Avids Hit the Shorebird Jackpot: 17 August 2019

Pied-billed Grebe (immature) - Photo Earl Harrison

Back in May of this year, 2019, the shorebird migration was very frustrating for birders. There must have been shorebirds somewhere: they didn’t all stay south of the border, and observers in the far north saw plenty of breeders up there. But you wouldn’t have known it by birding in Ohio at the time, as shorebirds other than Dunlin were hardly noticeable.

So we wondered what this trip would bring. Would shorebirds again bypass Ohio? For that matter, with all of the rain early in the year followed by arid conditions for the past few months, would there be any shorebird habitat in the state? Well, there’s no need to prolong the suspense: the answers were no (the shorebirds did not avoid the Buckeye state) and yes (several spots had great habitat).

Black-bellied Plover - Photo Jenny Bowman

Black-bellied Plover at Wilderness Road – Photo Jenny Bowman

As usual, 5:30 am found several of us at the Worthington Mall. From there, we first made the long drive to Howard Marsh, newest of the Toledo Metroparks, which had been one of the few places this past spring with any shorebirds at all (mostly Dunlin). Conditions were wonderful, with sunny skies but moderate temperatures and a cool breeze blowing in from the lake. The birding was just as good, as we quickly tallied  a Black-necked Stilt (for today, an honorary shorebird), Short-billed Dowitcher, Spotted Sandpiper, and both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Besides the shorebirds, there were dozens of Pied-billed Grebes, American Coots with loads of chicks, and even two large families of Common Gallinules. A possible immature Little Blue Heron briefly appeared, but it got away before we could positively identify it. Meanwhile, we also noticed both immature and adult Snowy Egrets.

After thoroughly exploring – and enjoying – Howard Marsh, we transferred to the adjoining Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area. We noticed a birder just a few hundred yards down the access road and quickly found why he was there: a wet area next to the road was alive with shorebirds. We found, among others, Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmanted and Least Sandpipers, and a single Wilson’s Snipe. But the highlights were two Ohio rarities pointed out by our new friend: a Baird’s Sandpiper popped in and out of view, eventually allowing looks for all of us, and a White-rumped Sandpiper playing hard-to-see by standing stock still most of the time. Oddly, we moved down the road a few hundred yards only to find no birds at all: we have no idea why one spot was filled with birds while another similar one had next to nothing.

We thought that a change of pace was in order, so we hopped over to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. We quickly suspected that this was not a great move: there was a nearly complete absence of bird life in the marsh on the drive back toward the lakefront. Sure enough, a rapid hike along the entire length of the boardwalk turned up little more than the occasional Gray Catbird, although we did hear several Eastern Wood-Pewees as we walked back to the car.

Red Knot - Photo Jenny Bowman

Red Knot – Photo Jenny Bowman

Enough of that – we were after shorebirds! We headed out on the long drive to Wilderness Road over in Holmes County. This site has several acres of mudflats left over from peat “mining” operations, and the owners have left it alone because it provides habitat for shorebirds. We picked up one or two species in flooded fields on the way, but the big news was at the well-known (to birders) main site. First, we quickly found a Red Knot (previously reported), then a Black-bellied Plover, still in almost complete breeding plumage – a most striking bird! Joining forces with a couple of other birders who happened to be here helped us located the Black-bellied Plover’s look-alike cousin, and American Golden-Plover. In fact, there were two of them: the first in dull winter plumage, but the second retaining quite a bit of its more colorful summer garb. A Black Tern, already in winter plumage, provided a nice change of pace.

We hung around scoping different parts of the area and chatting about birds until we were convinced that there were no more avian species to be found. Our timing was perfect: we were not even to the paved road where we would start our homeward journey when the rain started. Not much of a rain, fortunately, and the drive home was uneventful.

We ended the day with a respectable 59 species – and of those, 18 species of shorebirds, an excellent tally.

Here’s a list of species see, with totals for each species for the day:

Canada Goose35
Trumpeter Swan2
Wood Duck5
Blue-winged Teal30
Mallard3
Ruddy Duck15
Pied-billed Grebe60
Mourning Dove12
Common Gallinule11
American Coot75
Black-necked Stilt1
Black-bellied Plover1
American Golden-Plover2
Semipalmated Plover20
Killdeer75
Red Knot1
Stilt Sandpiper3
Baird’s Sandpiper1
Least Sandpiper5
White-rumped Sandpiper1
Pectoral Sandpiper11
Semipalmated Sandpiper8
Short-billed Dowitcher7
Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher1
Wilson’s Snipe1
Spotted Sandpiper4
Solitary Sandpiper1
Greater Yellowlegs3
Lesser Yellowlegs10
Ring-billed Gull7
Caspian Tern6
Black Tern2
Common Tern3
Double-crested Cormorant20
Least Bittern1
Great Blue Heron6
Great Egret10
Snowy Egret6
Black-crowned Night-Heron3
Northern Harrier1
Bald Eagle2
Red-tailed Hawk1
American Kestrel1
Eastern Wood-Pewee2
Purple Martin25
Tree Swallow20
Barn Swallow40
European Starling400
Gray Catbird1
American Robin1
Cedar Waxwing1
American Goldfinch5
Chipping Sparrow1
Song Sparrow4
Red-winged Blackbird25
Common Grackle1
Indigo Bunting1
House Sparrow
Rock Dove