Trip Report for NW Ohio Venture: May 15-21, 2018
Thankfully the thunderstorms parted and the sun started to shine when we all assembled in Toledo. The original weather forecast called for days of thunderstorms with highs in the 50’s! Now it was going to be clear skies with highs in the 70’s – latter sounded distinctly better. Dinner and get-together that night was at a very nice seafood restaurant along the Maumee River; opposite the Toledo downtown waterfront where it was very quiet and picturesque.
After a 6:30 AM breakfast our first choice was to head to the very close Pearson Metropark, a wonderful forested wetland that can be very birdy. A start at the very comfortable “Window on Wildlife” produced a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a very active Yellow-bellied Flycatcher which thankfully called a couple of time to confirm its ID, as well as many of the typical feeder birds. A walk through the very flooded forest was very productive with a lot of transient warblers, as well as great views of a male Mourning Warbler, and alas, a heard-only Connecticut Warbler. The weather was gorgeous so we had lunch at the nearby picnic tables (with a stunning Blackburnian Warbler) before heading towards Metzger Marsh and the small woodlot on the edge of Lake Erie. A pair of Common Gallinules was an uncommon sight this far north and a small skein of American White Pelicans flew overhead on their way north. After some very large and delicious ice creams we spent the rest of the day at the famous Magee Marsh Boardwalk. Number of both birders and birds were down from the last few days, but we were still entertained by a great selection of warblers, including Wilson’s, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided and plenty of Magnolias and American Redstarts; always an amazing experience. Dinner at a local restaurant was washed down with good beer before we returned to our hotel.
Our destination this morning was Point Mouillee just north of Toledo. This vast stretch of managed wetlands and marshes attracts a handful of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, which today managed to elude us. However, with beautiful weather and sunny skies, we enjoyed hiking the trails around the refuge watching Wood Duck, Osprey, a pair of King Rail, excellent views of feeding Forster’s Terns, an obliging Sora and many other species. Our picnic lunch was under the trees at the nearby old headquarters- very relaxing and a walk around the adjacent woodlot produced a family group of Great Horned Owls – amazing that the 2 chicks were already able to fly this early in the season. It was very easy to drive around the center of Toledo so we sped east towards Maumee Bay State Park and the raised boardwalk that runs through the swamp forest. Unlike the Magee boardwalk, this is a lot more open with larger trees so warblers were mostly absent. Our quarry here was Eastern Screech-Owl and after chatting to several other birders, we found a beautiful mixed red and gray-phase pair along with 2 well-grown fluffy chicks in their nest box. Dinner was very pleasant overlooking Maumee Bay before we made one more stop at a nearby marsh. Despite the gusty winds (which appeared out of nowhere!) we heard the wonderful pumping sounds of American Bittern, heard Sora and Virginia Rail and had a flyover of several Common Nighthawks. A bizarre surprise was a Great Egret carrying a small dark bird in its bill. Upon closer examination and noting the rounded wings, this had to be an unfortunate Sora! I guess everyone has to eat! Thanks to Chris for alerting me to this great spot.
The weather forecast today was for high winds from the north with a potential for lakeshore flooding, so after breakfast we drove west to Oak Openings Metropark, another of Toledo’s beautiful parks. A brief stop near the Toledo Airport produced several Grasshopper Sparrows and a pair of Eastern Meadowlarks. The long-staying Red Crossbills were calling at the Lodge when we arrived, but we had to wait until after our hike down Tornado Alley for some excellent views as they fed in the pines. Despite the sheltered position, the wind still howled amongst the trees making for difficult birding. A Pine Warbler sang a couple of times and a male Eastern Bluebird sat atop a logpile. We spent some time tracking down a Blue-winged Warbler (singing a very odd song), eventually found a Red-headed Woodpecker and had great views of a male Orchard Oriole before driving back to Oregon for lunch. The Window on Wildlife made a great lunchtime spot and by chatting to other birders we discovered that the Magee Boardwalk had been evacuated due to flooding from Lake Erie. We had planned to head that way so curiosity encouraged us to check out the flooding situation further east. Yes, Magee was indeed closed and Metzger was completely under water; quite impressive really. After a little bit of chasing around for shorebirds, we made a couple of visits to the new Metropark – Howard Marsh. This is going to be spectacular and is already showing great potential. Despite the very windy conditions, we had several impressive flocks of Dunlin that were flying into roost. Dinner was back at Maumee Bay State Park.
Because of the flooding along Lake Erie, we decided to head north towards Grayling, Michigan to see Kirtland’s Warbler on its breeding grounds. Conditions were gray and a little rainy as we drove north, but we were lucky to be spared most of the rain during the day. Our first stop was Pinckney Recreation area where we added Hooded Warbler and were treated to a lovely chorus from the abundant Veerys in the woodlands. Michigan has a great selection of state parks and lunch was at Seven Lakes, where our first (and only) Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the trip called once before flying into the woods. Our picnic lunches on this trip are delicious with wraps and avocados topping the popularity list! We still had a couple of hours to go to reach Kirtland’s Warbler habitat near Grayling, MI and the rain started in earnest as we started to look for them! Thankfully it was only a passing shower, but we only managed to hear a distant bird. Several Hermit Thrushes were singing their beautiful songs and a Merlin was on the prowl, keeping birds on their toes I am sure! After an interesting drive along a muddy, sandy road (thanks John), we did manage to hear another somewhat distant Kirtland’s before we went for a pretty good dinner at a local golf club where 2 Eastern Whip-poor-wills were singing when we came out afterwards.
It was a surprising and chilly 41F when we loaded up the car on our Kirtland’s Warbler expedition. The hotel was vast and somewhat Soviet in its appearance, and was completely full due to a local event going on, so we were lucky to get rooms at the last minute. Our first birding drive along Staley Bridge Road produced a small flock of Brewer’s Blackbird, several Eastern Kingbirds and another distant Kirtland’s Warbler. The habitat looked pretty good, but access and visibility was not great. Thankfully plan B was a success and at one stage we had at least 6 singing males at one time. A couple of them were fairly close and one was fairly active as well and was obviously moving around his territory. After waiting a few minutes we had great scope views of a singing male Kirtland’s – awesome! Our next stop was the beautiful Hartwick Pines State Park where both Rose-breasted and Evening Grosbeaks visit the feeders on a regular basis. This has to be one of the most reliable spots for the latter which has declined at a precipitous rate across its predominantly northern range. It was then time to head south back towards Toledo, where a lunchtime stop at Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area produced 2 male Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
It was very nice to get them here as we had missed them at Point Mouillee earlier in the week. After a brief stop at the new Howard Marsh Metropark, where large flocks of sparkling-plumaged Dunlin flew in over our heads to roost on the close mudflats, we continued onto the boardwalk. Thankfully the water had receded at Magee and the parking lot was open allowing us to make another visit to the famous boardwalk. Once again we had super-close views of Bay-breasted and Blackpoll Warblers, and one of the highlights had to be the singing male Prothonotary Warbler that seemed to glow as it posed for great views close to its many admirers! A female Mourning Warbler gave us some brief views as it skulked in the undergrowth. Dinner was again at the Maumee Bay State Park where champagne was in order to celebrate our Kirtland’s Warbler! (thanks Ladan)
We took a short walk in Pearson Metropark our last morning. It’s always fascinating to watch the changeover in birds from one week to the next. Our first visit to Pearson produced 21 warblers, while a week later we could only manage 6! The spring season is always a tremendous time of the year to experience migration in full swing. Before long we had to drive back to Toledo for airports and points home. Thanks to everyone for a great trip.
At Pike Lake, we scanned the recently burned over woodlands for any sign of Black-backed Woodpeckers. We found Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers instantly, but still had yet to hear the raspy call of the Black-backed by late afternoon. We had thoroughly searched the nearby campground and both sides of Pike Lake Road and had nearly conceded when we ran into Barry, a Michigan birder who had just come from a Black-backed nest site. We followed Barry well off the beaten path and eventually arrived at the spot. After a few minutes of waiting we heard the call and a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers flew and landed on a tree less than 20 feet from us! The male, with his striking yellow crown, had his mouth full of insect larvae, no doubt for some nestlings in a nearby cavity. We observed for a few minutes longer then decided the birds had had enough of us, and made our way back to Paradise for the evening (after profusely thanking Barry).
After a great few days on the Upper Peninsula we headed back south, birding our way to the small town of Standish in Arenac County. Before crossing the Straits we stopped at Bridge View Park and found several Mute Swans in addition to 60+ Common Goldeneye. As we cut across east we passed again through Grayling and Mio, and made a point to bird some of the backcountry dirt roads. In these deciduous, scrubby woodlands we found Scarlet Tanager, Golden-winged Warbler, and 2 more Black-billed Cuckoos.