Where We Are Birding – March

Where We Are Birding – March

Each month, our OOS Regional Directors are sharing their favorite birding hotspots in their respective regions – and beyond. These include some well-know destinations, specialty spots for specific species, and their own secret, treasured local patches. Have a favorite birding location? Reach out to your OOS Regional Director and let them know!

Amy Downing – Northwest Regional Director

Blue Rock Nature Preserve, Riverside Park, and Oakwoods Nature Preserve

With amazing weather but a busy schedule I find myself on daily short
hikes through small to medium-sized parks looking for the early migrants.
My focus is on the closest parks with dense undercover, water sources, and
high tree canopy. Hancock County is fortunate to have such places like
Blue Rock Nature Preserve, Riverside Park, Liberty Landings, and Oakwoods
Nature Preserve that are within minutes.  Today found me listening to
Spring Peepers and hoping for American Woodcock, American Phoebe, Wood
Duck on the river searching for nesting sites, Rusty Blackbirds with the
freshly arrived Red-winged, and early shorebirds in flooded areas. As
always I’m watching the skies for migrating raptors and hoping for Black
Vultures passing through with Turkey Vultures. Soon the warblers will be
coming through, so find your local parks with the right conditions for
great birding no matter length of time you have to get out there!

Melissa Wales – Southeast Regional Director

Ora Anderson Trail ​- Athens County

The Ora Anderson trail behind the Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens is a delightful one mile loop. The Dairy Barn had been an active dairy for the Athens Lunatic Asylum (now known as The Ridges) and Ora Anderson, among his vast conservation accomplishments, was instrumental in the preservation of the barn, its transformation into an arts center, and the trail system behind it.

It is not accessible with a rather steep, sometimes muddy and rough loop trail that winds up the hillside and opens up to a clear cut, whose scrubby edges sometimes gift you with Fox (which I found this March) and Vesper Sparrows. The open treeless hilly area on the southern end is good for raptors, Eastern Bluebirds and more sparrows. The loop trail continuing to the north is good for migrating vireos and warblers, which are hopefully on their way now!

Kandace Glanville – Central Regional Director

Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park – Franklin County

Late February and early March sort of marks the beginning of spring migration in central Ohio, and a great place to look for this is at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park in Franklin county – specifically, the eBird hotspot “Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park–Darby Plains Wet Prairie Restoration.” Wear your muck boots, and walk the trails to look for Northern Harriers, Rusty Blackbirds, swallows, as well as Short-eared Owls and American Woodcocks at dusk. These trails are not always easily walkable, as it’s uneven terrain and often very wet and muddy. Though, if nothing else, one could stand in the parking lot of the trails and get the Short-eared Owls and American Woodcocks from there.

Diana Steele – Northeast Regional Director

Sandy Ridge Reservation – Lorain County

In March, birds are on the move! Particularly blackbirds, waterfowl, and early shorebirds. A site I like to visit in March is Sandy Ridge Reservation, part of the Lorain County Metroparks system. It’s a vast reclaimed wetland and nature preserve frequented by many different types of ducks, shorebirds, blackbirds, sparrows, and later in spring, warblers. Since it opened in 1999, nearly 250 species have been seen there. From the parking lot, the half-mile-long flat crushed-stone Wet Woods Trail leads through a woods where thrushes pop up from leaf litter and a pair of great horned owls breed. When the trail opens up at a large wetland, an eagle nest can be seen to the left. A wide variety of ducks congregate on the open water, and shorebirds forage in small mudflats. For the past two years, trumpeter swans have raised broods here, and a solitary sandhill crane, nicknamed “Kevin,” often wanders the paths along with walkers. The 1.2-mile Marsh Loop Trail encircles the 526-acre wetland, and a raised mound and viewing platform offer a wide overview of the landscape. The trail can feel very exposed in windy or wet weather. In prior years, during migration, park personnel have offered guided tram tours, which will return post-Covid. Restrooms are available at the parking lot. A second trail, the .7-mile Meadow Loop Trail, encircles a meadow; a great place to see displaying woodcocks at dusk as well as breeding meadowlarks and sparrows. Check the park website for open hours, which change seasonally.

Jon Cefus – East Central Regional Director

Various Richland County Locations

This month you’ll find me trying to locate waterfowl on their spring migration with hopes of finding something rare here in Ohio like a Eurasian Wigeon or a Cinnamon Teal.  In east central Ohio, one of the counties that is on my radar is Richland.  With multiple lakes, reservoirs, and wetlands, Richland is a perfect place to search for ducks and geese.  For more information, check the Birding in Ohio website for hotspots and birding drives.

Tyler Ficker – Southwest Regional Director

Spring Valley Wildlife Area – Warren and Greene Counties

Spring Valley extends into both Greene and Warren counties and is my favorite place to visit in March. This location has diverse habitat for early migrant species such as kinglets, creepers, and sparrows. The waterfowl diversity this time of year can be great along with some early marsh birds beginning to sing such as Virginia Rails!

Nocturnal Flight Calls

Nocturnal Flight Calls

The night before birding on a given morning during migration is spent excitedly talking about the predicted migration with my friends. Messages are exchanged on anything from wind patterns to Cornell’s BirdCast and predicting which species we think will finally make it to our area for the first time this season. Then we all head to bed, excited for the migrants that await us in the morning.

Some of these nights, there is enough activity overhead that I try to listen to what birds are flying over. When it’s quiet, you can hear faint chips overhead as birds pass by. With a microphone, you’re able to hear them much clearer and even identify them to species! These “nocturnal flight calls” provide a whole new insight and level of excitement to birding in migration!

I clearly remember sitting in the audience at one of the Ohio Young Birders Club conferences. The keynote speaker was telling us how he was able to listen to the birds migrating overhead each night and identify them to species by call or spectrogram. I was no older than middle school at the time, but it stuck with me. I knew someday I wanted to be able to do that myself, and see what birds migrated over my house on a given night.

This spring, I decided it was finally time to make the dream come true. I’d seen a lot of eBird lists coming in with recordings marked “NFC”. These “NFC’s,” or Nocturnal Flight Calls, are a series of typically short notes given by birds during migration. Many are high-pitched and similar enough that they can’t be identified to species. However, some, such as Yellow-billed Cuckoo, give calls similar to those you would hear on a typical summer morning. Thankfully, I had a few friends who had experience with these identifications, and others who were also trying to learn. This allowed us to work through IDs and technical difficulties together.

A very busy road runs behind my house here in Clermont County, making hearing overhead birds difficult at times. Once it was late enough at night, usually around midnight, I would go set out my microphone. In my case, this was a sensitive directional microphone in a 5-gallon bucket, allowing sound to be funneled into the mic. The cable was usually run 30 feet or so over to my computer, where I had headphones plugged in and Cornell’s Raven Lite software open. Some people run their NFC mics all night and go through recordings the next morning to see what calls they detect. Since I am just getting started with this, I chose to run the mic only as long as I could be awake, and listen to the calls in real time. This allowed me to learn more in the moment. As I watched the spectrogram of the live recording coming in, I would save just short segments as I heard them.

The area my house is in is relatively urban, just adding significance to the variety and numbers of species passing overhead. There is little habitat anywhere in the county for some of the species I observed to even stop, making it even more exciting to hear them!

Within my first hour of running the microphone, I was already amazed at the diversity overhead. April 23rd was still early enough in the season to detect earlier migrants, such as sparrows. My NFCs were mostly Savannah, Chipping, and White-throated Sparrows. Some of the exciting surprises were difficult birds for Clermont County, such as Grasshopper Sparrow, Pine Warbler, and Great Egret! I was very excited after this night and couldn’t wait to see what came later in the season.

The call of a Chipping Sparrow is a “U” shape, often with a second line in the middle (as shown in the second call) or sometimes a single “U” as shown in the first.

A few days later on April 28th, my sister, Cassidy, and I decided to try the microphone again. Due to less road noise in the middle of the week, we were able to start as early as 10:45pm. As I went outside to set up the microphone, I heard a Spotted Sandpiper calling overhead and knew that this was going to be a fun night to listen. A few unidentified warblers called too distantly to confidently ID, but still had me excited to see the species change in such a short time. Sparrow numbers were significantly lower, and thrushes had begun to pick up. Hermit and Veery both were recorded. The most exciting finds of the night were the Least Sandpiper (a very fun yard bird) as well as THREE Virginia Rails, one of my most wanted birds for Clermont County in general.

Four faint “Kek” calls of a Virginia Rail. They have one of the lower calls I heard over my house. They were easier to hear than the computer picked up.

The third (and unfortunately final) time I ran the microphone this season just happened to be the craziest night yet! May 18th was just after the main peak in migration for the Cincinnati area, and I had no idea what to expect. I only had an hour to run the microphone before bed, because I wanted to get early for one of the last big pushes of birds in the area. I went outside to set up the mic, and within the first 30 seconds I heard 8 Swainson’s Thrushes overhead. Once recording started, Swainson’s Thrushes were calling once every 15 seconds, resulting in a call rate of nearly 250 birds per hour! A number of Veery and Gray-cheeked Thrushes called as well. Other surprises included 45 Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeak, Grasshopper Sparrow, Green Heron, and two Yellow-billed Cuckoos!

One of the almost 250 Swainson’s Thrushes that passed over my house in the hour I ran the microphone! The thrushes all have pretty distinct calls while migrating.

Learning to identify these calls wasn’t easy. I spent a lot of time on both oldbird.org and eBird’s Macaulay Library, as well as texting friends for help. It took time to familiarize myself with the most common calls and learn to help classify them into families. There are certain common patterns to recognize, you must note the time and frequency of every call, and have patience while browsing other samples. These were the most beneficial ways for me to learn. It may be a bit of a learning curve, but was a very fun new way to experience migration. When birds are migrating overhead, you never know what could fly over your yard!

I was able to record a Least Sandpiper during the April 29, 2020 session below.

eBird Checklist - April 23, 2020

This checklist features 16 species, 15 with audio recordings. Click Here

eBird Checklist - April 29, 2020

This checklist features 10 species, 8 with audio recordings. Click Here

eBird Checklist - May 18, 2020

This checklist features 14 species, 13 with audio recordings. Click Here

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