The actual Henslow’s Sparrow seen on our 2012 tour. Photo: Brainard Palmer Ball, Jr.
There may be no better place to witness the spring passage of songbirds than the Midwest. The three main eastern migration routes converge here and since the birds are nearing their breeding grounds the males are usually in full and vigorous song. With impressive, often spectacular numbers and diversity of migrants on the best days, the Midwest is certainly comparable to any other migration site in North America. Our tour takes in two prime locations for spring migrants, Crane Creek (Ohio) and Tawas Point (Michigan), and we also spend two days in the Carolinian forests and grasslands of eastern Kentucky and southern Ohio, where we expect to find most of the southern breeding species. Between these sites we should see nearly all of the eastern Neotropical landbird migrants (last year we missed only one - Olive-sided Flycatcher), hopefully including as many as 35 species of warblers—and there is a decent chance of seeing all 38 species.
We’ll conclude the trip with a visit to the Kirtland’s Warbler breeding grounds in northern Michigan.
Day 1: The trip begins at 4:00 pm in Cincinnati, Ohio. If Henslow’s Sparrows are on territory in the Cincinnati area, we’ll look for them early this evening. Night in Florence, Kentucky.
Days 2-3: If we haven’t connected with Henslow’s Sparrow, we may try checking the fields in Adams County again on our second morning, or we may end up there late in the day in an early evening attempt for Chuck-will’s-widow, here breeding at the northern end of its range. We’ll spend much of the day in the beautiful and extensive Shawnee Forest close to Portsmouth, where nearly all of the southern Carolinian specialties are found in good numbers. We’ll also actively search for any species we might have missed at Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Cerulean and Kentucky Warblers are almost common here!
We’ll depart early on Day 3 for the Red River Gorge east of Lexington, Kentucky. A few pairs of Swainson’s Warblers occur here, at the northern edge of their breeding range, and we’ll actively look for the species. This area also holds many of the more southern warblers such as Blue-winged, Yellow-throated, Prairie, Pine, Cerulean, Worm-eating, Kentucky, and Hooded Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrush. We’ll also look for Summer Tanager, and there is always the remote chance of seeing Ruffed Grouse. An isolated breeding population of Red-breasted Nuthatches is also found here. The forest is noted, too, for its variety of butterflies, notable among them the striking Zebra Swallowtail, which should be numerous. We’ll be accompanied here by Brainard Palmer-Ball, Jr., one of the best birders in the East and the writer of Kentucky’s breeding bird atlas and the state’s recent annotated lists. Nights in Portsmouth, Ohio.
Day 4: We’ll depart for Crane Creek on Lake Erie, and should have some of the afternoon available for birding at this premier location. Along the way, we may stop near Scioto Trail State Forest and Ohio’s capital, Columbus, to look for another primarily southern species, the stunning Prothonotary Warbler; in recent years, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons have nested in a residential area of the city. Time permitting, we may have a chance in the late afternoon to stop in at Crane Creek to check on the migration. Night in Oregon, OH.
Extraordinary. Jon has contacts it seems everywhere which I am sure enhanced the total bird list 0f 200 plus birds. He has excellent powers of observation. How often can one see a Mourning Warber and a Connecticut Warbler in the same field of view. He also gave personal help whenever asked and seemed to have a participant target list “in the back of his head”
Thomas Duch, May 2011
Days 5-6: Crane Creek and the Magee Marsh Boardwalk are Ohio’s best migration spots. The spectacle is similar to the one at Pelee, but here the concentrations of migrants don’t seem to be as weather-dependent, and even on slower days there are still plenty of birds. The narrow strip of woods along the lake is more open than at Pelee, and migrants are delightfully visible. Here we can usually count on finding more secretive species such as Mourning Warbler, we typically encounter an American Woodcock or two sauntering and bobbing through the wet leaf litter, and we stand a reasonable chance of seeing the skulking Connecticut Warbler.
Adjacent Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge has a variety of waterbirds, including shorebirds if water levels are appropriate, and the adjoining woods attract migrants. If we tire of migrants, the woodlands around Toledo have a number of breeding birds, including Acadian, Alder, and Willow Flycatchers and Blue-winged and Pine Warblers; and nearby Oak Openings has breeding Lark Sparrows, their only regular location in the eastern Midwest. A few pairs of Summer Tanagers have bred here recently, an isolated northern outpost in their otherwise more southerly range. Nights in Oregon.
Day 7: After a final morning of birding at Crane Creek, we’ll drive north to East Tawas, Michigan. Night in East Tawas.
Days 8-9: One of Michigan’s best migration spots, Tawas Point has harbored an astonishing variety of rarities. The narrow peninsula is lightly covered with tree clumps and bushes that can be full of migrants given the right winds, and since vegetation is so low, the birds are often more visible. A long sandy spit usually hosts a variety of shorebirds, occasionally including Piping Plover. If migrants are scarce, we’ll leave Tawas after lunch, perhaps visiting Tuttle Marsh where American Bittern and Virginia Rail can often be heard and seen. A bit farther south there are some abandoned fields where Clay-colored Sparrow breeds along with many Bobolinks. Night in East Tawas.
Day 10: After a final day of birding around Tawas Point, we’ll drive north to Mio. Just north of Mio are many Amish farms, where Upland Sandpipers and other grassland species breed. Weather permitting, we’ll look for American Woodcock and Whip-poor-will this evening. Night in Mio.
Day 11: We’ll spend the morning searching for the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler. The entire population of this species (recently about 1,800 birds) is known to breed only in Michigan, mostly in the counties around Mio and Grayling. With the help of a U.S. Forest Service guide, we’re likely to find one or more of these special warblers. Other species in the area include Hermit Thrush, Vesper Sparrow, and Eastern Towhee. If we’re entirely satisfied with our views of Kirtland’s Warbler, we’ll have time to stop at Rifle River State Recreation Area, a large area with varied habitats. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker breeds here, as do warblers including Golden-winged, Mourning, and Canada. In addition, north of Bay City there are some marshes where we’ll see a variety of marsh species, usually including Yellow-headed Blackbird, and with good luck we may find both bitterns and Virginia Rail. Night in Detroit.
Day 12: The tour concludes this morning in Detroit.
Updated: 04 July 2012
- 2013 Tour Price : $3,700
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $620
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
Maximum group size 7 with one leader.