Counts and Research to Begin Soon
After doing winter chores on his farm with cattle, goats, and chickens, Ed Pike reflects on the animals that interest him the most as Chair of the non-profit organization Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch (MSRW). A tinge of jealousy comes through when he muses: “Far south of here, in warm Georgia or Costa Rica, birds of prey like Broad-winged Hawks and Ospreys are building strength so they can migrate north in two months.”
Pike is already preparing for their return. The first step was re-hiring Kevin Georg of Johnstown, Pennsylvania to conduct the seventh annual Hawk Count in Mackinaw City. The count begins on Sunday, March 5, with free public viewing behind the Recreation Complex off West Central Avenue. The best viewing times for Golden Eagles tend to be the first few weeks of March, after which Red-tailed Hawks and other species begin to pass. The hawk watch will go from 10 am to 4 pm every day. Guests are welcome to check www.mackinacraptorwatch.org and come anytime.
MSRW also will conduct spring owl research near Cheboygan, starting on March 20. Biologists Arthur Sanchez, Jr. from Arcata, California and Nick Alioto from Sunderland, Ontario have been contracted for this work. Pike is especially interested in what they discover, since the 560 owls banded near the Straits last fall was twice that of any other year. “Most juvenile owls of all species die during their first winter, so we are eager to see if high recruitment from the 2016 breeding season translates to more owls returning north in 2017.”
Lastly, Pike has hired a waterbird counter, Josh Jaeger from San Diego, California to be on duty at McGulpin Point in Mackinaw City before dawn every day starting on March 20 to identify and record the numbers of grebes, loons, and ducks.
Says Pike, “MSRW has been fortunate to recruit talented young field biologists who combine excellent training with commitment and eagerness to work in Northern Michigan’s rugged outdoor conditions. In return, we are helping them to gain experience and launch their careers in the profession.”
Kathy Bricker, Secretary of MSRW, welcomes spring for a related reason. She says, “Along with doing research, MSRW shares these magnificent birds with hundreds of guests, teaching people about bird migration and why geography has made the Straits so vital to birds and birders. Both the Sunrise Coast and the upcoming Sunset Coast Birding Trails include Mackinaw City, for good reason.” Nowhere else are hawks so readily seen within easy access to restaurants, hotels, and other amenities. “If it’s cold, people can even stay inside their heated cars.” Bricker reports that limited space is still available at the Mackinaw Raptor Fest on April 8 where people will see and learn more about Golden Eagles and other raptors.
Pike sums up, “Since MSRW was created in 2014, we have proven that the Straits of Mackinac ranks among the top migration funnels in the country for birds of prey. It’s vital to continue to monitor changes over time. To directly support the research or education work, people may make tax-deductible donations via our website or by check, or may order sweatshirts, t-shirts, and hats, at www.mackinacraptorwatch.org.”