For most birders, spring migration is the highlight of the year. Brightly-colored birds, ready to nest, flood north from southern areas, an exciting end to the cold season.
Spring migration takes place in March, April and May. March sees Waterfowl on the move heading north and early land bird arrivals such as Eastern Phoebes. April adds on many more land birds, especially Sparrows heading north. But it is May that is the jewel in the crown of spring migration. This is when most Warblers- those colorful neotropical migrants- pass through (and come to stay in) Ohio. The beginning of May usually sees the leaves on the trees start to come out, and this is where the Warblers look for their meals- insects.
Traditionally, the first 3 weeks of May is the core of my spring migration experience. By late May, the Warblers are slowing down significantly, and most migrants have migrated. The leaves and undergrowth are fully deployed in their summerish dense glory, making it hard to see our feathered friends.
So, I thought I’d post what the first 3 weeks of May 2019 were like for me- where I went and what I saw as a birder (not forgetting other sights such as wildflowers). This is a big post but I wanted to show how big the month of May can be!
May 1st, Indian Lake State Park (Logan Co)
I started off on a hunt for a rare shorebird up at Indian Lake
It’s still the off-season, although by the end of the month there will be a good amount of folks out in the parks
Here was the bird I was looking for- a Piping Plover. Looking somewhat like the common Semipalmated Plover, this bird is rarer here, and was passing through Ohio on shorebird migration. Note the blue band on its left leg. A life list bird for me!
This female House Sparrow was nesting in the top of a restroom building. May is a big month for birds raising young.
May 4th, Prairie Oaks Metro Park (Franklin Co)
Prairie Oaks Metro Park is one of my favorite places for nature walks- it’s not as busy as some places, being out on the western edge of Franklin County. It has a variety of environments, and is good-sized: you can walk for miles on the trails.
Wintercress is a prominent spring wildflower, one of three common yellow plants you can run across this season in Ohio.
Here’s a Buckeye- Ohio’s state tree- blooming.
Red-Winged Blackbirds are on territory, singing their ‘gurgle-ee’ song. They often chase other birds away from their territory.
Another bird often seen hanging around this month are Brown-Headed Cowbirds. These parasitic birds lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, allowing others to raise their young.
This is a Warbling Vireo, not much to look at but a vigorous singer that sounds a bit like a tape recorder sped up and running in reverse.
A pair of Tree Swallows at a nesting box.
A male Orchard Oriole keeps an eye out while his mate searches for nesting material.
A female American Redstart- a fairly common Warbler seen during migration.
A male Common Yellowthroat- one of the most common Warblers that nests in Ohio. It likes fields with shrubs and nearby trees.
A male Yellow Warbler. Another very common Warbler that nests in Ohio, it likes shrubby areas near water, and Prairie Oaks has plenty of both. I blogged about the Yellow Warbler frenzy at Prairie Oaks 5 years ago.
I spotted this broken Robin egg. There’s a lot of nesting going on.
This Robin wasn’t far off. When you see birds carrying food, they are most likely feeding their young.
I ran across a Killdeer, central Ohio’s most common shorebird. They love grassy and gravelly areas.
This bird is pretending to be injured to lure me away from their nest. I blogged about a similar incident years ago.
Can you spot the nest?
Here’s a close-up of the 4 eggs neatly placed together on a gravelly area. Killdeer place them upon a sparse nest of sticks and grass. When the young are born, they quickly are up and running.
May 5th, Blendon Woods Metro Park (Franklin Co)
Blendon Woods Metro Park is a very popular birding spot in Franklin County. The park isn’t the biggest, but it draws in a great amount of Warblers and other birds during migrations. Plus it is well-known for its substantial Wild Turkey flock. It is a must-visit park in May.
Here’s one of the many Wild Turkeys. They get along with people well enough. I blogged about an encounter with them 7 years ago.
Blendon Woods contains Walden Pond within its boundaries, a fine place to see water-friendly birds such as this Great Egret. There are 2 bird blind cottages to see them from.
This Gray Catbird sings vigorously from a bushy area. I see perhaps the same bird every year in the same place…I’ll have to blog about that one day.
And now, a few of the Warblers seen…
A male Black-Throated Blue Warbler singing
A Black And White Warbler
A male Blackburnian Warbler in all his glory.
May has a profusion of bushes blooming, such as this Elderberry. More about it here.
Butterweed is a common May plant in wet fields. Whole fields of it sometimes takes one’s breath away.
Chipmunks were common in the May woods. Sometimes they hold very still, allowing a decent picture 🙂
A young-bird encounter- 2 juvenile Carolina Wrens beg for food from a parent. These birds are quite loud for their tiny size. Young birds can often be identified by their colorful mouths- this triggers a parents’ instinct to feed them when they open wide.
May 5th, Dillon State Park (Muskingum Co)
A birding buddy and I overnighted at Dillon State Park at a cabin. The great thing about the cabin area is that it was surrounded by woodland, so we could birdwatch right from our deck!
A male Eastern Towhee
A Red-Eyed Vireo
A Hooded Warbler singing
This patch of Bluets grew next to our cabin.
May 6th, Blackhand Gorge state Nature Preserve (Licking Co)
Blackhand Gorge is another well-visited birding hotspot, east of Columbus.
The name “Blackhand” originated from a dark, hand-shaped Indian petroglyph that was engraved on the face of a massive sandstone cliff along the north side of the river. The engraving was destroyed in 1828 when canal builders dynamited the cliff face, during construction of the Ohio-Erie Canal, which runs through the gorge. Sections of the canal towpaths and canal locks may be seen from the trails along the river.
There’s a lot of interesting sandstone geology in the area. A railroad cut was blasted through this area in 1851.
Cerulean Warblers sang in the forest.
White-Eyed Vireos, with their striking songs and white eyes, liked the area.
Quite a few Acadian Flycatchers- another forest bird- were around. They chased each other through the forest.
This Yellow-Throated Vireo came down for a good look at us birders.
May 7th & 8th, Buck Creek State Park (Clark Co)
One of my favorite state parks is Buck Creek, near Springfield. It has a large reservoir, miles of roads through woods, recreational areas, cabins and campgrounds, even a beach. The Visitors Center (run by the US Army Corps of Engineers) is worth a stop- one of the staff members is a birder and likes to talk birds.
I stay in one particular cabin that has the best view of the reservoir.
I chatted a bit with a lady mushroomer- she’d found some impressive specimens in the area.
Spring Beauties, a classic spring ephemeral, like some shade. Read more about them in an old blog post.
This Black-Throated Green Warbler posed nicely for me.
Tennessee Warblers sang loudly…
…while Blackpoll Warblers made very soft high-pitched calls.
This male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak sang in a tree, not overly concerned about me taking pictures of him.
Baltimore Orioles were numerous, collecting nesting material and squabbling with each other.
This Eastern Phoebe was near my cabin- they love nesting on human structures. Here’s a post I did about them long ago.
Some of the deer near my cabin seemed curious about me.
This Raccoon was trying to grab something in a hole in a tree, probably bird eggs
A cat hung out in the cabin area- it ignored me but finally began meowing at me afterI talked to it for a while. My guess is that somebody was feeding it!
I saw many nesting birds, such as this Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher and others
May 11th, Howard Marsh MetroPark (Lucas Co)
I went up to Lake Erie during Big Birding Week. Howard Marsh Metropark is a great place to find a variety of birds, including rarities.
A buddy and I went up during the Biggest Week in American Birding.
This park has a small resident population of Horned Larks that you can get fairly close to. It’s hard to get them to pose for pictures like this elsewhere (at least in my experience).
A highlight of this visit was getting great pictures of one of the 3 Yellow-Headed Blackbirds in the park. These birds are rare enough in Ohio, much more common out west, but they were associating with a large flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds and were singing. Top males have a harem of females. Their song is not pleasing to the ear, but they are gorgeous birds!
Another bird highlight was this Black-Necked Stilt feeding in the marsh. This bird is rare in Ohio, being typically found along either coast or out west. They are very territorial when nesting, and have even been known to strike at people with their legs from behind the intruding human. They are also gorgeous!
May 11th, Magee Marsh Boardwalk (Lucas Co)
Magee Marsh Boardwalk is the mecca of Ohio birders (and one of the most visited birding places in the eastern US). I’ve blogged about a visit I made there 2 years ago.
It’s fun looking at the many vehicles in the parking lot.
The boardwalk is crowded this season. This male Red-Winged Blackbird walked down the boardwalk in between all of the birders! What the heck was that about?
And now, on to the Warblers- I got some good photos this visit-
A male Magnolia Warbler
A singing Northern Parula Warbler
A Chestnut-Sided Warbler
A Yellow Warbler collecting nesting material
A singing Bay-Breasted Warbler, always good to get a solid picture of them
A male Cape May Warbler who posed for us for nearly a minute!
A male Yellow-Rumped Warbler
While not a Warbler, this male Scarlet Tanager was just as beautiful.
May 14th, Tecumseh Trail (Clark Co)
The Tecumseh Trail is in New Carlisle Ohio, west of Springfield. It is host to a rare Warbler this May.
Birders went off the main trail a small ways on an animal path in the Honeysuckle bushes, looking for the bird…
…a Swainson’s Warbler. This bird was somewhat hard to see, singing in the brush and from hidden perches. As far as I know, it is still there singing- perhaps trying to set up territory? Another life list bird for me.
Within sight of the Swainson’s Warbler was a Red-Shouldered Hawk nest in a large Sycamore Tree.
I spotted this patch of Wild Columbine along the trail- gorgeous and uncommon wildflowers!
A Great Crested Flycatcher flew across the path. This trail is a good birding spot!
May 16th, Little Darby Preserve (Madison Co)
This remote hidden gem of a nature preserve is west of Columbus in the county I grew up in. It has plenty of fields, dense brushy areas, and woodland along Little Darby Creek’s shores. I talked to a maintenance guy mowing the paths and he agrees that there’s not lots of people visiting, but that’s fine- nature flourishes there.
A female Summer Tanager searches for insects- she has a very robust bill. Her male counterpart is completely red.
A Willow Flycatcher sings from the top of a bush out in a field. This is perfect habitat for them.
Red Admiral butterflies were a common sight.
Fleabane is a common May plant- I blogged about them years ago.
Sweet Cicely is a woodland wildflower that blooms mostly in the month of May.
Virginia Waterleaf is another May flower seen in moist woods.
Wild Geraniums are late spring woodland wildflowers, sort of the last of the spring ephemerals.
May 22nd, Kiwanis Riverway Park (Franklin Co)
Kiwanis Park is a local haunt of mine, a hidden gem of a place that I’ve blogged about before. It was a fitting place to wrap up the month’s birdapalooza.
A Starling parent is ready to feed this juvenile. Starlings like to nest in tree holes.
Up above, a Turkey Vulture soars.
A Northern Flicker
A young Cardinal hiding in thickets. These birds are secretive and don’t like to show themselves.
Dame’s Rocket, the last of the common spring flowers to bloom. Of course I’ve blogged about it before.
Vines such as this Wild Grape were swiftly increasing. By now the foliage is very summer-like.
This Canada Warbler peeking at me in the trees was a fitting end to the late May warbler season. This species tends to migrate late, and its appearance means that the May Warbler show is drawing to a close.
I hope you enjoyed some of the results of my hectic month!