Raptor Group Takes Flight and Plans Next Phase
The Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch today announced plans for new research starting soon in Mackinaw City and released its final spring 2016 report. Besides core work with hawks and owls, the three-year-old group has added a survey of waterbirds migrating through the Straits of Mackinac. This will run from August 20 through November 10. In addition, owl research will be conducted from September 20 through November 10 near St. Ignace.
Chair Ed Pike said “We welcome the public to come and see loons, grebes, ducks, and other waterbirds in migration. The observation site is McGulpin Point, two miles west of Mackinaw City near the McGulpin Point Lighthouse. Bring binoculars and a spotting scope if possible, as some of the birds fly at quite a distance.” During the first spring survey of waterbirds this year, paid counter Jason Newton tallied more than 10,000 waterbirds of 38 species, including two species of Loons and three species each of Scoters, Mergansers, and Grebes. He confirmed that both Redheads and Long-tailed Ducks stay for long periods of time in the Straits, apparently resting and feeding there. Newton’s highlight was a Black-legged Kittiwake spied at close range on April 12. Pike explained that gathering accurate base-line data on the use of the Straits by waterbirds is vital to understanding the biological importance of the area. “This was significant as the first spring count, especially since it tallied 570 Common Loons, a bird of concern to conservationists due to its generally declining numbers in Michigan.
Pike continued, “Our sixth spring Hawk Count in Mackinaw City also was successful, with a total of 47,090 daytime raptors of 18 species. This is roughly the same number as last spring. The highlight came April 13 when we set a record among dozens other hawk counts in the country. Professional counter Kevin Georg tallied 4,966 Red-tailed Hawks that day, following a stretch of wintry weather that held up migration.” Site records include Turkey and Black Vultures, Ospreys, Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Northern Goshawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Merlins, Peregrine Falcons, and the first-ever Gyrfalcon. The Straits continues to hold the record for the most golden eagles seen east of the Mississippi.
Other important research findings came from the owl survey done at Cheboygan State Park where professional banders caught 76 Northern Saw-whet Owls and 6 Long-eared Owls. Five of the Saw-whets already wore bands, placed on them by biologists at Whitefish Point; St. Ignace (banded by MSRW fall 2015); Silver Islet (Ontario), Indiana, and Cheboygan State Park. Pike is proud of this bird: “I banded this female in spring 2011. We now know that she has lived at least 6 years and is using the same migration route. We hope to see her again, as they can live about 9 years.”
More guests visited MSRW events than ever before. After Secretary Kathy Bricker entered the guest list data, she found 1,326 recorded outdoor guests from five countries, 13 states, and 139 Michigan cities. Eleven indoor talks by volunteers were attended by another 333 guests. Bricker added “The first Mackinaw Raptor Fest, funded largely by the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation, drew 81 fully-paid registrants. We were thrilled that 281 others enjoyed free portions of the weekend, including a program with live hawks and owls.” People may see photos, learn early plans for the April 7 to 9, 2017 Mackinaw Raptor Fest, and watch the fall research results come in at www.mackinacraptorwatch.org.