Sunday, May 22, 2016

Migration update: May 22-27

Northern Parula offering great looks at eye level along the Magee Marsh boardwalk.
Sunday, May 22, 2016: As predicted, after a generous push of migrants early last week, numbers of migrant songbirds have tapered due to mild southerly winds and calm nights throughout this past week. While there were sightings of Connecticut Warbler and (potentially) Kirtland's Warbler from the boardwalk at Magee Marsh this past Friday, by today most of the birds that came in from this past push have departed. Tanagers, grosbeaks, and kinglets have become scarce (if not absent entirely) and warblers are becoming more difficult to find (especially given the growth of vegetation). But...that does not mean that there aren't any birds still out there.

On the boardwalk at Magee Marsh and in many other stopover areas, American Redstart (as well as breeders such as Common Yellowthroat and Yellow Warbler) remain the most prolific species. But Tennessee, Magnolia, Northern Parula, and Chestnut-sided Warbler can still be found in small numbers. Other birds showing very well have been Common Nighthawk (often roosting in the open near the east entrance of the Magee Marsh boardwalk), White-crowned and White-throated Sparrow at the feeders at Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Veery, Swainson's Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and a new arrival of shorebirds. 

The Boss Unit of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the wildlife drive through Ottawa have produced Marbled Godwit, Wilson's Phalarope, Red Knot, Semipalmated Plover and Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, and a pair of Cattle Egret. Larger shorebirds such as Marbled Godwit may move around between suitable habitats, but won't typically stick around too long (so this bird may be on the move soon). But smaller shorebirds can be expected to hold to the same area for a few days. 

Based off of numbers from Black Swamp Bird Observatory's Navarre Marsh Banding Station, the northwest Ohio region has yet to see a normal push (in terms of numbers of birds) from Magnolia Warbler, American Redstart, Red-eyed Vireo, and the thrushes. It's difficult to say whether these birds are still being delayed in their migration or whether they skipped over the Lake Erie marshes completely. We won't know until the next wave of birds arrives. But if migration has been delayed, we could expect to see a good number of birds and species in the upcoming days. 

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher - one of the least confusing of the Empidonax flycatchers.
Looking ahead: We may be nearing the end of spring migration, but the season is far from over. Based off of current weather forecasts we should see a major push of birds Tuesday and Wednesday, May 24 and 25. With low pressure systems developing to the west and a high pressure system in the east throughout Monday night and much of next week, southwest winds will be coming straight from the Gulf of Mexico and the tropics, bringing warm air and rain. Rain always has the chance to push birds ahead or drop them down into the marshes. But rain can also keep birds foraging low throughout the day and offer great eye level views. Warblers such as Connecticut, Mourning, Canada, and Wilson's can be expected during this next wave of birds, but species still lagging behind, and a push from thrushes, could also be fairly prominent over the next week. Also, this next push should bring about a large number of flycatchers (which we've yet to really see) dominated by the confusing Empidonax genus - Least, Yellow-bellied, Alder, Willow, and Acadian flycatchers. Much of next week is expected to receive southwest winds, meaning that every day could see birds arriving and departing. With warblers, thrushes, flycatchers, and shorebirds all arriving in this time period, it will be advantageous to bird many habitats throughout the week. And with constant, strong southwest winds, one or two rarities could fly a little farther north than intended. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Migration update: May 15-17

Philadelphia Vireo foraging at eye level along the Magee Marsh boardwalk during chilly conditions on May 15. Photo / Kenn Kaufman.

Sunday, May 15, 2016: The overall timing of migration continues to be somewhat delayed, but excellent numbers of birds arrived in northwestern Ohio on Wednesday and Thursday and the birding continued to be superb through Saturday and this morning. A Kirtland's Warbler was seen very well by large numbers of birders on Thursday, May 12, near the east entrance to the Magee Marsh boardwalk. Also on May 12, Steve Jones discovered a Curlew Sandpiper just west of Toledo, one of very few ever recorded in Ohio. Some energetic birders had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing both these rarities on the same day. The Kirtland's was not seen again after Thursday, but the Curlew Sandpiper is still being seen this morning, May 15th. 

On Wednesday through Friday, the boardwalk at Magee Marsh was productive as expected, with good variety and fair numbers, but other local spots were also hopping. The woods at Maumee Bay State Park produced Cerulean, Worm-eating, Kentucky, and Prairie warblers among many other species, and Pearson Metropark (on Rt. 2 in the town of Oregon) had good warbler concentrations. Spots in eastern Ottawa County had large numbers of migrants, including another Kentucky Warbler at Marblehead Lighthouse State Park and many migrants at East Harbor State Park and Meadowbrook Marsh. Farther east, Pipe Creek Wildlife Area in Erie County produced Orange-crowned and Mourning Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat, and many other migrants. So there were numerous birding opportunities throughout the area. 

On Friday night a major cold front came through, and Saturday brought very chilly temperatures, wind, and occasional rain. The birding was challenging but outstanding, as all the migrants were foraging very low, and numbers of some species had picked up considerably. Good numbers of thrushes finally were being seen, Philadelphia Vireos were showing off at multiple sites, and a wide variety of warblers continued to please the birders and photographers. Places like Maumee Bay and Pearson parks continued to have outstanding variety. The key in every spot was to find a place sheltered from the wind, and look for the birds foraging low. 

Looking ahead: The wind is expect to shift to the southwest tonight (Sunday May 15) but we don't know how many of the current crop of migrants will depart, because it will continue to be quite cold overnight. On Monday May 16 it will be warmer (at least up to the mid 60s), and with southwest winds overnight, we'll probably see a lot of turnover on Tuesday May 17. Numbers may drop off in the latter part of the week, but there should still be swarms of birds around, because the peak passage has not yet arrived for many of the common migrants. Weather patterns are uncertain beyond that point, but we'll try to update within a few days. 

Curlew Sandpiper: We heard a report that the bird had disappeared around 9 a.m. Sunday morning, and as of 10:30 we haven't heard that it has returned. Check the Biggest Week twitter feed (at this link) for updates before driving out there. The site is on Raab Road just north of Angola Road, a large flooded field on the east side of the road. This is in western Lucas County, Ohio, a couple of miles north of the Ohio Turnpike and a couple of miles south of US 20 / Central Avenue. Thanks to Jacob Roalef for these coordinates, in case you want to plug them into a GPS: 41°37'47.7"N 83°49'02.2"W  - The site has also hosted a couple of Wilson's Phalaropes, a few White-rumped Sandpipers, and many other shorebirds. But again, as I'm writing this, the bird has been missing for a while, so check for updates before you make a long drive. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Migration outlook: May 10 - 13

A male Bay-breasted Warbler, one of the classic, and classy, migrants of May.
Monday, May 9, 2016: Our last prediction worked out fairly well in the short term. Only a small arrival of migrants appeared on May 4, but Saturday May 7 brought good numbers and much better variety of warblers and other migrants into areas near Lake Erie in northwestern Ohio. Birders visiting the Magee Marsh boardwalk on Saturday and Sunday were treated to more than 20 species of warblers, including some crowd-pleasing Cape May, Bay-breasted, Tennessee, Black-throated Green, and Blackburnian warblers that lingered for extended studies. The woodlot at the end of the road at Metzger Marsh had excellent numbers and variety on Saturday (including a "Brewster's Warbler" hybrid that was enjoyed by many), but fewer birds on Sunday, after the wind shifted back to the north. This small woodlot is in an exposed situation, and it doesn't seem to hold birds very long in north winds - the migrants probably disperse to more sheltered spots. 

The Wildlife Drive (auto tour) at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is open every day from sunrise to sunset through next Sunday, May 15th (the entrance gate closes an hour before sunset). This route through the interior of the refuge is always worth checking. (Go to this link for a map of the auto tour.) Pool 9, north of the road near the end of the route, held 7 American Avocets on Sunday, and one remained there on Monday. The impoundments marked as MS 7, MS 6, and MS 3 on the map produced a fair variety of shorebirds, including Black-bellied and Semipalmated plovers, Dunlin, and Least, Pectoral, and Solitary sandpipers. 

Looking ahead: A week ago, we thought that this coming Tuesday and Wednesday might be big flight days. The weather forecast has changed a lot since then. We'll probably see some turnover on those days, but conditions won't be particularly good for incoming migrants until Wednesday night. On the basis of the current weather forecast, it looks as if Thursday May 12 could have the biggest arrival of migrants for this week. (It's not a classic weather setup for a huge flight; but on the other hand, there are apparently a lot of migrants still held up to the south of us, and they have to move sometime.) So Thursday should bring a good supply of new birds, and many of those migrants should stick around through Friday and Saturday at least.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Migration outlook: May 4 to 8

Black-and-white Warbler. One of the characteristic early migrants among the warblers, and the logo bird for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
Tuesday, May 3. With the Biggest Week In American Birding just about to start, birders in northwest Ohio are still waiting for the first really massive "warbler wave" to arrive on the Lake Erie shoreline. On April 25-26 we had a major arrival of the expected early migrants, giving a huge boost to numbers of things like Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler, and White-throated Sparrow, and increasing the variety of other species present. But in the week since, with winds consistently out of the northeast, conditions haven't been ideal for another major flight. 

The good news is that at this time of year, some birds will migrate even when conditions aren't ideal. On relatively calm nights, even without the help of tailwinds, some birds are moving, filtering north around rain storms and against mild headwinds. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have been seen all over the region, and a number of observers saw their first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds of the season on April 30 and May 1. The Magee Marsh boardwalk and other sites along the lake shore have continued to produce new arrivals such as Veery, Least Flycatcher, and Eastern Kingbird. Migrating flocks of Willets, ordinarily scarce in the region, have put down in a number of places, including Medusa Marsh (Erie County), Metzger Marsh, Maumee Bay State Park, and even flooded fields in Ottawa County. 

On days without a major migration, the key to finding more species is to check more different spots. It may be tempting to just keep prowling the Magee boardwalk, hoping for different birds to show up, but on these quieter days you're much more likely to discover something new if you visit other sites. Go to this link for a list of suggested birding sites in the general area, with links to maps, directions, and other information. 

Looking ahead: With light southerly winds predicted for tonight, we should see a good arrival of birds on Wednesday May 4. It's not likely to be a huge day, because there's no major weather system behind these local winds, but it should be moderately good since there are so many migrants held up somewhere to the south of us. Rain is expected on Wednesday during the day, but between showers, the birding should be productive. 

By Wednesday night, winds are expected to go back to the north, so any new birds that have arrived should stay for a couple of days. After that, Friday night into Saturday looks like it may be a repeat of what we expect for Wednesday: mild southerly winds bringing a modest arrival, not a huge one, for Saturday May 7. Saturday may even bring a good daytime flight of hawks and other diurnal migrants near the Lake Erie shoreline, at least until thunderstorms arrive in the afternoon. Then the winds are forecast to go back to the north for a couple of days.

The long-range weather predictions aren't very reliable when we start looking a week ahead, but there's a chance that we may see a really big migrant flight on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 10 and 11. For the moment that's just conjecture, and we'll update as the time gets closer. In the meantime, expected smaller arrivals on May 4 and May 7 should provide plenty of variety, and at least some moderate numbers, to welcome birders to northwestern Ohio. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Migration outlook: April 28 - May 2

Black-throated Green Warbler, one of the typical early migrants among the warblers. Photo / Kenn Kaufman.

Thursday, April 28: As predicted last week by Ryan Jacob, this Monday (the 25th) produced an excellent flight in habitats near the Lake Erie shoreline, and the good numbers and variety continued through Tuesday. The dominant migrants were White-throated Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler, Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, all typical April birds. Warblers expected on the early side of the flight, aside from Yellow-rumped and Palm, include Pine, Nashville, Black-and-white, and Black-throated Green warblers, and multiples of all these were present. At least one Prothonotary Warbler had returned to the Magee Marsh boardwalk, and one or two Orange-crowned Warblers were being seen consistently near the boardwalk's west end; more than a dozen warbler species have been found here. A few Blue-headed and Warbling vireos and at least one White-eyed Vireo were among the other migrants at Magee. Throughout the area there were reports of returning House Wren, Gray Catbird, Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Scarlet Tanager.

A wind shift and some rain during Monday night meant that nocturnal migrants were less concentrated on the immediate lake shore on Tuesday. But Tuesday and Wednesday brought major flights of migrating Blue Jays, with flocks cruising the lake shore and dozens swarming around some area bird feeders. 

Shorebird numbers have been good recently, although peak diversity will occur later in May. Water levels are high in many local impoundments, so shorebirds are concentrating around the edges and in adjacent fields. The Boss Unit of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (on Benton-Carroll Road south of Route 2, just east of the entrance to Magee Marsh) has high water mostly suitable for yellowlegs, but large flocks of American Golden-Plovers have been seen in the grass on the southwest side (a scope is essential for viewing from the observation platform). Other flocks have been seen in fields adjacent to Metzger Marsh. Metzger hosted a concentration of more than 60 Willets on Monday, April 25, in the marsh near the second pulloff, but they didn't linger. Incidentally, one area with lower water levels is along the causeway in to Magee Marsh; Solitary Sandpiper and other species have been there recently, and this will continue to be worth checking for shorebirds if the water stays low. 

Looking ahead: Based on current weather forecasts, we don't see any huge arrivals of migrants happening in the next five days. Temperatures will be on the cool side (40s and 50s) and winds mostly from the east and northeast. Some migrants will continue to arrive even without helpful winds, but conditions don't look right for producing any major wave. Tuesday May 3 or Wednesday May 4 may have better potential, but the long-range forecast is uncertain. However, the longer we wait for the next wave, the bigger it's likely to be when it does finally get here.

Birding in the counties along Lake Erie is still quite rewarding. Most of the migrants that arrived recently are still in the general area. Trees have barely begun to leaf out, so conditions for viewing (and photography) are excellent. If you visit on a day with northerly winds, remember that many of the migrants may be a mile or two south of the lake shore. Consider checking spots like the Gallagher Trail behind Black Swamp Bird Observatory, woods behind the visitors' center at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, sheltered spots at East Harbor State Park or Maumee Bay State Park, or trails at Pearson Metropark. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Migration Forecast: April 23-27

Pine Warbler
Saturday, April 23rd: As expected, a slight shift in wind direction to the south earlier this week carried away most of the waterfowl and Fox Sparrows lingering in the area. While there wasn't quite the boost in songbird numbers as was expected last Monday, there has been a trickle of birds streaming in throughout the week. Fairly calm winds over the past few nights have allowed for short-distance migrants to work their way into the marshes, with a noticeable increase in Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, White-throated and Swamp Sparrows, House Wrens, and the first arrival of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Nearing the end of their stay in northwest Ohio, Rusty Blackbirds are still quite numerous along the boardwalk in Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and the woods surrounding Black Swamp Bird Observatory. 

Although we're still about a week away from seeing some serious warbler movement, individual birds including Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Palm Warbler, Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, and Orange-crowned Warbler have made appearances in various locations. Yellow-rumped Warblers remain the dominant warbler species throughout much of the region and are becoming more numerous each day. Though not as numerous as the Yellow-rumped, and not that prolific in northwest Ohio, Pine Warblers (often two to three at a time) are being seen along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh and Maumee Bay State Park. Also, Wildwood Metropark saw the first arrival of Yellow-throated Warbler this week (uncommon for northwest Ohio), and Magee Marsh had the first Prothonotary Warbler of the season appear.

Also taking advantage of these calm nights, shorebirds have been on the rise. Increased numbers of Pectoral Sandpiper and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs are are being found utilizing flooded fields and low areas in the marshes, as well as small flocks of Dunlin around Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area. A trip to the Boss Unit of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Complex this week produced 40+ American Golden-Plover, with another 100+ birds in the fields around Metzger Marsh. Other birds that have made brief visits to the area this week include American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Willet, and American White Pelican. These latter birds are difficult to predict when and where they will show up, so keep an eye out and expect the unexpected in suitable fields and marshes as shorebird migration ramps up.

Looking ahead: Saturday night should see some movement as winds begin to steadily shift from the southeast to the south overnight into Sunday. With this slight shift, Sunday should see more Ruby-throated Hummingbirds as well as an increase in warblers and thrushes. With southerly winds and higher temperatures on Sunday, raptors such as Broad-winged Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Osprey should show some decent movement throughout the day--utilizing a tailwind and thermals. But it appears that the best day--as of now--for migration and a new wave of birds will be Monday the 25th. With two Low pressure systems forming over the Mississippi, southwest winds from the Gulf of Mexico will be aimed at northwest Ohio Sunday night into Monday Morning. Accompanying these Lows will also be some rainfall, so be prepared to cover any equipment. By Tuesday, winds are predicted to shift back to a more northerly direction and hold through Wednesday, keeping any new arrivals in the area for at least a few days. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Migration Forecast April 14-18

Hermit Thrush: The earliest of the "brown" thrushes to move through northwest Ohio.

Thursday, April 14th: Despite a rather unwelcomed snowfall over the past weekend, a quick shift of winds to the south last Sunday night led to a noticeable bump in short-distance migrant numbers in the marshes on Monday. In one night there was an immediate boost in Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Hermit Thrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Winter Wrens, Brown Creepers, and Brown Thrashers. These species and numbers continue to be present in northwest Ohio -- especially in areas such as the boardwalk at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area -- and can be expected to stick around while these northerly and easterly winds persist. Other passing species such as the Fox Sparrow can still be found in good numbers, but may take advantage of the next southerly wind and continue their journey northward.  

While we are mostly at the tail-end of waterfowl migration, areas along the causeway at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, the pools at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area have been holding good numbers of American Coot, Green-winged Teal, and Blue-winged Teal. Other dabblers and a few species of divers can still be found mixed in with the deluge of teals and coots, but these birds (like the Fox Sparrow) may soon be gone with the next favorable wind. 

With all of the recent rain and snowmelt, areas typically frequented by shorebirds have been too saturated for this group of birds to forage in. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, Dunlin, and Wilson's Snipe are present in the region, but are being found in fields accustomed to flooding such as the Boss Unit of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Complex. 

Looking ahead: A persistent high pressure system is expected to move south along the Atlantic coast, driving northerly and easterly winds our way throughout most of the weekend. However, at some point during the night, winds from the south are predicted to arrive. But the exact night this shift will occur is unclear at this time. Conflicting weather maps are forecasting southerly winds Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday night (with each map predicting a different night). Although it's a fairly broad time period, at least one day this weekend (Saturday the 16th, Sunday the 17th, Monday the 18th) should see some movement. This movement may include the departure of waterfowl, Fox Sparrows, and Eastern Towhees, but may also include another boost in Hermit Thrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, kinglets, and the arrival of a few Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. 

Update: After checking multiple forecast maps this afternoon, the current consensus is that winds will briefly shift to the south Sunday night, meaning there could be some movement overnight into Monday the 18th. There still seems to be some uncertainty about the timing of this wind shift, so paying attention to overnight wind direction throughout the weekend could prove advantageous for a good day of birding.  

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Spring 2016: Will we have an early migration?

Excellent numbers of Fox Sparrows are now moving through habitats near the Lake Erie shoreline in northwestern Ohio. Photo / Kenn Kaufman.

Thursday, March 24: After an exceptionally mild winter in northwestern Ohio, we've had many questions about how the weather might affect the timing of migration in spring 2016. 

The short answer is that the mild season may alter the timing for a few species, but not for most. To understand the difference, it helps to think of migratory species in two categories, obligate migrants and facultative migrants. (These are really two ends of a spectrum, not two distinct categories, so these definitions are somewhat oversimplified.)

Most migratory birds, especially those going long distances, are obligate migrants. That is, the timing of their migration is instinctive and hard-wired. A Blackpoll Warbler that leaves Brazil in April to start moving north toward Canada is not responding to local weather anywhere; it is going on instinct. This is true for the vast majority of the warblers and other Neotropical migrants that create so much excitement in northwestern Ohio in late April and May. No matter how harsh or mild the winter might be in the U.S., it won't change the timing of their flights. At most, an extremely cold, late spring in the southern U.S. might delay the arrival of these birds in Ohio by a few days--that is, they might linger for a few extra days in the southern states if conditions are bad. But a warm, early spring in the south won't speed up their travel. 

Some short-distance travelers, especially those moving in early spring, are facultative migrants. Within general outlines of the season, they may move earlier or later, for greater or shorter distances, depending on what the weather is doing. This is true to some extent for many of the waterfowl in early spring. In a cold season, when northern waters may still be frozen solid, they may linger later at our latitudes. Sandhill Cranes are facultative migrants, and in recent years they have been moving later in fall and earlier in spring, and not going as far south for the winter as they formerly did. 

At this point in late March, the spring migration is well under way. In areas near Lake Erie, such as Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and Maumee Bay State Park, recent days have produced good numbers of typical early migrants such as Wilson's Snipe, Eastern Phoebe, Tree Swallow, Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Fox Sparrow, and Rusty Blackbird. Eastern Towhees and Field Sparrows also have begun to appear (both species have been seen at the feeders at Black Swamp Bird Observatory). American Woodcocks have returned in force, and on calm evenings they can be heard performing their flight displays in damp meadows near woods. 

During the next week or so, we should continue to see more of the typical early birds. Pectoral Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Hermit Thrush, American Pipit, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and Purple Martin are among the species to watch for. Some of the short-distance migrants might arrive earlier than usual. But as for those colorful warblers, tanagers, orioles, and the like, coming from the tropics, we should expect those to appear at their usual times in April and May. 

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