Saturday, May 20, 2017

Spring birding at the Edge

Each year, multiple bird surveys are conducted on the Edge of Appalachia Preserve. Most of these occur in the spring as many birds are on the move.  Moving because they are leaving their winter grounds, or returning to their breeding grounds.   As an event, the anticipation of  returning migratory birds never seems to get old.  Like clockwork, many birds will arrive to their breeding grounds almost on the same date they arrived the year before.  If you know the dates a specific species returns, and watch weather patterns, one could almost predict the day this species will make landfall to the same habitat it perched the year before.

For example, the hard to find Henslow's sparrow returns each year around May 1st, to old farm fields that look as if they have not been mowed in a few years.  To find them you would have to listen for their quick song in the fields which sounds like someone is saying "SLIP" real fast.
Henslow's sparrow, Ammodramus henslowii
But not all birds we find in the spring are breeding birds.  Many people find joy in the hunt to see a new bird.  And spring is one of the best times to see birds that do not breed in your area, and pass through to their own breeding grounds to the north.  Birds like this palm warbler are found only for a couple weeks in the beginning of May at the Edge. And the Black-throated green warbler start moving through southern Ohio in mid-April.  But neither bird sticks around to breed.
Palm warbler,  Setophaga palmarum
Black-throated green warbler, Setophaga virens
On the Edge, we wait all winter for some of our migratory birds to return.  If you know the right habitats and learn some of their songs, you can find many breeding and non-breeding birds of the preserve in just one day.  Here is a look at a few, and where to find them.

In April, the sweet whistling song of the rose-breasted grosbeak can be heard deep in the woods, and in yards with feeders.  Although not until discovered recently, this now is one of the preserves breeding migratory birds.  Not a common breeder in southern Ohio, it can be found in some local populations.  Most of them heard or seen in Ohio during April and May are moving north.
Rose-breasted grosbeak, Pheucticus ludovicianus
One of the most common breeding warblers found in Ohio is the common yellowthroat.  It takes advantage of old fields, wet ditches and floodplains .  If you learn the easy to recognize song of this bird, you will realize how common they are.
Common yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas
If one bird would represent the Edge of Appalachia Preserve in springtime, it would have to be the prairie warbler.  This succession loving brush bird is found anywhere on the preserve where Red Cedars grow.  Which is almost anywhere on the preserve.
Prairie warbler, Setophaga discolor
A breath taking breeding bird in Ohio's forests is the scarlet tanager.  If you pay  attention deep in the forest, you might get lucky enough to see the rich colors of this red and black bird. 
Scarlet tanager, Piranga olivacea
Some bird species stick around all winter, but may look freshly painted in the spring because their breeding colors stand out.  This Eastern Bluebird  really stood out in a field of Butterweed.
Eastern bluebird, Sialia sialis
Since it is not a common breeding warbler on the preserve, the prothonotary warbler is an exciting find because it only nests in the floodplain forests along Ohio Brush Creek.  Only a few breeding territories are found each year on the preserve.  A fun way to survey them is by canoe.
Prothonotary warbler, Protonotaria citrea
Some of the non-breeders that pass through the preserve can best be found by listening for their songs.  Once you know their song, you know which part of which tall tree to search.  The black-throated blue warbler gives itself away by singing it's buzzy song which sounds like its saying "ZHHee, Zhhee, Zhee??"  The third part sounds as if its asking a question.
Black-throated blue warbler, Stenophaga caerulescens
Also along Ohio Brush Creek, or along roadside creeks, you might find a solitary sandpiper standing in the mud or rocks near the water.  If it doesn't fly away as soon as you see it, it might teeter-totter in place quickly.
Solitary sandpiper, Tringa solitaria
Every year, the preserve staff hunts and counts as many species as they can in a 24 hour period.  Up to 145 (averaging about 130) bird species have been counted in and around the Edge of Appalachia Preserve properties in a one day bird-a-thon.  That is a pretty good number considering almost 200 species have been recorded on or above the preserve, and at least 110 species breed here.  This preserve is rich in diverse habitats suitable for many bird species, including forest species that have declined across their ranges.  For a taste of a diverse birding experience, drive, look and listen along Waggoner Riffle Rd. and you might be surprised with what you find.

Posted by: Mark Zloba