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.

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