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!

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