Monthly Archives: March 2017

Owl Banding: Fluctuating Captures


Nick and I are just getting off of a three day stretch of complete banding nights. As I had mentioned before, our protocol entails running nets from dusk to dawn with hourly net checks. We have come to figure out that this is not an easy task but it is getting easier as the banding days are becoming more consistent. The last three days have exhibited fluctuating owl captures with a total of 25 owls. This has brought high hopes that more will be moving through the area. If the captures continue to increase or even stay at this rate, it will be a great season of spring owl banding.

On the night of March 27th, going into the morning of March 28th, we captured 7 Northern Saw-whet Owls. We are seeing a diversity of age classes among the NSWO captures. Ageing NSWOs is a very unique and exhilarating process. Most birds have a pigment obtained in their feathers called porphyrin. When the porphyrin is exposed to UV light or UV radiation the pigment undergoes a reaction, causing the newest feathers to fluoresce bright pink, leaving the old feathers dull brown. This process permits ornithologists to accurately classify and age adult owls.  Every owl showcases slightly different molt patterns, based on their age but predictable molt patterns can be observed. However anomalies and outliers will always occur.

At this time of year, this is a typical molt pattern of a second year bird. The uniformity of the primaries and secondaries tells us that this bird hatched in the summer of 2016.

This molt pattern classifies this bird as a third year, which often exhibits the replacement of the outermost primaries and innermost secondaries. This bird hatched summer of 2015.

This pattern would be classified as an after third year bird. which hatched in the summer of 2014.

Our second consecutive day of banding brought in a whopping 10 Northern Saw Whet Owls, which took place during the night of March 28 going into the 29th. This banding night we had two recaptured birds which had bands on them from previous banding operations. Both birds were aged and sexed as after third year females and we are currently waiting to hear where they were originally banded. With high expectations going into the third night we managed to net 8 more little Saw-whets on the night of the 29th going into the 30th.

To our surprise, we were greeted by an American Woodcock in net 6 on our closing round. These birds are in the family Scolopacidae, with their close relatives, sandpipers and phalaropes. Unlike their cousins that prefer shorelines and aquatic habitats, these birds prefer moist overgrown fields and open woodlands. During the spring season  we have the opportunity to witness the breeding display of woodcocks. This includes a high acrobatic flight preformed by the male while singing an ascending  flute like song to serenade the surrounding females.

Unfortunately, tonight the weather has been uncooperative. The nets remained closed due to snow flurries and high winds. Stay tuned until next time my owl loving friends. Next time on MSRW owl banding blog we will report where our two mystery recapture birds came from.






Good day at the Hawk Watch, 3-29-2017

Wednesday we had the highest total number for the spring with 497 Raptors counted. The winds were light early, out of the NE, which allowed migration. We started at the Recreation Center and after 2 hours with the winds increasing moved to Darrow’s. A good numbers of raptors were seen till the winds increased and switched to the east and then the southeast by 3pm which pretty much shut down the migration. Turkey Vultures made their first appearance and Golden Eagles graced us with their presence again. We also saw a leucistic Red-tail which looked similar to one seen in a past year with a lot of white feathers and the wings looking striped because of the white and dark primaries and secondaries mixed on the wings.
Red-tail 418, Rough-legged 6 light, 3 dark morph; Red-shouldered 7, Turkey Vulture 32, Bald Eagle 15, Golden Eagle 14, Am. Kestrel 2, and 18 Sandhill Cranes in 2 groups.
Looks like bad weather for a day or 2 and then Sat. looks promising.

Waterbird Count, March 30

Today was yet another windy day, and although the first hour was fairly quiet, activity for waterfowl and other species was moving at a fever pitch by 9:30 AM.  The biggest thing to note for the day was the high numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers moving through and resting.  Although the total count came to over six hundred, I have my doubts at how accurately this number represents the actual number of Red-breasted Mergansers seen today.  Most individuals were seen moving east, but a fair number of them could have come back down since the easterly winds today were blowing at a minimum of fourteen miles per hour.  However, the energy cost of flying into the wind back and forth throughout the day makes it seem less likely that a majority of them would have shifted directions more than once.  At around 9:00 AM a pair of Northern Pintails paused during their easterly flight to rest in the middle of the straits among the myriad of mergansers.  The first American Black Duck for the season was also sighted today at around 3:00 PM trailing behind five Mallards heading east.  Raptor activity today was also very good; high numbers of Bald Eagles, the first confirmed Sharp-shinned Hawk, along with a Merlin and fair counts of other Buteo raptors.

Canada Goose – 25
American Black Duck – 1
Mallard – 12
Northern Pintail – 2
Redhead – 32
White-winged Scoter – 6
Long-tailed Duck – 18
Common Goldeneye – 21
Common Merganser – 33
Red-breasted Merganser – 646
Common/Red-breasted Merganser – 2
duck sp. – 10

Other Species:
Turkey Vulture – 5
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1
Accipiter sp. – 1
Northern Harrier – 2
Bald Eagle – 9
Red-tailed Hawk – 4
Rough-legged Hawk – 3
Buteo sp. – 2
Merlin – 1

Waterbird Count, March 29

This morning I was joined by the newest addition to the Mackinaw Straits Raptor Watch team:  Bryant Eddy.  A majority of the birds seen today were identified in flight rather than resting due to unexpected ice formations in the middle of the strait; there was frost on the ground this morning, and in the middle of the straits there were channels of thin ice that extended up to half a mile.  As a result of the ice dividing the strait into smaller channels, there was much less open water today.  Additionally, many birds were sighted near the edge of the visibility domain, and coupled with the light fog and heat shimmer from the rising temperatures, identification was more challenging.  Despite there being a high density of cirrostratus clouds throughout the day, the sunlight did not wane.  There was a good diversity of waterfowl species mobilizing today, including a trio of Mute Swans and a good number of Redheads.  However, the activity of raptors and non-target species today was even better.  A few Black-capped Chickadees came down to the gazebo and were hopping along the wooden poles and even my chair.  A high number of Snow Buntings flying east passed by very close to shore along with a couple more Killdeer.  Additionally, Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks were observed soaring over St. Ignace and McGulpin Point after midday.  There was even a flock of Sandhill Cranes flying northeast at the end of my observation period.

Canada Goose – 101
Mute Swan – 3
Mallard – 6
Redhead – 36
Greater Scaup – 2
Aythya sp. – 38
Long-tailed Duck – 27
Common Goldeneye – 51
Hooded Merganser – 3
Common Merganser – 40
Red-breasted Merganser – 347
duck sp. – 382

Other Species:
Turkey Vulture – 5
Bald Eagle – 6
Red-tailed Hawk – 6
Buteo sp. – 6
Sandhill Crane – 18
Killdeer – 2
Snow Bunting – 43

28 March, Hawk Count

We had a good day at the Hawk Watch after the low heavy clouds lifted. At first the Red-tails were moving in and out of the clouds making them difficult to keep track of; it did not appear any were crossing then. The clearing moved in from the north to south and immediately more raptors started moving. The north breeze seemed to keep the numbers down. Then in mid to late afternoon most of the raptors were moving very high and difficult to see against the blue sky. Total raptors seen Red-tail 98, Rough-leg (11 light morph) (5 dark morph), Red-shouldered 11. Bald Eagle 15, Am. Kestrel 2 and 1 Sandhill Crane. Surprisingly there were no Golden Eagles seen moving through today.

Wed. should be another good day with sunny skies.

Waterbird Count, March 28 (First day with sunlight)

This morning I was greeted by an unfamiliar sight at my observation post: a lake with snow and ice piled up on shore reflecting the morning rays of the sun.  The sky was mostly overcast in the beginning, but quickly cleared up.  The first hour did not yield too many waterfowl- but a lot of gulls, and with the sun out it made them much easier to see.  The next hour it clouded over, and continued to do so until around 11:00 AM, after which the sky continued to clear throughout the day.  Along with the rising sun, the temperature was increasing throughout the day from 34 °F in the morning to 42 °F in the afternoon.  Today had a few firsts for the season:  the first White-winged Scoter for this year was sighted at around 8:00 AM followed by eleven more spread throughout the day.  A pair of Bufflehead were also seen flying west at around 10:00 AM.  Additionally, a couple of Killdeer were heard and seen flying north at approximately 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM respectively.  The raptor activity did not pick up until midday, and there was a fair number seen flying north along the bridge.  Thanks to the dramatic increase in temperature from today alone, the ice could be heard shifting and melting throughout the day, raising optimism for this waterbird counter.

Canada Goose – 54
Greater Scaup – 2
White-winged Scoter – 12
Long-tailed Duck – 34
Bufflehead – 639
Common Goldeneye – 6
Common Merganser – 31
Red-breasted Merganser – 394
duck sp. – 57

Other Species:
Bald Eagle – 3
Rough-legged Hawk – 2
Killdeer – 1

A cloudy, hazy day Hawk Watching

Today started with fog and drizzle. Things lifted a little and at 12 pm I went to the watch site by the Recreation Center and 2 Red-shouldered Hawks flew over. I thought there might be a few birds moving from this sighting. I was mistaken, with no more raptors until a little before 2:30 it started drizzling again. As I was wrapping up for the day a Red-shouldered Hawk flew over giving some nice looks to some visitors that stopped by. Not much to record for the day. Tomorrow, Tuesday should be better if the sun manages to break through the clouds

Waterbird Count, March 27

This morning the winds had died down and reversed their direction, and to start the day was a lake that looked like glass- and peppered with almost two hundred Red-breasted Mergansers.  A family of four came by to look for wildlife along the edge of the lake around 10:00 AM, which marks the first time I’ve had non-MSRW employees/volunteers visit me while I’m at work.  Unfortunately there were not too many waterbirds that were stationary and near my observation post to show them through my scope, but I did manage to show them some mergansers and Long-tailed Ducks.  Although there was a spike in waterfowl movement and diversity today, gull activity had declined significantly- including around Point La Barbe.  A Merlin was moving west at around 11:00 AM, and there was a confirmed sighting of a Horned Grebe in the middle of the lake around 3:00 PM.  There was dense fog covering the straits all day, resulting in visibility as low as four miles and high as nine miles.  The wind speed climbed up to seven miles per hour by midday, after which it plateaued.

Canada Goose – 47
Mallard – 4
Redhead – 5
Greater Scaup – 3
Long-tailed Duck – 65
Common Goldeneye – 22
Hooded Merganser – 2
Common Merganser – 23
Red-breasted Merganser – 367
duck sp. – 37
Horned Grebe – 1

Others Species:
Bald Eagle – 2
Merlin – 1

Waterbird Count, March 26 (First day at McGulpin Point)

Thanks to the shift in wind direction from the previous day, most of the ice around McGulpin Point has been swept away, clearing up the straits, and making the water visible from shore.  The first and final hours were relatively uneventful, with the exception of the juvenile Bald Eagle that flew south overhead near the end.  By 8:15 AM the bird activity was heating up- unfortunately the same could not be said about the temperature.  The ambient temperature shifted between 32 and 33 °F, the wind speed averaged at about twelve miles per hour, and along with a little snow, the rain was intermittent all day.  Other hallmarks for the day included the first confirmed Long-tailed Ducks moving through, and a high concentration of gull activity around Point La Barbe.

Canada Goose – 32
Mallard – 4
Redhead – 13
Greater Scaup – 35
Long-tailed Duck – 7
Common Goldeneye – 6
Common Merganser – 43
Red-breasted Merganser – 91
duck sp. – 42

Other Species:
Bald Eagle – 4

Waterbird Count, March 25

Day two of the delayed spring waterbird count saw a drop in species diversity, but higher counts of common species like Canada Geese and Common Mergansers.  The open water that was close to Shepler’s Cove the previous day had all frozen over, leaving very little for waterbirds to rest in.  Fortunately, the winds today were strong- at an average of fourteen miles per hour- and from the east for most of the day.  By 9:30 AM the thin ice was breaking up and getting pushed to shore, resulting in re-opened channels by the end of the count.  Sunlight briefly broke through the cloud cover at around 11:30 AM, and by 3:00 PM the cloud cover began to dwindle rapidly.  Highlights for the day include a Merlin seen flying east at about 10:45 AM, and a pair of Gadwalls.  After completing the survey at Shepler’s Cove I returned to McGulpin Point to see how much of the ice had been blown away, and found enough had been removed to begin surveying there tomorrow.

Canada Goose – 53
Gadwall – 2
Greater Scaup– 1
Common Goldeneye – 44
Common Merganser – 91
Red-breasted Merganser – 4
duck sp. – 3

Others Species:
Bald Eagle – 1
Merlin – 1