This January, the local non-profit group, Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch (MSRW), received its largest grant for public education, $4,000, from the Petoskey Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation. The goal of the grant is to expand public education and enjoyment of hawks and owls, in part through the first-ever Mackinaw Raptor Fest. A free, family-friendly public program featuring live hawks and owls will be held at Camp Daggett on Walloon Lake on April 2, 10:30 am. There is no charge and no need to pre-register for this program given by Rebecca Lessard, Wings of Wonder from Traverse City.
The second part of the Mackinaw Raptor Fest requires advance registration and runs from 7 pm April 1 through all day and night of April 2, in Mackinaw City. It features outdoor observations of hawks and owls, conditions permitting, and educational indoor programs about birds of prey. Wings of Wonder will repeat its live raptor program for these attendees in the afternoon. After dinner at Audie’s, the keynote speaker, Dr. William Bowerman from University of Maryland, will present information and reflections from the just-completed 55 years of research on bald eagles nesting in Michigan. Visit www.MackinawRaptorFest.org for the full schedule, presenter, and registration information.
MSRW was created in 2014 to formally survey the hawks and owls that migrate through the Straits region every fall and spring. Chair Ed Pike explained “For fifty-plus years, some people noticed that exceptionally large numbers of raptors pass through Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. The birds concentrate before crossing the five-mile-wide Straits. During the daytime, hawks are easily visible as they ride rising air currents to gain altitude for their flight. We have counted hawks in Mackinaw City for five springs, with the most thorough coverage during 2015 when 50,399 were tallied.”
Pike continues, “Owls, which generally move at night, are less easily observed by the general public. Some species of owls migrate through the Straits in considerable numbers, and we are studying them as well.” All data collected by MSRW’s paid contractors is made available for free to researchers, conservationists, and wildlife managers concerned with population levels, life histories, and geographic distribution of these species. In 2015, the first fall waterbird survey of migrating loons, grebes, and ducks was conducted by volunteers. Funds permitting this spring, MSRW will expand its research to this component of the Straits migration as well.
All the research is free and open to the public, with most people coming to watch the hawks. In 2015, MSRW reported more than 856 guest visits, nearly two and a half times the number of 2014. “The word is spreading,” says Pike, “especially about the golden eagles. Last year, more golden eages, 374, were recorded crossing the Mackinac Straits than at any other hawk watch site east of the Mississippi River.”
To increase the chance that fest attendees will get to see golden as well as bald eagles, along with red-tailed hawks, rough-legged hawks, and other species, the Mackinaw Raptor Fest is scheduled early in the season, with the main day being April 2. Besides the core funding from the Community Foundation, additional support for the Mackinaw Raptor Fest was received from the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau. Visit www.mackinawraptorfest.org for more information and to register.