May days bring back colorful migration

Migrating songbirds have been a little slow making their way north this spring, trickling in a few at a time, but the birding community is ready for the annual May splash of colorful warblers, tanagers, flycatchers, vireos, thrushes and a host of other birds.

More than 400 bird species have been recorded in Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and northwest Ohio is alive with excellent spots for bird watching.

After the warm weather this weekend, master bird bander Tom Bartlett of Tiffin is expecting large numbers to be flying into northwest Ohio to rest and feed before they make the long trek over Lake Erie to the summer nesting grounds.

“They’re coming any day now,” Bartlett said earlier this week from his vantage point overlooking Lake Erie from Middle Bass Island. “With a day or two of southwest winds, there will be birds everywhere.”

“Every year, I do a spring banding on the East Point Preserve,” he said. “Next week, I’ll be on South Bass.”

Later in May, he plans to be banding on Kelleys Island. And on weekend in between, he bands birds in Seneca County at Springville Marsh State Nature Preserve.

Wind direction plays a major role in bird movement, he said.

“Remember to check the weather,” Bartlett said. “Southwest winds are always going to be your best days. Anytime you get a southwest wind, you should call in sick.”

Springville Marsh is one area Bartlett recommends for bird watching in Seneca County. Also, he said most parks in the Seneca County Park District system would be excellent for watching birds, especially Garlo and Steyer nature preserves.

Clinton Nature Preserve also is a promising spot.

“It’s going to be phenomenal there, because they follow the river,” he said.

For people who want to venture further north, he said there are lots of marshes and nature areas along the southern shore of Lake Erie.

“And there are the islands,” he said. “The islands are always good.”

Along the lake’s southern shore further west are several parks in the Metroparks of the Toledo Area system, such as Oak Openings, Secor and Pearson parks.

Bartlett said usually there aren’t as many people in the metroparks as there are at Magee Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Area.

“There will be a lot of warblers moving through there,” he said.

To prepare for a bird-watching experience, Bartlett suggested binoculars and a good field guide.

“And get a local checklist,” he said. “They list what’s common for the time of year and what you should be seeing.”

He said checklists can be found on the ODNR website, or people can make their first birding stop near Lake Erie at Magee Marsh, where they can pick up all the information they’ll need.

“There are a lot of guided tours, too,” he said.

The Biggest Week in American Birding is a great place to get guided tours and lots of birding information, he said. But he also suggested checking for guided bird tours at local park districts.

“We always welcome people at Springville,” he said. “We’ve had a few days where the parking lot has been full and people parked along the road.”

Here’s a list of great spring birding spots for people who want to stay close to home in Seneca County:

Springville Marsh State Nature Preserve, 12250 TR 24, Carey – 161 acres with a mile-long looped boardwalk off US 23 between Fostoria and Carey.

Howard Collier State Nature Preserve, 1655 W. TR 38 – 115 acres through a wooded area along the Sandusky River, northeast of McCutchenville. Wooden steps descend to hiking trails.

Clinton Nature Preserve, 375 E. TR 132 – 33 acres along the Sandusky River with a 1.25-mile trail and canoe access to the river.

Garlo Heritage Nature Preserve, 6777 S. SR 19, Bloomville – 292 acres with a 37-acre shallow lake and three 1-acre ponds, woodlands and grasslands, more than 10 miles of hiking and equestrian trails.

Steyer Nature Preserve, 5901 N. CR 33 – 141 acres along the Sandusky River with more than 4 miles of trails and eight bridges over ravines.

Lake Erie Birding Trail

Birders who wish to venture a little further north have a choice of some of the world’s top birding spots on the south shore of Lake Erie.

The Lake Erie Birding Trail is known worldwide, and visitors travel every year from around the United States and other countries throughout the world to the area in early to mid-May.

“Tremendous numbers and diversity of migrant songbirds fill lakeside woodlands in spring and fall,” says the Lake Erie Birding Trail home page on the ODNR website.

The Lake Erie Birding Trail is divided into seven loops from the Toledo area all the way to Ashtabula, east of Cleveland. But the northwest Ohio portion includes the Lake Erie islands, the marsh area between Toledo and Sandusky Bay, and the Oak Openings area of Toledo.

Western Lake Erie Marshes

“Magee Marsh and vicinity supports one of the greatest migration spectacles to be found anywhere in North America,” the website says. “Scores of flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, tanagers, and others pass through in May. Stars of the show are the warblers, though. Thirty-seven species occur annually, and many of them can be found in jaw-dropping numbers.”

The area is central to the annual Biggest Week in American Birding which takes place this year Friday through May 17 and offers guided tours of the top birding spots, along with workshops and keynote addresses by some of the top birding experts on a variety of topics.

Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, 13229 W. SR 2, Oak Harbor (419) 898-0960 – The 2,000-acre area is known as one of the top birding spots in the world, and offers hiking trails, sightings board and a binocular loan. Birders can pick up a checklist at the visitors center. But the main attraction is “the legendary bird trail,” an elevated 1.5-mile-long boardwalk that bisects a 37-acre patch of swamp woods on the shore of Lake Erie.

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, 14000 W. SR 2, Oak Harbor – Next door to Magee Marsh, the 9,000-acre Ottawa NWR also offers hiking trails, sightings board and binocular loan. Birders can pick up a checklist at the visitors center.

Maumee Bay State Park, 1400 State Park Road, Oregon – This 1,336-acre park has hiking trails and a sightings board, and birders can pick up a checklist at the visitors center.

An area without as many amenities as the three largest spots include Metzger Marsh State Wildlife Area, Bono Road, off SR 2, Oak Harbor, and Mallard Club State Wildlife Area, 8299 Cedar Point Road, Oregon.

Closer to Toledo are Pearson Metropark, 4600 Starr Ave., Oregon, and Bayshore Fishing Access, 4900 Bayshore Road, Oregon.

Lake Erie Islands Loop

Of the 28 Lake Erie islands, only three area easily accessible from the mainland by ferry or airplane – Kelleys, Middle Bass and South Bass.

“Visiting the islands is a very different type of adventure than birding the other loops on this trail and one should set aside at least a full day to explore them,” according to the website. “On a great day in May, migrant songbirds can fill the trees. Every regularly occurring species of warbler, flycatcher, vireo, thrush, etc. can be expected, and nearly all can be recorded in a single morning.”

Two main spots on South Bass Island (aka Put-in-Bay) are South Bass Island State Park, which also offers camping, at the west end of the island, and the 9-acre Scheeff East Point Nature Preserve at the east end.

Middle Bass Island State Park covers about 20 percent of the island and offers trails and camping.

On Kelleys Island are the 700-acre Kelleys Island State Park with trails and camping, and the 24-acre Scheele Preserve.

Sandusky Bay Loop

Another loop on the Lake Erie Birding Trail is the Sandusky Bay Loop. The bay where the Sandusky River water enters Lake Erie, is best known as a stopover for migrating waterfowl but also attracts songbirds.

The area includes East Sandusky Bay MetroPark, a group of four contiguous parks that total about 1,200 acres. The address is 3819 Cleveland Road (US 6), Sandusky. The open waters can be seen from Cedar Point Road, but stopping along the road is forbidden. The park must be accessed via a mile-long trail that begins at the parking area off US 6, about a mile west of Cedar Point Road.

Other areas in this loop that might be of interest to Seneca County people are the 2,272-acre Resthaven State Wildlife Area, Northwest Road off of US 6, Castalia; Pickerel Creek State Wildlife Area, 3451 CR 256, Vickery; Blue Heron Reserve, CR 260 off US 6, Clyde; and Little Portage State Wildlife Area, Darr-Hopfinger Road, off SR 53.

In Sandusky County, Bartlett suggested Sandusky County Park District’s Creek Bend Farm Park, 654 S. Main St., Lindsey, and its Wilson Nature Center.