.......and Reflections

Friday, March 9, 2012

March: Birding with Great Expectations

On March 24th I am offering a birding field trip that kicks off a series of birding opportunities for the rest of 2012. Early spring birding is always a bit of a slippery slope. The weather is generally improving with tantalizing warm, sunny days and the advent of early spring migrants. But there is a harsh reality to cabin fever birding.

The birds are not on the "Oh, the weather is beautiful, lets migrate" schedule. That is, usually. The birds are on a mission for breeding that is stimulated by the ever lengthening of daylight in their temperate breeding area. The other factor that can accelerate or slow down migration and breeding is food supply.

The migration of songbirds and most all birds is a mirror image of the progression of emerging flora and the awakening of insects, other macro invertebrates and micro invertebrates. So while the weather in March can be ever so delightful, the birding will only develop as spring develops. And the movement of spring northward is dictated by the astronomical forces that are precision in nature.

With that said and understanding the axiom regarding "spring" migration south to north, and the dependence birds and life has on the progression, March can vary by days and perhaps as much as a couple of weeks, either way depending on weather and variances in climate. So lets talk about March 24, 2012.

For all practical purposes northern Ohio has not had much of a winter. The weather has been unseasonably warm and in a roller coaster warm/cold pattern almost throughout December, January, and February. So this year's Cabin Fever Birding will likely be interesting at the very least. I look forward to this trip "with great expectations". But I have to wonder. March can pull very cruel tricks on enthusiastic birders.

The end of March provides an opportunity to see birds that are transitioning from winter to spring. There will be familiar winter waterfowl remaining like Scoters, Mergansers and Loons and Grebes. There will be a lot of migrating waterfowl and specifically "dabbling" ducks that wintered both here and farther south. This is a great time, if conditions are right, to find a variety of migrating raptors. There will be some lingering songbirds such as Golden-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creepers, and perhaps Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs. But songbirds are dependent on the emergence of insects and that will be forthcoming in April and May. Shorebirds may be on the move but likely in small numbers and spread out among virtually ice-free marshes in our area.

So here is the plan. It will be whatever it will be. The only way to make the day a success is to survey the best and most diverse areas and whatever is around we will have a chance to see.
This will be my 42nd March of birding and experience tells me there will be plenty to see even if it falls short of birder's expectations.

The itinerary may change depending upon what is moving in the days leading up to our field trip, but the areas we will visit will be both along the Lake Erie shoreline and adjacent inland sites. The trip will start out traveling west. We will visit, locations near Huron. From there we will access the southern side of Sandusky Bay including Medusa Marsh, Willow Point, Pickerel Creek and surrounding areas.

We will either travel southeast to inland, Oberlin and Wellington reservoirs, or east along Route 2 to Mill Hollow and/or Sandy Ridge Reservation. Either route brings us close to where we started in the morning and provides other opportunities to add more species to our early spring list.

I have done this many times and I know it can be very good and it could also be not so good. If this itinerary doesn't produce birds that meet our expectations than it is likely that an alternate route would not been very productive either. The reason I provide trips every month is that doing so give participants a realistic survey of birds and birding conditions for a whole year. In the end, taking these same field trips can be pretty predictable, and always with some variations.

As I write, I wonder though, what this coming March 24th will produce. I am beginning to sense changes in the last recent years that bird patterns may be changing. These subtle changes might reflect more obvious and documented changes in their natural world. Violent and untimely weather and disruption of the water cycle globally may be impacting migration in some way. Bird migration is a unilateral and global phenomenon. It is an epic and integral part of our living planet. I wonder if when our planet experiences changes such as these, all life indirectly experiences the consequences.

Whether the birding on our late March field trip exceeds or falls short of our "great expectations", it will be a great way to engage the coming season that is like no other on the Lake Erie north coast. We won't answer any great global issues but we will have fun and enjoy early spring in the places that make our area so special. Join us or create your own adventure and get out to the middle of nowhere, where the action really is.

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