Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Raptors & other migrants coming 3/17

Red-shouldered Hawk migrating over Magee Marsh during March. This is the best month for seeing this species near the Lake Erie shoreline.

Migration is in full swing, and it appears that Thursday, March 17, should be a good day for seeing migrants, especially birds of prey, in northwestern Ohio and nearby areas.

As of Wednesday afternoon, March 16, a high-pressure area is centered over the southeastern U.S., and the flow of air around that high is bringing in warm air from the southwest toward Ohio. That air flow should continue overnight, with skies at least partly clear, encouraging early migrants to move north. I expect traditional early birds like Tree Swallow and Eastern Phoebe to be around on 3/17. Numbers of migrant sparrows are already growing, with a big push of Song Sparrows during the last few days, and there should be many Fox Sparrows around for the next couple of weeks. Numbers of Rusty Blackbirds are increasing -- northwest Ohio represents one of the major stopover areas for this declining species, and we have a good opportunity to study it here. Hermit Thrush, Pectoral Sandpiper, and American Pipit are other birds to be watching for right now.

On Thursday 3/17, temperatures locally should climb into the 50s, with continuing south-southwest winds. This is a classic setup for a good flight of raptors (birds of prey) near the Lake Erie shoreline in northwest Ohio. We never get massive numbers of raptors, such as those sometimes seen in fall migration at the northwest corner of the lake; but by spending a while watching from a good vantage point, we can sometimes see a decent variety. One standard lookout is the "hawk watch tower" (observation tower) near the Sportsmens Migratory Bird Center on the way in to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area; another is the sledding hill at Maumee Bay State Park. But any open area with a good view of the sky, within a mile of the shoreline, may be a good vantage point.

Mid-March is a little before the peak of raptor migration but it still offers some good possibilities. Our healthy population of local nesting Bald Eagles is aumented by numbers of migrants passing through in early spring. March is the main month for migrating Red-shouldered Hawks. Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks, and Cooper's Hawks may all be on the move. (By contrast, Broad-winged Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk mostly move later, in April.) Northern Goshawk is always extremely rare here, but conditions like those expected tomorrow could at least produce an outside chance.

If you get out to watch for passing raptors, you may spot other birds on the move as well. Sandhill Cranes are actively migrating now. Ace birder Karl Overman saw a Whooping Crane fly over Maumee Bay State Park on March 14, undoubtedly a bird from the reintroduced Wisconsin flock. Randy Kreager found a Yellow-headed Blackbird on Krause Road several days ago, and this bird is probably wandering the area with the mixed blackbird flocks. And with migration under way, there's no telling what else you might find.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spring migration is on now!

March 2, 2011: Here in "The Warbler Capital of the World," the first substantial waves of warblers won't be arriving for another 6 or 7 weeks, and the peak of warbler migration is still more than 2 months away. But other signs of spring are unmistakable. They remind us that this region has a lot more to offer than just warblers.

Here's a brief rundown of some current happenings, arranged by group:

Waterfowl: Ducks, geese, and swans are moving into the region in big numbers. They're not at peak numbers yet, and they're not concentrated -- many of them are spread out over a large area of flooded farm fields, north and south of Route 2 in Lucas and Ottawa counties. Scattered flocks of hundreds of Tundra Swans are widespread, and smaller groups may be seen flying over anywhere. (There are also Trumpeter Swans and Mute Swans in the area, but a really large flock invariably will be mostly Tundras.)

Sherrie Duris saw a flock of nearly 30 Greater White-fronted Goose ( a large number for this region) on Stange Road just south of Rt. 2 on 2/28. Others saw smaller groups on Krause / Stange Roads, and I saw small flocks flying over Metzger Marsh and the Magee Marsh causeway on 3/1. During the last few days, small flocks of Snow Geese have been seen at Metzger, the Magee causeway, and in flooded fields in the region, and Brian Zwiebel saw at least two Ross's Geese at Maumee Bay State Park on 2/28. Large numbers of Canada Geese are now everywhere, and it's worth checking their flocks for Cackling Geese; I saw 2 (loosely associated with Canadas) on the ice at Metzger Marsh on 3/1.

Numbers of ducks are still increasing, and the big arrival of Wood Ducks and others is still ahead, but many Northern Pintails are moving in. There is still enough ice along the Lake Erie shoreline that viewing is poor at many lakeshore sites. At Bayshore Power Plant and Bayshore Park in the city of Oregon (just west of Maumee Bay State Park), there is plenty of open water holding large numbers of Canvasbacks, Redheads, Common Mergansers, and others. One or more Long-tailed Ducks have been seen here recently, and a Red-necked Grebe was seen from the boat launch near Bayshore Power Plant on 2/26 and 2/27.

Turkey Vultures: A few started showing up in the area in mid-February. The first really large movement was on March 1, with moderate SSW winds concentrating the birds near the lakeshore. Around 5 p.m. on 3/1, I watched straggling groups of Turkey Vultures totalling about 220 moving from east to west near the lake at Maumee Bay State Park -- a big number for this early date.

Birds of Prey: There are still scattered Rough-legged Hawks in the area; I've seen them recently on Krause / Stange Roads and at Maumee Bay State Park. Migration of other raptors should crank up soon. On any day with southwest winds, from now through April, it's worthwhile to find a vantage point near Lake Erie and watch for passing raptors. The observation tower at Magee Marsh and the sledding hill at Maumee Bay S.P. are two particularly good hawkwatch spots. Incidentally, I saw a Merlin at the Magee Marsh causeway on 3/1, and Chris Knoll had seen it there a day or two earlier ... an odd sighting for this season.

Shorebirds: Killdeers have arrived in force within the last few days, and the first American Woodcocks were heard at BSBO and Maumee Bay on the evening of 3/1. Wilson's Snipes should be arriving now, and the first Pectoral Sandpipers should show up in flooded fields soon.

Short-eared Owl: At least three are still present along the Magee Marsh causeway, spending most of their time in the southern part. They are very unlikely to be seen during most of the daylight hours. Near sunset they appear, flying around over the marsh with oddly deep, floppy wingbeats. In most years, these wintering birds will stay at least through March.

Crows: Flocks of dozens of American Crows are currently being seen in places near the lakeshore, such as Magee Marsh, Metzger Marsh, and Maumee Bay. This is actually a migratory movement; for most of the year, crows are distinctly scarce in this area.

Northern Shrike: A single bird along the Magee Marsh causeway is being much more elusive this year than in past winters; its main hunting areas must be well away from the road. Scott Hites has seen it a few times, and I finally saw it on 3/1 (flying across the causeway at about the halfway point, and flying straight to the west and out of sight). Based on past records, it could still be around through most of March.

Blackbirds: When Randy Kreager and I went out to the Magee causeway on 2/27, we saw an unmistakable sign of spring: the male Red-winged Blackbirds were scattered out over the frozen marsh, one here, one there, staking out their nesting territories. Other Red-wings are still in flocks, of course, big numbers of Common Grackles are moving in, and we should see a good arrival of Rusty Blackbirds very soon.

There is still some wintry weather ahead, of course. But from now through the end of May there will be new signs of spring every day, so it's a great season to get out and go birding just as often as you can!

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