year to find the elusive Connecticut Warbler, and with favorable flight conditions this coming weekend, we're almost sure to have a few found in this area. I'll keep watching the weather and will try to update the prediction as we get more information.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday 5/15 update

Saturday, May 15: With the breeze shifting around to the northwest near morning, and then to the north, many birds seemed to have stayed put from Friday. Unfortunately, yesterday's star bird -- the Kirtland's Warbler that had been viewed by over a thousand birders over a period of ten hours plus -- apparently left overnight, as no one could find it today.

Even without that rarity, however, there was a lot of variety in the area. Almost all the expected warblers were seen, including several Mourning Warblers. An Orange-crowned Warbler at Metzger Marsh was on the late side for this species, which usually trickles through here in late April and early May. A Connecticut Warbler was identified in flight over the east beach at Magee, but so far no Connecticuts have been found as viewable stakeouts on the ground. This late migrant is most expected here during the last week of May.

Shorebirds were good today, with Marbled Godwit seen again on the east side of Stange Road (south of the observation platform) and up to three Upland Sandpipers seen from the west side of Stange a little farther south. Other birds on the Stange-Krause roads loop included Black-bellied Plovers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlins, both yellowlegs, etc.

With the sky now lightly overcast and the breeze light out of the north, Sunday May 16 should have most of the same birds that were seen today -- that is, probably not many will leave or arrive. Of course, all of us from Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Tropical Birding, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, and Kaufman Field Guides will be out scouting around for last-minute rarities and good stakeouts, hoping to finish up the Biggest Week In American Birding on a high note.

Friday, May 14, 2010

May 14: spectacular migration plus Kirtland's Warbler

Friday, May 14: It's never possible to predict big arrivals of migrants with absolute certainty, but the predictions for today turned out to be right on target. This was by far the biggest day of the spring so far in terms of numbers of migrants along the lake shore in n.w. Ohio.

For the last few days we'd been having modest numbers but very good diversity. Today the diversity went up a little and the numbers were at least ten times what they had been. I started off by going to the east beach at Magee Marsh (about half a mile east of the boardwalk; see the BSBO birding map of the Magee area for clarification). The low trees near the beach were hopping with American Redstarts, Gray Catbirds, Least Flycatchers, Magnolia Warblers, Baltimore Orioles, and many other birds. I saw my first good numbers of Indigo Buntings for the spring, several Scarlet Tanagers, and a lot of other migrants including Orchard Oriole, Lincoln's Sparrow, and Mourning and Wilson's Warblers. Diurnal migrants were streaming past: flocks of Eastern Kingbirds, Blue Jays, Cedar Waxwings, and all the expected species of swallows.

At about 9:15 a.m. I was lucky enough to find a male Kirtland's Warbler. I was luckier still that it stayed around: I sent out the word via Twitter and cell phone, hundreds of people arrived during the next four hours while I was there, and it was still being seen after 4:30 pm. The location was along the east (wildlife) beach about 300 yards east of the parking lot. The bird was feeding low for the entire time, sometimes hopping on the ground, sometimes foraging among low branches of sumacs or willows, or even among brush piles. Often it was amazingly easy to see, and several times it flew toward crowds of people and foraged unconcernedly within a few yards of its admirers. I'm sure it was seen by over a thousand birders, and undoubtedly tens of thousands of photos were taken; this is probably the most-photographed Kirtland's Warbler in history!

Of course it's impossible to say whether the bird will still be there Saturday morning, May 15, but I'm sure that people will go to look for it. I will try to get the word out early if it is seen Saturday.

Right now the winds are still out of the west-southwest, and they should be out of the west for most of Friday night, shifting to northwest sometime Saturday. My best guess is that Saturday will have somewhat fewer individual birds than today, but still very large numbers, and lots of variety.

Aside from the excitement of the Kirtland's: I heard about sightings of roughly 30 species of warblers in the general area. Several Mourning Warblers were found in the woods at Ottawa NWR and the Magee boardwalk, and Golden-winged and a "Brewster's" hybrid were found at the latter location. The first C0nnecticut Warblers of the season were found at the BSBO banding station (on a closed section of Ottawa NWR), so the species should show up soon at the Magee boardwalk.

Nine American White Pelicans circled over the Magee - Ottawa area around the middle of the day. A Marbled Godwit was being seen from the observation platform on Stange Road (southwest corner of Ottawa NWR -- see the BSBO map of the refuge) and at least two Yellow-headed Blackbirds were being seen a short distance west of there on Krause Road.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tomorrow (May 14) still looks good

Well, we must be in northwest Ohio. The temperature has gone from near freezing a couple of days ago to near 80 right now (late afternoon Thursday May 13) -- there's a strong, hot wind out of the southwest, and Broad-winged Hawks have been passing over the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and other spots near the lake, the last of the raptor migrants making their push through the area. Blue Jays, too, have been blasting by along the lake shore. These diurnal migrants, riding the wind, probably foreshadow what's going to happen with the larger numbers of nocturnal migrants tonight.

There's still rain in the area, and thunderstorms are likely to roll through around 10 pm tonight. But it looks as if southwest or WSW winds will continue for much of the night, switching to west by morning, with chance of rain diminishing after dawn and temperatures cooling down to something moderate in the morning. The wind flow out of the southwest is coming from a long way south, and there are still a LOT of migrant songbirds that haven't made it here yet, so we could have a massive arrival on Friday morning. I know that a lot of us are going to be out there looking! And we'll report as soon as we have an idea of what's going on.

If you can't make it out to the migrant traps on Friday, it looks as if Saturday also could be quite good -- maybe some more arrivals overnight Friday night, with winds shifting around to northwest on Saturday to hold some things in place. And even if huge numbers don't materialize, the overall diversity of migrants in the area is good enough to make for good birding.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Update 5/12, next wave May 14?

Wednesday May 12: We've reached that point in the spring when some migrants are going to push northward even if conditions for migrating are not favorable. That's the only explanation I can see for the fact that a number of new birds showed up today. Tuesday night there were heavy rains and cool temperatures, and only a brief period during the night when winds were southerly, but today it was obvious that many thrushes had come in overnight. In the woods at Ottawa NWR and Magee Marsh, all five brown thrushes were seen, with numbers of Veery and Swainson's Thrush especially noticeable. White-crowned Sparrows and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks also appeared to have increased in numbers. Once again, the numbers of individual warblers were only moderate, but the variety of warbler species was excellent.

As of late afternoon Wednesday, winds are from the northeast, it's raining to the south of us, and rain is very likely tonight and tomorrow. I don't expect that many migrants are going to come in tonight. On Thursday rain is likely for much of the day, especially late morning and afternoon, and the forecast calls for possibly severe storms in late afternoon and early evening. So the migrants that were around today are likely to still be here tomorrow, but if you're pursuing them, be prepared to dodge rain showers.

On Thursday evening, even though scattered showers will continue, temperatures will be warmer and winds are predicted to be out of the south for most of the night. Also, it appears that there won't be a lot of rain to the south of us, so migrants that have been dammed up to the south will probably be moving this direction. It's too early to say for sure, but this could be a setup for a big arrival of migrants on Friday, May 14. It will depend on exactly where the rain showers are located late at night on Thursday, but if we get lucky, we could have a major influx of the second wave of warblers and other neotropical migrants on Friday. Keep your fingers crossed!

Monday, May 10, 2010

May 10 migrants, predictions for May 11 and 12

Monday May 10: Once again, the woodlots in the area featured modest numbers of migrants but excellent variety, with well over 20 species of warblers, many allowing very close views. Today once again the best warbler spot was the boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. Highlights reported from there by the guides from Tropical Birding included Golden-winged Warbler and Philadelphia Vireo (mostly near the small loop near numbers 7 and 7A), Pine Warbler (mostly near the west entrance to the boardwalk), Wilson's Warbler (near number 25), and two Mourning Warblers (in the vicinity of number 15 to 18). At the small spur jutting south near number 10, a Prothonotary Warbler appeared to be competing with a House Wren for a choice nest site, and the brilliant golden "swamp warbler" was affording fabulous views. For all of these locations on the boardwalk, see our map available through the main birding pages -- go to and follow the links for "birding hotspots -- directions and maps."

The last couple of days have been unseasonably chilly, with northerly winds keeping the migrants in place (and keeping them low, where they're easy to see). According to current weather forecasts, rain is supposed to move into the area very late Monday night, and on Tuesday it will almost certainly rain during the morning and perhaps into early afternoon before clearing up. (All the more reason to come to Ottawa NWR visitors' center at 11 a.m. to hear Paul Baicich, one of the country's top bird experts, talk about "The ten most important things you can do for birds and bird conservation.") By late afternoon, after the rain stops, the migrants in the woods at Ottawa NWR and Magee should be very active and very visible. Tuesday night the wind is supposed to shift to southerly for several hours before swinging around to the north again. If it does turn out that way, Wednesday morning will probably see some significant turnover in the migrant traps, and perhaps the first minor movement of the second major wave.

White Pelicans, shorebirds, etc. May 10

Monday, May 10: Some of the attention today shifted away from warblers and toward waterbirds. At Metzger Marsh, 9 American White Pelicans were being seen from the second pullout along the road. From the parking lot at the end of the road at Metzger, looking south from the dike, birders were seeing Black Terns and Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Meanwhile, at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, the shorebirding was excellent at the Entrance Pool. To reach this site, turn in to the refuge main entrance from Route 2; and instead of going west to the visitors' center, loop around to go straight north. The Entrance Pool will be along the right (east) side of this road. It stretches for at least half a mile north, and today most of the shorebirds were in the northern part of the pool, where there is very shallow water and extensive exposed mudflats. Highlights included at least 3 White-rumped Sandpipers, 5 Pectoral Sandpipers, 1 Short-billed Dowitcher (of the prairie race, hendersoni, and in bright breeding plumage), at least 9 Solitary Sandpipers, 30 Lesser Yellowlegs, 60 Dunlins, 15 Least Sandpipers, 12 Semipalmated Plovers, etc. A telescope is very useful for birding this area, and the light is much better in the afternoon than in the morning when you're looking into the sun. But this spot seems to be having constant turnover now, so if you're birding in the area, it would be worthwhile to check it more than once.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Migration update May 8 and 9

Saturday, May 8: The birding turned out to be surprisingly good (considering the weather) in the wooded areas near the Lake Erie shoreline in n.w. Ohio today. Storms last night and very strong WSW winds today didn't make for an encouraging prospect, but birders who worked the interior and downwind sides of the woodlots wound up seeing very good variety of migrants. At the Magee Marsh boardwalk, numbers of migrants were modest but the diversity was excellent -- no one species predominated, so every time we raised our binoculars there was a good chance we'd be looking at something different. Excellent views of Golden-winged, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Black-throated Blue, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, and Nashville warblers, Northern Parula, Rusty Blackbird, Veery, Yellow-throated Vireo, etc., etc., were all crowd pleasers, and the action seemed to get better as the afternoon went along, with lots of happy birders still on the boardwalk after 6:30 pm.

The wetland areas on Ottawa NWR were a little slow, probably because of the effects of the high winds driving birds into hiding, but Sandhill Cranes were seen by many, and the wooded area behind the visitors' center produced many migrants. The woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh also held a number of migrants, including at least two more Golden-winged Warblers.

The winds tonight are diminishing but they have shifted around to west-northwest, not very good conditions for migrants to be on the move. By morning the winds should have died down to about 12 mph, but morning temperatures may dip below 40, so with the wind chill it's going to feel very cold at dawn. I suspect that most of the migrants that were around today will still be present on Sunday May 9. With the wind shift, they'll probably shift to more sheltered areas of the woods. At Ottawa NWR, the southeastern edges of the woodlots should become more productive. At Magee, there probably will be fewer birds along the edge of the parking lot, and more in the interior of the woods along the boardwalk, plus in woods near the Sportsmans Center and Black Swamp Bird Observatory. During the chilly part of the morning, if you can find a spot that's out of the wind but in the sunlight, warblers and other songbirds are likely to concentrate there.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Weekend May 8-9: Unsettled Saturday

Friday, May 7: At 9:20 a.m., the guides from Tropical Birding reported that a female Golden-winged Warbler was being seen at #5 on the Magee Marsh boardwalk.

The migration and the weather are both unusual right now. The diversity of warblers has been excellent for the last couple of days in the migrant traps near Lake Erie, and other migrants have been showing up in good variety also, but we still haven't seen the expected pulses of really big numbers. And it looks like those won't materialize in the next couple of days. The good news is that most of the diverse set of birds seen on Thursday will still be around Sunday, and we'll probably have some rare birds showing up as well.

According the current forecasts, a low pressure center will move right over n.w. Ohio tonight (Friday night), with some showers and shifting winds, and as that low moves off to the northeast, we'll have strong west winds developing. Saturday May 8 will probably have cool temperatures, scattered showers, and strong winds out of the west. The winds should diminish Saturday evening. Sunday morning will be quite chilly at first (with temperatures perhaps dipping below 40) but sunny, with light west-northwest winds, so as the day warms up it should be pleasant birding conditions.

I don't expect many songbird migrants to arrive under these conditions, but I don't expect most of the current crop to leave, either, so there should be a good diversity of warblers and others in the woods throughout the weekend. And in terms of larger birds or water birds, I expect the west winds to bring in something unusual. There already have been scattered Wilson's Phalaropes around, and we may see more of those -- or perhaps Franklin's Gull, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, White-faced Ibis, or other species that are usually more prevalent farther west.

So: unsettled weather on Saturday, chilly but calmer on Sunday; probably no big arrival of waves of migrants, but the total species list for the weekend should be very good. And looking ahead, there may be a very big arrival of migrant songbirds later in the week -- sometime between Wednesday and Friday. More info here as the weather forecasts become more detailed and believeable.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thursday 5/6 update

Thursday May 6: Yesterday turned out to be excellent for variety in the migrant traps near the Lake Erie shoreline. No fewer than 28 warbler species were found at the Magee Marsh boardwalk, and the total for the BSBO main banding site east of Magee was well over 20 warbler species.

Last night some heavy rain came through late in the afternoon, and winds shifted to northerly, so it appears that most of yesterday's birds are still around today. An early report from the BSBO banding site was that today was like yesterday but with more Tennessee and Black-and-white warblers. At the Magee boardwalk, a Kentucky Warbler was showing off well at the small loop (near number 7A), and Cape May Warbler and Black-billed Cuckoo were crowd-pleasers near the west entrance.

Dick Ashford, chair of the board of the American Birding Association, saw eight dark ibises fly over near the entrance to Ottawa Nat'l Wildlife Refuge yesterday evening, just before the storm hit. These are the first ibises I've heard of so far this spring. Ottawa NWR is the best place in Ohio to find these birds; Glossy Ibis occurs more often than White-faced Ibis, but both species have been found in recent years, and it takes a close look to distinguish them. Hopefully they'll be found along the refuge auto tour route this weekend.

The entrance pool at Ottawa NWR had an early White-rumped Sandpiper yesterday and a good selection of more common shorebirds today. This morning I had a female Wilson's Phalarope at Toussaint Wildlife Area, north of Oak Harbor; the bird was being harassed by Lesser Yellowlegs and eventually it left, but it's likely to show up at Ottawa also.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Purple Gallinule east of Magee Marsh

No, it's not a "chase-able" bird, but it's interesting nonetheless. This morning -- Wednesday May 5 -- a man who lives in one of the small communities on the edge of Lake Erie, a few miles east of Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, found an injured Purple Gallinule wandering around in his yard. He brought it to Black Swamp Bird Observatory, where it was cared for and kept quiet for a short time until it could be transported to our friend Mona Rutger, the dedicated wildlife rehabilitator who runs Back To The Wild, of Castalia, Ohio.

Purple Gallinule is ordinarily a rare visitor to Ohio, averaging fewer than one record per year in the state. But amazingly, this makes four Purple Gallinules found in Ohio in the last few days: another injured bird found in Miami County, one that appeared briefly in a back yard in Medina County, the famous and now much-photographed bird in Lorain County, and the Ottawa County bird. This species occasionally stages odd northward "invasions," and something of the sort is clearly happening right now; if four individuals actually have been found, there may be dozens out there undetected. It would be worthwhile to actively look for Purple Gallinules during the next few days in wetland areas with lots of emergent or floating vegetation such as cattails and lily pads. Metzger Marsh, Ottawa NWR, and Toussaint Wildlife Area would all seem like good places to search.

Wednesday 5/5 morning update

Wednesday May 5: As of 9:30 this morning, the guides from Tropical Birding had already found 22 species of warblers at the boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, and said they expected a warbler species total in the high 20s for the day. I was leading a birdwalk on private property farther east in Ottawa County first thing this morning, and although we weren't in prime warbler territory, there were a lot of migrants around including Orchard and Baltimore orioles, Eastern Kingbirds, Northern Waterthrushes, Tennessee Warblers, and scads of Yellow Warblers. So this looks like a significant day for migrants, if you can get to good habitat before the rain showers move in this afternoon (predicted for around 3:30 - 4 p.m.).

Solitary Sandpipers have been everywhere the last couple of days -- I've seen multiples in flooded fields, on the entrance pool at Ottawa NWR, along the causeway to the Magee boardwalk, etc. Usually these birds are seen only in small numbers (as their name would suggest) so it's startling to encounter so many. Watch for them around the edges of any kind of water, even very small ponds or streams.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tuesday 5/4 update, long-range forecast

Tuesday, May 4: As of this morning, numbers of individual birds are a little light but variety is excellent in the migrant traps along the Lake Erie shoreline. At the boardwalk at Magee Marsh, according to the guides from Tropical Birding, a Kentucky Warbler is present again (or still?). Other highlights there include Yellow-throated, Blue-headed, and White-eyed vireos, a number of warblers including Magnolia and Black-throated Blue, plus Summer and Scarlet tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Looking at the long-range weather forecast, I expect good numbers of birds to arrive overnight the next two nights, so there should be a lot of new arrivals on Wednesday and Thursday, May 5 and 6. After that, it appears that a major low-pressure system will pass by well to the north of us, and winds will shift to the west and then north, with some rain showers moving in over the weekend. That should mean that most of the birds present this Thursday should still be around over the weekend. Birders taking part in the International Migratory Bird Day festivities on Saturday, or in the Big Half-Day Bird Race on Sunday (see details at ), should see great variety but not huge numbers. Days with passing showers often produce great birding in the woodlots within a couple of miles of the lake: the birds often stay put, stay relatively low, and become very active and very visible in between showers. But on a day with no big fallout, the key is to keep moving, keep checking different spots, as individual birds may be settled in for the day in limited areas.

This is almost purely speculation at this point, since the weather predictions can change so much from day to day; but if current weather forecasts hold true, the biggest migration day of the season might turn out to be Friday, May 14. But don't quote me on that! A lot could change in the next ten days! I'll keep watching the weather and will try to update this prediction.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Predictions for migration, 5/3 and 5/4

Sunday, May 2: In the area of the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area boardwalk, this was another day with only modest numbers of migrants but good variety. Among the highlights were Worm-eating, Prothonotary, and Hooded warblers, all showing off well near the west end of the boardwalk.

Tonight's weather looks very unsettled, with a lot of rain to the south of us and heavily overcast skies here. The wind is predicted to shift to more westerly (or even northwesterly) for part of the night. I think most of the birds that were around today will still be in the area tomorrow, and that not many new ones will come in. Monday May 3 is supposed to have fairly decent weather, so it should make for pleasant birding conditions. But I suspect there won't be much turnover, so if you were birding over the weekend and you'll be birding again on Monday, I'd suggest going to different sites if you want to see something different. Check out the page of "birding hotspots: directions and maps" from the main BSBO birding pages for ideas of other migrant traps nearby.

According to current predictions, southerly winds will continue Monday night and the weather will be more favorable for migrants, so I expect that a lot of new arrivals will show up on Tuesday. Again, it may not be a day for big numbers, but it should produce excellent diversity again.

With a strong westerly component to the winds recently, we expect some shifting of midwestern migrants in this direction. Reports of single Clay-colored Sparrows at various points in Ohio over the last couple of days may be a reflection of this. Flooded fields are likely to have flocks of American Golden-Plovers in addition to other shorebirds. A flock of about 50 golden-plovers was seen on both Saturday and Sunday south of Maumee Bay State Park: From State Route 2, go north on Curtice Road (the road that goes to MBSP) for one mile to Seaman Road, then turn east. The plovers were seen just east of this intersection on Saturday and I believe they were near the same spot on Sunday. If you stop to look at flooded fields in this area, be sure to find a spot where you can pull completely off the road and avoid blocking traffic.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Migration update 5/1, predictions for 5/2

Saturday, May 1: In the migrant traps on the Lake Erie shoreline, today was the biggest day of the year so far for sheer variety of species. As of mid-afternoon, a minimum of 26 warbler species had been reliably reported from the Magee Marsh boardwalk itself, with at least 29 for the area as a whole. The rarest bird at the Magee boardwalk itself by mid-afternoon was a Kentucky Warbler (probably the same individual moving between #16 on the boardwalk and the woods adjacent to the southwest corner of the East Parking Lot). Two Cerulean Warblers were near #17 on the boardwalk, and Greg Links found another individual at the "Wildlife Beach" east of the boardwalk. A female Hooded Warbler was near #6. A few Blackpoll Warblers were somewhat early, including one hanging around the west entrance to the boardwalk. All five brown thrushes were along the boardwalk -- in fact, individuals of all five were seen just north of #6, as well as elsewhere. Other noteworthy birds included a Black-billed Cuckoo near 7a, a Yellow-breasted Chat that moved around quite a bit, and at least four Summer Tanagers (possibly more). For a reference on the numbered spots along the boardwalk, see our detailed map available through the link for "birding hotspots: directions and maps" from the BSBO main birding pages.

Elsewhere in the area, the entrance pool at Ottawa NWR had at least three Solitary Sandpipers, as well as both yellowlegs species and Pectoral Sandpipers. At the woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh, Greg Links found a Prairie Warbler.

The theme for today was variety, not abundance. Most migrant species were present only in small numbers, but most birders who persisted in searching wound up seeing a lot of different species.

Okay, so what about tomorrow? For Sunday, May 2, I expect birding conditions to be similar. There's still a good flow of wind out of the south-southwest, but there is also (as of early evening) a lot of rain falling in southern Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, so I don't expect many birds to be coming from there tonight. Undoubtedly there will be some turnover, and some birds will continue to move into the better patches of habitat, but I think the overall numbers and variety on Sunday will be similar to today's. We'll probably see heavy showers moving through the area in the morning, but in between rain showers, bird activity should be intense. To see a lot of variety, visit multiple sites: check out the woods at Ottawa NWR, Metzger Marsh, and East Harbor State Park. Look at shorebird habitat at Ottawa and along the Magee causeway: numbers of shorebirds are still building up.

If you're in the area, be sure to stop by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, just north of Route 2 at the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. The observatory will be open every day in May from 10 to 6. We'll be glad to share the latest sightings and we'll be eager to hear what you've seen!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Migration update 4/30

Friday April 30: As predicted, there was a good arrival of migrants this morning in the vicinity of the boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. With the strong southerly winds, migrants were concentrated along the north edge of the woods (south edge of the parking lot), but there were also many inside the woods along the boardwalk itself. Birds were continuing to move into and through the area as the morning went on. As of midday, at least 19 species of warblers had been reliably reported from the boardwalk area, with highlights including Blue-winged, Golden-winged, Orange-crowned, and Yellow-breasted Chat. Singing male Blackburnian, Cape May, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, and Pine warblers were crowd-pleasers. Numbers of Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) and Palm warblers were greatly increased from the previous day, offering a chance to hear the songs of these birds repeatedly -- most birders don't get many opportunities to hear the song of Palm Warbler, a sort of rough trill broken by a repeated dip in tone.

Other notable arrivals today included Eastern Kingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Swainson's Thrush, Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, White-crowned Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. At least four Whip-poor-wills were found roosting near the boardwalk -- one of the advantages of the number of birders present is that it increases the chance that these cryptic nightjars will be spotted. The rarest bird of the morning was a young male Blue Grosbeak seen and photographed near the tower at the west end of the boardwalk.

In terms of diurnal migrants, there were far fewer hawks today than yesterday. (Jen Brumfield called to report that many hawks were moving eastward along the lake shore east of Cleveland, so the migration has shifted since yesterday.) But many Blue Jays, swallows, and American Goldfinches were moving along the lake shore.

The strong south winds were such that birds were not likely to remain in areas that were not at least somewhat sheltered. Lee Garling reported that there were few birds in the woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh -- that woodlot is probably just too exposed to the wind on a day like this. Birds should filter into the more protected woods now, so the extensive tracts at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge should be excellent for the next several days, especially on the downwind side.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Migration update 4/29

This morning -- Thursday 4/29, as predicted, there was a decent movement of diurnal migrants along the Lake Erie shoreline at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. Broad-winged Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk were moving in decent numbers, and there were some small migrant flocks of Blue Jays and American Goldfinches following the lake shore. There were a few Neotropical migrants in the woods along the Magee boardwalk, with small numbers of Nashville, Black-throated Green, and Black-and-white warblers, Baltimore Oriole, Warbling Vireo, and a few others. Numbers of Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) and Palm warblers still appear to be picking up, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are abundant.

I talked to Julie Shieldcastle at the BSBO main banding site (on the Navarre unit of Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge, about four miles east of Magee) and she said the selection of birds there this morning was quite similar, with the addition of one Orange-crowned Warbler, plus one Wood Thrush, more Hermit Thrushes, and larger numbers of White-throated Sparrows.

Based on what we're seeing and on the weather forecast, it still looks as if Friday April 30 and Saturday May 1 should be very good days for arrival of migrants on the lake shore in n.w. Ohio. The winds should continue to be southerly at least through Saturday morning. Friday it will be quite warm and windy in the afternoon, and Saturday morning there are supposed to be scattered showers starting before dawn. Depending on the exact location of those showers, the birding on Saturday could be anything from fairly good to fantastic. But Friday should be a day for a lot of "first-of-the-season" birds.

If you come to the area for migrants, take time to check some of the areas back away from the lake shore itself. Not everything winds up in the migrant traps. This morning, for example, there were a lot of Yellow Warblers singing in the trees near the Black Swamp Bird Observatory itself, just north of Route 2 at the entrance to Magee Marsh, and almost none up in the vicinity of the Magee boardwalk. Apparently the local summer-resident males come in and set up their territories before we start to see transients that are passing through going farther north -- so the species can be common a mile south of the lake shore before the first migrants show up near the beach.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Update: migration forecast 4/29 to 5/1

As of late evening on Wednesday April 28 (4/28): temperatures are going to be chilly again tonight in n.w. Ohio, but the sky is clear and the wind has shifted to southerly already, earlier than had been predicted. I expect there will be a decent arrival of migrants on each of the next three days -- Thursday through Saturday, 4/29 through 5/1. Right now I'm guessing that Friday the 30th will be the biggest day for new migrants to show up, but Saturday may have somewhat more species even if there are fewer individuals. Friday it's supposed to be very warm and windy in the afternoon; Saturday there are likely to be scattered showers but that shouldn't spoil the birding.

As long as the wind is strong out of the south, the biggest concentrations of migrants are likely to be near the immediate lake shore, such as the shoreline woodlots at Metzger Marsh, Magee Marsh, and East Harbor State Park. But the woods at Ottawa Nat'l Wildlife Refuge should also hold a lot of migrants every day from now through the end of May. The boardwalk and trails behind the Ottawa NWR visitors' center are almost always productive in spring, even when the wind shifts and the shoreline spots slow down a lot.

Next big wave 4/30 - 5/1

During the last few days, even with unfavorable winds, migrants have been moving into northwestern Ohio, with a tide of White-throated Sparrows and other early migrants showing up everywhere. But there are still a lot of warblers and other birds that haven't made their appearance yet.

Up here in northwest Ohio, the weather predictions can change as fast as the weather itself. But based on current forecasts, there should be an excellent arrival of Neotropical migrants this Friday and Saturday, April 30 and May 1, in the migrant traps along the Lake Erie shoreline in n.w. Ohio (Maumee Bay State Park, Metzger Marsh, Ottawa Natl Wildlife Refuge, Magee Marsh, East Harbor State Park, Sheldon Marsh, etc.).

Right now (morning of Weds. 4/28) the temps are in the 30s and it will be chilly again tonight, but by Thursday morning the winds should be shifting to the south. Thursday 4/29 might see a good movement of daytime migrants along the lakeshore, including Blue Jays, swallows, flickers, and what's left of the hawk flight. With south winds continuing overnight Thursday, on Friday morning 4/30 we may see the first really big numbers of the nocturnal migrants of the Neotropical persuasion (warblers, vireos, tanagers, orioles, etc.). Saturday might be even better, although it's hard to say.

At this point I'm not sure about Sunday, but Friday and Saturday are looking good, perhaps very good. We'll be watching the weather and trying to update predictions.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Avocets at Maumee Bay S.P.

Saturday, April 24: the unsettled weather last night and this morning seems to have moved some birds around. Dana Bollin, naturalist at Maumee Bay State Park, reports that there were 30 American Avocets on the inland beach (just south of the Lake Erie beach) at 1:30 this afternoon. Well to the east of our area, at Rocky River Park in Cleveland, Paula Lozano found a Willet this morning, another migrant shorebird that is rare in spring, along with a good number of Caspian Terns. Clearly it would be worthwhile to check other shorebird spots this weekend.

For anyone coming to the area of Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, the area just west of the causeway (on the way out to the beach and boardwalk) has some exposed mudflats, good for shorebirds. Also, the "entrance pool" at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is being drawn down and is now providing some excellent shorebird habitat that may only get better during the next couple of weeks. The entrance pool is straight north of the entrance to the refuge from Route 2 -- instead of going west toward the visitors' center, loop to the right and then go straight north; the entrance pool is along the east side of this road for almost half a mile north from Route 2.

Chimney Swifts also seem to have arrived at a number of sites in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan where they had not been seen before today.

At the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Pine Siskins are visiting the feeders outside the window on wildlife, and numbers of White-throated Sparrows have increased. The big push of warblers has not arrived yet, but in the meantime there are plenty of other birds to look at.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Weekend of April 24 at Magee

In the migrant traps at Magee Marsh W.A., Ottawa NWR, and other points along the Lake Erie shoreline, the floodgates of migration have not opened yet. Following some unseasonably warm weather in early April, things have slowed down, and the arrival of migrants is now about average or a little late.

In 2009, April 24 was the first really big day for arrival of neotropical migrants, with good numbers of warblers, vireos, and a few Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at the Magee boardwalk and elsewhere in the area. Based on what's around right now, and on weather predictions for the next few days, that won't be repeated this year. Migrants in the woods at Magee are dominated now by Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Hermit Thrushes, and others of the moderately-early bunch. There are Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warblers present, but not in huge numbers yet, and a few Pine Warblers. A few Rusty Blackbirds and Winter Wrens are still in the woods. So there are some birds to see, but the big rush of spring migrants has not arrived, and probably won't arrive until after this weekend. The good news is that the vast majority of those birds are still to the south of us, and the best is yet to come!

The weather forecasts going forward are uncertain enough that I don't want to make strong predictions, but purely on the basis of the current ten-day forecast, the first really big day for lots of warblers might turn out to be Thursday April 29 or Friday April 30. But I'll be watching the weather forecasts closely and will probably revise that thought closer to the time.

At any rate, at this time of year it's worthwhile to get out any time if you can. Some days have more birds than others, but there's no such thing as a bad spring day.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Update on Magee causeway

At Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, the causeway continues to offer interesting birding as of Thursday, April 22. On the road going north from Route 2 to the beach and the boardwalk, the causeway is the last stretch that runs straight north across the marsh itself. The water level in the area west of the road is still low in places, exposing some good shorebird flats. A particularly good area is west of the road and just south of the second of the three pullouts along the causeway; in this area in late afternoon on the 22nd I saw a single American Golden-Plover, as well as two Pectoral Sandpipers, two Greater Yellowlegs, and three Lesser Yellowlegs. The area west of the northernmost pullout also had Greater Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpiper (three of each). In areas along the causeway where the water is a little deeper, there are still good numbers of ducks, including Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, and Blue-winged Teal.

Soras have arrived in numbers, as I heard several calling late this afternoon. Ordinarily these small rails are heard calling from the marsh and remain unseen, but with the extensive mudflats immediately adjacent to the marsh vegetation, there's an increased chance of seeing them. I actually saw three this afternoon, all lone individuals poking along on the mud at the edge of the marsh. For anyone who is going to or from the Magee boardwalk, it's definitely worth spending some time checking out the habitat along the causeway.

East Harbor State Park 4/20

This is a belated post, but on Tuesday April 20 I took a brief look at East Harbor State Park. This park just east of Port Clinton is a gem, sometimes overlooked by birders but with a lot to offer. On Tuesday, songbird migrants were in low numbers (as they have been at other points along the lake this week), but trails near the Lockwood Picnic Shelter on the west side of the park produced Hermit Thrush, Palm Warbler, Winter Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and good numbers of White-throated Sparrows, as well as Brown Thrasher and Field Sparrow that have arrived for the summer. I didn't have time to check the woodland trails south of the east beach, but that's another good area for migrant songbirds at times.

East Harbor is excellent for waterbirds as well as land bird migrants. On the large lagoons in the center of the park, and off the beach on the east side of the park, there were hundreds of Ruddy Ducks, scores of Lesser Scaup, and a little group of four Greater Scaup. The north part of the east beach is often a good area for gulls, even early and late in the season when the mid-winter concentrations are not around; on 4/20 there was a single Lesser Black-backed Gull there along with good numbers of Bonaparte's, Ring-billed, and Herring gulls.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Weekend of April 17 at Magee

The upcoming weekend should provide good birding at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and other wooded spots along the Lake Erie shoreline. Good numbers of migrants are in the area as of Thursday April 15. This day had record high temperatures with southwest winds; the southwest winds are supposed to continue overnight Thursday night before some scattered rain moves in on Friday the 16th, with the wind shifting to northwest by Friday evening. More migrants are likely to come in Thursday night, but most of the birds that are around on Friday morning should stay for most of the weekend. Saturday and Sunday, the 17th and 18th, will be cooler, with temperatures mostly in the 40s and with northwest or north winds diminishing on Sunday. Despite the cooler temperatures, there should be plenty of birds to look at.

A check of the Magee boardwalk late on Thursday found large numbers of some early migrants, like Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler, Hermit Thrush, and Rusty Blackbird, and smaller numbers of others such as Ruby-crowned Kinglet (but very few Golden-crowneds), Palm Warbler, Winter Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. A male Prairie Warbler was along the north edge of the woodlot (adjacent to the south edge of the middle parking lot), and singing male Pine Warblers were near the west entrance to the boardwalk and along the boardwalk near no. 22 (see our map of the boardwalk, linked from the main BSBO birding pages, for locations of these numbers).

For birding the area this weekend, if the wind has shifted to the northwest or north, the birds are likely to be back in along the boardwalk toward the south side of the woodlot. The warblers present are very much concentrated in flocks, so if you find some Yellow-rumps, look around carefully to see what might be with them. This would be the way to find other warblers such as Palm, Pine, Black-and-white, Black-throated Green, or other early species. I haven't heard of any Orange-crowned Warblers yet but we're getting into the best time period to find them. Winter Wrens are scattered through the woods in small numbers -- if you see a tiny bird scoot under the boardwalk as you approach, it may be a Winter Wren. There are still a lot of Rusty Blackbirds around, but they’re easy to overlook. Listen for their song, a creaky tlic-tli-tleeeee, ending on a very high note, and look carefully at any blackbird foraging on the ground close to the water inside the woods (but remember that there are lots of Common Grackles in the woods as well).

On the lake just off the Magee beach on Thurday there were large numbers of Ruddy Ducks and Lesser Scaup, and some Northern Rough-winged Swallows flying with the many Tree Swallows.

The Black Swamp Bird Observatory, located just north of Route 2 at the entrance to Magee Marsh, is open in April on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 11 to 5. Stop in to check out the action at the window on wildlife or to get the latest birding news.

Shorebirds on Magee causeway

Birders going to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in the near future should check for shorebirds along the causeway. On the road going north from Route 2 to the beach and the boardwalk, the causeway is the last stretch that runs straight north across the marsh itself. Today (Thursday April 15) the water level in the area west of the road was low in places, exposing some good shorebird flats. Late in the evening, scoping from the second of the three pullouts along the causeway, I saw 8 Greater Yellowlegs, 14 Lesser Yellowlegs, 2 Dunlin, one Wilson's Snipe, 6 Killdeer, and one Short-billed Dowitcher. (This early part of the migration is a good time to look for Long-billed Dowitcher, but this bird was Short-billed, as identified by call as well as by structure and plumage.) There were fewer birds in this area when I checked earlier in the evening, indicating that the birds move around a lot, so it's worthwhile to take a look at this habitat both on your way to the boardwalk and after you leave. Pectoral Sandpipers should be in this area too, and this kind of marshy spot is a good place to look for Ruffs in spring migration.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Early migrants in good numbers

Large numbers of waterfowl moved through northwest Ohio in March this year, as expected, but the big concentrations seemed not to last as long as usual. As of now, April 7th, there appear to be fewer ducks, geese, and swans in the area than there sometimes would be on this date. The variety present is still excellent; all the expected species seem to be here, just not in the numbers that we might have seen in other years. I think this is largely a function this season’s weather. After the cold and snowy conditions of February, things warmed up very rapidly. Waterfowl tend to be opportunistic in their spring migration, moving north as soon as conditions are favorable, so the big push of ducks moved through our area more rapidly than usual. With a check of the Lake Erie shoreline and area marshes, however, it’s still easy to find hundreds of individuals and more than a dozen species, and this should hold true for the next couple of weeks at least.

The land bird migrants expected in early April are around in good numbers. In wooded areas near the lake shore, specialties of this week include Hermit Thrush, Fox Sparrow, and Rusty Blackbird. There are also good numbers of Golden-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Brown Creeper, Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. At least two Louisiana Waterthrushes have been seen recently at the Magee Marsh boardwalk. Louisiana Waterthrush is generally scarce this far north, but any waterthrush seen in the first half of April is almost certain to be of this species; large numbers of Northern Waterthrushes migrate through here in May, but the first ones don’t show up until around April 20.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Spring migration starting up

A male Red-winged Blackbird summoning spring at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, n.w. Ohio

Although the amount of snow on the ground and in the forecast might make it seem unlikely, spring migration of birds is already under way in n.w. Ohio. During the last few days in the area of Oak Harbor, Ottawa Co., small flocks of male Red-winged Blackbirds have been showing up, as well as flocks of Common Grackles, in areas where few were seen during the winter. These harbingers are right on schedule, as they arrive in late February every year, raising the curtain on migration.

This early part of the migration features a few predictable groups of birds. Waterfowl are among the highlights; from now through the end of March, flocks of ducks, geese, and swans will be pouring into n.w. Ohio. At the moment there is only a limited amount of open water for them. Along the Lake Erie shoreline, the distribution of ice changes from day to day, but if you can find open water it should have rafts of diving ducks. Inland ponds that are open, such as the famous pond in Castalia, Ohio, should host increasing numbers of all the ducks.

Killdeer should be appearing right about now at any patches of open ground that are not snow-covered. Likewise for American Woodcock; these secretive and bizarre woodland sandpipers are hard to see, but on warm nights they should be performing their flight-song displays just after dark. As soon as I hear positive reports, I'll post the locations.

Some early migrants among the songbirds include American Crow (surprising numbers pass through the area in very early spring); Eastern Meadowlark (transient birds pass through starting in late February, apparently a separate population from those that nest here); Rusty Blackbird (flocks should be arriving any day now, with their peak migration in the latter part of March); and a number of species of sparrows. Early migrant raptors, such as Red-shouldered Hawks, will be on the move shortly. Hawks, crows, meadowlarks, and most blackbirds are daytime migrants in early spring, and the best way to look for them is to be near the Lake Erie shoreline during the warmer part of the day, especially on days with light southwest winds. In that situation, you may see small flocks of crows, meadowlarks, etc., flying northwest, paralleling the lake shore. Water birds out over the lake (or over the ice) also may parallel the shoreline, so by putting yourself in that position, you can double your chances of spotting something interesting.

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