Toledo Talk

Question for Bird Watchers: Metzgers Marsh

Took my family out to Metzgers today and it was beautiful. There was maybe over 100+ little black duck/geese there. Anyone have any info on them? Wondered if they were babies or not. They look like ducks but have black feathers/fluff white bills and some have some white on their tails. Also so another one that was almost reddish with a white neck and perhaps black bill.

Saw a couple white and grey cranes as well :) beautiful birds.

Side note: saw a couple guys out there hunting with bows. Not sure if it's a type of fishing or maybe they were Muskrat hunting since there are a lot of dens?

created by INeedCoffee on Apr 07, 2012 at 09:52:01 pm     Outdoors     Comments: 10

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The bow hunters may have been carp fishing.

"There was maybe over 100+ little black duck/geese there. Anyone have any info on them?"

I'm guessing you saw these comical rascals


If so, that's what a "mud hen" looks like. Those are adult birds. To me, this bird seems like part chicken and part duck, but it's actually part of the rail family. The official common name for this bird is American Coot. But it's also nicknamed the "mud hen". Coots are entertaining to watch, and they make interesting sounds.

More about the coot:

An awkward and often clumsy flier, the coot requires long running takeoffs across the water’s surface to become airborne. It is, however, an accomplished swimmer and diver, maneuvering underwater with the aid of lobately webbed toes. Although the coot will consume grains, grasses, and agricultural crops on land, it generally forages in or under water, where it is almost exclusively an herbivore.

This is a raucous and quarrelsome bird whose presence is often announced by its loud cackling, grunting, and croaking calls from deep within tall stands of emergent aquatic vegetation, particularly cattails, reeds, and bulrush.

This spring, most of the waterfowl migrated through our area from mid-February to mid-March, which was a little quicker than normal because of the nice weather. Back in March, you could have seen thousands of waterfowl at Metzger Marsh, including at least several hundred coots. But several waterfowl species can still be found.

"Saw a couple white and grey cranes as well"

The white one is the Great Egret. The grayish one is the Great Blue Heron.

Soon, a small white egret will show up, and that's the Snowy Egret. Great Egrets are noticeably larger than Snowy Egrets, but sometimes a Great Egret will be hunkered down. Great Egrets have yellow bills and black feet. Snowy Egrets have black bills and yellow feet. Great Egrets remain still for long periods of time in the water while they hunt. Snowy Egrets hunt on the move, walking and shaking their yellow feet in the water, which act either as a fish attractor or the feet-shaking tries to disturb little fish into the open.

A few Cattle Egrets migrate through, but they're found in grassy areas. Green Herons will arrive April while the Black-crowned Night Herons show up in May.

We do have a few Sandhill Cranes hanging around along the lake shore. They announce themselves with one of the best bird sounds.

The island you see offshore is West Sister Island, which is nicknamed Vomit Island. It's a major heron and egret rookery.

For the past couple summers, I've been a volunteer on trips to West Sister Island to help with the counting and banding of young herons and egrets.

My comment in another thread:

West Sister Island is nicknamed Vomit Island because the birds puke, crap, and urinate on anyone they perceive as a predator. So when I grabbed a young bird from the nest, I was careful to hold it well away from my body. And when I held the ladder for someone else to grab the birds, that person would hand the birds down to me, and I had to watch out for the birds' bodily fluids raining down on me. We still got "hit" at times. We smelled funky, but it was quite an experience.

Here's a photo I took after returning banded, young Black-crowned Night Herons back to their nest. They were too small to climb the trees to escape, so they tried to act big and scary by flaring their mouths, spreading their wings, standing tall, and lunging at me. I can see the dinosaur connection.

INeedCoffee, next time, drive a few miles further east and visit Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR) and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. If you don't have binoculars, you can rent them at either ONWR or at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, which is located at the entrance to Magee Marsh.

ONWR allows for auto tours on the third Saturday of each month. You drive your own vehicle. This drive tour allows visitors to see areas of ONWR that are normally off-limits to the public. Starting this month and continuing through the summer, however, the auto tours will occur on both Saturday and Sunday on the third weekend with some additional days in May.

ONWR auto tour info and schedule

The refuge offers a monthly auto tour, weather permitting. Travel 7 miles through normally closed areas of the refuge. Be sure to pick up an auto tour guide at the beginning of the route. Auto tour guides are updated monthly and tell you where to look for recent sightings. Auto tours start at the Visitor Center parking lot. The gate is open from 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Travel the route at your own pace. The exit gate closes at 5:30 p.m.

Upcoming ONWR auto tour dates:

  • Apr 21 & 22, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • May 5 & 6, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • May 12 & 13, dawn to dusk
  • May 19 & 20, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • May 28, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Songbirds have been migrating through our area since mid to late February. The boardwalk at Magee Marsh is one of the best places in the U.S. to observe and photograph migrating songbirds in the spring, especially the warblers in May.

These PDF birdwatching maps may be helpful:

A couple groups:

The Toledo Naturalists Association holds several field trips throughout the year that cover a wide variety of subjects and not just birds. They also maintain the message board where you can read about interesting bird sightings in the area. And of course, the Metroparks offer many programs.

Two good, local books:

  • Marshes Of Southwestern Lake Erie (1994) by Lou Campbell.
  • "Birds of the Toledo Area" by Matt Anderson, Eric Durbin, Tom Kemp, and Steve Lauer (Toledo Naturalists). This book, published in 2002 is the updated work of Lou Campbell (1968), which in turn is an update of Campbell's 1940 "Birds of Lucas County".

posted by jr on Apr 08, 2012 at 12:52:24 am     #   1 person liked this

Thanks, jr, for your dedication to birds and for sharing your knowledge. I always enjoy reading your posts and threads about bird watching, and I have learned a great deal over the years from your ornithological expertise.

posted by historymike on Apr 08, 2012 at 06:13:47 am     #  

The fun in birding is you don't have to travel to enjoy it. Many birders get hooked on adding to their life lists and observing migrants as they pass through on their way to their breeding grounds. I get just as much enjoyment by watching common species doing their thing in my back yard.

For example, the warm spell earlier this year totally blew the usual progression of robins onto their territories into orbit. Did you happen to notice it? Probably not, but for about 3 weeks it was total chaos since everyone showed up at the same time instead of cocks first and then hens. If you would have walked around your neighborhood in the evening you would have seen cocks establishing and defending territories and at the same time hens introducing themselves to the cocks with that little dance that they do. Things are all pretty much sorted out now but I tell you it was like the shootout at the OK corral for a while.

And that's just robins who, by the way, are a primary repository for West Nile Virus. But that's another story.

So, take a little time and watch "the locals." They can put on a pretty good show and it won't cost you a penny.

posted by OnePlainPerson on Apr 08, 2012 at 09:23:16 am     #  

Hey jr, that is an AWESOME post! And I love, love, LOVE that photo! LOL!

We love heading out to the Magee Marsh boardwalk for Migratory Bird Day, which is May 12 this year:

Had my one and only Indigo Bunting sighting out there one year.

posted by gamegrrl on Apr 08, 2012 at 10:24:41 am     #  

We live with Silver Creek running in our back yard. With the mild winter many of our animals did not migrate this year. I have had mallard and wood ducks all winter. The creek never froze and they know we are a food stop. We also have an Egret which is white which lives around the bend year round.

One time a great blue heron landed in my back yard and scared the heck out of me and the dogs. That bird has a large wing span.

Add in birds, squirrels, muskrats, racoons, dogs that get loose, etc. our backyard is always full of animal life. We also are the only house without a fence so we have children playing or running through our yard constantly. It makes you glad you are still above and not below the ground.

posted by jackie on Apr 08, 2012 at 05:58:38 pm     #  

JR, that is a wonderful post. Thank you so much! Can you tell me if anyone local-ish maintains a birder blog? I know very little about birds, but am getting interested and would love knowing about any websites/blogs that are local-regional.

Again, great post. Much appreciated!

posted by luvtoledo on Apr 08, 2012 at 07:34:23 pm     #  

Thank you for such a wonderful and informative post Jr :)

We ended up going back today to have a longer look at them.

posted by INeedCoffee on Apr 08, 2012 at 09:37:05 pm     #  

"The fun in birding is you don't have to travel to enjoy it. I get just as much enjoyment by watching common species doing theirr thing in my back yard."

I agree, but I also observe numerous migrating birds from our yard, and that's fun too. One does not need to go far to observe migrating songbirds. Simply look and listen wherever you are. Just about any woody or shrubby area can hold migrating songbirds. Urban yards, parks, cemeteries, schools, workplaces, and abandon properties can be birdwatching spots.

I live in West Toledo, and on some days in May, I can step outside and observe 10 to 14 species of warblers around home, along with other migrating birds, such as sparrows, thrushes, flycatchers, vireos, tanagers, orioles, and grosbeaks. The birds are mostly high up in the oaks, but sometimes they forage in our shrubs, and the sparrows feed on the ground.

Some notable bird migration sightings in our tiny backyard in May include the Summer Tanager, Mourning Warbler, and Golden-winged Warbler.

It also helps to learn bird songs. I do a lot of birding by ear. I recommend the 3-CD set Stokes Field Guide to Birds, Eastern Region. Check Wild Birds Unlimited on Monroe Street for bird song CDs and field guides.

Migrating Rose-breasted Grosbeaks visit our backyard feeders each May.

Our local cardinals are not always happy with the visitors from the tropics.

A migrating Red-headed Woodpecker spent a couple days at our backyard suet feeder.

I buy white millet bird seed from Black Diamond Nursery. A 50-pound bag costs $20. It's just millet. I don't want a mix that may contain filler crap.

I scatter millet on our backyard from October to the end of May. It's mainly for the juncos during the fall, winter, and spring and for migrating sparrows in the spring. We get numerous White-throated Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows in our backyard, along with the occasional Fox Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, and Eastern Towhee.

The millet attracts a lot of Mourning Doves and House Sparrows, but I believe that activity gets noticed by other birds passing by. That's probably why we had a few dozen Common Redpolls visit our feeders in the winter and early spring of 2008, which was during a big redpoll invasion into the U.S.

Most songbirds migrate at night. Birds of the same species may migrate in groups, and you may observe them foraging as a group the next day.

Unfortunately, this photo is a bit blurry and the skiff of snow on this April 6, 2007 morning didn't help, but one junco and seven Chipping Sparrows can be seen in this photo. Chipping Sparrows are common urban nesters, but these birds were migrating through. I've seen this happen every spring. It happened again last week in our backyard. Multiple migrating Chipping Sparrows foraged close together in a small area.

Here's another photo that shows four of these small, dapper-looking sparrows, eating the millet in our backyard.

gamegrrl mentioned the Indigo Bunting in a previous comment. The male Indigo Bunting is a beautiful bird and a good songster. Indigo Buntings winter in Central America and the Caribbean, and they are fairly common and widespread nesters in our area. They also migrate though too.

One May morning, I saw six male Indigo Buntings foraging close together in one of our backyard flowerbeds where I had scattered millet. The group was a mix of adult and "hatch-year" males. Hatch-year means born the previous summer. The young male Indigo Buntings are colored a mix of blue and gray.

On another May morning, more than 20 Swainson's Thrushes were spread out across our front lawn and our neighbor's front lawn.

Each morning in April and May and to a lesser extent in the fall brings the possibility of new migrating songbird surprises to our yard and to the trees around our home. This happens throughout the Toledo area, and most people are oblivious to it.

If you really want to nerd out, step outside in May around 4:00 a.m. or 5:00 a.m., mainly on a night with brisk southwest winds or a clear sky with light winds, and you will hear the night-flight calls of migrating songbirds passing overhead. Some night-flight calls are easy to identify, like the Swainson's Thrush, which sounds like the Spring Peeper frog.

This site contains info about night flight calls and recording the calls for identification later. You can even buy a CD of night flight calls. But forget trying to identify the birds flying overhead at night. Just listen to the calls if for some reason you happen to be outside after Midnight.

Back to the daytime sounds of songbirds. I'm amazed at the number of people that I have met who have been birdwatching for many years, and they still have not taken the time to learn bird songs. They're only half-enjoying the hobby, in my opinion. Sometimes, the best way to find a songbird is by its song or its call-notes.

When I suggest they learn bird songs, a common response I get is, "I don't think I can hear the songs."

It's true that we lose a little bit of our hearing with each passing year. And I know that someday I will no longer be able to hear certain species of birds, and that will be sad. A good birding friend of mine can no longer hear the Blue-winged Warbler song. Obviously, I don't hear as well as birders in their 20s. A young person will hear the bird before I will. I will eventually hear the bird when we get a little closer.

But a lot of birding by ear is really focusing and filtering through all the sounds. I'm pretty sure my wife can hear sounds better than me, but I can "hear" the birds better than she can. Focus and practice. Sure, loss of hearing will mean some sounds will go unnoticed, but I believe anyone can learn some bird songs.

As to optics, high-end binoculars cost $1500 to $2000. I've seen people use binoculars like these, and they still misidentified a bird that they should have identified correctly.

The binocular that I use all the time cost me $80 new three years ago. I use the Leupold Yosemite 6×30 which now cost $90 at It's an upgraded version, I guess.

I prefer 6 and 7 power binoculars over the more common 8 and 10 power. The higher power means a shakier image. The lower power weighs less, and it can provide a wider field of view, which is good for keeping up with fast-moving warblers. So I get a smaller image with my binocs, but the other positives make up for this.

This Leupold Yosemite 6×30 binocular is small, lightweight, and waterproof. It works well with my glasses. It provides a bright image. Ten years ago, it was impossible to buy optics of this quality for less than $300. The technology filters down. The inexpensive binoculars today are darn good, which makes the hobby a lot more accessible and enjoyable for more people.

I'll lead bird walks where I'm using my "toy" binocular to help spot and identify birds for people using $1700 binoculars. Great optics make the experience a little more enjoyable, but knowledge is more important. Studying books, listening to CDs, and getting out and observing and sketching will help you more than an expensive binocular.

One minor issue with the Leupold Yosemite binocular is that it close-focuses to only around 12 feet. This is not a problem for bird-watching. When I see a bird that's less than 12 feet away, I usually put my binocular down and watch the bird with only my eyes.

But I also like to watch butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects, and it's helpful to use a binocular that has a close-focus of around five feet. For now, I have to lean back and take some steps backwards to get that small, close butterfly into focus.

"Can you tell me if anyone local-ish maintains a birder blog? I know very little about birds, but am getting interested and would love knowing about any websites/blogs that are local-regional."

Good question. If I find some, I'll post them later. Here are some sites that I'm familiar with:

As to starter books and field guides, it depends if you like illustrations or photographs. Since I like both, I buy them all. I recommend one or more of the following for starting out with birdwatching or birding:

Field Guides:

Additional info:

And don't forget a small notebook and either a pen or pencil. After the binocular, I consider the notebook and pen the most important tools. You can always look up the bird or insect later after you have taken notes and made sketches.

posted by jr on Apr 09, 2012 at 12:15:09 am     #   1 person liked this

What a wonderful post, jr! Thanks!

posted by gamegrrl on Apr 09, 2012 at 09:04:39 am     #  

Yes, thanks, JR. Most helpful, and much appreciated. I have a very old Roger Tory Peterson field guide, and have to admit I don't know the ones you cited. Will definitely go look them up. Again, many thanks.

posted by luvtoledo on Apr 09, 2012 at 01:54:50 pm     #