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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