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May 31, 2011 / stephanie

Recap of May Migration in Ohio: Part 1

It is now the end of May and the thrill of peak “Warbler season” has passed. The lovely buzzes, trills & flute-like songs of migrants from high aloft in the canopy have gradually faded and we are now simply left with the old familiar sounds of our loyal breeding birds. But let’s go back to May 1 for a moment!

May 1st was an amazing day for migration here at my temporary home in Columbus, Ohio. It also happened to be a Sunday and I had the day off from my also-bird-related job. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but migration had been quietly picking up speed during the past week. I made the short trip to Blendon Woods Metro Park and was amazed to find 20 species of Warblers along with the colorful splashes of male Baltimore Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak & Scarlet Tanager. It was 11am, possibly getting in the range of “late” to be out birding, but the migrants didn’t care. They had been flying throughout the night and needed to replenish their energy stores. Warblers during migration will continue to feast all day long once they have found a spot to land that has plentiful enough resources. Birders, as well, will continue to bird all day long as long as the warblers are there to amuse them. And birders I did find. Along the path, everyone was on a mission to see their first-of-the-year birds.

To explain further for non-birders, birders like to write lists and many are not content with just one list of “birds I have seen.” And so it becomes “birds I have seen in 2011” and “birds I have seen in Franklin County” and “birds I have seen in North America in January” etc. For me, I do like having a list of birds that I have seen but it can sometimes be a stretch for me to take that a step further. Still, it is something quite special to see the birds that are only here for just a tiny portion of the year, and if you don’t look now you might miss them. And even better, in spring migration you get to see them in all their glory when they have their brightest plumage and are full of song. And so it becomes a joy for birders to discuss how many “first-of-the-year” birds they got in one day! I had several on May 1, 2011 though I didn’t keep quite a perfect tally.

American Redstart, Blendon Woods Metro Park

Birders also of course flock to the specialness of seeing a “life-bird,” the first ever sighting of a bird species. And what makes it all the more fantastic if the “lifer” is also a rare species. My current life list stands at 452 species, though I only started a comprehensive list since taking Ornithology class my junior year of college. Anyway, the most recent addition to my list took place right here in Columbus during spring migration. Typically, I’m not one to make specific trips to see specific birds or receive rare bird alerts directly to my cell phone, but this was maybe a little different since I love warblers. And so on May 4th, a rare Kirtland’s Warbler was spotted a mere 2 and a half miles from where I live. For some back story, numbers for this bird are around 5,000, and its conservation status is currently listed as “near threatened,” as the bird has made some recovery since its “endangered” listing in the 1970s. No matter the amount of recovery though, this bird will always be relatively rare since its breeding habitat in the USA is so small and specific (for more info: check out All About Birds).

Life Bird: Kirtland's Warbler

And that’s how I saw my first Kirtland’s Warbler, at 7pm, nowhere else but foraging in a lawn with 3 trees, next to busy Columbus traffic. Strange place to see a rare bird, but not entirely out of place for Kirtland’s to be in the Columbus-area during migration since they typically breed in Michigan.

So, that was my first week of May in Ohio! Not too bad. But not done with migration yet, so I’ll have to make this a two-parted entry. So, I’ll leave you this Migration blog entry with the mnemonic for the song of a common migrant, the Blue-headed Vireo: See you, be seeing you, so long!

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