Ever since first laying eyes on the map of the Woodtick Peninsula I have become intrigued by the possibility that the site could represent a top notch landbird migrant trap. My first exploratory trip to the area was on 31 May 2008, and although there were plenty of migrants present we did not hit it during a big push of birds. So I decided to put together a full weekend camping trip to the area to explore the habitats of the area and try to see some migrants. Curtis Dykstra and I made this happen from 1 May-3 May 2009. We kayaked out from the west side of North Maumee Bay and camped near the tip for 2 nights.
The Woodtick Peninsula is located at the SE corner of the lower peninsula (Monroe Co.) and juts SSE about 3-4 miles into Lake Erie. It borders the Lake Erie Gun Club to the north and North Maumee Bay to the south and west. Within the bay are a number of uninhabited small islands covered with forest and other habitats. The white circles represent areas we birded.
Habitat-wise the whole area feels much like Magee Marsh (Ohio), with a canopy of deciduous trees (lots of cottonwood) and plenty of understory and even some wetlands. Grapevine tangles are pervasive. However, there are no trails except game trails, of course.Much of the area is strewn with litter, surely from stuff that made it into Lake Erie and got pushed in by wind and wave.This tombstone was unexpected.
We essentially had the place to ourselves except during Saturday afternoon when the boaters came out in force. The tip of the Woodtick and the first unnamed island to its west (where we camped) are apparently very popular drinking (and fireworking) locations for boaters.
Now for the birding: Birding was disappointingly modest for each of the three days we were there, with most of the early migrants in but very little of the mid-May contingent present. We did have a few species of note, including 2 American White Pelicans (several were present in May 2008 as well), 23 Cattle Egrets (flying north over the Erie Gun Club on May 1), 2 Trumpeter Swans, at least 8 Black-crowned Night-Herons at the tip, 60 Dunlin at Erie Gun Club, 1 White-eyed Vireo, 1 Gray-cheeked Thrush, 2 Sandhill Cranes (not an easy Monroe Co. bird!), & 1 Great Black-backed Gull. Here are the 23 Cattle Egrets in a very distant digibinned shot (look carefully!):
And here are the pelicans:
We had only nine species of warblers, basically the same mix as being reported at Magee, with Prothonotary and Parula (both singles) being the most notable. Yellow-rumpeds and Palms were everywhere. Here is the female Prothonotary:
There did appear to be a significant movement of northbound raptors present each day, including Harrier, Broad-winged, Red-tailed, Cooper's, and Sharp-shinned Hawks, and Osprey and Peregrine Falcon. Presumably this means that these birds are avoiding Lake Erie to its west, much like birds migrating past Lake Erie Metropark are doing in the fall. Best viewing appeared to be from the tip of the Lost peninsula.
Perhaps as interesting as what birds were present was what birds were not present. Tufted Titmice are simply not there! Brown-headed Cowbirds were nearly absent, and Chickadees were quite rare. Disturbingly, not a single rail or bittern was observed during the entire stay (we even tried tapes at night), surely related to the Phragmites monoculture which dominates every marsh present. Very little cattail was observed.
On the float back to the marina on May 3 we kayaked to the Lost Peninsula, another little-birded gem. The habitat at the tip of the peninsula is very nice for migrant landbirds, though likely privately-owned. Fortunately for us, however, it is easily birded by boat. But my main reason for wanting to check out this location was that in my quest to locate good searching areas for Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows I had overlooked one very interesting spot. On the southeast corner of the marina is a 300 yd spoil which juts into Lake Erie (the white circle in the middle of the photo):
It is covered in grassy vegetation and has some areas of standing water as well. These are important habitat requirements for this species in the fall. But most important is the overall geography of the site. First, it is located no more than 50 miles SW of Point Pelee and 67 miles NW of Lorain OH, both sites which get this bird annually, so it is likely as close as one can get to the core migration corridor for alterus (Hudson Bay breeders) in Michigan. Secondly, grassy-covered peninsulas jutting out into Great Lakes are the #1 setting for finding this species in most surrouding states, as elucidated in this post. So, anyone with the ability to visit this site during Sep 20-Oct 20 (esp. after big sparrow pushes) is highly encouraged to beat the bushes here. I know I will be trying! Here is a photo of the habitat:
I would of course also encourage anyone who can gain access to a boat to visit the Woodtick area as migration picks up, and in the fall as well. I really do think that this place is likely Michgan's version of a Magee Marsh or Point Pelee, and it is a shame the place is so inaccessible. Imagine what rarities we have missed by having no one out there. What I wouldn't give to be there the night after a huge flight...