Friday, May 11, 2018

Update: Changing forecast and migration outlook May 12 - 16

A female Bay-breasted Warbler pauses along the Estuary Trail at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio. Photo by Kenn Kaufman. 

Friday May 11, 2018: Three days ago, based on the weather forecast at the time, we predicted that tomorrow (Saturday the 12th) could see a major arrival of migrants. The weather pattern has changed since then. Tonight (Friday night) there will still be strong winds from the south, all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to the Midwest, but apparently they won't reach northern Ohio. A high-pressure area over southern Ontario will block that system, so here along the Lake Erie shoreline, we're supposed to get cool temperatures, east-northeast winds, and probably scattered thunderstorms during the night. Saturday and Sunday will continue to be relatively cool, with northeasterly winds and probably with scattered thunderstorms on Saturday. 

What does that mean for birding? While we probably won't see many new birds arriving, most of the migrants that are here now should stick around. Excellent numbers and variety of warblers and other migrants have been seen in all the usual spots along and near Lake Erie during the last couple of days, and that good birding continued this morning. When we get a cold spell in mid-May, it usually brings many migrants down to forage at lower levels, since fewer insects are active in the treetops in the chilly breeze. Under these conditions, photography can be excellent. But be sure to carry good waterproof covering for your camera gear in case of sudden downpours. 

When migrants are grounded here by northerly winds, the best strategy for birders is to check multiple spots instead of continuing to work the same areas. During their stopovers, some migrants move around but others stay in the same spot for several days, so it's good to visit more different places to find different individuals. At this link you can find directions to many excellent birding sites. 

A slow migration day might be the perfect time to visit the Oak Openings area, a short distance away on the west side of Toledo. Lark Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Henslow's Sparrow are being seen near the south end of Girdham Road, and Red Crossbills are in the pines near the Lodge at the south end of Wilkins Road; see this map for directions. 

Looking ahead: The winds are supposed to shift to southeasterly sometime Sunday night, and depending on when that happens, we could see some turnover on Monday, the 14th. Tuesday May 15 and especially Wednesday May 16 should produce more new birds after southwesterly winds overnight. At the moment it doesn't appear that these will be huge flight days, just fairly good ones; but as we've seen, weather forecasts can change quickly! We should at least start to see better numbers of flycatchers and of typical late migrants like Canada Warbler and Red-eyed Vireo. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

May 9 - 13: Two more waves incoming

A Northern Parula launches from a twig at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio, in early May 2018. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

Tuesday May 8, 2018: After a very slow migration up through April 30th, the birding has been outstanding locally in the week since, making for a great start to The Biggest Week in American Birding. Large numbers of migrants came in overnight on several nights, and rain helped to put birds down in local habitats around May 3rd and 4th. Numbers of new arrivals haven't been as large for the last couple of days, but warblers, thrushes, and other migratory songbirds have remained numerous in woodlots near the Lake Erie shore, as they rest and feed to build strength for the next leg of their journey. 

At Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, a Neotropic Cormorant (very rare in Ohio) was along the auto tour May 5 and 6. It was near the northeasternmost corner of the auto tour route (identified on refuge maps as the corner of Trumpeter Trail and N. Estuary Avenue) but it would be worth watching for anywhere at Ottawa, Metzger Marsh, or Magee Marsh. A Rough-legged Hawk (common here in winter but very rare in May) lingered through this morning along Stange Road north of State Route 2, on the southwest edge of Ottawa NWR.

The new Howard Marsh Metropark (off Howard Road north of State Route 2, west of Metzger Marsh) has been outstanding for shorebirds this week. Big flocks of American Golden-Plovers have been consistent, with sightings of Black-necked Stilt, Ruddy Turnstone, Wilson's Phalarope, and others. American Pipits and Horned Larks have been in open areas along the entrance road. 

Looking ahead, winds are expected to be light and variable tonight (Tuesday night) under clear skies, so some migrants will be moving, but we don't expect a big arrival Wednesday morning. However, winds are supposed to shift to the south on Wednesday and to be strong out of the south and southwest that night, with scattered thunderstorms, so Thursday morning should see a widespread arrival of migrants, at inland sites as well as along the lake shore. Northerly winds on Thursday should keep birds grounded here. Then a strong flow on Friday night, bringing southwest winds all the way from the Gulf of Mexico, should usher in another major arrival of migrants on Saturday, as long as the forecast doesn't change too much. 

The wave of birds that arrived last week included an interesting mix of species that usually push through in late April (like Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers) with species more typical of the second wave in May (like Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, and Blackpoll Warblers). Some of the typical later migrants are still scarce or absent. Very few flycatchers have arrived, and very few of the late warblers like Mourning, Wilson's, and Canada. If the weather forecast holds up, we should start to see more of such birds by this weekend. 

To recap, we expect very good birding to continue through the next six days. We should see a moderate arrival of new migrants on Thursday May 10 and potentially a bigger wave on Saturday May 12.  Conditions for the 12th should bring migrants to all good habitats along the lake shore, so if you're concerned about potential crowds at the Magee Marsh boardwalk on a big Saturday, there are several great alternatives, such as Maumee Bay State Park, Metzger Marsh woodlot, and all the woods at Ottawa NWR. Just east of Port Clinton, East Harbor State Park, Marblehead Lighthouse, and Meadowbrook Marsh are all excellent. Over in Erie County, Pipe Creek Wildlife Area and Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve can be outstanding on big flight days. You can find directions to these sites at this link. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Update: Current Conditions and Looking Ahead through May 7

This Kentucky Warbler entertained birders at the west entrance to the Magee Marsh boardwalk for hours on May 2nd. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

Thursday, May 3, 2018: As predicted, after a very slow migration through the end of April, the floodgates opened this week. Numbers and variety of migrants in sites along Lake Erie increased dramatically on Tuesday May 1 and increased even more on Wednesday May 2. The number of warbler species in the area jumped from about six to more than 25. Between rain showers today (Thursday) the birding was still outstanding, with most of Wednesday's prizes still around. As The Biggest Week in American Birding launches tomorrow, we can be certain that there will be plenty of birds around each day, even though the flow of migration will vary from day to day.

A notable feature Wednesday was the arrival of some "overflight" species: birds that mostly nest farther south than this, evidently overshooting their intended destination. Such birds tend to be early spring migrants, and are most likely here at the end of April. Kentucky, Worm-eating, and Hooded Warblers are examples. All three were seen Wednesday and again Thursday at Magee Marsh.

Thunderstorms moved through the area on Wednesday night. When this happens, we can predict that migrants will be more widespread the next day, not just concentrated on the lake shore, because they stop wherever they are when they run into rain. So as expected, today (Thursday) birds like Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles were widespread, even in woods several miles from the lake. This can make for excellent birding at sites like Pearson Metropark and Oak Openings. 

Looking ahead, tonight (Thursday May 3) we're supposed to have continued southwest winds, with scattered thunderstorms moving through between midnight and dawn. So we may get more migrants arriving, but again they should be well dispersed through all good local habitats, and many of today's specialties are likely to stick around. With more variable winds over the weekend, we should continue to see some turnover through Saturday, but then new arrivals are likely to be fewer on Sunday May 6 and Monday May 7 after northerly winds set in.  

In that weather pattern you can still have great birding, but it takes a different strategy. Instead of just scouring one hotspot (like the Magee boardwalk or the Metzger Marsh woodlot), it works better to visit a variety of spots. There are many good migrant spots in northwestern Ohio, from Erie County sites like Sheldon Marsh and Pipe Creek to state parks like East Harbor and Maumee Bay and many of the Toledo Metroparks. See this link for more ideas about places to visit. 

The wildlife drive at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, always an outstanding route for birding, will be open every day from May 4 through 20. This provides access to some of the best waterbird habitat in Ohio. The woodlots at Ottawa, accessible from the visitors' center or from the parking lot straight north from the entrance, are also wonderful places for warblers and other migrants. 

And if you want to explore, check out the brand-new Howard Marsh Metropark -- on Howard Road just north of State Route 2, just west of the entrance to Metzger Marsh near the village of Bono. Howard Marsh has only been open to the public for about a week, and it has already produced sightings of American Avocet, Willet, and American Golden-Plover, among other species.

A couple of safety notes: The boardwalk at Magee Marsh can be extremely slippery after rains! Please step carefully if it's at all wet. Also, please do not stop on any of the area roads to look at birds. If you think you've spotted something outstanding, find a safe place to pull completely off the pavement. Thank you!

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