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April, 2010

The highlight of the birding year for me is always visiting the forests in unglaciated Ohio in April as the trees fill out and the birds return. 2010 was one of the most unusual ever, and not really in a good way as far as photographing the birds goes. Yes, I did take some bird photos that I'll eventually get around to posting on this website, but it was more frustrating than productive for the most part. A very warm first week of April started the trees leafing out ahead of schedule, but after that cold temperatures with predominantly north winds kept the birds back. Most species arrived later than usual. Ideally the best time to photograph birds in Ohio's deciduous forests is when the birds arrive in the budding trees when there are still a lot of bare branches to see them and light to photograph them. This year when the birds arrived in their appropriate habitats the forest interior had little light and places to photograph were few. Here's how spring progressed from mid April onward this year.


Starting with the Shawnee State Forest on April 16, the vegetation is already far along for the date.


April 16, Shawnee State Forest
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 24mm f1.4L II lens
f11, 1/85th sec., ISO 320

The vegetation along the streams looks like habitat is ready for just about every species to begin showing up and establishing their breeding territories, but only the year round permanent residents and early arrivals such as Yellow-throated Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrushes could be heard.  One exception was Blue-winged Warbler. They seemed to arrive everywhere right on schedule this year in brushy habitats such as these streamside thickets and some were already present.


April 16, Shawnee State Forest
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 24mm f1.4L II lens
f9, 1/50th sec., ISO 400

The wooded slopes looked more than ready for species such as Worm-eating Warblers to me. The first ones usually arrive with far less vegetation than this, but it would be a while before any showed up. Black-and-white Warblers, however, were well distributed in habitats such as this.


A couple of days later at the more northerly Scioto Trail State Forest was even more of a shock.


April 18, Scioto Trail State Forest
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 14mm f2.8L II lens
f9, 1/800th sec., ISO 400

On April 18th the North Ridge at Scioto Trail looked like May 1st but sounded like April 1st.  The N Ridge supports all the usual nesting warblers, tanagers, vireos, and other passerines of such habitats, but the only birds singing were towhees and titmice. Aside from a few migrant Yellow-rumpeds, no warblers at all were found along this usually very productive ridge.  The trees looked almost completely leafed out, but not even a distant Ovenbird could be heard.


April 19th was a beautiful, but very quiet day at the Zaleski State Forest.  The trees weren't as full as Shawnee, but birds were far fewer.


April 19, Zaleski State Forest
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 14mm f2.8L II lens
f11, 1/32th sec., ISO 400

The entire day at Zaleski produced only one Black-and-white Warbler, a species already well distributed only a bit further south at Shawnee. It was in the spot above where good light and bare branches were already hard to come by on this ridge.


April 19, Zaleski State Forest
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 14mm f2.8L II lens
f13, 1/400th sec., ISO 400


April 19, Zaleski State Forest
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 14mm f2.8L II lens
f11, 1/500th sec., ISO 400

The bottomlands were also very quiet for the date, but colorful.



More than a week later at Zaleski the trees were full, and more birds had arrived, but most species were still scarce.


April 27, Zaleski State Forest
Canon EOS 7D, Canon 24mm f1.4L II lens
f9, 1/60th sec., ISO 250

Species such as Cerulean, Worm-eating, and Hooded Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, Wood Thrushes, and Scarlet Tanagers were all present in small numbers on April 27th at Zaleski. They had not arrived at all their usual spots including this quiet place where normally all are present by the end of April.


Ending the month back at Shawnee on April 30th found a fully leafed out forest and most species returned. Even Kentucky Warblers, normally the last forest warbler to return was widely distributed. But there was still plenty of available real estate for many species and not all individual birds had returned.  Late species such as Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, and both cuckoos usually make at least an appearance by the end of April at Shawnee, but none were found. Northern migrants sometimes gather in large numbers in these forests by the end of April, but they too were scarce. I did find Tennessees and  Nashvilles in small numbers in addition to one each of Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, and Golden-winged Warblers. Golden-wingeds are always scarce everywhere in Ohio during migration, but all those other species are usually numerous by the end of April at Shawnee along with Blackpolls, which I didn't even detect.


April 30, Shawnee State Forest
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 24mm f1.4L II lens
f10, 1/85th sec., ISO 400

The streamside thickets had filled out considerably since the middle of the month. Most species of this habitat were present by April 30th except for Acadian Flycatchers.


April 30th, Shawnee State Forest
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 14mm f2.8L II lens
f9, 1/800th sec., ISO 400

Finally, Worm-eating Warblers are numerous, but only harsh mid-day light enters the dense foliage of their habitat.


April 30th, Shawnee State Forest
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 14mm f2.8L II lens
f11, 1/800th sec., ISO 400

To those of us who have been birding at Shawnee for a long time, the year 2003 was a year that changed the forest dramatically, and the effects still have a huge influence in the distribution of species in the forest. 2003 was the year of the ice storm that toppled a large swath of primarily the southern half of Shawnee. Many dead trees were "harvested" and there are now many openings at Shawnee that host a wide range of species of successional habitats that were previously scarce or absent in the forest interior such as Blue-winged and  Prairie Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chats, White-eyed Vireos, and even Field Sparrows. In areas where there are maple saplings Chestnut-sided Warblers have taken up residence in an area of the state where they were unheard of ten years ago. All those species were back on the 30th, including the chats which are normally the last to arrive in that group. Many of the areas that were opened up in 2003 are now already  too overgrown for the species of the first stages of succession such as the Prairie Warblers, but a large fire (caused by arson), also in the southern part of Shawnee, in 2009 opened up more habitat.
 



April 30th, Shawnee State Forest
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 14mm f2.8L II lens
f11, 1/500th sec., ISO 400

Standing in this spot on April 30th I could hear Blue-winged, Yellow-throated, Pine (in the pines behind me), Cerulean, Kentucky, and Hooded Warblers, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, White-eyed, Yellow-throated, and Red-eyed Vireos, Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Phoebe, and Song and Chipping Sparrows.
 



April 30th, Shawnee State Forest
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 600f4 L IS lens + 2x
f10, 1/400th sec., ISO 320

This April did end up in a somewhat normal fashion with Kentucky Warblers being widespread by the end of the month.