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.

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