Press Release, Raptor Fest, March 2016

Live Raptor Viewing in Northern Lower Michigan

With migration of hawks and owls well underway, high public interest in those birds has prompted the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch to sponsor an indoor program featuring live raptors.  Wings of Wonder, headed by educator and wildlife rehabilitator Rebecca Lessard, welcomes families to a free hour-long showing of birds that cannot be released into the wild due to injuries.  The event takes place on Saturday, April 2 at 10:30 am at Camp Daggett on Walloon Lake near Petoskey.  There is no charge and no need to pre-register.

Rebecca Lessard says, “Since 1990, we have fostered appreciation, understanding, honor, and respect for raptors and the important role these birds play in keeping the ecosystem healthy.  We present more than 150 educational programs that reach over 10,000 people a year.  I am delighted to bring some of these birds to Petoskey and Mackinaw City for MSRW.”  Wings of Wonder is licensed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to admit injured, sick, and orphaned raptors.  The primary goal is to release healthy and fully conditioned raptors back into the wild.

Along with the free show of live birds in Petoskey, Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch is holding the Mackinaw Raptor Fest in Mackinaw City that weekend.  Says Kathy Bricker, Secretary of MSRW, “With all 80 paid-registration spots taken and the speakers and other volunteers, we expect 100 people in the Mackinaw City and Petoskey area this weekend, all for the purpose of seeing and learning about birds of prey.”  Both events were funded in large part by the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation and the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau.

MSRW, based in Petoskey, surveys raptors that fly through the bottleneck of the Straits between their wintering grounds and nesting sites.  Hawks are counted from an open field near the Recreation Center in Mackinaw City.  Chair and long-time owl researcher Ed Pike explains, “The biggest attraction, that visitors can see easily and for free, is the day-time migration of eagles and hawks.  Our contracted counter, Kevin Georg, from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, returned in early March for his third year of working for MSRW.  So far, he has tallied 344 bald eagles, 251 golden eagles, and 773 red-tailed hawks.  In addition, a few days ago, Georg scored a first observation for the site – a gyrfalcon.  One never knows what will appear.  Whether common or rare, it’s always interesting to watch and learn about these long-distance travelers who connect the hemispheres.”

To put the numbers in perspective, more golden eagles are seen at the Straits than any other hawk watch site east of the Mississippi and more red-tailed hawks are counted here than any other spring hawk watch in the country.  More than 250 hawk watches are active in North America, with all data posted daily on-line.  MSRW data, a blog, photographs, and field trip information can be viewed at www.mackinacraptorwatch.org.

In addition to studying daytime raptors, Pike explains, “We also are well underway with owl research, conducted near Cheboygan State Park.  Many species of owls migrate, but they must be studied in a different way.  We hired biologists Emily Wilmoth from Greendale, Wisconsin and Kim Edgington from Port Angeles, Washington.  They work all night long to capture and band the birds with fine nets.  Already, two ‘foreign re-traps’ have been found, meaning owls that were banded earlier in another place.  At least one of these was banded at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory last spring.  Through many decades of banding and releasing owls, researchers are learning that northern saw-whet owls move widely throughout the Great Lakes region, with a few that fly all the way to New England.”

People can experience the owl research through opportunities occasionally offered jointly with Headlands Dark Sky Park, Petoskey Regional Audubon Society, and Straits Area Audubon Society.

“Expanding this spring’s research program,” Pike continues, “this winter we raised enough money to hire a biologist to conduct the first full spring waterbird survey.  Jason Newton from Aurora, Illinois works eight hours a day from Mackinaw City.  In just a few days, he already has counted thousands of long-tailed ducks, along with more than a hundred white-winged scoters and red-breasted mergansers.

MSRW welcomes the public to observe its work and enjoy the birds.