Sunday, April 27, 2014

Migration Forecast, April 28 to May 2, 2014: Mid-week pickup

Blackburnian Warbler: Things are looking up for a big arrival of long-distance migrants like this on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.
Sunday evening, April 27: Moderate numbers of migrants moved into NW Ohio last Friday, the 25th, and then stayed in the area over the weekend. East and north winds pushed them away from the lake shore, so spots like the Magee boardwalk were quiet by Sunday. But around the area there were many arrivals such as Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, scattered Baltimore and Orchard orioles, and an uptick in diversity of warblers. 

As recently as 4 days ago, the weather forecast for this week hadn't looked promising. Today, Mark Shieldcastle pointed out to me that the forecast had changed in a major way. It now appears that we should get a major arrival of birds on either Tuesday April 29 or Wednesday April 30, or possibly both. 

Here's the way it looks now. A big low-pressure system is moving in from the west. It will bring a lot of rain from Monday morning through Tuesday night. But sometime during the night, between Monday night and Tuesday morning, a warm front will move in, with rising temperatures and with winds going around to southerly. This will be part of a major weather system, with a good flow of air all the way from the Gulf Coast, so it should be bringing a lot of migrants from a long distance if they can find room to fly between the extensive rain showers. 

Right now the prediction is for temperatures to reach 74 on Tuesday and 68 on Wednesday, with sustained south to southwest winds. Even with the rain, I'm sure there will be birds on the move. I don't know which day will be better. Even with lots of rain overnight, the warm front may bring a big push of birds Tuesday morning. Wednesday morning may be more of a sure thing. But there should be movement by diurnal (daytime) migrants both days. 

After Wednesday, with the low-pressure center moving to the north of us, winds will be more westerly. Thursday and Friday may not produce a lot of new migrants from the south, but could bring some strays with a western flavor, such as American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, or Franklin's Gull.

If you're coming to the Magee Marsh / Ottawa NWR area for songbird migrants, don't neglect the nearby wetland habitats. Eurasian Wigeon was present with American Wigeons for the last two days at the impoundment visible from the observation platform at the corner of Krause and Stange roads, on the western edge of the refuge. (See the map at this link.)

Summary: A big arrival of migrants from the south is expected Tuesday April 29 and / or Wednesday April 30, along with a passing warm front, widespread rain, and southerly winds. One of these two days is likely to be the best one out of the next five, although many lingerers from this push should be around into next weekend. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

April 25-29: Update to Migration Forecast

A Nashville Warbler, one of the typical migrants of late April, peers out among the leaves, as if it were taking a cautious look at the ever-changing weather forecast. 
April 24, 2014: A few days ago, it looked as if tonight and tomorrow would have ideal weather conditions for a big push of migrants, so I predicted that Friday, the 25th, would be a big day. The large-scale weather pattern has changed a bit since then; a low-pressure system is still approaching, but the local setup won't be as good for depositing migrants on the Lake Erie shoreline.

Here's the way it looks right now. Tonight, Thursday night, large numbers of migrants should be moving in regions to the south of us. Just where they'll wind up Friday morning is hard to say -- especially with rain moving in from the west, which will put the birds down wherever they happen to be when it arrives. I suspect that most good stopover habitats in Ohio will see new migrants on Friday morning. This should include the lakeshore migrant traps, but numbers there may not be exceptional compared to inland sites. So, in between rain showers, Friday should produce good birding and some new migrants, but maybe not any huge numbers.

I spoke with Mark Shieldcastle, who has more experience than anyone in predicting the timing of migration in this region, and he more or less agreed with that assessment (with the caveat that the track of the approaching low could change over the next few hours, and change the outcome). Mark pointed out that the overall timing of species arrival at the BSBO main banding site is close to normal but that numbers have been low. A few species, such as Nashville and Palm warblers, have been surprisingly scarce so far.

See the previous post for a list of expected species at this time in April. In addition to those, Friday could have potential for the "overflight" species -- birds with more southerly ranges, overshooting their intended destinations and winding up here. These include Yellow-throated, Hooded, Kentucky, Worm-eating, and Prairie warblers, plus Louisiana Waterthrush. 

Looking beyond Friday, the next few days should see more migrants trickling in despite the lack of optimum winds. Big numbers of migrants are building up to the south of us, and some of them will move without waiting for perfect conditions. With the trees barely beginning to leaf out, viewing is good in northwest Ohio, especially close to Lake Erie, so it's worthwhile to get out and see the migrants any day if you get the chance!

Summary: Friday, the 25th, is likely to be the best day out of the next five for migrants arriving on the Lake Erie shoreline, but numbers may be only moderately good. Based on current weather predictions, I would say this: if you are debating whether to drive a long distance to bird at Magee Marsh on Friday, you might have better success by birding your own local spots instead, since migrants are likely to be widespread across the region. But I will try to post an update in the comments section sometime late Thursday night. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Migration Forecast: April 22 - 26

A Yellow-rumped Warbler helpfully shows off its namesake field mark - as well as the yellow crown spot responsible for the second part of its scientific name, Setophaga coronata
Monday, April 21, 2014: Although last night's radar picture showed a lot of movement to the south of us, today there were only modest numbers of migrants at stopover habitats along Lake Erie. Southerly winds during the night were not as strong or consistent as had been predicted, and no big concentrations of migrants piled up along the immediate lake shore. 

Looking ahead, conditions don't look good for bringing in major numbers during the next couple of days. But a low-pressure system is approaching from the west, and at some point on Thursday, April 24, we should have a low-pressure center to the west and a mild high-pressure center to the east, setting up a strong northward air flow all the way from the Gulf of Mexico - and in conjunction with that, a warm front should pass through. These conditions would be ideal for bringing in a major wave of migrants. 

The timing of this is still uncertain, with some disagreement among weather forecasts. If the winds turn southerly as early as Wednesday night, we could see a lot of new migrants on Thursday morning. But based on most forecasts, I expect the southerly winds to arrive Thursday, followed by the warm front later in the day, and for southerly winds to persist through Thursday night and much of Friday. 

If the timing works out that way, Friday the 25th could see the next real push of migrants. If so, that would be classic timing. Looking at results from BSBO's long-term banding research, Mark Shieldcastle has found that the average date for the "first wave" of migrants is around April 24-25. 

Currently the dominant migrants in the woods are Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Hermit Thrush, with lesser numbers of Eastern Towhee, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Blue-headed Vireo, Winter Wren, White-throated Sparrow, and others. Warblers present in small numbers include Pine, Palm, Black-and-white, Black-throated Green, Prothonotary, and Northern Parula. Numbers of most of these should pick up when the next wave arrives, along with Nashville Warbler and a scattering of additional species. 

To summarize, based on current weather forecasts: modest numbers of migrants continuing for the next couple of days, Tuesday and Wednesday, April 22-23; wind shift on Thursday, April 24, may bring some daytime migration (hawks and others) along the lakeshore; Thursday night may produce a migratory movement, making Friday, April 25, a good day (or possibly a very good day) for new arrivals. If many birds arrive on Friday, shifting winds should keep most of them around through the weekend, April 26 and 27. Of course the weather forecast can change, so I may be updating this. But at the moment, Friday April 25 looks like the best day in the next week. 

Boardwalk Restoration: a timely project

The Friends of Magee Marsh have taken on the worthy project of restoring the famous boardwalk. We, as a community of birders, should applaud and support this work.
April 2014: At Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, one of the most fabled birding spots in North America, the boardwalk is 25 years old this year. Over the last quarter-century, staggering numbers of new birders have had their first and best looks at an astonishing diversity of warblers and other migrants from this magical elevated trail through the woods. But the boardwalk is showing its age, and showing the need for repairs and restoration.  

A local group, the Friends of Magee Marsh (FOMM), has undertaken this huge project of restoration. They have made the necessary arrangements with Ohio's Division of Wildlife, the agency that owns the land and the boardwalk, and they have found a contractor to perform the work. Indeed, the first part of the work was already completed early this spring, and brand-new boards are now in place in some key areas. The rest of the work is scheduled to resume in June, after the peak of the spring migration. 

The best estimate of the FOMM is that total restoration of the boardwalk will take about $300,000. They have already contributed the first $25,000, and they are now raising funds to cover the rest of the work. 

For those of us (those thousands of us!) who enjoy birding the Magee boardwalk, this is something that we obviously should support. If every birder visiting the area were to contribute $20, or less than the price of dinner and a movie, the FOMM would raise all the necessary funds before the last Blackburnian Warbler leaves to go north. 

You can contribute on site if you're visiting, but you don't have to wait for that: you can go to the Friends of Magee Marsh website at this link and make a direct donation. 

Disclaimer: I have no official connection with FOMM, aside from the fact that Kimberly and I are life members. But I want to thank them and congratulate them for taking on this worthwhile project. And if you contribute to the fund-raiser, I'd like to thank you for supporting the future of birding!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Forecast: Easter Weekend birding

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, typically a common migrant in mid to late April, and showing up in good numbers now.

April 17, 2014: While the upcoming weekend probably won't produce huge movements of birds in northwest Ohio, good numbers of migrants have come in this week, so it should be a fine time for seeing typical birds of the season. 

As of Thursday evening, the 17th, temperatures have warmed up again from the brief subfreezing blast of a couple of days ago. Winds are from the south-southwest, so there should be new arrivals on the morning of Friday, the 18th. After that, winds will shift to the west and then the northeast, so there probably won't be much movement Friday night or Saturday. Winds will shift back around to southerly sometime on Saturday night or Sunday morning. According to current predictions, Sunday the 20th should be a beautiful day for birding, with light south-southeast winds and warm temperatures. More reliable southerly winds on Sunday night should bring in more new migrants on Monday the 21st. 

Some typical migrant species expected in numbers right now include Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets, Hermit Thrush, and White-throated Sparrow. Fox Sparrows and Rusty Blackbirds are past their peak, but fair numbers are still around. In open fields, this is a good time to look for Savannah Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, and American Pipit.

Warbler migration is still in its early stages, but every good patch of stopover habitat should have a few Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warblers now, with more coming soon. Other warblers expected around April 18-20 include Northern Parula, Black-and-white, Palm, Black-throated Green, and Pine warblers. Orange-crowned Warbler is always scarce here, but mid to late April is a good time to look for it. This is also the time to look for some more typically southern warblers that "overshoot" their destinations and wind up on the Lake Erie shoreline: Yellow-throated, Hooded, and Prairie warblers, plus Louisiana Waterthrush, are all worth seeking at this season. 

Every year at this time, a few random individual migrants will show up much earlier than expected. So while some species can be predicted to occur now, a few surprises are likely as well. The birding is easy now in the woods near Lake Erie, since the trees have barely begun to leaf out, so it's a fine time to get out and celebrate spring migration. 

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