Sunday, May 12, 2019

Migration Update May 12

A male Scarlet Tanager foraging among boxelder along the Magee Marsh boardwalk. Photo: Ryan Jacob.

Sunday, May 12:  Ryan Jacob writes: Beginning Thursday, May 9, new winds from the south were able to overcome the northerly blasts, and the marsh region was renewed with fresh migrants. Leading up to International Migratory Bird Day on Saturday, May 11, birding in the area was quite exceptional. With cooler temperatures still accompanying these new winds, photography opportunities have been plentiful with most birds foraging low, and on days with rain, cuckoos have moved down from their typical canopy haunts.

With this turnover, a bump in diversity has definitely been noticeable with Magnolia, Cape May, Bay-breasted, Nashville, Chestnut-sided, and Tennessee Warblers all becoming more prevalent (albeit in scant numbers), with lesser numbers of Blackburnian and Blackpoll. Replacing the last of the Hermit Thrushes, Swainson’s Thrushes finally made their first push through the region on Thursday, with moderate numbers of Wood Thrushes and a handful of sightings of Gray-cheeked and Veery. However, leading to today (Sunday, May 12) thrushes have all but disappeared, with the next arrivals most likely held up in southern Ohio.

One of the greatest finds this week was of a Townsend’s Warbler, spotted by members of Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s Ohio Young Birders Club (OYBC) on the boardwalk at Maumee Bay State Park. This bird (seen the evening of Friday, May 10) represents one of only a handful of sightings of the species in the state of Ohio, but was made even more incredible by the fact that it was from the OYBC – an exceptionally bright and enthusiastic group of young naturalists.

As has been the case since March, the region is retaining a high degree of water, making typical shallow areas and mudflats too deep for migrating shorebirds. However, areas within Howard Marsh Metropark and the farm fields behind Barnside Creamery have been holding small groups of Dunlin, both yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, and the occasional dowitcher and Black-bellied Plover. The Boss Unit of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Complex (typically a great place for viewing shorebirds) has had an assortment of birds utilizing its waters, but they have been restricted to the far side of the unit, southwest of the viewing platform, where the water isn’t quite as deep. One benefit to the region-wide flooding though, has been the easy access to rail species. With most water high along dike roads and paths, Sora have been easily seen walking along marsh edges and along the south side of the big loop of the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area boardwalk and earlier last week a Black Rail was reported along the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge auto tour. Also, just to the north, a flock of four Whimbrels is still being reported today at Pointe Mouillee State Game Area in Monroe County, Michigan.

Looking ahead: The Biggest Week In American Birding may be over today, but there are many birds yet to come. Numbers are a little scant at the moment, but variety remains high. Anyone wanting to or with the only opportunity to go out Monday or Tuesday, should still experience some fair birding. The expected temperatures are a bit chilly for mid-May, but this provides an excellent opportunity to view and photograph birds foraging lower in the vegetation.

As of today’s check, the next push of migration can be expected for Wednesday, May 15. Winds are expected to shift from Tuesday into Wednesday to a southerly direction, and right now forecast maps are predicting a good setup of low pressure systems to drive warmer southerly winds towards northwest Ohio. As with any prediction, things can change; and as we draw closer to Wednesday, it will be beneficial to watch the overnight weather conditions. Right now, Wednesday looks like it should be the next good day for migration. However, if that changes or the wind shift is delayed, Thursday or Friday would be good alternate days. In particular, Friday, May 17, is calling for southwest winds and thunderstorms in the morning. With incoming thunderstorms, birds will be pushed ahead toward the lake and any associated rain may deter them from traversing the open waters.

This next push, known as the “big wave,” generally brings the highest volume of birds. And, if weather conditions are just right, there can be a massive number of neotropical migrants utilizing the lakeshore marshes. Associated with this movement is a much higher volume of Magnolia Warbler, as well as Nashville, Tennessee, Chestnut-sided, and Blackburnian. Along with a wide variety of warblers, look for a big push of Swainson’s Thrush with lesser numbers of Gray-cheeked and Veery; as well as orioles, tanagers, and more sightings of Red-eyed Vireo. While we’re still a little ways away from peak migration for the following species, this next push should also see more inklings of Empidonax flycatchers and cuckoos.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

May 7 Update

A male Kirtland's Warbler pauses at a private residence at Curtice, Ohio, near Howard Marsh Metropark, on May 6, 2019. Photo: Jeff Bouton.

Tuesday, May 7: Ryan Jacob writes: As predicted, a new shift of winds to the south Sunday night produced some new arrivals Monday morning, May 6. It was a tough call to gauge how large of a push of second wave migrants would occur, but as suspected, diversity definitely increased with only a mild rise in numbers. While southerly winds were definitely beneficial for nocturnal movement, much of this air was also mixed with cold northerly air around the lakeshore region. Regardless, the marshes were alive with great new arrivals!

Before we delve into these arrivals and departures, probably the greatest sighting yesterday was of not one, but TWO Kirtland’s Warblers; one on the Estuary Trail at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (accessed from the west end of the parking lot at the Magee Marsh boardwalk) and another at a private residence near Howard Marsh (in addition to at least three other birds reported in the region recently). At this point, more Kirtland’s have been seen in the region than Bay-breasted Warbler! This has been not only a great opportunity for birders to see this chunky, jack-pine-loving warbler, but is a great correlation to the repopulation success of the species, and an indicator of the importance of lakeshore habitat.

As stated, Sunday’s wind did not bring in a massive number of birds, but there were new arrivals. Black-throated Green Warbler, Nashville, Ovenbird, Cape May, and Black-and-white have become more prevalent, as well as additions of American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Blackpoll. Surprisingly, new thrush arrival was not evident from field observations or from Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s research station. But, Gray Catbirds experienced a good surge, as well as a slight uptick in Lincoln’s and White-crowned Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, and Red-eyed, Warbling, and Blue-headed Vireo.

Recent arrivals from last week and over the weekend – particularly Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Baltimore Oriole – that were quite numerous, all but disappeared going into Monday, with a lesser number appearing again today, Tuesday, May 7. Slowly dwindling down to single digit sightings, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hermit Thrush, and White-throated Sparrow have nearly all departed and this week could be the last we see of these species until fall.

Looking ahead: As forecast and suspected a few days ago, Thursday, May 9, still appears that it will see a new and large influx of birds. With a line of low pressure systems along the central US, warm southerly winds will be headed along the Mississippi River through Ohio Wednesday night into Thursday. Of course, with a low pressure system, rain and clouds are sure to come with this new air. Wind speeds are expected to be moderate with areas in southern Ohio experiencing a low of only 70 degrees – making for good flying conditions – and rain is not predicted to come until right around sunrise. If this timing stays the same, rain could force arriving (and departing) birds to hunker down in the lakeshore marshes rather than attempting to cross the lake. While rain is expected throughout the rest of the day, any break in the precipitation will be a great opportunity to get out and start searching the local hotspots.

Being that weather is weather, and can always change, an alternative day or even possibly an extension of this Thursday push can be expected for Friday, May 10, as well, with continued southwest winds overnight and a low in the mid 60’s. If the forecast remains the same, the afternoon of Friday will clear up, allowing for sunshine to appear and heighten bird activity as they chase down insect prey.

Continuing along with Monday’s arrivals, we can expect to see more warblers and variety including Magnolia Warbler and Nashville; as well as Baltimore Oriole, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Swainson’s Thrush, and Veery. While we’re still too early for the arrival of most flycatchers, we can expect to see more Great Crested Flycatcher and Least Flycatcher, wheeping and chebeking amongst the warbler songs. 

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Migration and Weather Update, May 5

A male Black-throated Blue Warbler foraging among the tangles along the Magee Marsh boardwalk. Photo: Nate Koszycki.

Sunday, May 5: Ryan Jacob writes: Despite temperatures that have felt more like mid-April, the last few days have seen a good migration push of the kind that we've been looking forward to. Beginning Wednesday, May 1, bird numbers throughout the region steadily began to climb, crescendoing to Friday, May 3 (the start of Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s Biggest Week in American Birding) when conditions in the area were almost “fallout” in nature. First wave migrants including Yellow, Yellow-rumped, and Palm Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-throated Sparrow, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak invaded the region, and with cold temperatures and misty conditions, a large number of birds were forced down into available habitat. This offered great low views of numerous birds, as well as some sightings of fairly rare birds such as Kirtland’s and Kentucky Warbler at the Magee Marsh Boardwalk, and Clay-colored Sparrow at Metzger Marsh.

Weather conditions remained the same throughout much of Saturday May 4 and then gradually warmed on Sunday May 5, with bird numbers steadily falling as migrants continued north, and only mild northerly winds standing between them and Canada. While Ruby-crowned Kinglets are still slowly winding down, Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers have seemingly disappeared within one night; while other recent arrivals such as Black-throated Blue Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and Baltimore Oriole only being seen in single digits in many areas.

Much of northwest Ohio remains flooded – creating ample foraging for shorebirds, but a challenge for birders – birds of the shore are appearing throughout the area (including roving Franklin’s Gulls) and in mudflats at Howard Marsh which has been holding Black-necked Stilt, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, and both Yellowlegs. (Yellow-headed Blackbird is also being seen frequently at Howard Marsh). Another area to check as migration progresses is the field behind Barnside Creamery on Rt 2 and OH-19, which is quite saturated and has been known in the past to attract shorebirds such as godwits and plovers (it’s also a quick place to grab lunch and some ice cream).

Looking ahead: For spring migration, we are always looking for warm southwest winds overnight to bring new migrants into the region. However, the weather doesn’t always cooperate with what “we’d like to see” for a good push of birds. Looking into the upcoming week, tonight going into Monday, May 6, is looking like the next (or at least most optimal) day for migrants. With winds shifting to southwest Sunday into Monday, new arrivals of warblers (including Magnolia, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, and Bay-breasted), vireos, flycatchers, and thrushes should be hitting the lakeshore. These winds don’t appear to be carrying warm tropical air that we would look for with a big push, but any wind direction other than north will benefit incoming arrivals. This date also lines up with the second wave of migration in northwest Ohio which typically occurs between May 7 and 10.

Looking even farther ahead, if Monday does not see the movement we are expecting, keep an eye out for weather conditions on Thursday, May 9. Going into the morning of Thursday, winds are expected to be from the southwest, with a low of only 60 degrees. While these conditions are certainly great for migration, they also bring thunderstorms and rain. If precipitation is light going into Thursday, this could also be an alternate day to look forward to for the next big push of migrants. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

May 1 Migrant Update and Outlook

Baltimore Orioles were among the migrants flooding into the region today. Photo: Matt Sanders

Wednesday May 1, 2019: Ryan Jacob writes: Well, migration really feels like it has finally kicked off in the marshes of northwest Ohio. For what seems like weeks, the area has been blasted by northerly cold winds, allowing for very minor bird movement. However today, May 1, winds in the morning shifted just enough to the south to allow for some great bird movement. Many new warblers entered the area including more Yellow Warblers, Black-throated Green, Nashville, and Prothonotary, and southern overshoots such as Hooded and Prairie. Also accompanying the “stars of migration,” Baltimore Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks invaded the area, with lesser appearances by Veery, Swainson’s Thrush, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Gray Catbird.

But most spectacular of all, Blue Jays were on the move today in great numbers. Being diurnal migrants, Blue Jays are hesitant to cross Lake Erie, making a decision to travel either west or east along its shoreline, and allowing for easy views of migration in process (something we don’t get to observe from nocturnal migrants). Just from Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s Navarre Marsh Banding Station, an estimated 2,000 jays were recorded traversing the lakeshore from 8am until noon. 

Another group of diurnal migrants on the move today were Broad-winged Hawks. Again, as with other migrants this season, we have not seen the biggest raptor push through the area due to northerly winds. Along with scant numbers of Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawk, Broad-wings were observed heading northwest near the lakeshore. The next shift to southerly winds could still see some excellent raptor movement near the lake, and it will be worth keeping an on the sky between occasional looks for warblers.

If you haven’t been to northwest Ohio recently, then you might be surprised to learn (or maybe not) that the region has experienced a massive amount of flooding. This is good and bad. Good for shorebirds searching for shallow fields to forage in. Bad for birders hoping for views of said shorebirds. Flooded fields throughout the area have provided many opportunities for migrating shorebirds, reducing the concentration of birds when local water levels are lower. However, already living up to its inaugural reputation, Howard Marsh Metropark has provided some accessible mudflats for shorebirds and has recently hosted Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Dunlin, and even the occasional Yellow-headed Blackbird.

Along with the birds that have come in, the marshes are seeing some of the last “winter birds.” Golden-crowned Kinglet are very few and far between, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are now making their last push through the region with mainly females being seen. Fox Sparrows have not been spotted for a couple of weeks or so, and White-throated Sparrow and Hermit Thrush seem to be making their last push.

Looking ahead: A few days ago, it appeared that tomorrow, Thursday May 2, would be the first really good day for migration. However, forecasts have changed and winds are expected to come from the west to northwest. Low pressure systems are developing in the central US which should be great for warm air and birds traveling into northern regions. But this unclear weather direction along the lakeshore could make for some great birding tomorrow, or keep recently arrived birds along the lakeshore. Either way, tomorrow should be a good day for birding. Woodlots along the lakeshore will be worth checking, especially Magee Marsh Wildlife Area and the woodlot at Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area (which can hold quite a variety of migrants in the right conditions). If winds are coming from the north, areas such as Pearson Metropark and the woods surrounding Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge’s visitor center could be good alternate birding locations.

As these pressure systems make their way to the east, cold northern air is expected to hit the region on Friday and Saturday, May 3 and 4. While a jacket may be necessary for outdoor excursions, this can be an excellent opportunity to see birds foraging lower than normal, following the insect activity closer to the ground. Combined with bouts of rain, birds in this weather should be right near eye-level while in areas such as the Magee Marsh Boardwalk.

While predicting anything past a couple of days is difficult (even for the professional meteorologists), it currently appears that our next wave of migration could come in Tuesday May 7, when winds again shift to the south and warm air infiltrates overnight. This lines right up with the second wave of migration, when the biggest push of neotropical migrants descend upon the region. Again, the timing of this push won’t be clear until we head farther into the week.

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