Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Migration update: May 20-26 and Connecticut Warbler advice

Connecticut Warbler: This big-eyed beauty, skulking in the forest shadows, is the most sought-after of the late May migrants through northwestern Ohio. Photo by Kristin Mylecraine.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014: The weather forecast has changed a lot since the last time I posted four days ago, and as a result, the outlook for migration has changed as well. 

In the woodlots near the Lake Erie Shoreline, migrant activity stayed good through the weekend and actually picked up a little on Monday, the 19th. A southerly wind flow, combined with unsettled weather during the night, put many new migrants down in the area. That pattern is predicted to continue through tonight, with a mild warm front coming through as well. It appears that Wednesday morning, May 21, could produce a large arrival of migrants. It's likely to be raining in the morning, but the timing and location of the rains could be just right for dropping good numbers of migrant songbirds all over northwestern Ohio. (It's also possible that the rain will shut things down to the south of us, making for a slow day locally, so there are no guarantees.) 

Sometime between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, winds will swing around to the west and then the northwest. Winds are predicted to stay northerly through Saturday morning, so many birds that arrive Wednesday will probably stay in the area through the first part of the weekend. Then Saturday night the winds are supposed to go back to the west-southwest and then south. Based on current forecasts, there could be a good arrival of birds on Sunday, May 25, and especially on Monday, May 26. That is six days from now, so of course the forecast could change in the meantime. 

Prediction summary: Based on current weather forecasts, I expect arrival / turnover of migrants on Wednesday May 21, Sunday May 25, and Monday May 26, with good numbers of birds lingering locally on the days in between.

Late May migrants: The period May 20-30 is after the peak, but excellent diversity still can be found in all the stopover habitats near Lake Erie. Among the warblers and some other songbirds, adult males tend to migrate earlier in spring than females or second-year males, so late May features more of the duller plumages. Some species pass through in excellent numbers during late May; this is a good time to see Yellow-billed and Black-billed cuckoos, many flycatchers (such as Olive-sided, Yellow-bellied, and Alder), Red-eyed Vireo, Swainson's and Gray-cheeked thrushes, and a set of late-migrating warblers that includes American Redstart, Blackpoll, Canada, Wilson's, Mourning, and Connecticut. 

Connecticut Warbler is a highly sought-after migrant. It has eluded many birders because it is uncommon, quiet, and secretive, and it migrates late in spring, after the peak of birding activity. In NW Ohio, May 20 to 30 is the best time to find it. 

This species forages mostly by walking slowly on the ground, occasionally jumping up onto a log or low branch. Males will sing from high perches on their breeding grounds in northern forest, but when they sing here in Ohio, they usually do so from just a few feet off the ground. So the birds are almost always very low or on the ground, inside forest or dense thickets, where they are hard to see. 

The best way to seek these elusive migrants is to get out at dawn and listen for their loud, distinctive song. You can search more area by walking quickly and quietly, or driving slowly, along the edge of good habitat. At this link, you can hear a good recording of the song from the Macaulay Library at Cornell. And at this link, you can hear several recordings from Xeno-Canto.

Migrants usually stop singing shortly after dawn. After they've fallen silent, the best way to search is to walk very slowly on boardwalks or trails, stopping to scan any place where you can actually see the ground inside the forest. The Connecticut will be walking very slowly and methodically, its colors looking surprisingly obscure in the forest shadows. With great luck, you might see one pop up onto a log as you're going past. On the Magee Marsh boardwalk, some consistent areas have been between numbers 3 and 6, near number 10, near number 16, and at the west end of the west parking lot. (For a map of the boardwalk showing the locations of the numbers, see this link.)
But this is very much a needle-in-a-haystack kind of search, so it's best if you can be out early enough to locate one by sound. 

Where should you search? Greg Links, an ace birder with experience throughout this region, shared this list of specific places to look for Connecticut Warblers: 

"In no particular order:

1. Magee Marsh - no details necessary. 

2. Maumee Bay State Park - boardwalk behind the nature center, easternmost dike in the park that leads north from the parking area at the far east end of the cabin road. Also some of the grassy trails in the NW corner of the park.

3. Far east end of Cedar Point Road, at Decant Road. 

4. North end of Yondota Road at entrance gate area to Cedar Point NWR (no access to refuge, and area around belong to water treatment plant. Stay on road.)

If west of Toledo in Oak Openings area: 

1. Wolfinger Road, between Secor Metropark and Bancroft Road (accessed from either).

2. Irwin Road, especially between Wolfinger and Bancroft. 

3. Schwamberger Road between Bancroft and Old State Line Road.

4. In Oak Openings Park, Sager Road between just west of Wilkins and Girdham roads."

In addition to the places listed above by Greg Links, I have found Connecticut Warbler on the Gallagher Trail behind Black Swamp Bird Observatory; inside the woods behind the visitors' center at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge; and in the woods at East Harbor State Park, east of Port Clinton. 

So those are some places to look, and suggestions about how to look; the next ten days are prime time for Connecticut Warbler. Best of luck to everyone who seeks this prized migrant!


Madeline said...

Thank you very much for the detailed info on finding this wonderful warbler! I will use this to plan my trip in May 2015!

southern California

Unknown said...


How is the birding looking for Monday?

John Habig

Richard A Fischer said...

Are there any Warblers left at Magee Marsh the 3rd week of June?

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