Monthly Archives: August 2015

Slow Day

The waterbird count went rather slowly today.  The most waterbirds I saw all day were the 11 Canada Geese and 9 Common Mergansers floating in the water just off shore when I arrived.  The  day was hazy with never more than a light breeze, but there were very few birds other than a hundred or so Double-crested Cormorants and numerous Gulls in the air.  The highlights were a Great Egret that flew from east to west during the fourth hour as well as a Green-winged Teal that landed in the water directly in front of the count site.  Four Wood Ducks also flew by at close range that may or may not have been migrants.

Thank you to Ed Pike and Tracy Datlen for joining me at the point.

Species Moving East Moving West
Common Loon 2 3
Red-necked Grebe 0 2
Horned Grebe 0 4
Great Egret 0 1

Great Egrets

The count today started out agonizingly slow.  The first bird didn’t appear until nearly the end of the first hour and then a few more trickled by after that.  The second hour proved the most interesting as a few flocks of Great Egrets flew past heading west.  Other species for the day included Red-necked Grebes, Common Mergansers, Mallards, and Common Loons.  By the way, did you know that Common Loons often times fly with their mouth open?  Check out this photo from the dim light this morning.


Common Loon – check out the open mouth.

This is somewhat unique among Loons and can help to distinguish Common Loon from other species.  It was unfortunate that it was so dark and dismal when this bird flew by as this was a relatively close bird.  Here is a more distant one.


Distant Loon

Although even this Loon was relatively close by waterbird counting standards.

Here is a rundown of the birds counted today.  In addition to the suspected migrants below, many Double-crested Cormorants, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, a Great Blue Heron, and two Blue-winged Teal were seen.

Species Move East Moving West
Red-necked Grebe 0 16
Common Loon 8 8
Mallard 0 2
Great Egret 0 51
Common Merganser 2 0

Waterbird Count Aug. 27, 2015

Ed Pike and Steve Baker counted Thursday morning from 6:50am till 10:30am, with Tracy Daltin helping out.  After a couple of hours Steve went to Pt. LaBarbe and we compared observation of birds and boats and determined that the most distant waterbirds we can see from McGalpin Point were about 1/2 way across the Straits roughly 1.5 to 2 miles.  Steve could see very little waterbird activity and could not see the Red-necked Grebes that we could see from McGalpin; apparently in the middle of the Straits.

Today was a slow day at the Straits.  It was cloudy with calm winds (it was interesting as the last time I counted there were 6 ft. waves and today 6 inch waves) and moderate temperatures.  The calm winds probably kept many birds from moving.

For migrants 2 C. Loons were counted, one large Sandpiper sp. and a Merlin was seen flying from the UP to the lower.  Other non-migrants seen were 15 Red-necked Grebes, 5 Horned Grebes, 8 Red-breasted Mergansers, 2 Bald Eagles, 1 Kingfisher, 1 Ruby-throated Hummer and many D.C. Cormorants.

Red-necked Grebes Arrive

The following was counted at McGulpin Point by Bill Grigg on August 26th from about 7AM-10AM.  Red-necked Grebes had a pretty decent day for this early in the count.

Species Headed East Headed West
White-winged Scoter 7 0
Common Loon 10 2
Red-necked Grebe 115 162
Double-crested Cormorant 15 33

Waterbird Count, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015

On Tuesday Ed Pike went to McGalpin Point to count waterbirds.  it turned out to be a very quiet morning as far as waterbirds were concerned.  There were high west to northwest winds with 5 to 7 ft. waves and it rained and drizzled till I left at 9:45am.

The only birds flying other than the local Cormorants and some gulls was 1 immature Bald Eagle which as with the eagles from yesterday flew from the UP to the lower and 1 Great Egret which flew slowly from the northeast to the southwest about 40 ft. above the waves.  The Egret was flying slowly because of the strong winds he was flying into.  Amazingly enough 1 passerine flew in from the north and disappeared into the trees (probably really happy to reach trees).

Waterbird count for Monday, Aug. 24, 2015

On Monday Steve Baker and I conducted a second waterbird count from McGalpin Point from 6:45am till 10am.  It was pretty slow with few birds flying in the strong west winds and 4 to 6 ft. waves; although we had some interesting sightings.  As Darrell said the first hour was the most active.  In the first hour we counted 6 Common Loons, 1 Caspian Tern, 3 Bald Eagles, 16 Great Egrets and one unidentified sandpiper.

The Bald Eagles were all seen leaving the UP at different times and flying south to the Lower going by us.  The two adults both flew just above the waves while the immature flew about 30 to 40 high.

A flock of Great Egrets flew from the northeast toward the southwest continuing on out of sight.  They also flew just above the waves.

The second hour brought a flock of 13 Mallards heading south, two Horned Grebes swam by near shore headed west and a group of 3 White-winged Scoters flew by to the west headed southwest.

The third hour brought 2 more C. Loons and a very distant flock of 7 probable Long-tailed Ducks that were flying north.  At the end of the hour it started raining and we called it a day.

The Waterbird Count Begins!

The Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch, for the fall of 2015 has decided to research waterbird migration through the Straits area with volunteer efforts. Today, I was able to spend three hours from 6:45AM to 9:45AM counting the birds passing through. As expected this early in the season, the number of birds was small, but I think the numbers were also very hopeful. One thing that I wondered going into this is what direction the birds would be flying. This is a complicated question because waterfowl could migrate down both Lake Michigan or Lake Huron. The birds that I saw today that appeared to be migrating were generally heading from east to west, in other words, down Lake Michigan. Although a few of the more distant Common Loons, in other words, those closest to the Upper Peninsula were flying toward Lake Huron. It remains to be seen if that trend will continue throughout the fall.

The morning started out with a bang. Within the first ten minutes I counted to distant Common Loons flying to the southwest. But most unexpected was a distant Jaeger! The light was just right to make out shape well and a couple of times when the bird went into a dynamic soar the longer central tail feathers could be seen clearly. By the end of the first hour of the count, I was up to five Common Loons and a single Horned Grebe for birds that clearly seemed to be migrating. Other birds included two Common Goldeneye there were resting on the water to begin the count but eventually took off toward Lake Huron, many Double-crested Cormorants which could represent local birds, could be migrants, or could represent both, and surprisingly, three Scaup sp. These are surprising simply because it seems early to be finding Scaup. There was also a flock of six large shorebirds that flew by on the horizon. They were quite distant, but passed a few Ring-billed Gulls and seemed similar in size. They were light brown above and slightly paler below, and flew in a tight line. I would by no means want to call the species for certain, but if forced to guess I might say Whimbrel.

The second hours did not add any new migrants to the list, although one highly expected species did make an appearance. Five Red-necked Grebes were seen flying around in the Straits, but just took off for short flights before landing again in the water. It appears they are staging in the area rather than migrating through at this point, although today’s SSE winds may have had something to do with that.

The last hour of the count produced two more Common Loons only. Two passerines did fly off the lake during this hour though. One flew directly overhead and was clearly a Yellow Warbler while the other was a little more distant and I did not see it in time to get my scope on it.

On another note, throughout the three hour count I did see about a dozen Monarch Butterflies come in off the lake. Apparently birds are not the only creatures moving across the Strait right now.

Here is a list of the total likely migrants today. I find this list encouraging for so early in the season with a rather robust south wind. I think as we move later into the season and get more wind out of the north we will begin to see some strong flights. A few, mostly pretty awful photos, from today also follow the list.

Common Loon 7
Horned Grebe 1
Jaeger Sp. 1

This Belted Kingfisher kept me company for much of the morning.


Common Goldeneyes


A small-sized flock of Double-crested Cormorants.


I believe this is a Saffron-winged Meadowhawk. He also kept me company this morning.


This Osprey also flew in off the lake during the count.