Saturday, December 24, 2011

Two Snowy Owls in Wood County

We previously mentioned that a Snowy Owl was present in Wood County, Ohio, near the city of Bowling Green.  Now there are two present there, and both were seen on December 23rd.

The first one, first found on December 12, is southwest of Bowling Green. Most of the sightings have been in the general area of Cygnet Road (Township Hwy 3) and Otsego Pike (State Route 235). Cygnet Road runs east - west, and crosses Interstate 75 about eight miles south of Bowling Green. Otsego Pike is about 6 to 7 miles west of Interstate 75. The bird was seen today (Friday Dec. 23) both north and south of Cygnet Road, near Otsego Pike.

The second one, found on December 21 by Tom Kemp, is northwest of Bowling Green. It's along State Route 64 (Haskins Road) near its intersection with Hannah Road, only a couple of miles outside of BG. It has been seen on both the east side and west side of SR 64, and north of Hannah Road half a mile west of 64. This individual also was seen today (Dec. 23).

Just a little outside our area, a Great Gray Owl was found Friday, Dec. 23, just west of Point Pelee, Ontario. Apparently this is a first record for Essex County, and it's a LOT closer to Ohio than Great Grays are usually found. These directions are from Sarah Rupert, starting from Leamington, the town closest to the entrance to Point Pelee National Park: "From Leamington, take County Rd 20 (Seacliff Drive) west through Kingsville. You'll pass Pleasant Valley Campground on the north, the next road is McCain Side Road. Turn north on McCain and continue down the road approx 2 km. You'll see address marker 1643 on the west side of the road, the bird was last seen at the north end of that property along the edge of a farm field. We watched the bird until we lost the light. It was actively feeding throughout the time I was watching it and we're hoping it might stick around."

For updates on the latter, check the Ontario birding listserve:

Best of success to anyone who decides to look for any of these birds, and please remember to keep a respectful distance from the owls and to respect the private property of local landowners.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Snowy Owl in Wood County, Ohio

Late fall / early winter 2011 has been marked by a major influx of Snowy Owls into the north-central U.S., with scores of individuals reported around the western Great Lakes.  Only a few individuals have been found in Ohio so far, but one is being seen currently not far from our immediate area: in Wood County, just southwest of Bowling Green. 

As reported on the "RareBird" forum, the owl was first found on December 12 by Mark (last name not given) and has been seen several times since.  Most of the sightings have been in the general area of Cygnet Road (Township Hwy 3) and Otsego Pike (State Route 235).  Cygnet Road runs east - west, and crosses Interstate 75 about eight miles south of Bowling Green.

The owl has been seen perched atop telephone poles a few times, but more often it has been seen sitting on the ground out in open fields, often some distance from the road, so a telescope is useful for getting good looks.  If you go to look for this bird, please do not approach it closely.  Snowy Owls that come this far south are often stressed and hungry, and we must not do anything to add to their stress. 

As of about 10:30 a.m. on Friday, December 16, Ben Warner reported that the owl was being seen off Cygnet Road, southwest of its intersection with Otsego Pike.  It was about 500 yards out in a corn stubble field.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Rusty Blackbirds: Northwest Ohio is important to their survival

Rusty Blackbird at the BSBO passerine banding station at Navarre Marsh, Ottawa NWR, in October 2011.  With their rich rusty feather edges, these fall birds are easier to pick out and identify than they will be in spring, when the edges are largely worn away.  Photo by Julie A. Shieldcastle.

On the afternoon of Thursday Nov. 3, Paul Baicich and I encountered good numbers of Rusty Blackbirds at Magee Marsh.  While walking the trails behind the Sportsmen's Migratory Bird Center we had several flocks of 15 to 50 birds each; I estimated a total of about 270 Rusties in the area.  Later, stopping by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory half a mile to the south, I saw another 40 or so in the woods near the building.

Numbers like these are not at all unusual for this immediate area; in early spring and late fall, we frequently see well over 1000 Rusty Blackbirds in a day.  Elsewhere in the range of the species, however, such counts are becoming increasingly rare.  There is serious concern about the status of Rusty Blackbird, which evidently has suffered a major population decline in recent decades.  (For more information, see this link.)

Northwestern Ohio is among the few remaining areas of the continent where large concentrations of Rusty Blackbirds still can be found consistently during migration. It's likely that this region always was important to the species. In centuries past, a vast area of northwest Ohio was occupied by the Great Black Swamp and the western Lake Erie marshes, and these wetlands would have provided perfect stopover habitat for Rusty Blackbird when the species was still abundant. Now the wetlands and the Rusty Blackbird population are both greatly diminished, but the species still concentrates here in what remains of the habitat. Particularly good swampy woods and marsh edges can be found on several areas administered by the Ohio DNR - Division of Wildlife, such as Magee Marsh, Metzger Marsh, Mallard Club, Toussaint, Little Portage, Pipe Creek, Pickerel Creek, Resthaven, and Willow Point. Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge also has outstanding habitat, and the large contiguous area made up of Ottawa, Magee, and Metzger may be especially valuable. Two Ohio state parks, Maumee Bay and East Harbor, also hold significant numbers of Rusty Blackbirds during migration. Birders should recognize the value of all of these protected areas to the survival of this declining species, and show our support for the agencies responsible for these lands.

For birders who lack experience with Rusty Blackbirds, this is the best time of year to get to know them. They're easy to identify right now, as virtually all show very strong rusty feather edges (by spring, with those edges largely worn away, most will be dull black or blackish gray, and more likely to be overlooked). Although flocks may be seen feeding in open fields, they concentrate in swampy woods. Flocks in flight are often silent, not noisy like Common Grackles or Red-winged Blackbirds; they tend to be in looser flocks than either of those two species, and they are shorter-tailed than grackles. They may associate with other blackbirds or with starlings, but they tend to maintain their own sub-flocks within larger groups. When they are among large numbers of other blackbirds, their distinctive, creaking "kssh-dleeee" is often the first giveaway that Rusty Blackbirds are present.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ottawa NWR auto tour Oct. 9: Shorebird bonanza

Hudsonian Godwit in fading juvenile plumage at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio, on October 7, 2011.  The dark face is typical of many Hudsonian Godwits at this season, but it's purely temporary, caused by probing in deep mud with their long bills.  Ottawa NWR is the best place in Ohio to see this uncommon species.  Photo by Kenn Kaufman.
 News update:  the auto tour at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (Lucas / Ottawa counties, n.w. Ohio) is going to be open this Sunday, October 9, from 8 to 4. I surveyed parts of the auto tour route this morning (Friday October 7) with Laura Bonneau of the refuge staff; I was very impressed with the numbers and diversity of shorebirds present, and wanted to share some information about them.

The main concentration of shorebirds on the refuge now is on the impoundment called MS 5. (For those who aren't familiar with the refuge auto tour, see our map on the BSBO birding pages under "Birding hotspots: directions and maps."   MS 5 is a very large area, with patches of open water and mudflats and emergent vegetation, so it isn't even remotely possible to view the whole impoundment from any one spot. Flocks of shorebirds move around a lot, with some apparently moving out to the Crane Creek estuary part of the time. There is good viewing of various patches of habitat all along the south and east edges of MS 5, but on Sunday that section of road probably won't be open, in which case it will be necessary to park near the southeast corner of MS 4 and walk in along the south side -- carrying a spotting scope, since many of the birds will be quite distant. But for those who are willing to make the effort, this could be richly rewarding.

The shorebirds on the refuge right now include good numbers of several species that aren't common in the experience of most Ohio birders. Jason Lewis, the bird-savvy manager of Ottawa NWR, told me that MS 5 held a lot of Hudsonian Godwits, and he wasn't kidding: I estimated at least 80 birds, and at one point I counted 52 visible at once. Ottawa is probably the best place in Ohio for this uncommon species. The birds that I saw today all looked like juveniles, mostly gray with subtle buff edgings, but they have the same flashy flight pattern and distinctive calls as the adults.

Also notably numerous today were American Golden-Plovers (estimated at least 180, with 140 visible simultaneously at one point; all seen closely were juveniles); Black-bellied Plover (at least 60, mostly juveniles); Long-billed Dowitcher (at least 55; all seen closely were juveniles; no Short-billeds identified today); Stilt Sandpiper (at least 45, mostly juveniles); and White-rumped Sandpiper (at least 22, mostly juveniles). I estimated at least 500 Dunlins in the area, many of these seen only in flying flocks, but those seen closely included an interesting mix of plumages: some adults essentially in winter plumage, some adults in worn and faded remains of breeding plumage, and many juveniles beginning to molt into first-winter plumage. We seldom get to see Dunlins in full juvenile plumage south of the Arctic, but some individuals seen today were close to that stage, with only a few obvious gray replaced scapulars. So right now is a superb time to study interesting plumages and uncommon species of shorebirds.

Although we tallied 21 species of shorebirds, these didn't include anything really rare. The only notable species, aside from those mentioned already, were Marbled Godwit (one), Wilson's Phalarope (two), and Red-necked Phalarope (one). (Also in a deeper section of MS 5 were three American White Pelicans.) Given the sheer numbers and variety of shorebirds present, I wouldn't be at all surprised if some genuine rarity turns up this weekend.

I want to point out that creating shorebird habitat in a huge impoundment like MS 5 is no small challenge -- it's not as easy as raising or lowering the water level in a small pond. Refuge manager Jason Lewis and his staff went to considerable effort to ensure that Ottawa NWR would have good stopover habitat for shorebirds during this migration period; they had to overcome some setbacks, including the major flooding rains that hit this area in September. If you take advantage of the opportunity to go see these birds on Sunday, you might stop and thank any refuge staff people that you see, to let them know that we birders appreciate their efforts. The refuge is planning to hold their "Big Sit" count on Sunday, somewhere near the start of the auto tour, and Jason Lewis probably will be out there taking part in it for much of the day, so this would be a good opportunity for you to stop and say hello -- of course he's a dedicated professional, but he's also a friendly guy and a keen birder, a real asset to the Ohio birding community.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Weekend Outlook, Sept. 15-18

Thursday, September 15: It looks like we’ve gotten very lucky with the weather for the Midwest Birding Symposium (MBS). For the next four days there is very little chance of rain, and a big arrival of migrants has just moved in with the north winds, so there should be a lot of birds to watch under pleasant conditions between now and Monday.

We had strong winds out of the south through much of Tuesday, but winds shifted around toward the north that night, and in the time since, many warblers and other migrants have moved into the area. I made a quick check of Meadowbrook Marsh on Wednesday afternoon, and found several small groups of migrants moving along the woodland edge. This site, and all the other MBS birding sites, should offer fine birding from now through Sunday. Reports from this morning indicate that warblers are numerous at the Magee Marsh boardwalk right now. I expect a fair amount of turnover for the next couple of days, and then Saturday night the winds will shift more toward east and southeast, so whatever is around on Saturday will probably stay through Sunday also.

For people who are driving in to Lakeside for the MBS, and coming from the east or west, here are a couple of spots to consider that are NOT official MBS birding sites. They might be worth hitting on the way to or from Lakeside. From east to west, they are:

1. Sheldon Marsh. This state natural area east of Sandusky is often a very good warbler trap in fall. During the first Lakeside MBS in 1997, I led field trips there, and it turned out to be an excellent spot for talking about warbler ID because we were getting good looks at so many. It’s not one of the official sites this time, but if you want to stop there on your own, Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) has a birding map for the area.

2. Resthaven Wildlife Area. This site south of Sandusky Bay has a mix of ponds and woods, and it often holds a lot of songbird migrants in spring and fall. Mark Shieldcastle, BSBO’s Research Director, suggested that the winds of the last couple of days were likely to make this a very productive spot right now. A map and some information can be found at this link.

3. Metzger Marsh. Another area administered by Ohio’s Division of Wildlife, this site lies just west of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. BSBO has a birding map of the area, available through the website. Many waterbirds are often visible along the causeway on the drive in. At the end of the road, the small woodlot often has concentrations of songbird migrants. The beach and the concrete fishing pier may have interesting gulls, terns, or shorebirds if there aren’t too many people around.

4. Maumee Bay State Park. Farther west on the way to Toledo, this park on the Lake Erie shoreline is reached by following Curtice Road 2.5 miles north from State Route 2 (and it’s well marked by road signs). Once inside the park, follow the signs for the beach. At the end of the road there is both a Lake Erie beach and an inland beach, and either or both may have many gulls and terns and a scattering of odd shorebirds. This is one of the more consistent sites in n.w. Ohio for Red Knot, and other species seen there recently include Baird’s Sandpiper and Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Maumee Bay also has a fine wooded areas for songbird migrants; follow the signs for the Nature Center to get to one good spot. Brian Zwiebel reports that the park had excellent numbers and variety of warblers this morning, including Hooded Warbler, rare here in fall. 

5. Finally, farther afield in southeast Michigan, the Detroit River Hawk Watch is the best area nearby to witness the fall migration of birds of prey. On days with northwest winds, hundreds or even thousands of hawks may be seen passing overhead at Lake Erie Metropark and other nearby sites. For more information, go to their website. From Lakeside this would be at least a two-hour drive, so if you go during the Symposium you should plan to miss the rest of the day’s activities. But you could stop there on the way to or from Lakeside if your travels take you in that general direction. At this point, it looks like today, tomorrow, and Saturday should all have decent potential for hawk flights, while Sunday’s southeast winds probably won’t make for good hawk viewing there. But if the weather prediction for Sunday changes, keep this in mind.

And if you'd like to see a long list of other birding sites in northwestern and north-central Ohio, go to the BSBO birding pages and scroll way down the page that is at this link.

Meanwhile, back at the sites closer to Lakeside – the birding should be great for the next four days! We’ll hope to see many of you out in the field, or at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory / Kaufman Field Guides booth at the vendor hall.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ottawa NWR auto tour: update

Tuesday, September 13: This morning I had a chance to cover the auto tour route at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge with the Manager, Jason Lewis, and several members of his staff. As many birders are aware, the auto tour will be open for three days this weekend – Friday September 16 through Sunday September 18, from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. In addition to his other areas of expertise, Jason Lewis is a keen birder, and he decided to have the three-day auto tour as a special concession to the Midwest Birding Symposium happening this weekend.

Jason and his staff also have been working to have some areas of prime shorebird habitat close to the auto tour route. These efforts suffered a setback last Thursday night, when an exceptionally heavy rain dumped three to five inches on this area. In addition to flooding my basement, this flooded the impoundment known as MS 5, which had had more than a dozen shorebird species immediately before that. With the abruptly higher water level, most of those birds dispersed. The Refuge staff have been pumping water out of MS 5 and the level is coming down again. We saw a fair number of birds there today, and Jason was optimistic that water levels would be much better for shorebirds again by this weekend.

Here are some notes on the auto tour route. For reference to the sites mentioned, see our map at
The account below will be a lot easier to follow if you look at the map.

1. General: Before or after driving the auto tour, you may want to walk the trails through the woods behind the Visitors’ Center or the woodlot near the start of the auto tour, looking for migrant songbirds. However, you also may see such migrants anywhere on the refuge, so don’t just focus on the water birds. This morning, for example, we saw Tennessee Warbler and other species in trees along the road, and many swallows over the impoundments. Also, watch for Bald Eagles everywhere over the refuge, and keep an eye out for the Peregrine Falcon that has been hunting the area.

2. First part of tour route (see map): runs straight west for two miles past areas called MS 8b, North Woods, Butternut, and MS 7. We didn’t spend much time here today. But toward the west end of this, where you have Stange Prairie on the left and MS 7 on the right, this area can be good for migrant sparrows, especially just a little later in the fall. Might be worth stopping to scan for birds in the roadside brush.

3. At the southwest end of MS 7, the road turns right and runs north for almost a mile, crossing Crane Creek. Don’t stop on the bridge itself, but if you can find a spot to pull off before or after the bridge, the area just north of the bridge on the east side can be good for shorebirds and others. Today it had Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Snowy Egret, among other birds.

4. A little past the bridge over Crane Creek, the road runs into a T-intersection and the auto tour route turns to the right (east). The area just southwest of this corner, MS 6, holds some good mudflats, and has had good numbers of shorebirds in recent days, although not much was there today. If you look straight ahead (north) at the T-intersection you’re looking at MS 3, a good place to see Common Gallinules (Common Moorhen) and various ducks.

5. Continuing east on the auto tour, in a little over half a mile the main gravel causeway turns north (left) between MS 4 and MS 5. However, as of today Jason Lewis and his staff were discussing having the auto tour loop east all the way around MS 5. That will require a little more maintenance work on the road (they already have graders out working on other parts of the road in preparation for MBS), but it would open up more birding possibilities: MS 5 holds a LOT of birds, and it will have more if they can get the water level drawn back down. Highlights today included Long-billed Dowitchers, Solitary, Pectoral, and Least sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Common, Forster’s, and Caspian terns. This impoundment also held a fair diversity of ducks, including Northern Pintail, Blue-winged and Green-winged teal, and Northern Shoveler.

6. Whether the auto tour goes all the way east, north, and then west around MS 5, or simply goes north between MS 4 and MS 5, from that point it will go west for a mile and a half to the exit onto Veler Road and back to State Route 2. From there you can turn right to make a quick check of Metzger Marsh (see map here) if you have time, or turn left to loop back toward the refuge Visitors’ Center. If you do the latter, it’s worthwhile to detour down Krause and Stange roads (see map) and watch for birds of open fields. Sandhill Cranes have been seen here several times recently.

If you go to the refuge this weekend, please take a moment to thank someone there for the extra work they have put in for birders.  The entire staff has gotten involved in one way or another, and so have many volunteers who work through the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Association (ONWRA), the independent "friends' group" for the refuge.  All of the National Wildlife Refuges are incredibly valuable for bird conservation, whether or not they cater to birders specifically.  But when a refuge's manager, staff, and volunteers make an extra effort for birders, we should let them know that it's appreciated. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

East Harbor State Park hotspots and migrants, Sept. 10

Although this photo was taken in spring, the male Black-throated Blue Warbler looks pretty much the same at all seasons, an encouraging point for birders who are apprehensive about "confusing fall warblers." On September 10 I saw at least ten Black-throated Blues at East Harbor. photo by Kenn Kaufman.
Saturday September 10: This afternoon I made a brief check of East Harbor State Park, another of the field trip sites for the Midwest Birding Symposium (MBS), and found very good numbers and variety of migrants. East Harbor SP is on the edge of Lake Erie in Ottawa County, east of Port Clinton and west of Lakeside.

The entrance to East Harbor is on the east side of State Route 269, about a mile north of State Route 163. After entering the park, in a couple of hundred yards, the first left turn will take you to the parking area for the Lockwood picnic shelter. I have always had good luck with migrants in this general area – either in the thickets to the east of the pond and Frisbee-golf course (east of the parking lot), in the woods at the beginning of the Meadow Trail (just west of the parking lot), or in the woods around and to the south of the picnic shelter. This evening the latter area held a concentration of at least 70 small birds. Chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches were the nucleus of the flock, but the majority of the birds (more than 50) were migrants. American Redstart and Magnolia Warbler were the most numerous, and the flock also contained multiples of Cape May, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Black-throated Blue, Black-and-white, and other warblers, plus at least three Philadelphia Vireos and several Warbling and Red-eyed vireos. This flock was moving fast and doubling back through the area, and with the heavy overcast of it was a challenge to keep up with the birds and see them well.
(NOTE: According to current plans, the parking lot for Lockwood picnic shelter is one of the spots where the guides will meet participants on Friday and Saturday mornings, Sept. 16 and 17, during the MBS.)

(Incidentally, it was in this area – first part of the southern end of the Meadow Trail – where the Kirtland’s Warbler was found during the Midwest Birding Symposium two years ago. I don’t expect lightning to strike twice here, but I did make a pass through and look at the spot for tradition’s sake.)

To reach the other area where I’ve consistently had good luck with migrants, go in the park entrance and follow the signs straight ahead for the Beach, about a mile to the east. It’s not much of a beach at the moment, but if you turn right and go to the south end of the parking lot, you’ll come to a nice paved path that leads south into the woods paralleling the edge of the lake. The woods here often have flocks of warblers, as they did this afternoon, with multiples of Blackburnian, Wilson’s, Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, and others. Heavily fruiting dogwoods along the path also produced Gray-cheeked and Swainson’s thrushes, several Warbling and Red-eyed vireos, and at least one Philadelphia Vireo. Yellow-bellied and Least flycatchers were in this area also. NOTE: According to current plans, this is the other spot where guides will meet participants on Friday and Saturday mornings, Sept. 16 and 17, during the MBS.

Finally, if you turn left instead of right when you reach the beach and go to the northernmost parking lot, you reach the best vantage point in the park for terns and gulls. A series of four rocky “islands” offshore offer resting spots for birds when people scare them off the beach. Today this area had about 380 Common Terns, 16 Forster’s Terns, 5 Caspian Terns, 82 Bonaparte’s Gulls, 30 Herring Gulls, and 85 Ring-billed Gulls. No unusual species were with them today, but in other years I’ve seen Lesser Black-backed Gull here in September.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Magee Marsh area migrants Sept. 8

Thursday, September 8: The fall warbler migration is in full swing now, shorebird migration is still going strong, flycatchers and vireos are migrating through, and thrushes are starting to show up in good numbers. It’s a great time of year to be birding in northwest Ohio.

The boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is not as fabulous in fall as it is in spring, but it still can be very good. Today I made a brief visit at midday to see what I could find in the space of an hour, and I came up with 12 warbler species, plus Least and Yellow-bellied flycatchers, Swainson’s Thrush, Red-eyed, Warbling, and Philadelphia vireos, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The warblers included multiples of Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, and Tennessee (allowing good practice on these classic “confusing fall warblers”) as well as numbers of American Redstarts and Magnolia and Black-throated Green warblers, plus Nashville, Chestnut-sided, Cape May, Black-and-white, Canada, and Northern Parula. Again, this was just in the space of an hour, and there were undoubtedly other species present. I talked to Ken Grahl, who birds the boardwalk regularly, and he mentioned having seen at least 18 warbler species in the last few days.

As is typical of this time of year, the warblers were strongly concentrated in a few scattered flocks. During today’s hour near the west end of the boardwalk, I ran into only three flocks, and there were essentially no warblers at all in between these flocks. At one point, Ken Grahl and I spent more than ten minutes carefully looking and listening along 50 yards of the boardwalk without finding a single bird, and then we ran into another cluster that included at least a dozen warblers of five species. This pattern of occurrence suggests this strategy: keep moving until you catch some hint of a flock, and then stop and stay with the flock until you’ve seen everything in it.

These migrant flocks often associate with certain resident species. One of today's flocks was associated with Black-capped Chickadees and a White-breasted Nuthatch; another was associated with a couple of Downy Woodpeckers.  So watching and listening for these birds can help you to locate the warblers.

While you’re watching for warblers, keep an eye out for dogwoods as well. The Rough-leaved Dogwoods in the Magee area are recognizable now by their clusters of small white fruits, and these fruits are very attractive to vireos and thrushes. It’s often possible to get excellent close looks at Red-eyed, Warbling, or Philadelphia vireos by watching at heavily laden dogwoods.

It’s important to pay attention to wind direction. Most of these small migrants will gravitate to the sheltered side of the woods, out of the wind, where small insects are easier to find. Today, for example, the wind was from the east, and birds were concentrated at the sheltered west end of the boardwalk. For another example: A couple of days ago, on Tuesday the 6th, the wind was strongly out of the north; on that day, relatively few migrants were in the woods near the beach. However, on that day Mark Shieldcastle and Ken Keffer banded eight species of warblers at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory headquarters. On that same day, John Sawvel reported that quite a few warblers and other migrants came to the water feature outside BSBO’s “window on wildlife.” BSBO is a mile south of the lake and more sheltered from north winds, so the greater concentration of migrants there was about as expected.

One final tip for birding the Magee Marsh boardwalk: after windy, rainy days, there are a lot of fallen wet leaves on the boardwalk, and they can be extremely slippery, so tread with care!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tips for Finding Fall Warblers

This female Blackburnian Warbler was photographed in spring, but some fall females are very similar. Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

Northwestern Ohio is famous as “The Warbler Capital of the World” in spring, when warblers and other migratory songbirds are heavily concentrated in the woodlots along Lake Erie. During the fall, migrants are not so concentrated. They tend to be quieter in fall than in spring, and the denser foliage of this season adds to the challenge of finding them. But a determined birder can still find plenty of warblers in September, and their fall plumages often have a special, subtle beauty. Here are some things to keep in mind while seeking them.

Find the Flocks: During the fall, even more than during spring, migrant warblers tend to be concentrated in flocks. The flocks may be only loosely organized, and they may contain only a few individuals, but they are out there and worth finding.

In between flocks, you may not find any birds at all, and the woods may seem way too quiet. Barry McEwen and I birded a section of Sidecut Metropark this morning (Friday Sept. 2), and at one point we went almost 15 minutes without seeing a single bird – but then we found a flock that included Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, and other warblers, as well as Warbling Vireos and other birds. Later, after another quiet stretch, we found a concentration that included Wilson’s, Tennessee, and Magnolia warblers, plus American Redstarts and others. This is typical of what we expect in fall, and it suggests two strategic approaches:

1. Don’t give up too quickly. If you’re seeing no birds at all, move along and look and listen for a flock. These flocks can be inconspicuous, so you need to watch for movement and listen for chip notes. Warblers often associate with chickadee flocks, so if you hear chickadees, track them down and look for warblers with them. In areas where chickadees are scarce (like some woods on the immediate shoreline of Lake Erie), the warblers may hang around with flocks that have Downy Woodpeckers as their core species.

2. When you do find a flock, stick with it as long as possible, or until you’re sure you’ve seen all the birds involved, because it may be a while before you find anything else!

Look high and low. Literally. We may think of warblers as treetop birds, but especially in fall, some will be foraging close to the ground. Weedy edges of woodlots may be very good for some species. Dense stands of goldenrod or wingstem (which are blooming now) may hold species like Tennessee Warbler or Wilson’s Warbler. And some warblers, such as Ovenbird, Connecticut Warbler, and the two waterthrushes, do most of their foraging on the ground.

Start early. No, not necessarily early in the day, but early in the fall season. This year, according to Mark and Julie Shieldcastle, the BSBO main research station had already banded 20 species of warblers by the end of August. Early to mid-September is the peak season for diversity of warblers. If you wait until fall colors paint the trees, most of the warblers will have gone south.

Of course, different species have somewhat different timing. Yellow Warbler and Golden-winged Warbler tend to be very early fall migrants, becoming hard to find by the middle of September. Yellow-rumped Warbler and the scarcer Orange-crowned Warbler are late migrants, seldom seen until the latter half of September. So to see the full range of fall warblers, it helps to go out repeatedly from late August to early October.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Exciting news about access at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

Wilson's Phalarope - just one of the many cool species possible on good shorebird habitat in northwest Ohio.
Many birders in the northwest Ohio region may be unaware that Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (halfway between Toledo and Port Clinton along State Route 2) has a new Manager. Jason Lewis started there just last March. While the previous manager was a great guy and very committed to conservation, Jason Lewis has the added quality of being a keen birder. He understands the importance of the Magee Marsh / Ottawa NWR area to local and visiting birders, and he’s going to take steps to increase birder access to the Refuge. Several of us from Black Swamp Bird Observatory have met with Jason Lewis repeatedly and we’ve been excited and pleased to learn about his plans.

One immediate effect involves shorebird habitat (which has been a scarce commodity in n.w. Ohio this season). Ottawa NWR staff are now working to draw down the water level in the impoundment called MS 5 to create ideal shorebird habitat. (To see where MS 5 is located, see our map of the Refuge at ) This impoundment is located along the auto tour route. Kimberly Kaufman from BSBO talked to Jason Lewis about the Midwest Birding Symposium happening in this region in September, and Jason agreed to open up the auto tour for all three days of the Symposium: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, September 16, 17, and 18. The hours for those dates haven’t been finalized yet. But it’s great news for birders that we can expect good shorebird habitat and an extended period in which to check it out. A couple of years ago, at another point when MS 5 was in peak condition, I saw 17 shorebird species on this one impoundment in one morning, so I guarantee that there’s good potential!

In another exciting development, plans are being finalized to extend the Magee Marsh boardwalk to the west, into the adjacent section of Ottawa NWR. BSBO has done some work in that area, and we know that the concentrations of migrant birds there in spring are just as impressive as those along the boardwalk, but these woods have been inaccessible to most birders before now. Extending the trail into this area will relieve the crowding on the current sections of boardwalk and will make a great birding site even better! With luck, this new section of trail will be ready in time for next spring’s migration.

In a further development, many birders are aware of the good shorebird habitat sometimes present on Benton-Carroll Road just south of Route 2, but birding there has been difficult because of the lack of parking spots. The best of the habitat there has been acquired by Ottawa NWR, and Jason Lewis is planning to add a parking pulloff and eventually a raised viewing platform. So the news just keeps getting better!

I hope that everyone birding n.w. Ohio will show their support for Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. We’re lucky to have this protected habitat here, and lucky to have a Refuge Manager who wants to improve access for birders.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 25 report, May 27-29 outlook

One-year-old male American Redstart at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio, May 23, 2011. The dark lores (between the eye and the bill) and the black spots on the face and chest are the easiest ways to tell that this bird isn't a female. By late May, most of the adult male redstarts have departed, but females and young males are still common. photo/Kenn Kaufman.

By this date, in inland areas of Ohio, songbird migration is essentially over: some are still passing through, but they are so scattered that they're hard to detect. By contrast, here in northwest Ohio, in the "migrant trap" areas along the Lake Erie shoreline, northbound songbirds will be obvious into the first week of June.

Yesterday (Wednesday May 25), Kim and I took a few friends back to the boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, to show them this world-famous migrant trap and to see what birds were around. With east-northeast winds, the birds were concentrated back inside the woods, not out along the north edge as they had been during the strong southwest winds on Monday. In a little less than two hours in late morning, covering just a small part of the western section of the boardwalk (west entrance to about no. 12), we saw or heard 17 warbler species, plus a handful of other migrants. Birds are harder to detect now than earlier in the spring: the trees are almost fully leafed out, and most of the warblers passing through now are females or young males, much less vocal than the adult males. So the following numbers are certainly only a fraction of the numbers actually present, but they do give an idea of relative numbers:

Tennessee Warbler - 3
Northern Parula - 1
Yellow Warbler - 15 (some of these are local breeders)
Chestnut-sided Warbler - 17
Magnolia Warbler - 22
Black-throated Blue Warbler - 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1 (getting late)
Black-throated Green Warbler - 2
Bay-breasted Warbler - 10
Blackpoll Warbler - 12
American Redstart - 24
Prothonotary Warbler - 4 (local breeders)
Northern Waterthrush - 1
Mourning Warbler - 1
Common Yellowthroat - 6 (probably includes local breeders)
Wilson's Warbler - 8
Canada Warbler - 3

No doubt we could have pulled out a few more species if we had spent more time. Also near the west end were all five eastern species of Empidonax flycatchers (we saw/heard Yellow-bellied 2, Acadian 1, Alder 3, Willow 1, Alder/Willow 1 silent bird, Least 2). Other migrants noticed included Swainson's Thrush (2) and Red-eyed Vireo (8) -- the latter species breeds in this general region, of course, but these numbers are still indicative of migration at this site.

Very stormy weather later in the day and overnight Wednesday probably meant that few birds left the area, despite the southwest winds.  Today (Thursday May 26) the southwest winds continue, but they're predicted to switch around to northwest this evening, with more rain overnight.  So it looks as if the mix of birds present on Friday May 27 should be similar to what was around on Wednesday.  After that, the winds are supposed to shift around to southerly during the night Friday night, and stay southerly through Saturday and Sunday.  So there should be a lot of turnover of migrants during the weekend. 

The "grail bird" for late May, Connecticut Warbler, is still an excellent possibility on these dates.  To have a chance of seeing one, the best approach is to walk quietly on the boardwalk or trails inside deep woods, watching for this quiet and inconspicuous warbler walking on the ground.  This is also a great time to study female and young male plumages of warblers, and to see and hear Empidonax flycatchers (all 5 eastern species are possible now at the lakeshore migrant traps, and Alder and Yellow-bellied should be in good numbers). 

Late May is also an excellent time for shorebirds.  The best spot in recent days had been on Ottawa-Lucas Road on the west side of Ottawa Nat'l Wildlife Refuge.  To get there, go west from the main Ottawa NWR entrance road on State Route 2.  After 3 miles, SR 2 makes a big curve to run straight north.  Half a mile north you'll pass Krause Road, and about a mile north of that, Ottawa-Lucas Road (the county line road) runs straight east.  Take it to near the dead end, about a quarter mile in, and look at the big shallow impoundment to the south as well as the flooded field to the north.  Recently this area has had large flocks of Dunlins and a few Semipalmated Plovers, yellowlegs, Least and Semipalmated sandpipers, and others; two Red-necked Phalaropes were there on May 23.  However, the very heavy rains of May 25 have probably created a lot of temporary shorebird habitat in fields in the general area, so the birds may be more dispersed for the next few days.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 22 report, May 23-24 outlook

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher on trail behind Black Swamp Bird Observatory, May 22, 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.

Sunday May 22: As predicted, today produced a fair arrival of birds in the area of Magee Marsh / Ottawa NWR. Numbers were definitely higher than on the preceding two days, although down from the big numbers on Thursday May 19; diversity was decent, and typical of this date in the latter one-third of May.

Most noticeable today was an influx of flycatchers. An Olive-sided Flycatcher entertained birders for most of the day on the Magee boardwalk in the area of number 23b. For the first time this season, Alder and Yellow-bellied flycatchers were around in substantial numbers, and Least Flycatchers (common throughout May) and Willow Flycatchers (which nest locally) were also numerous. Eastern Wood-Pewees were widespread, including in areas where they won't nest, so we were seeing many migrants.

On the warbler front, Mourning Warblers were widespread, but I didn't hear of any definite Connecticut Warblers today. A few of us made specific searches for both Connecticut and Kirtland's, and came up dry. But there were excellent numbers of Magnolia (still), Canada, Wilson's, and Yellow warblers (both residents and migrants of the latter), good numbers of Blackpoll and Tennessee warblers and American Redstarts, and a good scattering of other species; I was aware of at least 18 warbler species seen locally today.

On the east beach (wildlife beach) at Magee, Jeri Langham found a Yellow-breasted Chat, and I and others saw it later in the morning. Other oddities out there included a Red-breasted Nuthatch and a Purple Finch, both of which seemed out of place with today's hot temperatures. Both Yellow-billed and Black-billed cuckoos were seen at various places, including the Magee boardwalk and Magee east beach.

As of late evening Sunday, winds are fairly strong out of the south, and it looks likely that a lot of birds will move tonight.  Showers and thunderstorms are moving into the area, and depending on the timing, they could put down a lot of migrants here. I think that tomorrow (Monday May 23) will produce good numbers of birds in the lakeshore migrant traps in n.w. Ohio; depending on the distribution and timing of rains overnight, it could be a fairly average day or a very good day.

Winds are supposed to continue southerly or southwesterly through Monday and Monday night, and I expect that a lot of birds will be riding that train, including both birds arriving here from the south and local stopover birds leaving, so we should see a significant amount of turnover both Monday and Tuesday mornings.  Sometime on Tuesday May 24, the wind is supposed to shift around toward the north, with slightly cooler temperatures; so anything that's around on Tuesday morning may stay for a while.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Migration Outlook May 21-23

Female Bay-breasted Warbler at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio, on May 19, 2011. During the latter part of the migration we see fewer adult males of most species, more females and young males. photo/Kenn Kaufman.
Friday, May 20: The pattern of the last few days has been distinctly unusual. The extreme chilly conditions of May 15-17 apparently were stressful for many migrants, which appeared to be struggling to find enough food. Unable to build up their fat reserves until the weather warmed up, many stayed longer than usual. At the same time, when conditions improved and the wind shifted a little on Wednesday night, quite a few new birds came in that night and joined the numbers that were already present. On Thursday, May 19, birds were unusually numerous and easy to see (even for here!) along the edge of the woods at Magee Marsh, continuing to feed relatively low, for outstanding views. By today (Friday), with temperatures warming further, the birds had moved higher in the trees. Numbers from the BSBO research station, and my impressions from the field, were that Friday’s numbers were about half those of Thursday.

Looking ahead, the weather pattern for the weekend is far from obvious. Winds tonight (Friday night) will be shifting around, mostly easterly but swinging northerly and southerly during the night. I expect that we’ll see some continued turnover, with many of the current crop of migrants moving out and a few birds moving in. The recent abundance of Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, and Bay-breasted warblers may diminish, and we may see larger numbers of Canada and Wilson’s warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, American Redstarts, and various flycatchers.

According to current forecasts, the winds will shift to a strong southerly flow sometime late on Saturday and continue that way through to Monday, and I think we’ll see a big arrival of birds on Sunday May 22 and Monday May 23. By this date, of course, they’re becoming harder to see as the trees and shrubs become fully leafed out, but still there should be plenty to look for. Females tend to migrate later than males for most species, so in the latter part of the migration we hear less singing and we see more subtly patterned birds.

Short prediction: Good variety but only moderate numbers on Saturday May 21; probably bigger numbers on Sunday May 22 and Monday May 23.

Mourning Warblers should be present for most of the next ten days; they stay low, often around fallen logs and dense thickets, but periodically coming up above eye level. Connecticut Warbler is less reliable: it seems to be found after every big push of migrants in late May, but often for only a brief period. For examples, a couple appeared along the Magee Marsh boardwalk on Thursday the 19th, but I don’t believe they were seen again on the 20th. So for this species, it pays to look on the big migration days, rather than waiting until the day after one is reported. Connecticut Warblers are secretive and very easy to overlook, as they walk slowly on the ground inside the forest.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Slight Update 5/18: Changing Weather

Just a brief note: the weather forecast keeps changing, and it now looks possible that we'll have several hours of light south or southeast winds during the night Wednesday night.  If that happens, Thursday morning, May 19, could turn out differently from what I had predicted earlier; we might see substantial turnover and the arrival of a fair number of birds.  I still don't expect it to be huge, but there are a lot of birds dammed up to the south of us so I could be surprised.  I'm going to be away from the computer for the rest of the day and won't have a chance to update before tomorrow morning, but if you're debating whether to come out, you might check the weather during the night or first thing in the morning.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Update: Migration Outlook May 18-23

Magnolia Warbler at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio, May 17, 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.
 For the last three days (Sunday through Tuesday, May 15-17), migration has been shut down by cold temperatures, rain, and strong northerly winds. This hasn’t stopped the birding – in fact, the birding has been spectacularly good in some ways. In my post yesterday I mentioned that the warblers and other migrants were foraging very low and very close to the boardwalk and trails. This pattern continued through Tuesday, with the views of warblers being almost ridiculously good. As expected during this early part of the Second Wave, Magnolia Warblers and Chestnut-sided Warblers were especially abundant, but more than 20 warbler species were present. Many individuals were foraging literally within two or three feet of astonished birders along the Magee Marsh boardwalk, and views were also excellent along the trails behind the Ottawa NWR visitors’ center.

The Magee Marsh boardwalk isn't just for humans! Chestnut-sided Warbler at minimum-focus range, May 17, 2011.  photo/Kenn Kaufman.
 With cold north wind continuing tonight, this bonanza of low-foraging warblers will probably continue through Wednesday morning (May 18), but temperatures are supposed to finally start rising on Wednesday. As it warms up, tiny insects should be a little more active and small songbirds should be less cold-stressed, so viewing along the boardwalk should return to its normal state (excellent but not absurdly close).

The weather forecast for the next few days has changed a little. They’re now predicting that winds will swing around to the southeast and even south in the predawn hours of Thursday, May 19, and stay southerly for part of Thursday before swinging back to the east and then to the northeast. Thursday and Friday will also be warmer, and I expect we’ll see some turnover in the local migrants, with some of the current crop leaving and a few coming in on those days. Looking farther ahead, predictions are firming up for the wind to go strongly to the south on Saturday night. In that case, as mentioned before, Sunday May 22 and Monday May 23 should produce another big push of migrants, with a good variety of late-season warblers, probably a few more Connecticut Warblers, lots of flycatchers and vireos, and hopefully we’ll finally get our Kirtland’s Warbler for the season!

Short prediction: More extreme closeups of warblers on the morning of Wednesday May 18; some turnover and somewhat reduced numbers on Thursday May 19 through Saturday May 21, but warmer with more sunshine on Friday and Saturday, for more pleasant birding weather; another big arrival of migrants on Sunday May 22 and/or Monday May 23 (probably both days).

Monday, May 16, 2011

Migration Outlook May 16-23

From last year: this Kirtland's Warbler entertained an estimated 1000 to 3000 birders at the Magee east beach on May 14, 2010.  The species should still show up before the end of May 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.
 Monday May 16: Well, the Biggest Week In American Birding is officially over, and not as many people are out birding this morning in the chilly wind and scattered rain, but the migration itself is far from over. The biggest migration days of the spring may still be ahead, since the second pulse of the Second Wave often produces the largest numbers and variety. So birders in the region are still looking ahead with anticipation.

On Sunday May 15, with rain, cooler temperatures, and north winds, birders at Magee Marsh and Ottawa NWR tallied “only” about 24 warbler species, but had extraordinarily good views of many of them: as expected in these conditions, the warblers and other songbird migrants were foraging very low and very close to the boardwalk and trails. Because the strong north winds persisted overnight, it’s doubtful that many migrants left the area. However, they may disperse back away from the immediate lake shore, so if you’re out today, it would be worthwhile to check woodlots a mile or two south of the lake: the woods behind the Ottawa NWR visitors’ center, for example, or around BSBO. A little farther west, Pearson Metropark (in the city of Oregon, east edge of Toledo) might hold a lot of birds right now in its well-sheltered woods.

Looking ahead, the forecast is for an unusually persistent pattern of northeasterly winds, cooler temperatures, and frequent showers for the next several days. Toward the latter part of the week (Thursday May 19 – Friday May 20), a couple of small high-pressure systems are supposed to move through just a little south of us, but it doesn’t look like they’ll do much to break the pattern of north winds. Birdwise, the current crop of migrants along the lakeshore should gradually decline over the next few days, without a lot of significant new arrivals. Toward Thursday and Friday, a few new birds should trickle in to give us some turnover, and more on Saturday as the north winds become lighter and more erratic.

But by that time there should be a large number of birds dammed up to the south of us. When the weather-dam breaks, we should get another big arrival of migrants. Right now the forecast is that the wind will finally swing toward the south on Saturday night; depending on just when that happens, the next really big migration day could be Sunday May 22 or Monday May 23.

Short prediction: Good diversity but gradually declining numbers of migrants through 5/18; a few new arrivals 5/19 – 5/21; big push of migrants 5/22 and/or 5/23.

Kirtland’s Warbler: So far this spring there have been no well-documented sightings in the immediate area (a surprising change after the last couple of springs, with their sightings shared by large numbers of birders). There’s still time for this year. The two birds seen by the most people in 2010 were found on May 14 and May 21, so obviously we’re still in the time frame for migration. Undoubtedly some have come through, and there may be some in the area right now, but finding a Kirtland’s is a needle-in-a-haystack proposition. Kirtland’s Warbler isn’t most likely to be found inside dense woods (such as along the Magee boardwalk or some forest-interior trails at Ottawa NWR); it favors more open, edge areas with scrubby low growth. On days with south wind or no wind, the east beach at Magee is a good place to look. With the strong north winds right now, I would look on the scrubby southern edges of large woodlots.

Connecticut Warbler: On Friday, May 13, there was a surprising push of these birds, with at least six definitely found in the immediate area. This is early for such numbers. Most Connecticut Warblers come through n.w. Ohio in late May, with some being found into the first week of June. The birds from the 13th either moved on or moved deeper into the woods, as I don’t think any were seen on the 15th. But there should be some more when the next migration pulse arrives around May 22 – 23.

Other late migrants: In addition to Connecticut Warbler, we can still look forward to the main push of Mourning Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Wilson’s Warbler – they’re all present already, but their peak passage is later. Flycatchers are a big factor in late May: the main push of Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher, and Willow Flycatcher is still to come. Swainson’s Thrush and Gray-cheeked Thrush are often most numerous in late May, and the passage of Red-eyed Vireos, American Redstarts, and others can be very impressive toward the end of the month. And of course, peak migration of shorebirds is a late May phenomenon.

In other words, the birding season isn’t over yet!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Big Wave Coming

male Magnolia Warbler
 Wednesday, May 11, midday: I just got off the phone with Mark Shieldcastle. We’ve both been looking at weather maps, and looking at what’s happening with the migration. I won’t go into detail right now, but the next two days – Thursday May 12 and Friday May 13 – should be very good for a big arrival of migrants.

Conditions are such that Friday is almost a guarantee for a lot of birds. Thursday is a little less certain. It should have more birds than today (which is already quite a lot) but it might turn out to be even bigger than Friday will be. Mark points out that there’s sometimes a phenomenon of birds ballooning out ahead of an arriving front – this is essentially what happened on the big day last Friday, May 6. A lot depends on very local weather conditions in the predawn hours, which are impossible to know with precision ahead of time.  But it appears there are very large numbers of second-wave migrants fairly close to the south of us, and they’ll be arriving here soon. Mark quipped that “One of these next two days, people may feel like Magnolia Warblers have blanketed the earth.” And the second wave is the one with the biggest diversity, so even if total numbers fall short of predictions, there should be a great number of different species available.

If you can’t get out until the weekend, don’t despair – the weather is going to turn cooler again after Friday, and a good percentage of the birds arriving during the next two days should stay around for a while. But if you’re free to get out, it looks likely that Thursday May 12 and perhaps especially Friday May 13 could turn out to be memorable days here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mysteries of the Next Wave

Tuesday night, May 10: I’ve been putting off posting another prediction because the weather has been so confusing. A few days ago, it had appeared that weather conditions would be set up for a big arrival of migrants today (Tuesday) or tomorrow (Wednesday May 11). Those weather conditions fizzled, but a lot of birds arrived today anyway. It’s hard to interpret what’s going on.

Winds have been mostly from the east, not from the south, but on Tuesday May 10 there was a big uptick in the numbers of Magnolia Warblers and American Redstarts – birds typical of the second wave – as well as a good handful of Canada Warblers, Blackpoll Warblers, and Wilson’s Warblers, all birds associated with later in May. Andy Jones reported that there was also a big arrival of migrants on South Bass Island, out in Lake Erie, so clearly a lot of birds were moving, even if it didn’t appear that conditions were favorable.

So the migration at this point doesn’t seem to fit with the weather, making it hard to predict what will happen next. I had a brief note from Mark Shieldcastle, who has been studying weather and migration in this area for years, and he agreed that conditions were confusing. He suggested that all these birds must have been just a little to the south of us before Monday night, so they didn’t have to come far to arrive here Tuesday. It still seems odd to me that they would come in without a tailwind.

My guess – and it IS mostly a guess – is that bird numbers will continue to be very good for the next couple of days, despite the prevailing easterly winds, making for decent birding on Wednesday May 11 and Thursday May 12. Then on Thursday evening, winds may shift to more southerly, and we may see a big (but not huge) arrival on Friday, May 13. Take this with a grain of salt, though, because it may turn out differently.

Notes about local spots: Metzger Marsh continues to host a Tricolored Heron, and Black Terns and Least Bitterns have been found there as well. The best local shorebirding at the moment is on Ottawa-Lucas Road, a dead-end road that runs east from Route 2 about a mile north of the big curve (between Krause Road and Veler Road – see our Ottawa NWR map). Randy Kreager checked this out on Monday and found several species of shorebirds in the flooded fields before the turnaround at the end of the road, including Semipalmated Plovers, Dunlins, Ruddy Turnstones, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and others. Cliff Swallows have returned within the last few days and can be seen locally near water; one good spot is the east end of the parking lot at Porky’s Pizza Trof on Route 2, about 5 miles east of BSBO. Common Nighthawks have also returned; they're most easily heard at night over some nearby towns, including Port Clinton and Oak Harbor.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Migration: Recap of May 6-7, and outlook for May 8-11

Black-and-white Warbler at Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio, May 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.
Late Saturday night, May 7: The last two days have been outstanding for numbers and variety of songbird migrants on the Lake Erie shoreline in n.w. Ohio. We had predicted that these would be very good days, but Friday turned out to be substantially bigger than I had expected. The BSBO main research site had one of its biggest days ever for number of birds banded (over 1000 individuals!), giving good backup to the field observers who had the impressions of large numbers. Saturday was also excellent, with numbers perhaps 70 percent of what had been present the day before, and continuing good variety.

At least 30 species of warblers were recorded on Friday May 6, and at least 27 on Saturday May 7. To a surprising extent, the migration was still dominated by early-season species – Palm, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, and Nashville Warblers, plus Northern Parulas (unusually common), White-throated Sparrows and a few others – the dominant species from the first wave. This suggests to me that the birds had been held up just a little south of us, and when conditions improved we got a major influx even without major winds. Of course, that means there are huge numbers of migrants still to come. Birds that will be a big part of the second wave, like Magnolia and Chestnut-sided warblers, are still present in only small numbers. They will pick up sometime soon.

Predictions: At 10 p.m. Saturday night the winds were very light and still southerly, but they are expected to shift to the northeast before morning, slowing down any potential bird movement. Sunday May 8 should have pleasant weather, and a decent percentage of today’s migrants should remain; I don’t expect a mass departure. With winds continuing mostly easterly through Monday, I expect a pattern of gradually declining numbers through Monday May 9. (Of course, at this season even a slow day should produce at least 20 species of warblers.) It still appears that there will be another big arrival of birds on either Tuesday or Wednesday – possibly both, but right now I would bet on Wednesday May 11 as the next major push of migrants. Hard to tell just how big it might be. The weather forecast maps are showing a major low-pressure system approaching from the west, setting up a big flow of air out of the south coming all the way up from the Gulf Coast, and my only questions have to do with timing: how soon will it be close enough to affect us? My guess at the moment is Wednesday, but I’ll try to update before then.

Short prediction: Good but with gradually decreasing numbers Sunday May 8 and Monday May 9. A big arrival happening Tuesday May 10 or much more likely on Wednesday May 11.

Notes for anyone coming into the area before then: A beautiful adult Tricolored Heron continues at Metzger Marsh, now present there for 2 weeks. A Marbled Godwit has been present for the last two days in a flooded field behind the Barnside Creamery, corner of Route 2 and Route 19, 1.5 miles east of BSBO. Prothonotary Warblers were seemingly a little late showing up in the area this year, but at least a couple of males are now establishing territories along the Magee Marsh boardwalk and they should remain through the season.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Migration Outlook May 5 - 10

Male Blackburnian Warbler in northwestern Ohio, May 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.
Thursday, May 5: At this season the migration always proceeds in fitful pulses and waves. The urge to migrate is so strong that at least a few birds will be moving in practically any weather, but some days bring far more migrants than others. Southerly winds, especially with rising temperatures and with clear skies to the south of us, may bring major migrant waves. Strong northerly winds will shut things down, but the migrants that have already arrived will stay here, often for days at a time.

As a result of this pattern, there will be a great diversity of birds in this area every day from now through the end of May, so the time to get out birding is whenever you can. But if you have a flexible schedule, some days will be more productive than others, which is why we try to make predictions here.

After very chilly temperatures late Wednesday night, Thursday morning is sunny but cool, with light winds out of the west-northwest. By late afternoon, winds are supposed to shift to the southwest, and later to south-southwest for much of the night. It doesn’t appear that those southerly winds are backed up by any major pressure centers or long-distance air flow, so I don’t expect a huge arrival of migrants from far to the south, but there should be at least moderate numbers of new birds in the area on the morning of Friday, May 6. With the prediction of scattered showers, the warblers and other birds should be foraging low, for excellent views. The winds will shift to west-southwest through Friday night, with clearing skies, and the moderate push of new arrivals should continue on the morning of Saturday May 7. With winds shifting around subsequently to northeast or east, those migrants should mostly stay in the area through Sunday.

Cape May Warbler in northwestern Ohio, May 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.
A big arrival of birds should happen sometime shortly after the weekend. Earlier I had predicted that it might be Monday or Tuesday, but now it doesn’t look as likely that Monday will be the day. Mark Shieldcastle, BSBO research director, who knows the migration in this area better than anyone, has suggested that the weather is lining up for the Second Wave of migrants to hit here on Tuesday May 10. Looking at a different set of weather forecasts, I can’t tell whether the big day is more likely on Tuesday or Wednesday. A major low-pressure area is moving in from the west, with strong southerly winds ahead of it, but it’s not clear to me just when it will be close enough to affect us. Regardless, I’m reasonably confident that our binoculars will be burning up on Tuesday, May 10 and/or Wednesday, May 11.

Short prediction: moderate arrival of birds on May 6 and 7; possibly a major arrival on May 10 or 11.

Recent news: On May 4, a Little Blue Heron was on the Entrance Pool at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and the Tricolored Heron was reported again from the causeway at Metzger Marsh. On the morning of May 5, ace photographer Brian Zwiebel (who took the cover photos for the brand-new Biggest Week in American Birding Visitors’ Guide) found a singing Prairie Warbler and a young male Blue Grosbeak on the east beach (wildlife beach) at Magee Marsh. The Tropical Birding guides reported a Cape May Warbler near the west end of the Magee Marsh boardwalk, along with other birds.

For lots of close-up photos and detailed info about the migration, check out the BSBO Bird Banders’ Blog at

And if you’re reading this on Thursday May 5, and you’re within striking distance, come over to Mango Mama’s in Port Clinton tonight for the big opening night social for the Biggest Week in American Birding! The social is hosted by the Ohio Ornithological Society (OOS) and Kaufman Field Guides. No cover charge, just lots of friendly birders, cool prizes, karaoke, a chance to share information, and tasty free munchies provided by Kokomo Bay Restaurant and OOS.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Migration Outlook May 3 - 7

Nashville Warbler playing hide-and-seek with the rain, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, May 2007. photo/Kenn Kaufman.
After Sunday’s big day on the Lake Erie shoreline, things were quieter on Monday May 2, with fewer birds around. The sites on the immediate lake shore slowed down the most, as many birds probably filtered to areas a short distance inland; there were still large numbers at some of the woodlots on Ottawa NWR, and around the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, for example, while the woods at Metzger and at the Magee boardwalk were somewhat less active (but still with good diversity). This is about as expected when a big arrival is followed a day later by winds shifting more northerly: in these conditions, birders need to check other sites besides the famous lakeshore spots.

Today (Tuesday May 3) is chilly and raining, with light north winds, and the birds that are here now won’t be leaving soon. The rain should clear out before Wednesday, but northerly winds will persist Wednesday during the day and most of the night. A small high-pressure area may move over us and shift the winds to southerly by sometime Thursday morning, but it looks unlikely that it will happen early enough to bring a new arrival of birds for that day. Regardless, Thursday May 5 should be a pleasant day outdoors, partly sunny with moderate temperatures. If the winds stay southerly through Thursday night, as currently predicted, Friday May 6 could see a good arrival of migrants, although I don’t expect it to be a huge one unless rains hit just before dawn. Forecasts for Saturday May 7 don’t seem clear yet, but given the conditions between now and then, it’s reasonable to expect that we’ll have a very good diversity of bird species around over the weekend. I’ll update as the weekend gets closer.

A couple of notes: on Monday, May 2, two Lesser Black-backed Gulls were resting with other gulls and terns on the concrete pier at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh. Birds congregate here when no one is fishing from the pier, but at this season that doesn’t happen often. (If anyone is really keen to see a Lesser Black-back, or other gulls and terns, I’d recommend the beaches at Maumee Bay State Park or East Harbor State Park. Lesser Black-back is rare at this season but is a possibility at those sites.)

The causeway across the marsh at Magee Marsh has fewer ducks now than earlier in the season, but other marsh birds are picking up in numbers. On Sunday evening, May 1, a Least Bittern was calling consistently from east of the causeway near its north end, and Virginia Rails and Soras could be heard from the same spot.

At Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area, off Route 6 east of Fremont in Sandusky County, 19 or 20 American White Pelicans have been present for the last few days, visible from the observation platform on the north side of Route 6.

A pair of Trumpeter Swans has been highly visible on the Entrance Pool at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge recently. These are from the (re)introduced population, and opinions differ as to whether they’re “countable,” but it’s still a great opportunity to study the species up close.

Good numbers of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, White-crowned Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and other birds have been coming to the feeders outside the “window on wildlife” at Black Swamp Bird Observatory. If you’re in the area, please consider stopping in to tell us what you’ve seen.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Awesome May 1st migration

Cerulean Warbler at Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio, on May 1, 2011. photo/Kenn Kaufman.
Sunday, May 1: We had predicted that this would be a good day for arrival of migrants, and it turned out to be outstandingly good, certainly the best day of the spring so far.  At least 29 warbler species were confirmed between the three sites of Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, and the Navarre unit of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (where BSBO has its main banding station). Numbers were very impressive at all three sites. Yellow-rumped Warblers were most numerous, as expected at this stage in the migration, but there were also large numbers of Nashville Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers. (At one point, at the woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh, I counted 14 Black-throated Green Warblers in one small tree!  A couple of minutes later, the top of the next small tree held a Cerulean Warbler, a Blackburnian Warbler, a Cape May Warbler, a Northern Parula, and a Yellow Warbler all at the same time, for a stunning splash of color.)  At least two Cerulean Warblers (possibly three) entertained birders for hours at Metzger. Highlights at the Magee boardwalk included Worm-eating, Kentucky, and Hooded Warblers, plus Yellow-breasted Chat. Navarre had a female Cerulean Warbler, and a surprisingly early female Mourning Warbler.

 Non-warbler highlights included a good arrival of vireos, with at least five of the six expected species (I didn't see or hear about any Philadelphia Vireos). All five species of brown thrushes were recorded, and several Wood Thrushes were singing at Magee in the evening. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were numerous -- at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Kimberly Kaufman was able to get five males in one photo out the window. Two Blue Grosbeaks, a female and a young male, were on the beach north of the boardwalk parking lot at Magee. Eastern Kingbirds at many sites, Bobolinks and Cattle Egrets near the entrance to Ottawa NWR, and a Merlin at Metzger were among the other sightings. My own oddest bird of the day was a Whimbrel flying over the Magee causeway in the evening; this is an unusually early date for the species.

I haven't looked at the weather in detail yet, but with the sky overcast and the winds shifting to northwest during the night tonight, a fair percentage of today's birds should still be around on Monday.
Black-throated Green Warbler at Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio, on May 1, 2011. Black-throated Greens were very numerous at both Metzger and Magee on this day. photo/Kenn Kaufman.

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