Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mark Shieldcastle's prediction for Memorial Day weekend, May 25-28

May 24, afternoon:  This is a direct quote from Mark Shieldcastle, research director for Black Swamp Bird Observatory.

"Birding by ear may be the trend for this weekend with vegetation in full summer finery. Weather patterns appear favorable for movement the next few days and the timing for the Third Wave is upon us. BSBO's Navarre banding station has been witnessing the slow shift to the final wave the past couple of days. Magnolia Warbler has gone from males to females with the past couple of days of southerly wind. 15 - 25 species of warbler are still being recorded daily. Red-eyed Vireos, Gray-cheeked Thrush, American Redstart, Canada, Wilson, and Mourning Warblers have all increased. With predicted weather, the Empid flycatchers should come in force this weekend signaling the final major push of migrants. Now is the time for cuckoos, Cedar Waxwings, and if you are still haunted by the Connecticut Warbler then make some time to check out your favorite local habitat or make another sojourn to the Lake Erie marshes. The birds aren't done yet, birders shouldn't be either."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Update: Rarity focus

Distant view of White-faced Ibises at Metzger Marsh, Ohio, on May 16, 2012.

Update Friday, May 18:  Areas near the Lake Erie shoreline in NW Ohio continue to have good variety and only fair numbers of migrants through this week. Today I took a magazine editor on a brief visit to the Magee boardwalk, and in a short time we saw over a dozen warbler species plus Red-eyed Vireos and a brilliant male Scarlet Tanager, so the walk was a success.  But overall numbers have not been huge, and that doesn't look likely to change soon.  Southerly or southeasterly winds are likely to prevail for the next few nights, and migrants should be moving, but I'll be surprised if we see major concentrations of birds in the migrant traps between now and Tuesday.  (There's a chance that rains Monday night could put down good numbers here on Tuesday morning, but it's too early to tell about that.)

Late-season migrants are still not present in major numbers. Willow Flycatchers are showing up on nesting areas (such as in the dogwood scrub-shrub areas near BSBO), and just a handful of Yellow-bellied and Alder flycatchers have been found.  Wilson's, Canada, and Mourning warblers are present in small numbers.  Several Connecticut Warblers have been found locally this week.  To search for this species, there are two good strategies:  (1) arrive early in the morning and cover a lot of ground near wooded areas, listening for the distinctive song; (2) arrive any time and spend your time moving slowly, peering back into the woods, at areas where you can see the forest floor, to watch for this warbler walking on the ground.

A few local rarities found in the last three days were still present on Friday and would be worth looking for this weekend. 

A Least Tern was found by Sherrie Duris at Maumee Bay State Park on the 16th; it has been spending its time mostly along the Lake Erie beach.  This weekend, the beach is likely to be crowded with people, so it would be best to look for this bird first thing in the morning. 

Three White-faced Ibises were found at Metzger Marsh on the 16th, seen from the second pulloff past the major turn on the way in.  These birds flew away in the direction of Ottawa NWR late on Wednesday, but reappeared at Metzger on Thursday.  On Friday, seven dark ibises were found at Ottawa NWR, on unit MS 8b; according to reports I heard, these probably included at least four White-faced and two Glossy ibises.  In early afternoon, these birds were seen flying away in the direction of Metzger Marsh. 

The auto tour at Ottawa NWR will be open Saturday and Sunday, May 19 and 20, from 8 to 4.  Anyone who is really keen to see these ibises might want to check Metzger first thing in the morning, then go through the auto tour.  Note that the auto tour now starts from the visitors' center, not from the old east parking lot.  The road goes north from the visitors' center to the south edge of MS 8b before turning west, and the ibises might be to the east of that point, so scan to your right before continuing on the tour.  See our maps of the refuge under the BSBO birding pages ("birding hotspots: directions and maps") for clarification of this.

If you are carrying a smartphone that will work with Twitter, it's still worthwhile to follow @BiggestWeek, because we are still posting updates about rarities and other notable finds there. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Update: Wednesday could be good

Update on May 15: Looking at the weather forecasts, it now appears that Wednesday morning, May 16, could have possibilities for at least a mild "fallout" of birds locally in NW Ohio.  Tonight is supposed to start off with mostly clear skies and warm temperatures, with winds more or less southerly for the first part of the night, and then isolated thunderstorms are supposed to move through after midnight.  Depending on the timing and location of these storms, they could put down numbers of migrants practically anywhere in the region, not necessarily along the lake shore.  If you have the opportunity to go birding Wednesday morning, look to see where it has rained overnight, because those places could be hopping with warblers and other migrants. 

Looking ahead, it still appears that the coming weekend could have a strong movement of birds, perhaps especially on Sunday and Monday, as low-pressure areas to the west of us set up a strong southerly air flow coming up from the Gulf.  More details later. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Migration outlook May 14-20

May 14, midday:  Birders who have visited NW Ohio for the first time this spring have raved about the fine birding here.  They might be surprised to learn that the numbers actually have been below average; the typical year is better than this!  Weather conditions have not set up to deliver a really massive flight of birds yet.  Of course, the Magee region is not dependent on "fallout" conditions; good numbers and variety of migrants will concentrate along the lake shore all spring, regardless of the weather.  But a season like this one makes it hard to predict the best days. 

The last few days have produced fair numbers and excellent variety of migrants, highlighted by at least three Kirtland's Warblers, two of which were seen by large numbers of birders.  With light northerly winds now and no major weather systems nearby, I expect numbers to drop off a little during the next couple of days.  But by Thursday, the 17th, we'll start to see development of a good flow of air out of the south, and I expect to see a big influx of migrants toward the end of the week.  Friday and Saturday, the 18th and 19th, might be moderately big days. 

The species composition of migrants over the weekend suggested that there are still many migrants yet to arrive.  Whether or not they have any days of huge concentrations, there are still major numbers of second-wave migrants that have to come through (or over) the region.  So birding should continue to produce a lot of variety for the next couple of weeks, even on days when the sheer numbers are not stellar. 

I haven't heard of any Connecticut Warblers yet at the Magee boardwalk, but BSBO's main research site a few miles farther east had a couple today, so they should be found at the boardwalk soon.  With a push of migrants coming in, I would be surprised if Connecticuts were not found next weekend at Magee.  Their peak passage is during the third and fourth weeks of May.  Other late-season migrants that haven't shown up in numbers yet include Mourning and Canada warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, Gray-cheeked Thrushes, and Yellow-bellied and Alder flycatchers.  So the parade is far from over. 

Summary:  At this time of year, if you can go birding every day, do it!  But if you have to pick and choose, next Friday and Saturday (May 18-19) might produce more birds than Tuesday or Wednesday (May 15-16). Thursday is a toss-up at this point, but I'll try to post more after I study the weather maps some more.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Migration Outlook May 11 - 13

Thursday, May 10:  This week has been characterized by high diversity and fairly good numbers of birds.  Weather conditions have not been right for massive arrivals of migrants, but decent numbers have been coming in anyway.  By now, 36 of the 37 likely species of warblers have been recorded in the area; at least one and probably two Kirtland's Warblers were near the east end of the Magee Marsh boardwalk on Wednesday, May 9.  Only Connecticut Warbler (typically a late May migrant) has not yet been found this season, to my knowledge. 

As of today, the mix of species is still shifting over from first-wave to second-wave migrants.  Yellow-rumped Warblers are still very common, and second-wave birds like Magnolia Warblers are nowhere near peak numbers yet.  I expect this to change over the next couple of days.  Tonight (Thursday night) the winds are almost calm, the sky is clear, and the radar indicates that many birds are migrating.  I think that on Friday morning we'll see noticeable turnover, possibly with fewer birds around than today.  However, Friday night the winds should be southerly to southwesterly all night, and even though they won't be associated with a major frontal system, I think that a lot of migrants will come in overnight.  Saturday morning, May 12, there should be diurnal migrants flying along the lake shore (flocks of Blue Jays, goldfinches, and others).  Early in the morning, many nocturnal migrants such as warblers should be moving along the lake shore as well, shifting location as they seek the best habitat in which to spend the day.  By midday Saturday there may be a small flight of hawks, although most of the migrant hawks have gone through already.

Saturday's birding should produce an excellent mix of migrant songbirds, with species such as Magnolia, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, and Cape May warblers becoming common, and the first real push of Blackpoll Warblers and American Redstarts.  All five of the expected brown thrushes should be around, plus most of the vireos, more flycatchers than earlier in the month, Lincoln's Sparrows, and others. Late on Saturday the wind is probably going to shift around toward the northwest, so many of Saturday's birds are likely to be present still on Sunday, although perhaps less concentrated near the lake shore.

Birders in the area the last couple of days have noticed many large swarms of tiny insects over the marshes and woods near the lake.  Over the Magee boardwalk, their swarms in some places were large enough to create a loud whining hum.  These insects are midges (family Chironomidae).  They are completely harmless, unable to bite or sting, and they are very important as a food source for migrant songbirds.  They represent another reason why the wooded areas among the western Lake Erie marshes are so valuable as stopover habitat for migrants!  If you happen to see and / or hear these swarms of midges, don't be alarmed; just be glad that the migrating birds will be able to fuel up for their next flight. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday update: LOTS of migrants

Monday, May 7, quick update: There is a major increase in activity along the Magee Marsh boardwalk and other spots close to Lake Erie.  Last night's winds were not very helpful to the birds but didn't impede their progress much either, and rains near dawn seem to have put down a lot of birds.  Numbers of most warbler species, thrushes, and other migrants are much higher today than yesterday.  See post below this one for more general details about the week ... but today is very good, so if you can get out between rain showers, it is worth doing.

If you're going in toward the Lodge at Maumee Bay State Park, watch for Bobolink along the entrance road ... a male was doing display flights there a short while ago.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Migration outlook May 7-12

Prothonotary Warbler at Magee Marsh. They seemed to come in a little later than expected this year, but they are now on territory along the Magee boardwalk. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

Sunday, May 6, evening: The last few days have developed about as expected.  We had decent arrivals of birds Wednesday through Friday mornings, May 2-4 (especially on Thursday, May 3).  Then the wind shifted to more northerly; fewer birds arrived on Saturday and today, but a good variety of species could be found, with birds staying over from the big push of the preceding days. 

At this point in the migration season, birds are going to be moving if they can, even if conditions are not totally favorable.  So, for example, more Prothonotary Warblers have arrived in a noticeable way at the Magee boardwalk just within the last couple of days, bucking the northerly winds to come in and set up territories.  This evening, the winds are relatively light and from the east, so we'll probably see more arrivals on Monday morning, May 7 -- probably not a major flight, but perhaps with increasing numbers of some "second-wave" birds like Magnolia Warbler. 

After tonight, the winds are likely to go more northerly again for a few days.  Current weather forecasts are a bit sketchy, but the wind may not go back to southwest until Friday, May 11.  If it works out that way, we should continue to see good variety but only moderate numbers this week, with new individuals trickling in and many of the current crop of migrants staying where they are.  With migrants being held up south of us by these conditions, when the wind does shift it could be a good setup for a big arrival of birds toward the end of the week, even if the southwesterly winds on Friday are not associated with a major weather system.  So next weekend could be very good, but it's early to say for sure.

A few local notes: An Upland Sandpiper has been seen from the west side of Stange Road, just s.w. of Ottawa NWR, in a large open field north of Rt. 2.  With northerly winds this weekend, the sheltered woods behind the visitors' center at Ottawa NWR were productive, with many warblers including Canada, Wilson's, and Hooded.  At Metzger Marsh, near the last major bend on the way in, Virginia Rails and Soras have been vocal and occasionally seen.  On Saturday morning, skilled observers had a brief look at a Black Rail there.  This species is very rare here and very elusive, and it might not be seen again, but it's worth thinking about if you're in the area.  At Metzger Marsh, please do not park on the road -- use the pulloffs along the side of the road beyond the last major bend. 

Twitter: If you're coming to the area and have a smartphone that will run this app, it's very worthwhile to follow BiggestWeek on Twitter.  Guides for The Biggest Week In American Birding are "tweeting" the locations of interesting birds, both on the Magee boardwalk and throughout the area. With so many keen birders in the region right now, even a "slow" day will produce many great sightings, and the Twitter feed gives you a chance to find out quickly when something new is spotted.  If you don't have a smartphone, you can see the Twitter feed on the large screens at Black Swamp Bird Observatory and at the registration area at the Lodge at Maumee Bay State Park.  Or you can get the Twitter feed directly to your computer when you're online; look for the link at

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Update May 3, Outlook May 4-7

May 3: This was an excellent day for migration watchers in n.w. Ohio, a fine setup for The Biggest Week In American Birding, starting tomorrow!  The total number of migrants that had arrived overnight was still not huge, but the diversity was remarkably good for the early date.  Between Magee Marsh and Metzger Marsh I heard reports of at least 27 species of warblers, and I may have missed some.  These included some that are locally scarce, such as Cerulean and Kentucky warblers, and some that usually arrive later in May, such as Mourning, Wilson's, and Canada warblers.  Other migrants included both Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, all six expected species of vireos, and at least one Summer Tanager.  Thrushes seemed relatively scarce, and only a few flycatcher species were found, as expected.  Most of the migrants were in woods very close to the lake, with fewer in areas just a mile or two to the south.

During the first few hours after sunrise, many diurnal migrants were flying along the lake shore. At Metzger Marsh early on I had Bobolinks, blackbirds, American Pipits, American Goldfinches, a couple of Red-headed Woodpeckers, and others flying west, while Baltimore Orioles and hundreds of Blue Jays were flying east; later the Blue Jays were mostly flying west, and thousands came over in a couple of hours. This early morning flight is another reason why I prefer to bird out in the open at first, such as the edge of the parking lot at Magee, rather than diving into the woods along the boardwalk at first light. 

By late afternoon the temperature was up to the high 80s, with strong southwest winds.  The winds are expected to continue overnight, with only a few scattered thunderstorms to hinder the movement of birds.  I expect that Friday morning, May 4, will see another good arrival of birds, probably with some turnover and a different mix of species.  Later on Friday the winds are supposed to shift to northwest, and then stay more or less northerly through Sunday, May 6.  Many of the birds that are arriving now (Wednesday through Friday) probably will stay in this immediate area through the weekend, providing good birding.  Some of them may relocate a little south of the lake shore, so that woodlots slightly inland (such as around BSBO or at Ottawa NWR) may become more productive.  On Monday, May 7, the winds may go to the southwest again as a small low-pressure area approaches, but I don't expect this to bring in a lot of new birds.

At Ottawa NWR, the Auto Tour will be open this weekend, May 5 and 6, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.  This should be good for a variety of waterfowl and shorebirds.  Yellow-headed Blackbirds are back in the area, and the Auto Tour is the most likely place to see them.  A Black-necked Stilt was seen a few days ago on MS 4, and it might still be in the area. 

Instant updates: If you have a smartphone that can run Twitter, you can get updates about birds being seen throughout the area by following BiggestWeek on Twitter. Also check for tweets from others marked with the hashtag #biggestweek.

Summary: Lots of new birds arrived today, more should come in Friday May 4, and then most of the birds present should stick around through the weekend and through Monday, May 7.  There are close to 200 species present in the area right now, so we have plenty to keep us busy!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Update May 2, Outlook May 3-6

Things are looking up: this Prairie Warbler was enjoyed by scores of birders today (dozens of whom undoubtedly got better photos than this) at Magee Marsh. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

May 2:  Today the Magee Marsh area had only fair numbers of migrants, but very good diversity.  I was out at dawn at Magee and numbers were very low at first, as often happens, but things picked up considerably by 8:00.  Numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers were down from yesterday, numbers of Yellow Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows were way up, and there were good numbers of Tennessee, Nashville, and Black-throated Green warblers, the first serious arrival of Magnolia Warblers, plus others including Blackburnian, Cape May, and Blue-winged. Orioles were conspicuously common, many Eastern Kingbirds and hundreds of Blue Jays were on the move, and a few Bobolinks came over along the lake shore. A very cooperative Prairie Warbler was enjoyed by dozens of birders for an extended period near the east end of the boardwalk.  Between Magee Marsh and the BSBO main banding station 4 miles farther east, I heard of at least 23 warbler species being found today.

Other areas near Lake Erie also hosted many birds.  Early this morning, Forrest Rowland had good numbers and variety of migrants around the edge of the Lodge and Nature Center parking lot at Maumee Bay State Park, and Michael Godfrey reported similarly good results in the woods at East Harbor State Park, just east of Port Clinton.  So it appears that the migrants were more concentrated near the lakeshore today than they had been the day before, but White-crowned Sparrows and others were widespread inland as well. 

It still appears that Thursday morning, May 3, also will be very good in n.w. Ohio. After discussing the birds and weather with Mark Shieldcastle, it looks to me as if Thursday could go either of two ways.  We could have another day of good diversity but only moderate numbers: the southerly winds forecast for the overnight hours are not connected to major weather systems, so they may just bring in a generous sprinkling of birds.  Or the flight could surprise us, with the southerly winds bringing many birds along and possibly running into a shower or two near dawn, so that we see good diversity AND very large numbers.

According to current forecasts, southerly winds should continue through Thursday night, bringing more turnover and more arrivals Friday, before a wind shift slows things down on Saturday.  By that time, we should have enough birds in every patch of habitat locally to keep things interesting for the next week!

Summary: Thursday and Friday, May 3 and 4, should bring good variety, and numbers ranging from fair to excellent. Saturday May 5 might bring more arrivals, but is more likely to keep Friday's birds in place.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Migration Outlook May 2 - 6

Palm Warbler: Typically an early migrant. Big numbers arrived in the area during the last few days. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

May 1: For the last 2 nights, conditions have seemed less than ideal for nocturnal migrants, but birds have moved in overnight anyway. Despite easterly or northeasterly winds at ground level, and a lot of rain in the general area, some migrants have been on the move. On Monday, April 30, the woodlots were filled with Yellow-rumped Warblers and Palm Warblers, while Baltimore Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were scattered everywhere. But especially today, Tuesday May 1, the migrants have been widespread in northwest Ohio, NOT strongly concentrated in the migrant traps along the immediate lake shore. In a brief visit to the Magee Marsh boardwalk today I saw a fair number of migrants; but according to my observations and reports from others, good numbers of migrants were scattered through various places 10 to 50 miles south of the lake. It looks like a general arrival of birds in the region, with many migrants put down locally by rain in a variety of spots.

(Interestingly, the situation in northEAST Ohio was quite different. Jen Brumfield reports that migrants were concentrated along the immediate lake shore today in the Cleveland area, with big numbers of warblers, sparrows, and others at sites like Wendy Park and Headlands Beach State Park, and far fewer migrants just a short distance inland. Jen and I compared notes and it’s not obvious why the distribution of migrants is so different, but it might have been because the rains arrived later in that part of the state, after the birds had reached the vicinity of the lake.)

However, starting tomorrow, Wednesday May 2, and continuing at least through Friday, conditions are looking good for major arrivals of migrants along the Lake Erie shoreline in n.w. Ohio. The weather patterns are setting up for a good flow of air out of the south, coming all the way from the Gulf of Mexico, and I expect that a lot of birds will come in on that train. The next three mornings (and possibly the next four – through Saturday morning) have great potential for arrival, turnover, big numbers and increased variety.

It’s hard to say whether or not Wednesday morning will be really big – that will depend on exactly where and when it rains to the south of us overnight tonight, and no one can predict that with precision. In migrant traps along the lake, such as Magee Marsh, Metzger Marsh, or East Harbor State Park, Wednesday morning could be anything from fair to outstanding. Thursday and Friday mornings look like they have good potential as well, and Saturday morning might also. Sometime Friday or Saturday the wind is likely to swing around to the north again, but by that time we will have a ton of migrants in the area to keep us busy until the next big arrival.

If you’re in the area during a day with southerly or southwesterly winds, watch the sky for diurnal migrants. Flocks of Blue Jays are on the move, flocks of goldfinches are flying along the lake shore, and we could see a good flight of Broad-winged Hawks. (Fair numbers of Broad-wings were moving today, with small groups passing over BSBO, even though conditions didn’t seem great for a flight.)

Metzger Marsh has been productive recently: along the road in, near the pulloffs on the right side of the road, there are some decent mudflats that have attracted many shorebirds. These included 10 Willets on April 30. Other birds seen at Metzger recently have included Yellow-headed Blackbird and Common Gallinule, and there was a report of a possible Tricolored Heron a few days ago.  And at Ottawa NWR, a Green-winged Teal of the Eurasian subspecies was reported on April 29 on pool MS 8b; this is a rare bird here and well worth seeing, even if it doesn't "count" as a separate species on our lists.  See the BSBO birding pages for maps and directions for these sites.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday update: beyond expectations

Update, Monday April 30: Last night I predicted that we wouldn't see many new migrants locally until Wednesday, based on detailed weather forecasts.  But this morning, there is a substantial arrival of new migrants. Ethan Kistler reports that there are at least 9 warbler species around BSBO (still mostly Yellow-rumps, but with a scatter of others including Blue-winged, Pine, and Northern Waterthrush).  Baltimore and Orchard orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeak are around in numbers, and all three of those mid-sized songbirds are also present at the Magee boardwalk and elsewhere in the area.

What's the story? Winds at ground level were not favorable for migration last night, at least not in the local area, but the radar picture showed that some birds were definitely moving in areas to the south of us. Mid-sized songbirds like orioles, already present in good numbers just a little farther south, may have pushed on through without the help of favorable winds - or winds aloft may have been different from those at ground level.  Rain showers came through here from the west very early in the morning, and they may have knocked down some migrating birds locally also. 

Whatever the reasons, the birding today is better than anyone here had expected.  I still think that Wednesday and Thursday this week will bring bigger flights (see the post below this one), but if you have the chance to get out before then, there's no reason to wait for the "big" day.  The weather and the birds both have endless capacity to surprise us and to foil our predictions!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Migration Outlook April 30 - May 4: Prepare to call in sick

Northern Parula at Magee Marsh.  One of the many species likely to be seen the latter part of this week.  Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

April 29, 2012: Things have been slow for the last several days, with unfavorable winds, cooler temperatures, and some rain all acting against the arrival of migrants. Some birds have been moving anyway, despite the conditions; for example, down in central Ohio, a “fallout” of migrating Willets was noted yesterday, and scattered individuals of many migrant species have shown up near the lake shore. But things are about to change in a big way, with a major arrival of migrants expected this week.

The exact timing of things is still looking a bit tricky. I don’t expect many new birds on Monday, April 30, because winds will be northeasterly during the first part of Sunday night and easterly (with rain) later. During the day Monday, winds are supposed to shift to southeasterly and then southerly, and stay that way all day and into the evening. Then late in the evening Monday, winds are supposed to swing back around to the west and then the northwest. We’ll probably see some more diurnal migrants during the day (swallows, goldfinches, jays, shorebirds, maybe a few hawks), and some migrants may come in during the night Monday night, since there are many migrants just a short distance south of here in central Ohio. But Monday’s southerly winds are not a part of a major weather system, so I don’t expect Tuesday’s arrival to be huge.

However – Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, May 2, 3, and 4, look like they have great potential. Winds will shift back to the southeasterly or southerly sometime on Tuesday, and this time they’ll be associated with an air flow coming all the way up from the Gulf of Mexico, so it looks like a good setup to bring in a major flight. I can’t tell whether the bigger day will be Wednesday or Thursday, but considering how many birds must be dammed up to the south of us, Wednesday would be a good bet. Both days should be good, with Friday at least fairly good also. There should be many, many migrant songbirds in the woods close to the lake, and probably a good hawk flight developing by midday Wednesday.

I talked to Mark Shieldcastle, BSBO’s Research Director, and he said that at this point it’s hard to say whether this next big flight will be more like the end of the “first wave” or the beginning of the “second wave.” In other words, we could see a flood of Yellow-rumped and Palm warblers and White-throated Sparrows, with a generous scattering of singles of other species, or we could see an overall increase in variety, with numbers of many species. Or it could morph from the first wave to the second between Wednesday and Friday. Either way, if you can get out to the lake shore migrant traps during the latter part of the week, I’d recommend it. You might want to call in sick at work or school on Wednesday – serious case of the bird flu! And if you can’t get out until the weekend, that should be good too, with loads of recently-arrived birds in the woodlots.

For more information on the timing of major “waves” of migrants, as worked out by Mark Shieldcastle from BSBO research, see this link:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Migration outlook April 25-29

April 25: After several days of strong northerly or westerly winds, the wind is now lighter and coming from the south.  This region of Ohio has not seen a big arrival of migrants since last Friday, but this wind shift should allow some new birds to come in.  At the moment, the forecast is for the winds to continue more or less southerly through Wednesday night, so I expect a moderate number of new arrivals to be in the area on Thursday morning, April 26.  After that the wind is expected to go northerly again, at least through the weekend.  After tonight, on the basis of current weather forecasts, I don't expect any major waves of migrants to arrive until sometime next week. 

One thing to consider: the more the migration is held back, the bigger the flight when the wind finally shifts.  On the basis of current weather forecasts, next Wednesday, May 2, MIGHT produce a very big arrival here.  But of course the weather forecast could change many times in the next week!  I will keep an eye on the changing conditions and will post updated predictions in a few days.

Advice for those coming to bird the Magee / Ottawa region -- always consider wind direction when choosing where to look.  Most people have a tendency to go to the Magee boardwalk first.  But when the wind is strong out of the north, as it has been on some days recently, migrant birds may shift to more sheltered woodlots back away from the Lake Erie shoreline.  Larger patches of woods such as those at East Harbor State Park, behind the visitors' center at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, or farther west at Pearson Park (on Rt. 2 in Oregon, just east of Toledo) may hold more migrants when the lakeshore spots are blasted by north winds. 

Summary: Right now I expect more migrants to arrive Thursday morning, April 26 -- probably not a huge flight, but with enough variety to keep us going through the weekend.  Look for the next really major flight to arrive sometime around May 1, 2, or 3. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Migration outlook April 21-24

Black-throated Green Warbler: Typically among the early arrivals. At least a few have come in to the migrant traps in northwestern Ohio as of April 20. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.
April 20, 2012, evening:  As I write this, the wind is shifting from southwest to northwest.  Winds are predicted to stay northerly for at least the next three days and nights, which would mostly shut down the migration for a while.  Fortunately for birders here, a good diversity of new arrivals came in during the last couple of days, so we'll have some variety to keep us going while we wait for the next big influx.

As predicted earlier, winds were out of the south from Wednesday morning through Friday afternoon, with a stronger flow developing by Thursday night, and these conditions brought in many migrants, especially on Thursday and Friday.  The most conspicuous arrivals were Yellow-rumped Warblers, now present by the dozens in every woodlot close to Lake Erie, but many White-throated Sparrows came in also, and lesser numbers of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Palm Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, House Wrens, and others. 

However, perhaps the most notable phenomenon was the wide variety of other migrants that showed up in small numbers. Between the Magee Marsh boardwalk and the BSBO main research site (Navarre unit of Ottawa NWR, a few miles east of Magee), I heard reports of at least 18 warbler species in the last two days. Most of these were present only in very small numbers, but they included such choice species as Cerulean, Orange-crowned, Prairie, Prothonotary, and Hooded warblers.  Other species arriving in small numbers included White-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Baltimore Oriole, and Gray Catbird. 

All of the preceding are nocturnal migrants that would have come in overnight, but there was some daytime migration happening recently as well. Flocks of Blue Jays have been moving along the Lake Erie shoreline, Chimney Swifts showed up in numbers on Friday, and Friday also saw a movement of flocks of American Goldfinches and some birds of prey.

Looking ahead:  Based on current weather forecasts, I don't expect any big arrivals of birds from now through Tuesday, April 24, at least.  There might be an influx on Wednesday, or it might not happen until next weekend.  But in the meantime, a wide variety of birds have moved into the area, and most of them should stick around.  If you have a chance to get out more than once, try checking multiple spots.  If the northerly winds are strong, some of the migrants might relocate to larger woodlots (such as some of those in East Harbor State Park) or those that are back a mile or two away from Lake Erie (such as the woods at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge). 

The auto tour at Ottawa NWR is open both days this weekend, April 21 and 22, from 8 to 4.  Refuge manager Jason Lewis told us that the entry point for the auto tour route is shifting from the old east parking lot to the visitors' center parking lot.  There should be good numbers of Dunlins, yellowlegs, and other shorebirds at a couple of points along the route, especially the impoundments MS 7 and MS 4.  A map of the auto tour route is here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Migration outlook April 18-22

Almost record-early for northwest Ohio, this male Scarlet Tanager entertained many birders at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area boardwalk on April 16 and 17. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

April 17: This past weekend developed about as predicted, with a moderate arrival of migrants on Saturday morning, bigger numbers Sunday morning, and an excellent hawk flight on Sunday afternoon.  Fierce west winds on Monday were discouraging to birders, at least, but some new migrants were found; late in the day, Ethan Kistler and John Sawvel found several surprising birds along the Magee boardwalk, including White-eyed Vireo, Louisiana Waterthrush, and a near-record-early Scarlet Tanager. 

At this stage the migrants seem to be mostly on a normal schedule, with large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes, and others present, and fair numbers of other early migrants such as Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Rusty Blackbirds.  A few species seem to have moved through / moved out early (for example, Golden-crowned Kinglets already seem to be all but gone) and a few individual birds are showing up surprisingly early.  The BSBO main banding station, a few miles east of the Magee boardwalk, had a Blackburnian Warbler on April 16 (record-early for n.w. Ohio by one day), and over the weekend single Hooded Warblers were found both there and at Magee.  In other words, there are plenty of potential surprises for birders who are willing to get out and prowl the trails.

Looking ahead: Tonight (Tuesday night), breezes are light and variable and partly from the north, and I don't expect much turnover before Wednesday.  From Wednesday morning through Friday afternoon, the prediction is for the winds to be more or less southerly, with this flow becoming stronger and more associated with larger weather systems toward Thursday night.  Sometime late Friday, according to current forecasts, the wind will swing around to the north, ushering in much cooler temperatures for the weekend. 

Birding prediction:  In the migrant traps near Lake Erie, I don't expect many new migrants on Wednesday April 18, but new arrivals should come in on the mornings of Thursday and Friday, April 19 and 20.  There could be a fair hawk flight on Thursday or Friday, or both, with warm afternoons and southwest winds.  The migation will shut down Friday night, so there won't be many new birds on Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22, but most of the birds present late in the week should stick around.  The weekend's high temperatures are forecast to be in the 40s and low 50s, but there shouldn't be much rain, and it would be a good time to get out and enjoy the early-season migrants.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Update: Weekend still looks excellent

April 13, 2012: A couple of days ago I predicted that this weekend, April 14-15, looked to be very good here.  Current weather forecasts still support that. 

Winds should be southerly tonight (Friday night) and stronger out of the south-southwest from Saturday through at least Sunday night.  We should see good numbers of migrants arriving Saturday morning, possibly better numbers on Sunday and Monday.  By Monday night, winds are likely to shift again toward the northwest, shutting down the migration for a while.

Saturday, April 14, is likely to have showers and thundershowers.  Take appropriate safety precautions to avoid getting caught out in the open during a thunderstorm, but be aware that the birding can be excellent in periods of light rain, or between showers.  On Sunday, April 15, with less chance of rain and with southwest winds, I expect a good hawk flight near the Lake Erie shoreline.

Jason Lewis, manager of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, has announced that Ottawa's auto tour will be open on Saturday, April 14, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.  This is a good opportunity to check out the refuge habitat.  Currently the biggest shorebird concentrations are on the unit called MS 4, with lesser numbers on MS 7.  See the map at this link to see where these are located. 

Summary: We expect good arrival of migrants Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, April 14-16.  Messy weather on Saturday, probably less so on Sunday.  Probably a good hawk flight, with Sunday the most likely day.  For species expected at this season, see my previous post.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Big Weekend Coming April 14-15

Leading the warbler parade: This weekend, large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers should arrive in the migrant traps of northwestern Ohio, with the adult males stunning in breeding plumage. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

April 11, 2012: For the last several days, with only a brief break on Saturday night, conditions in northwest Ohio have not been favorable for migration. Winds have been mostly from the west-northwest, and temperatures have been a little below average for the dates (a major change from the above-average temperatures that dominated in March).  So for the last few days, the arrival of new migrants has been reduced to a trickle.

Conditions are setting up for that to change in a major way this weekend.  The exact timing of these weather events is still uncertain, but forecasts agree that an approaching high-pressure area will pass over and move to our east sometime on Friday.  By Friday night, with a high-pressure area to our east and a line of low-pressure centers to our west, there should be a strong southerly flow of air coming up to Ohio all the way from the Gulf Coast.  This flow should become even more pronounced through Saturday and then Saturday night.  We’re likely to get some showers as well, and if there are major rains to the south of us overnight they could put a damper on the migration.  But all indications are that we’ll have a very big arrival of migrant birds this Saturday and Sunday, April 14 and 15, when the current weather dam breaks and the birds can flow north. 

This early in the season, of course, we won’t see as much variety as we would in May.  There should be large numbers of kinglets (both species), the first big push of Yellow-rumped Warblers along with some Palm Warblers, probably more Hermit Thrushes and Brown Creepers, the first major pulse of White-throated Sparrows, and other typical April birds.  This flight should also produce a scattering of other warblers that are usually among the vanguard, such as Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Nashville, and Northern Parula.  Orange-crowned Warbler, always scarce, often shows up with this early push.  This is also a good time to look for southern species overshooting their breeding ranges, such as Louisiana Waterthrush and Yellow-throated Warbler.

If the winds are southwesterly during the day on Saturday or Sunday, not just southerly or southeasterly, we might get another significant hawk flight, including the first big push of Broad-winged Hawks for the year. 

At any rate, all of the current weather forecasts now suggest that this will be an excellent weekend for migration in northwestern Ohio.  If you can arrange your schedule so that you can get out, it could be a lot of fun out there!

Many thanks to Mark Shieldcastle for sharing his expertise on the timing of expected bird species and on the effects of weather patterns on migration.  But if these predictions for the migration don’t bear out, I take full responsibility!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Magee Marsh: Cold Day Strategy

Bad photo of a good bird: "Yellow" Palm Warbler, the eastern subspecies of Palm Warbler, at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area on April 10, 2012. The vast majority of the Palm Warblers that migrate through Ohio are of the western subspecies. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.
April 10, 2012: With temperatures in the low 40s today, and with strong winds out of the west-northwest for the last couple of days, conditions were feeling a little less favorable for those migrant birds that had just arrived Saturday night.  When conditions are chilly and windy in the Magee Marsh area, we have a standard birding strategy: we look for birds on the downwind, sheltered side of the woods.  We move slowly and quietly, and watch for birds to be foraging relatively low.  That was the strategy that worked well this afternoon.  At the Magee Marsh boardwalk, migrants were concentrated toward the east end, foraging low along the east-southeast side of the woods, close to the canal that parallels that part of the boardwalk.

This afternoon that area held several dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers and smaller numbers of Fox Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows, Winter Wrens, Rusty Blackbirds, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  Our first local Palm Warbler of the season was there also, and it showed the color pattern of the eastern subspecies -  Setophaga palmarum hypochrysea, the "Yellow" Palm Warbler.  This is a fairly rare bird in Ohio; the vast majority of the Palm Warblers that migrate through here are of the "western" subspecies, Setophaga palmarum palmarum (which nests from western Quebec all the way west to the edge of the Canadian Rockies).  "Yellow" Palms nest mainly in eastern Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, and Maine, and they migrate mostly up the Atlantic Coast in spring. They tend to migrate earlier than "western" Palm Warblers, so perhaps it's not surprising that the earliest individual here was a stray from this population. Ethan Kistler and I had a good study of this individual, noting the completely yellow underparts and the broad chestnut streaks at the sides of the chest.  Palm Warblers from the expected "western" race should be here soon, since this is typically one of the earliest warblers to arrive. 

East Harbor State Park

April 9, 2012: When we talk about migration in northwest Ohio, a lot of the attention is focused on Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and other spots in that immediate area. A lesser-known gem of a birding spot, less than half an hour away to the east, is East Harbor State Park.  There are many days during migration when this park can be just as good as the famous Magee boardwalk, and it's such a large patch of habitat that it's very valuable as stopover habitat for migrants.

From the middle of Port Clinton, go east on State Route 163 for about 6 miles, then turn left (north) on State Route 269 for about a mile to the entrance to East Harbor State Park.  To get to one of the best birding areas, follow the signs for the beach, which will take you straight through to the east side of the park. After scanning the beach and the open lake, go to the south end of the southern parking lot here, and walk the trails that go south through the woods, paralleling the beach.  I checked this area out today (Monday April 9) and found a good variety of early spring migrants, including Yellow-rumped Warbler, Rusty Blackbird, Fox Sparrow, and Hermit Thrush. Offshore there were fewer birds than usual, but those present included Common Loon, Red-breasted Merganser, and Bonaparte's Gull.  Another good area for land bird migrants is near the park entrance, along the trails around the "frisbee golf" course near the Lockwood picnic shelter.

If you continue east on S.R 163 to the east end of the Marblehead Peninsula, Marblehead Lighthouse State Park is another good spot to scan the lake for waterbirds.  On April 9 a quick scan produced large numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, a couple of Common Loons, and 4 gull species including Great Black-backed Gull. The small patch of woods here is another place that can be good for migrants after nights with south winds.

From that point, if you continue south and then back west along the south side of the peninsula, you pass several more parks and preserves. One of my favorites is Meadowbrook Marsh, just east of the junction of East Bayshore Road and Englebeck Road.  This preserve, set aside by Danbury Township, has meadow, marsh, open water, and woods, supporting a good variety of birds. Wide paths meander through the habitat, for easy access to the birds.  On April 9 I made only a brief visit late in the day, but this yielded Eastern Bluebirds (nesting at the meadow), Eastern Towhees, several Fox Sparrows, and flocks of White-throated Sparrows.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Easter weekend: Current birds, migration forecast, birding sites

Fox Sparrows are moving through northwest Ohio in good numbers now, concentrating near the Lake Erie shoreline. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.
April 5, 2012: During the last couple of days, with northeasterly winds, no obvious push of new migrants has occurred. Songbird migrants in the woodlots near Lake Erie have diminished in numbers, perhaps moving slightly inland, but there are still decent numbers of typical early migrants. Fox Sparrows are near peak numbers, and there are fair numbers of both kinglet species, Hermit Thrushes, Winter Wrens, Brown Creepers, and others. Rusty Blackbird numbers have dropped from highs a week or two ago, but small flocks are still present in most swampy woods, and Yellow-rumped Warblers are starting to appear in the migrant traps. A few Pine Warblers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have been present. Purple Martins began arriving 9 days ago, and males are now scouting around areas with nest boxes (Sportsmen’s Center at Magee, Ottawa NWR visitors’ center, Maumee Bay State Park nature center). Brown Thrashers first appeared almost 2 weeks ago, and are now singing at several spots.

Several migrants have appeared on the early side of normal dates. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Common Yellowthroat, Marsh Wren, Virginia Rail, and Sora are among the examples, but these all will become easier to find in coming weeks.

Among the waterfowl, many of the wintering and migrant ducks have departed already, seemingly ahead of their usual schedule, but large numbers of Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Ducks are gathering just offshore on Lake Erie. Early shorebirds such as Pectoral Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, and Lesser Yellowlegs are now numerous in patches of good habitat.

Migration forecast: at the moment, predictions are for the northeasterly winds to continue through Friday night, April 6, before shifting to the southwest sometime on Saturday. If this prediction holds, we won’t see any big influx of new migrants until Sunday, but the birds present now should continue through Saturday at least. If the southwest winds materialize as predicted and continue through Saturday night, Sunday should see better numbers of the early migrants mentioned above. Yellow-rumped Warblers should increase, one or two other warblers could show up, and this would be a prime time to look for Louisiana Waterthrush, a typically early “overflight” species.


Magee Marsh Boardwalk: Kinglets, Brown Creepers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers are near the west end. Fox Sparrows and Winter Wrens are there in fair numbers, and some of them are singing – these are both great songsters, and this is the best time of year to hear them here.

Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center: The building is temporarily closed for repairs. The walking trail to the east of the parking lot is closed to protect a nesting pair of Bald Eagles, but the trail back behind the visitors’ center is open and offers good birding.

Black Swamp Bird Observatory: Good numbers of birds outside the window on wildlife. Purple Finches and Fox Sparrows have been there recently. If you’re in the area, please stop by and let us know what you’ve seen.

Benton-Carroll Road: This section of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge has had good numbers of shorebirds recently. To reach this spot, go east on Route 2 from the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area for just under half a mile, and turn south on Benton-Carroll Road. Go south less than a quarter mile to a point where there are two gravel pulloffs on the right, next to an old barn. PLEASE NOTE THAT THERE’S ROOM FOR ONLY TWO OR THREE VEHICLES TO PARK HERE AT ONCE, AND PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PARK ON THE ROAD OR THE ROAD EDGE! If the parking spaces are filled, please go on to another spot and check back later. But if you CAN park, the shallow flooded area and damp field to the west have held Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, Dunlin, and other shorebirds recently. Ethan Kistler points out that this spot had more shorebird numbers and diversity in late March, surprisingly early in the season. But with daily turnover, numbers are changing constantly.

Stange Road: This area on the southwest edge of Ottawa NWR is always worth checking. The refuge did a controlled burn of part of the Stange Prairie recently, and the resulting open area should provide very good birding this spring; this is often a good habitat for migrating American Golden-Plovers. A Short-eared Owl was seen hunting over the edges of the burn area at dusk on some recent nights. From the observation platform at Stange and Krause roads, you can see into one of the refuge impoundments (a scope is very helpful here), and this impoundment has had a good variety of ducks and a few shorebirds recently. A Yellow-headed Blackbird was seen along Krause Road on March 31.

Metzger Marsh: The birds might disperse if there are many anglers out in their boats here, but as recently as April 3, the marsh still held a good variety of ducks (plus thousands of coots). Watch for Sandhill Crane along the drive in.

Maumee Bay State Park: The lake beach and the inland beach still have fair numbers of gulls, and would be worth checking for strays of other species. Forster’s and Common terns should show up any day. Wooded areas of the park, especially on the west side, have good numbers of Fox Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes, and other migrants, and the area around the nature center is always worth checking.

Hope to see you out there! Much of the information here is from Ethan Kistler, with additional points from John Sawvel, Kimberly Kaufman, and Ryan Lesniewicz.

Summary: Good numbers of typical early-season migrants around. This weekend, Sunday may have more birds than Saturday.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Next hawk flight Sunday 3/11

Immature Red-shouldered Hawk in migration over Magee Marsh Wildlife Area
It's early March, and migration is in full swing in northwest Ohio. This coming Sunday, March 11, should see a fairly good movement of hawks and vultures. According to current predictions, Sunday should see a high temperature above 60 degrees, with south-southwest winds of 13 mph, almost ideal conditions for a hawk flight. On any non-rainy day with south winds, some hawks will be moving, but winds from the southwest concentrate the birds near the Lake Erie shoreline and make them easier to see. After Sunday, it appears that Tuesday the 13th could be a good flight day also.

One traditional spot for watching raptor migration is the observation tower near the Sportsmen's Center on the road in to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. The observation platform near the corner of Krause and Stange roads, on the west edge of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, is another good spot. Farther west, the sledding hill at Maumee Bay State Park can be very good. Recently, local ace birder Sherrie Duris has reported good results from another sledding hill at South Shore Park, just a little farther west at the corner of Stadium and Bayshore roads. In all of these locations, on days with moderate southwest or south-southwest winds, hawks and vultures should be passing by, heading west toward the west end of the lake, where they can turn northward into Michigan and continue their migration.

This early in the season, highlights include Red-shouldered Hawks, Bald Eagles (migrants in addition to our resident birds), Red-tailed Hawks, perhaps a few Rough-legged Hawks, and big numbers of Turkey Vultures. Later in March there is the outside chance of seeing something like a Golden Eagle. The big movement of Broad-winged Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks occurs later, mostly in April and early May.

In other migration news: American Woodcocks, which returned record-early this year, are now displaying in the evenings at many traditional spots. Killdeers have returned in numbers, and American Robins are setting up territories. Major numbers of ducks, geese, and swans are in the area, although more than usual spent the winter this year, making it harder to pick out the migrants. Fox Sparrows and Rusty Blackbirds are beginning to appear in numbers, and the last few days have seen a push of Dark-eyed Juncos and Song Sparrows. Things are now changing every day, as they will continue to do for the next three months.  This is an amazing season, so get outside if you can!

Nature Blog Network