Monday, May 19, 2014

Magee Marsh and Environs

I had planned to leave on Friday morning the 9th very early to make the 10 hour drive from Chapel Hill to Magee Marsh which is about 20 miles east of Toledo on Lake Erie.  I had been checking Kenn Kaufman's Crane Creek Birding blog site to see what the migration predictions were looking like.  No surprise, when the winds are out of the south the birds tend to move north.  When they come out of the north they stay where they are waiting for better migration conditions.  Kenn was predicting on Tuesday that the winds were going to be favorable beginning on Wednesday and continuing into the weekend for a good flow of migrants.  As a result, I decided to leave Wed. afternoon to drive to Beckley, W.VA. which would put me in position to reach Magee by mid day on Thursday.

I was on the road by 6 AM Thursday to drive the 400 miles to reach Magee Marsh. I was getting emails from my friends Laura and Doreene that the boardwalk was hopping with new arrivals--birds and humans.  As I was getting close to the turn into Magee Marsh, I found about 100 American golden plovers feeding in a field.  I called Dan and Doreene who were over at Pipe Creek natural area to let them know to look for them on their way to Magee.

When I drove up I also found that the boardwalk had received new signs on both the east and west ends (my photo).  Much more colorful than the old ones, but somehow they failed to say on the new signs that one was at the west end and the other at the east end.  I guess they are part of the buffing up of Magee that has resulted from promoting the biggest week in birding over the past few years. There is also a campaign to raise $300,000 to rebuild the boardwalk which is beginning to show a lot of wear and tear.

I immediately heard that there was a very cooperative mourning warbler being seen at number 16 on the boardwalk.  I went straight out there, and found Laura Keene and Larry Peavler were both there photographing the very hungry bird (all photos in today's post were taken by Laura unless otherwise indicated.  Click on any photo to enlarge).

I spent the afternoon seeing what the boardwalk had to offer and found several warbler species including blackpoll (above) and chestnut-sided. 

When Dan and Doreene arrived I went out to the parking lot to meet them, and saw where a woodcock nest had been taped off to protect the bird (my photo).

By the end of the day I had seen 24 species of warbler, and there were 4 other warbler species reported that I missed.  My decision to arrive a day early had been rewarded.   I had also seen some of the other migration week regulars like Bert and Mike from the Philly area.

On Friday, we spent most of the day on the boardwalk.  There were more thrushes arriving including gray-cheeked.  We also saw wood and Swainson's thrushes, and veeries, but missed hermit which often has already passed through the area by now.  We also spent some time at nearby Metzger Marsh to see if we could locate the white-faced ibises that had been reported, but came away empty handed.  By the end of the day I had seen 23 warbler species including a rare for the boardwalk yellow-throated warbler.  5 other warblers species were reported that I missed.

Friday evening a group of us went into Toledo to Rockwell's Steakhouse to celebrate Neil Hayward and Jay Lehman's big years that they had just competed in 2013.  Dan and Doreene, Laura and her friend Cathy, Neil and his girlfriend Gerri, Jay, and I all thoroughly enjoyed the fine food.

Saturday morning began at Metzger Marsh where we had some luck finding warblers in the small stand of trees that sits between the marsh and Lake Erie.  We then headed over to Magee where I was able to see a worm-eating warbler which was new for the trip.  Black and whites seemed to be everywhere.  We also got pretty good looks at a black-billed cuckoo. With so many birders and photographers on the boardwalk, we opted for the auto tour at Ottawa NWR which produced a few shore birds like dunlin, and greater and lesser yellow-legs.  We saw a bird hiding in the grass which turned out to be a snipe that we hoped at first would be a king rail which had been reported. We headed back to the boardwalk, and stopped at the Sportsmen's center on the way into Magee and found barn swallows nesting at the entrance to the building (my photo).

When we arrived at the boardwalk, I heard about a female golden-winged being seen in the same area out by the beach where the worm-eating had been feeding, so I went over and joined the crowd which was enjoying seeing this fairly rare warbler at Magee.

A Kentucky warbler had been seen briefly in the morning on the boardwalk, but then disappeared for a few hours.  It was relocated about 100 yards from where it was first seen around mid afternoon.  This time it was pretty cooperative for the photographers.  About an hour later it had returned to the spot where it was first seen.

Then we heard that 3 white-faced ibis had flown into Metzger Marsh, so we went to see these lovely birds which had great light from the sun setting on them.  Because I saw and/or heard every warbler reported at Magee Marsh, my warbler species count for the day was 28--a new single day personal record for me at Magee.  And my warbler total for the first 3 days was up to 29. 

With no reports of anything rare in the area on Sunday morning, we returned to Magee.  The south winds had continued, so the number and variety of species continued to be good.  There were a few Canada warblers that had come in.

There were also a few Wilson's warblers around.

While eating lunch we got a report of 10 black-bellied whistling ducks that had been found near Pipe Creek, a natural area in Sandusky which is about 45 minutes to the east.  This was only the second time this species had been found in Ohio, so we jumped into our cars, and headed over to check them out.  When we arrived they were still resting near a MacDonald's from the long flight from maybe Texas.  We also checked to see if the first ever recorded neotropic cormorant was roosting nearby, but it was not.

After long looks, we walked into Pipe Creek to see what was around.  We heard a least bittern calling, and tried to get it to show itself.  It kept "talking" to us, but after 15 minutes we gave up trying to coax it out into the open.  We saw some gulls and terns, and may have seen the neotropic cormorant fly by with 2 double-cresteds.

We started back towards Toledo to have an early dinner in order to be at Neil Hayward's accidental big year talk that he was giving at 7 PM.  Neil did an outstanding job, and covered the topic in less than 90 minutes.  After the talk was over, Gabriel Mapel, who I met at Magee when he did a junior big year in 2011, came up to me to introduce his mother.  This was a nice ending to the first 4 days of my trip, and there were still several days of birding left, and the winds were still helping.  Stay tuned!

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