Friday, March 22, 2013

Early Spring Migrants

The boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area on March 22, 2013: Waiting for spring.

March 22, 2013: At this time last year, northwest Ohio was experiencing temperatures in the 80s. This year's weather has been more "normal," or even a bit colder than normal, with recent temperatures mostly below freezing.  The forecast calls for cool weather for the next week, with highs in the 30s and 40s, but the movement of early spring migrants is well under way and the birding is great.

Waterfowl are the stars of the show now, with nearly 30 species of ducks, geese, and swans currently present in n.w. Ohio.  As of today, some inland areas such as Metzger Marsh and the causeway through Magee Marsh were partly frozen, but large numbers of ducks were concentrated in the open areas.  Wood Ducks have returned in large numbers, many Redheads and Northern Pintails are passing through, and Blue-winged Teal have begun to show up.  The pond at the boardwalk at Magee Marsh has been hosting surprising numbers of ducks, especially in the evenings, and Bob Foppe found a male Eurasian Wigeon there on March 21 (it wasn't seen there on the 22nd, but it's likely to be still somewhere in the area).  The Boss Unit of Ottawa N.W.R. (parking lot on Benton-Carroll Road south of State Route 2) has some standing water and a lot of dabbling ducks, although a scope is very helpful for seeing them.  Scoping from the new observation platform today, I made a careful count of 108 Wood Ducks back along the edge of the woodlot.

The nearshore waters of Lake Erie are also full of ducks now, with particularly large flocks of Common Mergansers and Lesser Scaup (and very small numbers of Greater Scaup mixed in).  Horned Grebes are also moving through, although in smaller numbers.  Viewpoints on the lake such as Maumee Bay State Park, the end of the road at Metzger Marsh and Magee Marsh, East Harbor State Park, and Marblehead Lighthouse State Park are all worth checking.  The open waters of Sandusky Bay are also hosting huge numbers of scaup and other birds. 

Other migrants are also showing up.  American Woodcocks have returned, and can be heard doing their flight songs at night in any location with open fields and swampy woods, such as Magee Marsh and Maumee Bay.  Wilson's Snipes have arrived, and Pectoral Sandpipers should show up soon.  Eastern Towhee and Eastern Phoebe were both found along the Magee Marsh boardwalk this week.  Numbers of migrant Rusty Blackbirds are increasing, and this is a good time to study this declining species.  

Aside from a good movement on March 9-10, raptor migration has not been impressive so far.  To create a good movement along the Lake Erie shoreline, we need moderate winds from the southwest.  Predictions change from day to day, of course; but at the moment the long-range forecast shows southwest winds happening next on Saturday, March 30.  If it works out that way, that could be a fine flight day for hawks and other birds.  But if your schedule is flexible, keep an eye on the weather and be ready to head to the lake shore if the wind goes to the southwest before then!

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