The nonprofit group Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch has opened registration for the popular Mackinaw Raptor Fest. Held April 6th-8th in Mackinaw City, this weekend of activities promotes public awareness and knowledge of raptors and waterbirds in the Straits region. The Fest attracts 150 to 200 people to the Straits of Mackinac to experience its unique bird migration.
Available events include opportunities to view hawks, owls, and waterbirds with qualified interpreters, a meet-and-greet reception, classroom-style presentations by regional experts, a live raptor program, a hawk identification film, birding field trips, and a banquet catered by Audie’s of Mackinaw City.
According to Fest Chair Kathy Bricker, “This year for the first time we will focus on owls. We offer different programs each Fest so people can return every year and learn new things.” Bricker said wildlife artist and falconer Glen McCune will share one of his live hawks in a special session before the Fest banquet on Saturday. Local residents may purchase a standalone ticket for this evening. “Seeing these birds in person amazes even people who are not bird watchers,” says Bricker.
The 2018 Raptor Fest keynote speaker is Gene Jacobs, owner of Raptor Services consulting firm and Director of Linwood Springs Research Station in Wisconsin. Jacobs will present Snowy Owl Winter Habitat Use based on his research using solar-powered transmitters that record owl locations. During break-out sessions, Jacobs will describe his studies on Merlins and Red-Shouldered Hawks and reveal information gained over years of banding Northern Saw-whet Owls.
In the morning plenary session of April 7th, Josh Haas, of Hawks on the Wing, will present a video to teach raptor identification. Haas will offer optional sessions on Bird Photography for Beginners and the Special Challenges of Photographing Hawks on the Wing. Other break-out sessions feature excellent speakers on Boreal Owls, the science and magic of migration, waterbird migration over Lake Superior, and American Kestrels.
On the evenings of April 6th and 7th, Owl Banding and Constellation Discovery will take place at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City. Registrants will have a chance to
see migrating owls being caught, examined, and released from banding nets, as well as to learn
about the spring constellations.
On Sunday April 8th, Steve Baker and Leonard Graf will take people to observe a courtship lek of Sharp-tailed Grouse. This field trip will allow attendees to witness the courtship ritual of these grouse, including dancing and calls. Leader Darrell Lawson offers a late winter birding in the Upper Peninsula with possible sightings of Snowy Owls, Northern Shrikes, Rough-legged Hawks, and other winter migrants and residents throughout Mackinac County.
Raptor Fest 2018 includes free hawk count viewing daily for both registrants and the general
public from 10 am to 4 pm. At the 2017 Raptor Fest, 1,366 raptors of 12 different species were
observed, including 1,104 Red-tailed Hawks, 24 Bald Eagles, 15 Rough-legged Hawks and 165
Turkey Vultures. The free waterbird count is open from sunrise to 2 pm.
The full conference with Friday night reception, banquet and live raptor show costs $65. There
are partial conference options available including: Friday night reception and conference only,
for $30; or Live Raptor Show and Banquet only, for $40. Field trips cost $15. Limited
scholarship funds are available for interested students.
Bricker adds, “To meet local demand for the popular experience with owls at Headlands, MSRW
has added the nights of April 13th and 14th. Registration is required for this extra event, since
space is limited.”
Registration for both the extra owl weekend and the April 6 to 8 Mackinaw Raptor Fest is open
now. To register or learn more, visit www.mackinawraptorfest.org.
The Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch conducts scientific studies of hawks, owls, and waterbirds
migrating through this region of northern Michigan, educates the public about them, and aids in conserving and protecting the resting and feeding stop-over habitat for birds of prey in the
Straits of Mackinac region. To learn more, visit the MSRW Facebook, Instagram pages
or www.mackinacraptorwatch.org for blogs, event dates, and support options.