Monday, May 1, 2017

Migration Update: May 1-6

Palm Warbler, one of the dominant warblers of the first wave.
Photo by Ryan Jacob
Monday, May 1: As expected, following a lull of birds, last Wednesday and Thursday, April 26th and 27th, saw a good push of first-wave migrants enter the marshes. Dominant first-wave migrants such as White-throated Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, female Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Palm were well represented throughout the lake shore region along with small numbers of Black-throated Green, Nashville, and Cape May Warblers, and Baltimore Oriole. A few other nice surprises to come out of this push were a male Golden-winged Warbler seen by many at the west entrance of the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area boardwalk, a couple of sightings of Hooded Warbler throughout the region, and a Kentucky Warbler seen at Maumee Bay State Park. Diurnal migrants like Broad-winged Hawk and Osprey were observed only in a couple of instances, but Blue Jays made a great push along the lake shore (with 5,000 being counted in one 5-hour stretch by Black Swamp Bird Observatory staff in Navarre Marsh). 

And then Friday rolled in...and the birds rolled out. With calm to southerly winds overnight and into the early morning, the majority of recent arrivals pulled out of the region to continue northward. Diversity was still well represented Friday and Saturday, but numbers were noticeably low. However, despite this turnover in songbirds, shorebirds were on the move. Throughout the state, scattered flocks of Willets were being seen (including a small flock briefly held up in Metzger Marsh); Spotted and Solitary Sandpiper have become more evident in the marshes; and Dunlin, Pectoral, Least, and Semipalmated Sandpipers, plus a rare-in-spring Stilt Sandpiper and both dowitcher species, beginning to filter into the region. Unfortunately, typical shorebird areas are holding high levels of water (Metzger Marsh, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the Boss Unit), forcing birds out into adjacent farm fields. Low areas in Magee Marsh and Pearson Metropark North could bring some birds in and will be worth scanning in the upcoming days. 

Despite a cold northerly wind, a trip out to the lake shore on Sunday was quite rewarding. Typically with northern winds, birds will move inland about a mile or so. However, exceptional numbers of Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher could be seen all along the Magee Marsh boardwalk. Present with other expected first-wave migrants, Black-throated Blue Warbler made its first appearance, as well as higher numbers of House Wren, Warbling Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Wood Thrush, and Gray Catbird.     

Looking ahead: Given yesterday's surprise bird movement and warm southerly winds overnight, the morning rain of Monday, May 1st, cannot end soon enough. Due to this temperature and wind shift, it is expected for a new set of birds to have entered the region overnight. With this expectation, a trip out today should produce many of the previously mentioned migrants, and more signs of Scarlet Tanager, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Veery, and Eastern Kingbird. With a continuance of southerly winds tonight, Tuesday May 2nd could see some turnover (depending on the condition of new arrivals) and make for another great day of birding. Beginning Wednesday, winds will shift to the north, bringing with them cold air. This shift is expected to last for well over a week (weather predictions are notoriously unreliable the further out they get, so we'll be watching for a southern shift as the days progress) so any arrivals can be expected to stay in the area while northern winds persist. In times such as this, it can be advantageous to explore areas away from the lake shore such as Pearson Metropark, the woods around the visitor center at Ottawa NWR, and the trails around Black Swamp Bird Observatory. 

A benefit to birders and photographers during these cold periods is the physical height of bird activity. During these cold times, birds tend to forage lower among the vegetation (following insects). This can bring treetop foragers such as Scarlet Tanager, Warbling Vireo, and Cape May Warbler down to eye level. 

Eventually, hormones will outweigh weather conditions and, despite northerly winds, birds will begin to filter out of the area (with somewhat calm northerly winds and a mild shift to the south, this departure should begin Wednesday night). Looking to the Gulf of Mexico, conditions are looking good for migrants to start moving up into the southern US on Wednesday, but with the next wave of migrants typically arriving between May 7th and 13th, it's still going to be a little while before we see a "big wave" of birds. 

Summary: Look for good numbers of birds and diversity in the early half of this week. Cold temperatures will make for great photo opportunities, but expect bird numbers to decrease as the week progresses. 


Bill said...

I'm waiting for predictions for May 8 so I can plan my annual trip to Magee Marsh.

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I am also awaiting this update! :-)

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It's May 8, and it would be nice to see an update so I can plan when to visit.

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