Thursday, May 21, 2015

Magee Marsh: Spring Migration 2015

I left Chapel Hill on Wednesday May 6th to begin my drive up to Magee Marsh for my annual spring migration visit there.  I spent the night in Beckley, West Virginia, so that on Thursday morning I could check out a birding spot just outside of Charleston, which was another hour drive north.  The place, Coonskin Park, proved to be not very birdy the next morning, so I was on my way to Magee Marsh fairly quickly.  I received an email from Bert Filemyr that he and Mike Rosengarten had left as planned that morning.  I emailed back that I was going to stop at Pipe Creek wildlife area near Sandusky and would arrive about 2 PM.

I pulled into the parking area at Pipe Creek to find Bert and Mike climbing out of their SUV.  We spent the next hour or so checking out the area in hopes of finding a Connecticut warbler.  We did notice a cooper's hawk perched which then flew up, circled a couple of times and took off.  We also located a blue-headed vireo (both photos taken by Bert--click on any photo to enlarge), as well as a few random warblers.

Next stop was Magee Marsh to see how things were on the boardwalk.  It was fairly slow for Magee, but there were some warblers like the black-throated green below still feeding before starting their flight across Lake Erie.

After leaving the boardwalk, we stopped in at Metzger Marsh as well.  On the entrance road we spied 2 doves that at first glance looked like European collared doves.  When we looked closer, they did not match our experience in seeing this species.  Bert said he thought they must be escaped cage doves, but I said where would they have come from.  By the next day we all agreed that they were either escaped birds, or released at a wedding ceremony.  The cage bird theory seemed more likely since you could almost walk up and touch them without their flinching.  They were in the same bush almost everyday for the rest of our stay. 

We went on into the marsh and were able to see a very distant marbled godwit that had been reported.  There was also a large flock of American golden plovers. It was getting pretty late, so we headed to our hotel to check in for our multi-day stay in the area. 

The next morning we were out early and retraced our steps.  The boardwalk was much more active with both people and birds.  One of our few sightings of an ovenbird for the week contributed to a plus 20 day for warbler species.  I also found a new "birders" plate for my photo collection.

My friends Dan and Doreene arrived late morning having driven up from Columbus, OH that morning.  We birded together the rest of the day which became unseasonably warm for the area.  There were plenty of birds to see including early arriving black-billed cuckoos (photo taken by Bert).  Friday proved to be the high warbler count day of the trip for me at 26 species. We wrapped up our day with dinner at the Cinco de Mayo restaurant in Oregon where we all were staying.

Saturday was pretty much a replay of Friday with many of the same species and numbers, and still too warm (80's) for early May. 

Laura Keene, my friend who over the years has so graciously shared her excellent photos with me to use on this blog, was supposed to be with our group on the Sunday morning bus tour into Cedar point--a closed part of the Ottawa NWR complex.  Instead, a friend of Dan and Doreene's, Leslie Sours, came along with us.  Our group of 6 were on the bus at 7 AM joined by 8 other birders, a driver and the Ottawa NWR manager.  On this tour last year we were fortunate to find a female Kirtland's warbler that was also seen the next day by another bus tour.

We were not very far into the refuge when we came upon a pair of sandhill cranes which provided plenty of photo ops.  Further in we birded some of the tree lined sections of the dike where we turned up some warblers like the bay-breasted below (photo taken by Bert).

After finishing the bus tour, we checked out how things were on the boardwalk at Magee to find it was again pretty much like on Saturday--good numbers of birds, lots of people and still way too warm for my liking.  A female yellow-headed blackbird was reported on the Ottawa NWR self-driving tour, so mid-afternoon we all went to see if we could find it.  Sure enough she was feeding along the road (photo taken by Leslie).  Dan and Doreene, who are once again doing a big year for Ohio, were very glad to find this hard to locate species in Ohio.

Monday was the 4th day in a row of 80+ degree weather, with southerly winds which meant a few new species arriving, and many birds continuing their trip into Canada.  Laura Keene joined us as well.

The best bird for the day was a female cerulean warbler which when I studied the warbler handbook later in the day looked like a possible first year male to me. We kept getting reports of yellow-bellied flycatchers, but we never could relocate the bird at the position that it was first reported.   The same was true for olive-sided flycatchers.  We did see some rose-breasted grosbeaks.

There were still good numbers of warblers like the Wilson's just below.

I also saw a wood thrush which proved to be a rare bird this year as did Swainson's thrushes.  The one thrush species that we saw quite a few of was the gray-cheeked which is normally the rarest of the thrushes at Magee.  We finished our day eating dinner together to celebrate Dan's birthday.

Tuesday dawned with a high chance for rain and much cooler temps.  We heard about a common nighthawk on a roost on the Ottawa NWR self-driving tour, so we went to check it out.

We also got a report of a hudsonian godwit at Metzger Marsh.  Arriving at the marsh we found it was no longer there, but another was reported close by at the Meinke Marina.  We had just enough time to rush over to the marina before the start of our afternoon bus tour of the Darby unit of the Ottawa NWR.  The godwit was too far out to get a good photo, but there were also a good number of American golden plovers (photos just above and below taken by Bert).  In hindsight, I think the hudsonian godwit was the bird of the trip given how rare they are in the spring in Ohio.  Dan said in all his years of birding in Ohio, this was the first year he had seen both marbled and hudsonian godwits in the spring.

The bus tour of the Darby unit proved to be probably the slowest birding time of the entire week.  It was very windy, so there just were not many birds around other than swallows and kingbirds that were migrating along the lake edge.  Heavy rains greeted us later in the afternoon.

Wednesday brought similar weather conditions as Tuesday.  I stopped at a spot we had visited several times to try once again for hooded mergansers, and was finally successful.  We all birded the boardwalk early to find pretty much the same species we had been seeing for a few days.  About 10 AM Bert and Mike decided to start their drive back to Philadelphia.  Right after they left we got a report of upland sandpipers in a field nearby, so we headed over to check them out.

While looking at the uppies, a report came in that a female Kirtland's warbler had been found at Oak Openings which is on the west side of Toledo. Since I also needed to leave by noon to begin my drive to Boston, I chose not to drive an hour west before starting my long drive east.  Dan and Doreene did go, and I heard later that they were able to see the Kirtland's--another hard to see species for their big year.

I returned to the boardwalk for one last walk there before leaving for Boston.  Surprisingly, there was a bobwhite quail in the parking area near the West entrance of the boardwalk.  This is a released bird for northern Ohio, but it was the first I had seen at Magee.  I was on the road as planned at noon.

This is the 7th year in a row that I have visited Magee Marsh for  spring migration.  I continue to enjoy the birding, and seeing old friends while there.  Once again I saw most of the species that you expect to find, with a final tally of 159 this year.  For the first time in years I did miss seeing golden-winged and Kirtland's warblers.  I do not know what the summer will bring birding wise--maybe another chase for a rarity.  I do know that I am returning to the Pribiloff Islands in the Bering sea this coming September.  Dan and Doreene will be joining me as will John Vanderpoel, and possibly Neil Hayward.

As for any news of ABA or lower 48 big years in 2015, Dan Gesualdo from Ohio who I know, seems to have slowed down dramatically after a very fast start during the 1st 3+ months of the year.  He has been passed on the ebird top 100 by several other birders.  Mike and Wendy Schackwitz, who I do not know but presume are a couple, are leading the top 100 at 551 species seen so far.  I can not find any definite info as to whether they are undertaking a big year, but their travels and number of species seem to suggest that they are.  If I begin seeing bird species from Alaska later this month on their ebird list, then it would appear very likely that they are doing an ABA area big year.

Addendum 5/24:  Laura Keene sent me a photo of the upland sandpiper so here it is.

She also sent me a photo of the cerulean warbler which now that I have a photo definitely looks like a female. My view in the field was not as good as Laura's photo.


  1. That warbler looks glorious. It’s definitely the scene stealer there. That said, what a view! We hope you could share more shots of what you saw there, if you don't mind. But these shots are quite lovely on their own. Good day!

    Lucille Foster @ The George Hotel At Cley