Monthly Archives: May 2017

Waterbird Count, May 16

The final day of the waterbird migration season, and unfortunately it was not one to go out with a bang. The weather was relatively cold and overcast throughout the day, with moderate winds and episodes of rain in the afternoon. Today marked the first day since April 7th to have a daily count to not include a Common Loon, and the first one since April 16th to have no White-winged Scoters. If that isn’t a sign that migration is drawing to a close I don’t know what is. Although a pair of both Buffleheads and Peregrine Falcons were seen resting near McGulpin Point and moving south across the bridge respectively. Comparisons between last years season totals yielded some surprising consistencies as well as dramatic differences- for full details, refer to the soon-to-be-completed report. It has been a pleasure and honor to be the waterbird counter for the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch, as it has allowed me the opportunity to not only incorporate my hobby into work, but meet many people with similar interests and aspirations. I’d like to thank Ed Pike for providing me the opportunity of a lifetime, as well as to the Bakers, Lawsons, Kirbys, Brickers, Grafs, and Jason Newton for sharing with me the splendor of Michigan’s wilderness and its animals. From here, I will be returning to California to work in the Sierra Nevadas for the Institute for Bird Population’s Southwestern Willow Flycatcher study. Working as a waterbird counter in Mackinac City ranks as one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I hope future waterbird counts will be even more successful.

Long-tailed Duck – 152
Bufflehead – 2
Common Goldeneye – 1
Common Merganser – 21
Red-breasted Merganser – 239
Double-crested Cormorant – 53
duck sp. – 1
Common Tern – 3

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 3
Turkey Vulture – 2
Bald Eagle – 1
Killdeer – 3
Peregrine Falcon – 2

Hawk Watch, May 16

Despite owl banding and the waterbird count coming to an end, the hawk watch continues on until June 5. Today had some dramatic shifts in weather. I went from 3 coats to no coats to 1 coat throughout the day. The pressure dropped fairly dramatically and it also rained briefly. How this affected migration — I don’t know. There was a fairly small movement but some nice kettles accumulated since most of the birds came through in a short time frame. The most notable highlight was the two Northern Mockingbirds that were hanging out throughout the afternoon near the hawk watch.

Turkey Vulture – 36
Bald Eagle – 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 5
Broad-winged Hawk – 99
Red-tailed Hawk – 11

Owl Banding: End of the Season

Hello Again,

MSRW blog followers, Arthur and I would first like to apologize for not informing you as to what has been happening  these last few weeks with owl banding. We have been busy with owl banding and diurnal raptor trapping.

One of our last blog post featured some amazing release videos but had failed to mention the owl activity that occurred during the last week of April, which brought Arthur and I some exciting stuff! First, between the nights of April 29 – 30 we caught two long-eared owls (Asio otus). Both were aged as Second year birds and each of them were recorded as unknown for their respective sexes.  We were also excited to have two more recaptured Saw- whet owls. One of these birds came all the way from Brown County Indiana, which was our second bird of the season that came from this area. We aged and sexed it as a second year female, and it was banded last fall as a hatch year female. Thus Arthur and I were correct with both age and sex, but this is usually the case. Then a few nights later we had another recaptured Saw-whet this time a familiar bird that was banded by MSRW last fall at Point La Barb on the Upper Peninsula. This bird was originally banded as a hatch year female. We aged and sexed it as a second year female. God we‘re good, 2 for 2 or 100 % on our recap birds! The remainder of this week included some more Saw-whet captures but nothing out of the ordinary.

Long – Eared Owl Captured April 29 SY, Unkown sex

As we entered May, the main trend we saw was that owl migration was beginning to slow down as we were only averaging 1 to 2 owl captures a night, if we were lucky. From May 3 until our closing day which was May 15 we caught a grand total of 15 owls. 14 of these were Northern Saw – Whet Owls and thrown into the mix another Eastern Screech-owl (Megascops asio asio) which is the red morph sub-species. This was very cool, not only to catch our second Eastern Screech, but also that both individuals were the rufous morph, which is uncommon in Northern Michigan.

Megascops asio asio – Second Year, Uknown sex

As the last week of Owl banded carried on we started having what seemed to be long nights but in actuality only felt long because of the absence of owls. Throughout this last week we even had a few nights with no owl captures. Then on May 10 at 11:00 p.m. we had a treat, we netted a recaptured Saw-whet owl, and like the other recaps, we were super curious to see where this bird had came from. It turned out this bird had flown all the way from Arrow Rock, Missouri and more specifically from Saline County, quite the flight for such a small owl only weighing 86 grams. In conclusion we closed nets for the last time this morning and it was bitter sweet. We have had a great season with an abundance of astonishing birds. We really enjoyed our time with the MSRW and we are sad that we must depart. We hope you enjoyed our blogs and until next time, good birding my friends!

Season Totals:

Northern Saw-whet owl – 164 – (157 newly banded), (7 Recaptured Northern Saw-Whet owls)

Long- Eared owl—5

Barred Owl- 4

Eastern screech owl- 2

Total Owl Captures- 175

Facial Characteristic Variation of Northern Saw-whet Owls

Photo credit: Arthur Sanchez

Owl Banding: Hawk Time


This blog post is a little treat that Arthur and I thought we would share that we are sure all you loyal MSRW blog followers would enjoy. As mentioned in the previous blog post the few weeks we banded owls in May was super slow. Thus this somehow gave Arthur and I extra energy we had previously not had due to staying up all hours of the night.Then our boss and the chair of MSRW Ed Pike offered us the opportunity to do some diurnal raptor trapping with him in Mackinaw city. This was super exciting and was a lot of fun as many new skills were learned on the few outings that we were able to take part. Here are the species of hawk that were captured while trapping. Sharp-shinned hawk, Red-tailed hawk, and Rough-legged hawk. Our totals for each species were as follows:
5- Sharp shinned hawk
9- Red tailed hawks
1- Rough – legged hawk

ATY Female Sharp-shinned Hawk

Chairman of MSRW, Ed Pike and Naturalist Frances Whalen comparing tail morphology of different age classes among Red-tailed Hawks. On the left is a SY RTHA and on the right is an ATY RTHA

Owl bander Nick Alioto with a Rough-legged Hawk

This form of trapping is very exciting as we get to see the birds fly into the nets. Handling these big powerful hawks is truly incredible and you gain a lot more respect for these majestic avian Apex predators of the air. We hope you enjoy some of these awesome photos of some pretty neat birds.

Hawk Watch, May 15

Throughout the morning it looked as though it was going to be a moderately slow but okay day for migration. Sometime around 1:00 PM, something changed and a nice push of raptors come through for several hours. Movement continued until 6:00 PM which is a bit later than typical. Broad-winged Hawks were the predominant species, with a good showing of Turkey Vultures as well. Late in the afternoon, an immature Golden Eagle passed through. Hopefully this isn’t the last we see of this species for the season.

Turkey Vulture – 107
Bald Eagle – 5
Northern Harrier – 3
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 17
Broad-winged Hawk – 420
Red-tailed Hawk – 56
Golden Eagle – 1

Common Loon – 1
Sandhill Crane – 10

Waterbird Count, May 15

The weather had calmed and cleared from the previous day, revealing ducks far and wide over the glass-like water. However, by the final hours, the wind began to pick up, and birds at further distances became harder to pick out from the rising waves. The count for today came dangerously close to yielding a list without a White-winged Scoter or Common Loon, with only lone individuals for each species seen loafing at the beginning and end of the count respectively. As the spring begins to draw to a close, the birds continue to show the signs of starting off strong for the breeding season; yet another family of Canada Geese visited the shores of McGulpin Point. Tomorrow marks the final day of waterbird counting before my return to California, and I hope the final day can bring one last surprise.

Canada Goose – 16
Greater/Lesser Scaup – 1
White-winged Scoter – 1
Long-tailed Duck – 1914
Common Goldeneye – 1
Common Merganser – 11
Red-breasted Merganser – 265
Common Loon – 1
Double-crested Cormorant – 66
duck sp. – 5
Caspian Tern – 1
Common Tern – 5

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 14
Bald Eagle – 2
Red-shouldered Hawk – 1
Buteo sp. – 18
Killdeer – 1

Waterbird Count, May 14

Unlike the last few days, the straits were experiencing moderate winds, creating waves just high enough to hide the birds in excess of one mile away. Another trend breaker for today was the fact that even though there was only a small number of loons seen today, they were all seen in the morning rather than the afternoon. Despite the increase in wind speed, that did not deter the insects from infesting the air at McGulpin Point- in fact, the winds seemed to make the situation only worse.

Canada Goose – 4
White-winged Scoter – 6
Long-tailed Duck – 481
Common Goldeneye – 2
Common Merganser – 9
Red-breasted Merganser – 254
Common Loon – 6
Double-crested Cormorant – 59
duck sp. – 5
Caspian Tern – 1
Common Tern – 3

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 4
Osprey – 1
Bald Eagle – 1

Hawk Watch, May 14

Today very narrowly avoided being my lowest raptor count of the season. The weather was nice, but there was a gusty NW wind. I suspect the wind was a big factor in the suppressed migration. In the end, I managed 28 birds total.

Turkey Vulture – 18
Bald Eagle – 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 4
Broad-winged Hawk – 4
Red-tailed Hawk – 1

Hawk Watch, May 13

I was thinking today could produce a nice movement due to the northwesterly wind direction and nice temperatures. Unfortunately an unexpected rain delayed the count for 2 hours, and things only picked up a little bit after it cleared. A good number of Turkey Vultures and Broad-wingeds passed by, but there were few other raptors.

Tomorrow’s conditions look similar, minus the rain.

Turkey Vulture – 66
Bald Eagle – 1
Northern Harrier – 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 4
Broad-winged Hawk – 103
Red-tailed Hawk – 9

Waterbird Count, May 13

The Global Big Day for 2017 has finally arrived, and the members of the Mackinaw Straits Raptor Watch have all chipped in to document as many species as possible for this “ornithological holiday”.  The waterbird count had some impressive contributions for the cumulative list today, including over two thousand Long-tailed Ducks, and more than a dozen Common Goldeneyes moving west- a respectable number for May.  The loons today also seemed to make a comeback from a lone individual to several pairs out on the lake.  Though there were no species of particular interest or rarity, the total counts were still high, and any data is good data- especially when there are other people also contributing elsewhere.  Adding to the high waterbird counts was the substantial increase in flying insect activity around the lake.  The air was so thick with midges it felt as if I was walking in rain, and the insects consistently tried to find their way into my eyes, nose and mouth.  I myself have been in many environments where local biting and flying insects are labeled as a major hindrance, but nothing I’ve experienced before can even begin to compare to today.

Canada Goose – 6
Greater/Lesser Scaup – 1
White-winged Scoter – 5
Long-tailed Duck – 2250
Common Merganser – 15
Red-breasted Merganser – 375
Common Loon – 7
Double-crested Cormorant – 75
duck sp. – 5
Common Tern – 9

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 6
Bald Eagle – 2
Buteo sp. – 2
Merlin – 1