Sunday, April 22, 2012

Magee Marsh and early warblers

I spent part of today at one of Ohio's most iconic birding hotspots, the legendary "Bird Trail" at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. This mile+ boardwalk winds through a 30-some acre patch of swampy woods on Lake Erie's south shore, and the place is a beacon for migrant songbirds. Today was raw and blustery, with temperatures in the low 40's and strong winds. Birds were relatively few, but included some of my favorite species.

You'll not see many scenes like this come May - the boardwalk will be packed with birders, and in places it'll resemble the sidewalks in Times Square at lunch hour. But on a good day the birds will outnumber the birders and the diversity of warblers and other songbirds can be fabulous.

And make no mistake - warblers are the People's Choice when it comes to the favorite group of birds at Magee. I led a walk yesterday elsewhere in Ohio, and Dick And Jane Ward showed up sporting this wonderful license plate.

One of our most striking warblers is the Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata, and plenty of them were around today. "Butter-butts" are early migrants and reach a crescendo in late April. They're also VERY common, and all too many people begin to ignore them; we become jaded by their numbers. But adult males such as this bird are utterly striking and few other warbler species can hold a candle to one in the looks department.

Female and subadult Yellow-rumped Warblers are more muted but have a certain charm nonetheless.

We also saw plenty of Palm Warblers, Setophaga palmarum, another early warbler migrant. Palms habitually feed low to the ground, or even on the ground, and are incessant tail-waggers. This bird is a male, and of the nominate subspecies palmarum: the "Western" Palm Warbler. Once in a long while, we get an "Eastern" Palm Warbler, S. p. hypochrysea. The males of this subspecies have a showy lemony-yellow wash throughout the underparts.

If you are among the many thousands of birders who will visit Magee Marsh and its fantastic bird trail, consider supporting the Friends of Magee Marsh. The hard work of this all-volunteer non-profit organization helps maintain the boardwalk, and other vital functions of the wildlife area. Among their myriad accomplishments is an ongoing all out war against garlic mustard and other invasive weeds, which of course ultimately makes for better more bird-friendly habitat. Membership is inexpensive; GO HERE for details.

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