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!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Fantastic tips! I look forward to seeing these birds...hopefully they'll stick around until next weekend!

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