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.