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.

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