Sunday, April 26, 2015

Waiting for the first big wave

Black-throated Green Warbler, one of the typical migrants of the first major wave. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

Sunday, April 26, 2015: So far this has been a relatively cool spring in northwestern Ohio. The passage of early-season, short-distance migrants seemed a little later than usual. Migration of ducks and other water birds in March was held up by the scarcity of open water, and other early migrants (like Fox Sparrows in early April) seemed to peak a few days later than average. 

Currently, the stage of the songbird migration here is about what we would expect in the third week of April, but numbers are low. Prevailing northerly winds have not favored the arrival of large numbers of migrants, although a good variety of species have been trickling in. 

On average, the first major wave of songbird migrants is expected to arrive in this area on April 25. That's according to long-term research by Mark Shieldcastle and others at Black Swamp Bird Observatory. So far this season there have been no signs of that first wave, and it doesn't look likely in the next few days. The weather forecast shows highs in the 50s and low 60s for the early part of this week, with winds mostly from the north. Not until the evening of Friday, May 1st, are the winds predicted to shift around to the southwest. 

The timing of this wind shift is uncertain, because other models show a high-pressure system parked over this region on Friday, and it will have to move on eastward before the real southerly or southwesterly winds can kick in. But it looks likely that sometime next weekend -- possibly on Saturday May 2nd, more likely on Sunday May 3rd and carrying over through Monday -- northwest Ohio should see a major arrival of migrants. This first wave should be dominated by Yellow-rumped Warblers and lesser numbers of Nashville, Black-and-white, and Black-throated Green Warblers, as well as Hermit Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows, and others. Many other regular migrants are likely to be represented by a few individuals. This wave often also produces some "overflight" birds: species that mostly nest farther south, overshooting their intended destination and reaching the Lake Erie shoreline. Yellow-throated, Prairie, Hooded, Kentucky, and Worm-eating Warblers are examples of this phenomenon.

So the first weekend of May is likely to produce very good birding here -- good news for people who have to work on weekdays. But in the meantime, there is still plenty of reason to get out birding. There has been a massive amount of migration occurring to the south of us (for example, along the Gulf Coast), and some of those migrants will work their way north, even if conditions aren't favorable. The boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is already hosting early migrants such as Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Blue-headed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Winter Wren, and others. An Eastern Whip-poor-will was enjoyed by many near the #10 marker on the boardwalk today. More interesting species are likely to trickle in this week before the next big arrival.
Eastern Whip-poor-will at the Magee Marsh boardwalk on April 26, 2015. Photo by Katie M. Andersen.
In other nearby birding sites: some good exposed mudflats at Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, near the second pulloff beyond the major bend, have hosted several species of shorebirds recently, and a small flock of American White Pelicans stopped through Metzger last week. This evening, April 26, Ryan Lesniewicz found two White-faced Ibises at Metzger. Two American Avocets stopped at the inland lake at Maumee Bay State Park on April 24. And at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, the auto tour (wildlife drive) will be open from sunrise to sunset every day from May 1 through May 17. So there are plenty of birding possibilities in the area, even on days when migration at the Magee boardwalk is a little slow. 

I'll try to update later in the week, but at the moment it certainly looks as if the first weekend in May should be excellent for birding here!

Update as of 11:30 pm on Tuesday April 28.  Right now, local winds over Ohio are practically calm or very light out of the north, but on the radar it appears that a fair amount of migration is happening. Birds have been held up to the south of us for so long that it's not surprising that some are moving, even without south winds. So if you have a chance to get out Wednesday morning, it's likely that some new migrants will have arrived in good stopover habitats.


Unknown said...

Kenn I always appreciate these posts. Especially now that I have full time teaching position, I have very little time to bird. Increasing my chances of picking the "right" day is pretty awesome. Thanks again.

Brandon Brywczynski

Lisa said...

This is a great bloog

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