Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Next Hawk Flight: April 2nd

A migrating adult Red-shouldered Hawk glides over Magee Marsh. Early spring is the best time to see this species in the local area.

Tuesday, March 31: The colder-than-average temperatures of February and March may be having an effect on the early stages of spring migration. Some of the typical early migrants seem somewhat delayed - for example, we're seeing only small numbers of Fox Sparrows, Eastern Phoebes, American Woodcocks, and Tree Swallows so far. Rusty Blackbirds are moving through in fair numbers, but probably haven't hit their peak yet. All of these short-distance migrants are more influenced by weather across the eastern U.S., and more likely to delay their movement in a cold spring. The current weather won't have any impact on the timing of long-distance migrants that arrive here from the tropics in April and May.

One of the features of early spring here in n.w. Ohio is the potential for hawk flights. Unlike many smaller birds, raptors migrate in the daytime. On many days the migrants are widely dispersed, and not very noticeable at any one spot. But southwest winds will push the birds up against the Lake Erie shoreline, and then we can witness concentrations of them moving west-northwest along the lake shore. 

According to current weather forecasts, this Thursday, April 2nd, could produce a good flight. With temperatures reaching the low 70s and southwest winds of over 20 mph, we could see a good passage of raptors and other diurnal migrants along the lake. At this season we can expect many Turkey Vultures and smaller numbers of Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Northern Harriers, and others. Rough-legged Hawks left over from winter may still be moving through, and we're still within the migration window for Golden Eagle. Other daytime migrants that could be following the lake shore include American Crow, Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur, Eastern Meadowlark, and various blackbirds. 

A classic spot for watching these spring flights is the sledding hill at Maumee Bay State Park. But any open spot within a half-mile of the lake in Lucas County or western Ottawa County could provide a good vantage point. 

Currently the 10-day forecast doesn't show any other days that look as good as April 2nd for hawk migration. But of course the weather forecast changes a lot. Any time you notice that it's a warm day with southwest winds, from now through the end of April, it would be worthwhile to look for migrating hawks. 

Right now (end of March / beginning of April) it's also a great time to see migrant waterfowl. Peak numbers of Tundra Swans already have moved through, but there are thousands of ducks on areas of open water, such as Metzger Marsh, Magee Marsh, and Ottawa NWR.

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