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. 

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