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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Northwest Ohio: Spring Migration

2022 Narrative

Northwest Ohio ranks high among other well-known migration hotspots in the U.S. such as Cape May and High Island. What sets it apart from these locations, however, is the fact that birds from more than one flyway converge over this region: species migrating along routes from the Caribbean as well as along routes from Central and South America treat birders to this biannual spectacle. As they are near their breeding grounds, migrants are also in full song, which is something other migration hotspots may not offer as they are located earlier in their routes. We based ourselves out of one area for this tour, allowing ourselves the opportunity to bird the region without needing to undertake any long drives. We targeted shorebirds, waterbirds, and lingering waterfowl at Pte. Mouilee in Michigan and in Ohio at Howard Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge; warblers, thrushes, and vireos in woodlots at Metzger and Magee Marsh, Maumee Bay State Park, and Pearson Metropark. We also dedicated a day to birding the expansive Oak Openings Metropark, where some locally rare breeding birds occur.

Weather is unpredictable. We battled strong cold north winds the entire tour, which caused a wall of migrants to be blocked from arriving to the region. This was exceptionally late in the season when many migrants should have already arrived. Nonetheless, we still managed to find plenty of migrants while at the same time having an enjoyable time birding northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan… including finding a few nice surprises!

Day 1: The tour began near the Detroit airport where we had our introductory meeting and dinner.

Day 2: We started off the day at Lake Erie Metropark. Situated along the Detroit River where it empties into Lake Erie, we spent a little over an hour birding grassland, marshlands, and some forests. The grasslands offered Lesser Yellowlegs, Savannah Sparrow, and a mixed flock of Ring-billed and Bonaparte’s Gulls while the marshes housed Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Belted Kingfisher. Overhead, Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Black-crowned Night-Heron flew over. A patch of trees had a few migrants including Hermit Thrush and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher as well as a few resident breeders such as Baltimore Orioles and Yellow Warblers.

Next, we headed to Pte Mouilee State Game Area, which encompasses 4,000 coastal wetland acres on the edge of Lake Erie. With a key, we were able to drive right in, which allowed us to cover a lot more ground. Typically, it’s open only to bicycle and foot. On the waterfowl front, we had fifteen species of ducks and geese including Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater and Lesser Scaup for good comparisons, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Mergansers and Ruddy Ducks. Shorebird numbers were low, but we did manage to pick up Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, and Spotted Sandpiper. Other highlights include Common Loon, American White Pelican, Peregrine Falcon, great views of Marsh Wren, and all regularly occurring swallows and martins.

Before lunch, we stopped at a traditional site for Bobolinks and had two males display briefly. We made two more stops before entering Ohio at Erie Marsh Reserve and Erie State Game Area. Here we had our first taste of warblers including Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and dozens of Yellow Warblers along with a couple singing Northern Waterthrushes; Warbling Vireo, and White-crowned Sparrow were singing as well. We also picked up a locally rare Snowy Egret.

With some extra time in the day, we made one last stop once in Ohio at Pearson Metropark, only a mile from our hotel. Here we added Black-and-white, Nashville, and Black-throated Green Warblers, Rusty Blackbird, Eastern Towhee, Blue-headed Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher, and a Cooper’s Hawk among others. To top off the day, we had an earlier dinner so that we could visit the Maumee Bay State Park campground at dusk where we picked up a couple calling Eastern Whip-poor-wills and a distant American Woodcock.

Day 2: The next morning we started off where we ended the night before at Maumee Bay State Park. We focused on the boardwalk, which traverses a flooded woodland. On the warbler front, we added Common Yellowthroat and several Prothonotary Warblers. One Prothonotary perched atop a branch right over our heads, seemingly oblivious to our presence, and proceeded to sing its head off! Other highlights along the boardwalk were a calling Sora, several Red-headed Woodpeckers, and a couple dozen conspicuous Swamp Sparrows.

We worked our way towards the infamous Magee Marsh but first made a stop at a flooded farm field which yielded Pectoral Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs as well as a few Horned Larks and American Pipits. At Magee, we focused our attention to the southern sections along the boardwalk, which were on the opposite side of the north winds; birds tend to congregate in these sheltered areas. It was very quiet, but we still picked up Brown Thrasher, a couple of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and heard a Yellow-breasted Chat, a local scarcity. Yellow Warblers were certainly present, and we had no fewer than forty individuals!

We headed further inland to get to more sheltered areas from the winds and went to a private campground that allows birders to visit. Here we walked around and had Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Solitary Sandpiper, more Rusty Blackbirds and a Prothonotary Warbler. The real surprise was a singing Pine Warbler and, upon locating it, we realized that it was a very dull-plumaged female singing. On the reptile front, we had Painted Turtles, a whopping Snapping Turtle, and a Northern Water Snake.

Howard Marsh, one of the newest parks in the region, didn’t disappoint. One of the first birds spotted in the scope was a vagrant Glossy Ibis, which prompted a nice discussion about ibis identification. Also present were Black-necked Stilts, a locally rare breeder, as well as Short-billed Dowitcher, and a pair of American Wigeon. Following a report, we headed next door to Metzger Marsh where an American Avocet was hanging out on the pier with some gulls. We also picked up a pair of Northern Pintail in the marsh.

Our final stop of the day was the Pearson Metropark Window on Wildlife. A stunning male Black-throated Blue Warbler made an appearance among the common feeder birds and a Sharp-shinned Hawk shot overhead scattering them!

Day 3: The first half of the day was spent slowly traversing the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge autoroute. We saw a lot of the same waterfowl and other waterbirds but added Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, and Sandhill Crane to name a few.

After lunch at the locally delicious Barnside Creamery with delectable BBQ pulled pork sandwiches and buckeye flurries, we headed back to the Magee Marsh boardwalk to see if any new birds came in overnight. Along the way a bird caught our attention and, after reversing the car, we realized we had found a Neotropic Cormorant, an excellent bird for Ohio!

The boardwalk was once again slow, so we retraced our footsteps and headed to Pearson Metropark again. Being inland, the winds were calmer but still gusty. We did a couple of short walking loops picking up Hairy Woodpecker, Veery, and several Golden-crowned Kinglets mixed in a larger flock of Ruby-crowned.

After dinner, we checked out a reliable place for American Bittern, which usually is quite vocal most evenings, but sadly the brisk winds kept them quiet. Surprisingly, however, we did watch a Silver-haired Bat feeding, which is a migrant in this area. We also swung by the garbage bins to witness the local raccoon posse going to town.

Day 4: Today we headed to the other side of Toledo to visit a couple productive birding areas, most notably Oak Openings Metropark. Our first stop was a random damp grassland that produced a Sedge Wren, right in front of us. We also had a Field Sparrow and our first American Crow of the trip. The latter is quite rare in the marsh regions around Magee Marsh and typically requires you to venture further afield to find any.

Oak Openings didn’t disappoint. We ended with a dozen species of warblers including our first Ovenbird, Blue-winged, and Cape May. To add to the color, we also had Indigo Bunting, both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, an Eastern Meadowlark, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Eastern Bluebird. The less colorful, but just as impressive, Grasshopper Sparrow offered extended scope views while Least Flycatcher was our first Empidonax. Other highlights around include Wild Turkey, Red-shouldered and Broad-winged Hawks, Eastern Kingbird, Pileated Woodpecker, and several Lark Sparrows. This is one of the only breeding sites in the entire state for the latter. The biggest shocker of the day occurred while we were birding a trail: one of the participants has Eastern Whip-poor-will as her ringtone and when someone called her, a real Eastern Whip-poor-will responded just yards away almost immediately… in the middle of the afternoon! In close second was an Eastern Hognose that slowly crossed the path in front of us.

We headed nearby to Irwin Prairie State Nature Preserve adding a male Northern Harrier along the way. Irwin Prairie didn’t disappoint where we all had the best views of Sedge Wren that any of us ever had in our lives. Point-blank views just a few feet in front of us for not just a minute, but several minutes! At the same time, a couple of Sora were very vocal around us.

On our way back to our hotel, we made one last stop at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo. We did a short walk around a riparian area where we added a Green Heron among the usuals.

Day 5: On our final full day, we headed straight for the Magee Marsh boardwalk in hopes that some new birds pushed through the relentless north winds. Although there was little change, we still managed to pick up a few new species including several Magnolia Warblers. Other highlights were White-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, which teed up right in the open and proceeded to sing, and more looks at other warblers that we had previously seen.

Before lunch, we made another visit to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge where we checked out a Great Horned Owl nest, which had two nestlings peeking out of the top of the broken trunk they were in. After lunch, we made another visit to Howard Marsh where we had a dozen American White Pelicans come in and land, as well as a Yellow-headed Blackbird right in the parking lot. Pelicans used to be rare in the state, but in the last decade a colony of several hundred started breeding on one of the offshore islands, and now they are seen almost daily in NW Ohio. Yellow-headed Blackbirds, on the other hand, are also a very rare local breeding with only a few pairs in the state.

We made one last effort at Magee Marsh before heading to our hotel near the Detroit airport. This proved a good decision as we were able to enjoy prolonged views of a gorgeous Blackburnian Warbler working a stand of willows. We also stumbled upon an adorable Eastern Screech-Owl that was roosting out in the open above some tangles. A nice way to end this short tour!

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