Monthly Archives: April 2017

Waterbird Count, April 29

The first four hours today were the most brutal; with gradually increasing winds shifting from west to northwest, and temperatures held firm in the mid-thirties, it felt like the beginning of the month again.  Although, considering that Lake Michigan was experiencing waves of up to seven feet during the same time frame in the Chicago area, it certainly could have been worse.  The clouds started to open up around 8:30 AM, but it was not until approximately 1:00 PM that the sky opened up completely and started to warm up.  There were many more visitors today, though not surprisingly, they did not start showing up until the sky was almost completely clear.  Among the visitors today were Sue Dunlan and Larry Van Wagoner from National City, who gave me a fantastic conversation about birding in Michigan to compliment the rising temperatures.  As for waterbird activity, the loons were moving west in large numbers in the early hours, but by 10:30 AM I was only seeing an average of one per hour.  There was also a disappointingly low number of White-winged Scoters today.  The first five were seen moving west at approximately 9:55 AM- very late in the count for this bird- while the sixth individual was seen moving east approximately three hours later.  When working for the sake of the environment, there will be good days and bad days, but every day is important for the sake of knowledge.

Canada Goose – 3
White-winged Scoter – 6
Long-tailed Duck – 218
Common Goldeneye – 3
Common Merganser – 7
Red-breasted Merganser – 89
Common Loon – 40
Horned Grebe – 4
Red-necked Grebe – 2
Double-crested Cormorant – 56
duck sp. – 13

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 2
Bald Eagle – 2

Hawk Watch, April 28

The most unremarkable day that I’ve had thus far. The forecast seemed promising, but for the first two hours it drizzled with some occasional sleet. Since the chance of precipitation was 0% chance, I figured I should stay and wait it out in case it suddenly cleared. Eventually the precipitation stopped, but no raptors moved. I was optimistically awaiting the sun to come out in the afternoon, as the forecast predicted, but it never did. A few raptors moved throughout the whole day, but very few. The saving grace of today was the season’s first Peregrine Falcon.

Turkey Vulture – 6
Bald Eagle – 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 1

Sandhill Crane – 1
Common Loon – 13

Waterbird Count, April 28

The weather is just like the daily counts- unpredictable.  The day started off in the high thirties with twelve mile an hour winds from the west and three foot waves, it seemed to get worse every hour.  Moderate rain dominated the first four hours, and from 10:48 AM to 10:52 AM it snowed.  Curiously though, the waterbird activity seemed to only improve by the hour despite the worsening weather.  During the second hour both an adult Great Black-backed Gull and Bonaparte’s Gull were seen flying west and loafing respectively.  Following that hour came a flock of seventeen Gadwall.  Over the course of the next two hours the Aythya ducks and Great Blue Herons moved through.  The final hour even got some Red-necked Grebes- though this was not the most exciting detail of the final hour.  Throughout the day, the Common Loons were coming out of the woodwork in ones, twos, threes- all the way up to an unbelievable nine individuals in a single group.  With a grand total of nearly two hundred Common Loons for the day, and a total of sixty-nine in the final hour alone, this could be the looniest day for the MSRW waterbird counting.  Carol Goodman, chairman of Dunkadoo, also managed to pay me the visit she promised me several weeks ago.  I was thrilled that I got to show her several Red-breasted Mergansers like I promised, though I was disappointed that I could not produce some Long-tailed Ducks amidst that washing machine-like water.  Following her visit, a reporter from St. Ignace news also stopped by to ask me questions regarding about what I was seeing and the goals I hope to accomplish for myself and the MSRW.  If Mother Nature could have quelled the winds and opened up the clouds even for a short time, today would certainly have been a perfect day.

Canada Goose – 6
Gadwall– 19
Redhead– 14
Greater Scaup – 37
White-winged Scoter – 35
Long-tailed Duck – 431
Common Goldeneye – 7
Common Merganser – 7
Red-breasted Merganser – 80
Common Loon – 180
loon sp. – 4
Horned Grebe – 8
Red-necked Grebe – 4
Double-crested Cormorant – 29
duck sp. – 16
Bonaparte’s Gull – 1
Great Black-backed Gull – 1

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 3
Turkey Vulture – 5
Bald Eagle – 3

Hawk Watch, April 27

As mentioned by Josh, the weather was quite beautiful today. Having never been in Mackinaw City in June or July, it is rare for me to be so warm here. It was even nice despite the 20mph southerly wind gusts!

I would have figured with the nice temperature, raptor movement would be pretty good. And it was for the first few hours. I guess the bulk of the movement today was largely lift off birds, because come noon the activity completely died off. I’m unsure why, but perhaps the increasingly high winds were unfavorable.

Thankfully tomorrow will see a break from the east winds. Unfortunately, it will be much less warm as well….

Turkey Vulture – 22
Osprey – 4
Bald Eagle – 3
Northern Harrier – 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 40
Broad-winged Hawk – 227
Red-tailed Hawk – 15
American Kestrel – 1

Sandhill Crane – 5
Common Loon – 4

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Waterbird Count, April 27

Today the weather was almost perfect; although the temperatures climbed into the seventies by the end of the day, there was dense fog for the first two and a half hours, so who knows how many waterbirds went amiss.  The temperature started off at 45 °F with moderate easterly winds in the morning, climbing all the way to 70 °F with strong winds from the south.  With conditions as nice as today, it’s easy to see why Mackinaw City is such a popular tourist destination.  Surprisingly though, there were still very few visitors to the lake shore despite the phenomenal weather.  In addition to having record high temperatures for this spring, today yielded a grand total of twenty Horned Grebes- the highest count yet for the season.  The dramatic shifts in atmospheric conditions could be felt by the second starting around 11:10 AM; the wind was becoming more southerly, the humidity and temperature were rising, and the air pressure was dropping.  At around 2:00 PM is when the storm clouds to the northwest could be seen pouring rain, and by the time the work day was done, the rain had finally reached McGulpin Point.  If the weather continues to improve as much as it did today, I might actually get to shed a layer of clothes.

Canada Goose – 2
Mallard– 5
White-winged Scoter – 18
Long-tailed Duck – 59
Bufflehead – 1
Common Goldeneye – 1
Common Merganser – 7
Red-breasted Merganser – 141
Common Loon – 12
Horned Grebe – 20
Red-necked Grebe – 3
Double-crested Cormorant – 71
duck sp. – 11

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 4
Turkey Vulture – 6
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 3
Bald Eagle – 4
Broad-winged Hawk – 23
Red-tailed Hawk – 1
American Kestrel – 1
falcon sp. – 1

Hawk Watch, April 26

After a bit of a rain and fog delay, a nice amount of raptors started moving. The majority of birds appeared to be crossing the Straits, despite an easterly wind. A good assortment of raptors passed by and it ended up being our largest Northern Harrier movement so far this season.

The Killdeer nest at our primary watch site now has 4 eggs, which may mean the mother will start incubating now, or perhaps there are more eggs to come. If only the east winds would stop so I could actually hawk watch from that site and monitor the nest.

Turkey Vulture – 40
Osprey – 3
Bald Eagle – 2
Northern Harrier – 25
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 45
Broad-winged Hawk – 349
Red-tailed Hawk – 21
Rough-legged Hawk – 3
Golden Eagle – 1

Sandhill Crane – 24
Common Loon – 6

Waterbird Count, April 26

Today the visibility was consistently low throughout the day even after the rain had subsided; the Upper Peninsula was not visible at any point during the observation period.  The rain started coming down hard at about 7:20 AM, then gradually receded by 9:30 AM.  By 11:30 AM, the visibility started to improve as the fog lifted and the clouds got thinner, allowing more sunlight to penetrate through.  The maximum visibility at McGulpin Point was approximately 1.5 miles, although the average visibility was closer to one half mile.  The species densities certainly took a hit for the count today, although this was not surprising given that only the birds very close to shore were visible.  What was surprising was the fact that the species diversity in the count today was as good as any other day for waterbirds, raptors, and other birds alike.  The big highlight for the day was the two small groups of Killdeers migrating east in the early hours, which had almost stumped me due to the fog concealing the first group, leaving me with only their shapes and flight pattern to go on- until the second group flew by.

Redhead– 4
Greater Scaup – 3
Lesser Scaup – 2
White-winged Scoter – 11
Long-tailed Duck – 8
Bufflehead – 1
Common Merganser – 11
Red-breasted Merganser – 62
Common Loon – 6
Horned Grebe – 3
Double-crested Cormorant – 25
duck sp. – 6

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 1
Osprey – 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1
Accipiter sp. – 1
Northern Harrier – 2
Rough-legged Hawk – 1
Killdeer – 11
American Kestrel – 1
Merlin – 1

Owl Banding: Amphibian Encounters


As we open and close nets, walk net round after net round, we have the opportunity to witness nature in it’s most amazing moments! Whether it’s Sandhill Cranes flying in or Hermit Thrushes singing in the morning, it’s always a beautiful sight to see.

On April 2nd, as we were walking in some owls for processing, Nick noticed a salamander on the side of our cabin. When we took a closer look, we were able to identify it as a Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale). Blue-spotted Salamanders are in the family Ambystomatidae and are native to the Great Lakes. These salamander are primarily found in deciduous hardwood forest but will also occupy alternate habitat types. They usually prefer vernal pools that retain water through the summer to ensure access to suitable breeding habitat.

Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale)

On April 9th we had another encounter with a much bigger Ambystomid salamander. As we were closing net three, Nick noticed another salamander walking along the sand. We decided to snap a couple of pictures for later identification. After we captured some photos, we witnessed the salamander swivel it’s way into a tiny den at the base of a Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis). The photos that we captured are distorted and pixelated but good enough to confirm ID. In this photo you can make out the costal grooves which are present in most Ambystomid and Plethodontid (lungless) salamanders. Costal grooves have various functions from water retention to osmoregulation,and also aid in keeping their body moist.

Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

Our last amphibian encounter was the night of April 14. This was the night after we had captured three Barred Owls. On our way back from the 10 PM net run, we stumbled upon a Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) in the middle of the trail that leads us to our nets. Leopard Frogs are a part of the true frog family Ranidae. In the photo we captured, we have a clear visual of the tympanum. A frogs tympanum functions like an eardrum, transmitting sound waves to the middle and inner ear, permitting the frog hear in air and under water. In some frog species, you can determine sex by the size of the tympanum. Male’s usually have a larger tympanum, sometimes bigger than their eye, opposed to female’s, where it is equal to or smaller than the eye.

Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens)

If you couldn’t tell, I really like amphibians. If I couldn’t work with birds, they would be my next taxa of choice.



Hawk Watch, April 25

Today started off really nice with nearly 300 Broad-winged Hawks lifting off during the first half hour. Most or all of these early morning birds actually crossed the Straits pretty soon afterward — confirmed even further by Steve Baker who was watching from the other side of the Straits at Point LaBarbe. This is a bit atypical for Broad-winged Hawks with an easterly wind, who often hesitant more than other raptors to cross the Straits. The wind may have had a bit of an ESE component  which could have assisted them. After lift off, it was fairly slow all day, but with a consistent trickle of birds moving through.

Highlights: at least 4 Northern Red-tailed Hawks.

Turkey Vulture – 65
Osprey – 1
Bald Eagle – 3
Northern Harrier – 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 49
Red-shouldered Hawk – 1
Broad-winged Hawk – 423
Red-tailed Hawk – 34
Rough-legged Hawk – 4
Golden Eagle – 1

Waterbird Count, April 25

With the winds calming down from yesterday and thin layer of clouds blocking out the sun, the morning started off quiet and dark.  The clouds opened up from approximately 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM, after which the clouds rolled back over and did not clear again until around 12:30 PM.  This was also around the time the White-winged Scoter activity started to climb, as well as having another first for this spring:  the first day with multiple Red-necked Grebes out on the water.  Fortunately they were all huddled together in a group approximately one half to one mile northwest from the gazebo at McGulpin Point, which made counting them a breeze.  As for the raptor activity, the Broad-winged Hawks reached a record high for this spring at McGulpin Point, along with the first confirmed Cooper’s Hawk.  Surprisingly, despite the improvement in weather, very few people came down to McGulpin Point at all.  Only two cars were seen driving right down to the shore, and only one person visited me while at work.  As summer draws closer and the days get longer and warmer, it makes me hopeful the activity for both the avian and human visitors will continue to rise as well.  Although if the winds continue to blow east, it seems reasonable to expect the raptor movement to decline- like traffic on the highway.

Canada Goose – 6
Redhead– 2
Greater Scaup – 5
Surf Scoter – 2
White-winged Scoter – 46
Long-tailed Duck – 191
Bufflehead – 3
Common Goldeneye – 3
Common Merganser – 10
Red-breasted Merganser – 142
Common Loon – 18
Horned Grebe – 3
Red-necked Grebe – 6
Double-crested Cormorant – 69
duck sp. – 25

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 3
Turkey Vulture – 20
Osprey – 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 4
Cooper’s Hawk – 1
Northern Harrier – 2
Bald Eagle – 6
Broad-winged Hawk – 76
Red-shouldered Hawk – 3
Red-tailed Hawk – 1
Buteo sp. – 22
American Kestrel – 2