On the heels of a record spring of research and public education, Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch (MSRW) announced that its fall studies are also successful. Until November 10, contracted biologists are counting migrating waterbirds and catching and banding owls as they head south for the winter.
Jason Newton from Aurora, Illinois works from dawn to mid-afternoon, intently scanning the cold waters of Lake Michigan from the vantage of McGulpin Point near Mackinaw City. “The most interesting part of the job is the discovery of new information about how waterbirds utilize the Straits. Thousands of Long-tailed Ducks stop here during spring migration. This fall, I have seen thousands of Redheads (a species of duck) lingering here.” The Redheads are so rare that the Michigan Audubon Society declared the Straits as an Important Bird Area, worthy of a high level of environmental protection.
Redheads (Image by Steve Baker)
Nearly 30 species of waterbirds can be seen using the Straits, making it a popular destination for birders from around Michigan and nearby states. Said Newton, “We have all three species of Scoter, a deep-water duck never seen on inland lakes. Plus all three species of Mergansers and two different types of Loons, Swans, and Grebes. Each day here is exciting, because you never know what will show up.” Newton has recorded jaegers, kittiwakes, Great Egrets, Bonaparte’s Gulls and other rarities, making the Straits a mecca for birders.
Kim Edgington from Port Angeles, Washington pulls the night shift, capturing, measuring, and releasing owls from sundown to sun-up at a research site near St. Ignace. In the News blog of October 18 at www.mackinacraptorwatch.org, Kim said “After a night off due to bad weather, we had a fantastic night, 56 birds. As soon as nets were open we were drowning in Northern Saw-whet Owls. There were 16 birds in the first net run, which is very unusual.” Since September 20, she has caught and studied more than 445 owls. In this fifth year of fall owl research, the previous high number of birds was 328.
Banding is the most cost-effective way for biologists and conservationists to learn about the birds’ movements and age and sex. Explained Kim, “For instance, on October 13, I caught a bird that already had been tagged by someone else. Its large size and feather growth marked it as an older female. When I submitted the band number, she turned out to have been banded in Duluth, Minnesota in October 2014. It’s interesting and useful to know that owls don’t always fly the same way south every year.”
Protecting forested habitat and reducing light pollution aids owls and other wildlife. MSRW recently supported a grant proposal to allow the Little Traverse Conservancy to protect a key parcel of wild land along the Lake Huron shoreline southeast of Mackinaw City.
For the public to experience birds first-hand, Ed Pike, MSRW Chair, announced two upcoming field trips. “We want to share the thrill and beauty of observing these long-distance migrants.”
On Saturday, October 29 from 6:30 pm to as late as people would like to stay, the owl research station near St. Ignace will be open. Target species are Northern Saw-whet Owl and Long-eared Owl.
Migrating waterfowl will be viewed on Saturday, November 5. meeting at 8:30 am. To see the most birds, people will join a carpool and travel to different sites around the Straits, starting at the waterbird research site in Mackinaw City. The trip will last most of the day. Target species are several species each of loons and scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, and Redheads.