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. 


Unknown said...

Wow! Thanks for the map. That is so good of them to go to all the extra effort. I'm amazed at the quality of birders and birding experiences in Ohio. You listed a handful of potential life birds for me there, so I'll definitely be taking this auto tour.

Unknown said...

Why no local ducks or cattails?

Unknown said...

Why build a 3m dollar house and not dyke the mouth of crane creek

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