Monthly Archives: March 2018

March 30th Waterbird Count Summary


Weather –

It was a beautiful and still this morning with the moon setting to the west when I arrived. Temperatures hovered around 27 degrees F and the barometer was steady throughout the day. That quickly changed when the winds kicked up to nearly 30 kph by 10:30AM. This caused the rafts of ice that were parked out to the NW of the straits to slowly drift over to the south shore that I count from. This additional ice grinding against McGulpin point caused the blue ice wall to the NW of the count site to grow again in elevation maybe maxing out at 12 ft. The temperatures barely climbed to above freezing by the end of the count at 3:30PM. A nice bank of cumulus clouds formed over the northern shore of the straits. Other than the low clouds sifting through the straits it was mostly sunny today.

Waterbird Notes –

The Red-breasted Merganser were the most numerous waterbirds detected as has been the case so far this season. White- winged Scoter, Long- tailed Duck and a few Common Goldeneye rounded out the waterbirds for the morning. By 11:30 AM things dropped off drastically and I called the count 30 minutes early when I realized there hadn’t been any waterbird detections other than merganser since just before noon. It was impressive to watch the merganser handle the rough waters today that few other waterbirds seemed to fare well in. It was easy to overlook them in the troughs of some of the 2 ft chop, however that also acts as camouflage to predators since they are near invisible at times even with a spotting scope.

Non- waterbird Notes –

Another exciting day was recorded in detail for the non- waterbirds. Just before sunrise the resident Adult Bald Eagle that seems to have a territory closest to McGulpin Point flew low from the shipping channel to the north with a full crop on a southerly flight path. It is my opinion that I never did see this bird again today. A couple minutes after this bird left the straits I noticed 2 more Adult Bald Eagles dogfighting on the northern shore of the straits. I don’t always think of eagles as amazing aerialists but the more dominant eagle certainly gained altitude and banked faster than the bird that was trying to leave the area. The dominant eagle repeatedly gained altitude quicker through powerful wingbeats than the interloper who seemed to be on a mostly level flight path to the south. Once the dominant bird reached higher elevation it then closed the distance between the two birds rapidly. The interloper rolled over on its back flashing its talons once, then took 4-5 more of these attacks before the attack ended abruptly. Once the interloper crossed to the far side of some invisible line its pursuer then broke off the chase and returned to hunt in the shipping channel.

Not more than a couple hours after this show a 3rd year Bald Eagle was spotted flying to the east of McGulpin along the shore ice. I then watched the bird repeatedly dive to the surface of the water only to come up with nothing. I thought for sure the bird was fishing, but as it came close to within 100 meters of the gazebo the prey became obvious. The NW winds that kicked up pushed ice into the shore ice in front of me. This slow closing of the channel limited Red-breasted Merganser ( who were fishing near the shore ice) in their options for take off. One hen that had got separated from the other birds dove under the raft of ice off of the shore ice and when she rose on the far side in open water the eagle dove. It came up empty handed, but it was interesting to note that the bird may have been short on breath and as such each subsequent dive by the eagle resulted in the hen rising faster and more frantically. I thought I was about to witness my first kill on the straits, but the merganser succeeded by persistence and not giving up. I once observed an adult male American Kestrel chasing a migrating passerine that had been blown high up off of the Bridger Mountains in Montana. The kestrel took the passerine after 6-7 swipes. I was impressed with the kestrels aerial superiority, but I was impressed by the tenacity of the small passerine in 40-50mph gusts at over 8,000 ft. The eagle then perched in front of me to regroup and float stealthily on the moving raft of ice before setting off to repeat the process. Now I understand a little more of what the resident Bald Eagles are doing when I see them perched on a prominent piece of blue ice on an ice raft drifting in the straits. This spectacle made me reflect on a quote from Charles Darwin that I think about daily:

“When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief, that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.”

a 3rd year bird with merganser in mind

At 10:37 AM I spied through the spotting scope a lone Sandhill Crane flying high at the base of the cumulus clouds at what appeared to be just over the top of the highest supports on the bridge. This lone SACR signaled a solid flight of raptors from my vantage point. Next up was an adult light Red- tailed Hawk which crossed the straits effortlessly, but upon reaching the far shore it quickly dropped into the forest to perch. When Ed visited later in the afternoon he mentioned the flight line that bird was on was the shortest point to point crossing of the straits. Next up was two Golden Eagles winging their way over the bridge at the base of cumulus clouds that I was able to spot them against. These birds appeared to be working pretty hard to get across the straits, but once they approached the far shore they glided a bit on their up swept wings. They where unlike the Bald Eagles that reside in the area, flying higher, point to point and not dropping to the shoreline on the far side. These birds continued on to the east following the north eastern shoreline of the straits out of view.

By now I was cheering the day vocally for the amazing flight I was witnessing. Undoubtedly the cloud cover helped with detections. Now that I have one of the flight lines figured out I will definitely be scanning that area routinely. In that same hour I also saw an Unknown Buteo, but it disappeared in the low clouds before I could sort it out.

Another notable observation today was a Pine Siskin that joined me under the roof of the gazebo. The bird was busy collecting nesting material. I was impressed with the birds ability to strip bark off the logs in the gazebo and literally fly away while tearing the bark free. I told the siskin it was doing excellent work.

Visitors –

Ed Pike brought down a much welcomed snack of fresh grapes and cheese which I promptly wolfed down. This was greatly appreciated, so thanks to Bev Kirby!

A reporter from the St. Ignace News visited with Ed and I on a story he is working on about migration and MSRW. Another reporter from a local paper here in Mackinaw City arrived shortly thereafter. I will keep you posted when these articles run. My chickadees are getting to be pretty famous.

Total observer hours – 8.0

Next days forecast –

Snow, mainly after 8am. The snow could be heavy at times. High near 35. Northeast wind 5 to 10 mph becoming south 10 to 15 mph in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 35 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of around 5 inches.

Canada Goose – 5
White- winged Scoter 4
Long- tailed Duck – 5
Common Goldeneye – 2
Common Merganser – 7
Red-breasted Merganser – 67
duck sp. – 48
Ring- billed Gull – 4
Herring Gull – 3
gull sp. – 70

Golden Eagle – 2 U
Bald Eagle – 5 A 1 S3 1 I
Red- tailed Hawk – 1 AL
Unknown Buteo – 1
Sandhill Crane – 1
Mourning Dove – 1
American Crow – 10
Black-capped Chickadee – 2
Red- breasted Nuthatch – 2
Golden- crowned Kinglet – 1
American Robin – 3
Northern Cardinal – 1
Red- winged Blackbird – 1
Common Redpoll – 30
Pine Siskin – 4 ( carrying nesting material )

March 29th Waterbird Count Summary

smooth sailing on the straits this morning and you might spy a Peregrine Falcon hunting along the bridge

Weather –

The ice has left the straits yet again. The morning started off just below freezing and cloudy. It was completely still which the waterbirds appreciated. By noon though the wind had kicked up to 12- 38kph and this made it feel as if it was much colder than in the morning. Visibility was good all day and the barometric pressure was steady.

Waterbird Notes –

Waterbirds made use of the ice free straits in large numbers and there was plenty of diversity! Going forward I will make every effort to arrive at first light as there are plenty of waterbirds waiting for me now when I arrive a little before dawn. This is advantageous as well as I may count the large rafts of Common and Red-breasted Merganser quickly while they are doing their courtship displays. This then allows me to move on to picking out the loner birds and oddities at a distance. The first Greater Scaup of the season was detected in this fashion. 38 Redhead rested in their own separate raft almost to where the shipping channel is. Good numbers of White- winged Scoters today and some came directly by McGulpin Point for really good views. The numbers of Long- tailed Duck continue to increase. They appear to be not as fond of the shore habitat, but prefer to spend time out near the shore of St. Helena Island. Common Goldeneye were on the move throughout the morning hours, their wings whistling in the wind. Red- breasted Merganser continue to increase in numbers with a morning count of 368 birds ( as accurate a count as possible). A Ring- billed Gull came by today and maybe they will begin to frequent the south shore of the straits more as more ice continues to go out.

Non- waterbird Notes –

I am very excited to share todays non- waterbird flight info! The calm morning was advantageous conditions for large flights of passerines. Common Redpoll went by in several different flocks between 7:30-9:30AM totaling 153 individuals. Pine Siskin went by in numbers, but only 52. The Common Redpoll actually crossed the straits after getting organized where the Pine Siskin seemed to swirl around above the gazebo before heading west along the shoreline. 23 Red- winged Blackbird looked as if they might make the crossing, but after venturing only 50 meters offshore they turned and went east along the shoreline. The usual cast of forest birds were detected behind the gazebo.

Raptors were active in the straits today as well. The resident Adult Bald Eagle was active escorting a non adult Bald off the rafts of ice it was perched on. The entire encounter seemed to be much less aggressive than some of the other encounters I have observed between it an the other adult eagles in the area. Later in the day the rafts of ice began to move through the straits and it was quite obvious the resident Bald Eagles use a perch hunting tactic while floating freely in any direction the ice happens to move. At the end of the days count a S2 bird, the adult and a non- adult Bald Eagle were all floating on separate rafts of ice at different but well spaced perches throughout the straits near McGulpin Point. This is one of the reasons I love all birdwatching as I am always learning and observing behaviors I have never seen before.

In addition to the eagle activity a resident Peregrine Falcon was observed hunting the actual structure of the Mackinac Bridge. It was a long distance ID through the spotting scope for me, however I knew instantly I was dealing with a falcon by its tail on view and flight style. The falcon was first detected flying about even with the bottom of the bridge, but I was amazed at its flight path which wound through the cables, around the abutments and near the tops of the bridge. Observing a falcon in the act of hunting gets the blood pumping. Will it be successful? No doubt the chase is exciting enough! The bird was obviously using the element of surprise by rounding any corner in the structure of the bridge to surprise prey perching or resting on it. Once the bird perched near the top of one of the abutments it was quite obvious by the size and coloration of the breast I was no longer dealing with a Merlin or Kestrel. A memorable way to add my Michigan Peregrine.

Ed Pike wasn’t visiting for more than 10 minutes when he put me on a beautiful light adult Rough-legged Hawk flying fairly low just to the west of the gazebo. It was memorable to be standing beside my mentor in Michigan and observe a bird that breeds in the Arctic.

Waterbird activity is just beginning to pick up with birds being most active between first light and noon. However, the day doesn’t get boring as the decrease in waterbird activity after noon allows for some memorable and exciting non- waterbird observations.

Visitors –

I was kind of caught off guard when I turned around and a news crew from channel 6 was coming out of the forest behind the gazebo. Aaron Parseghian and Matt Myers braved the icy luge course of an approach to come visit the waterbird count. I thought for sure they must have missed the hawk count location, but they were intent on seeing what was going on at the straits first. I have a little bit of background working with the media and public speaking but I was certainly not in any way prepared for this ambush! If I would have known I was going to be on the evening news I would have worn my best “ puffy” clothes. I did my best to share what I have learned about how important Mackinaw Straits are to migrating birds and how fortunate I am to be here observing migration. If in the end the interview comes across well and puts MSRW in a positive light it was a success. More importantly if the importance of this special place to migratory birds is shared with viewers and peaks their viewers interest I will be pleased.  You may check out the story here.  Please note that Steve Bakers feeders and the Black-capped Chickadees of McGulpin Point are now famous!

In addition to the news crew I was able to visit with Michelle Moore from Grayling, MI. She brought me up to speed on the freighters, the locks and some of the history of shipping in the lakes region. I actually learned quite a bit on the subject and got a glimpse into the boat “nerd” world! I encouraged her to return to our upcoming raptor festival and I hope she does.

Total observer hours – 8.0

Next days forecast –

A 20 percent chance of snow after 3pm. Increasing clouds, with a high near 35. West wind 5 to 15 mph.

Canada Goose – 11
Mallard – 12
Redhead – 53
Ring- necked Duck – 8
Greater Scaup – 1
White- winged Scoter – 14
Long- tailed Duck – 8
Common Goldeneye – 30
Common Merganser – 21
Red- breasted Merganser – 368
Ring-billed – 1
Herring Gull – 2
gull sp. – 80

Bald Eagle – 1 S2 1 Adult 1 Non- Adult
Rough- legged Hawk – 1 LA
Sandhill Crane – 8
Killdeer – 1
Mourning Dove – 1
Pileated Woodpecker – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 1
Blue Jay – 1
American Crow – 11
Black- capped Chickadee – 4
Red- breasted Nuthatch – 1
Golden- crowned Kinglet – 1
Northern Cardinal – 1
Red- winged Blackbird – 25
Common Redpoll – 153
Pine Siskin – 52

Also- we are live over on Dunkadoo! If you happen to be interested in following migration in the straits in real time from work, home or while on the move ( you can even receive text updates) head on over to Dunkadoo by way of this link! The birds hope to see you there.

2018 Spring Owl Banding Update

Greetings once again fellow raptor enthusiasts and welcome to another spring owl banding update!

Connor and I have been much busier the last few nights as the spring migration of the northern saw-whet owl has finally kicked off here in Cheboygan State Park. In our first update we had caught and banded only 1 owl in our first 10 nights of banding operations. However, things quickly picked up. The night of March 24th we banded 1 more owl and the next night ( March 25th) we banded 5. The following night our banding operations were cut short due to rain moving into the area, so we closed at 3 a.m. but not before catching and banding 2 more saw-whets. The night of the 27th saw us catch 7 more saw-whets bringing our total for the season up to 16. However, last night (March 28th) we more than doubled our total for the season in a single night by catching 20 owls!!! Our current season total is 36 northern saw-whet owls.

Aside from the rainy night of the 26th the weather has been great. Most nights we’ve had clear skies with little to no wind which makes for some excellent star gazing I might add.

We’re hoping for more of the same success going forward, so be sure to check back for more updates on the spring owl banding operations as well as the hawk migration counts and waterbird counts!


Saw-whet: 36


March 28th Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

Today I was shocked to see the straits choked with ice. Visibility was good with light winds.

Going forward all weather data will be collected off of the Mackinac Bridge weather station. It should be noted this is the closest weather station to my count site, however it won’t accurately reflect the temperature or wind at McGulpin Point. I looked up the weather station and realized it is east facing, over a large parking lot and devoid of vegetation. When I am posting temps above freezing from this weather station it is much colder at McGulpin. The reason for this is I watched the portable weather station I use go from above freezing to below, to back up to below in a matter of an hour. In reality it steadily was getting colder. Too, the wind isn’t reliable on it. Today the unit wouldn’t even move in anything less than 8mph winds even though it was reading on the thermometer that the temp was above 40F. This would make it difficult to select the appropriate windspeed on our tablet. For any measure of consistency it is better going forward to get the weather somewhere ( since I don’t have the ability to measure it accurately ). I wanted anyone reading my prior posts about the days weather to be aware that there is a large discrepancy between what I am getting in the shade and the parking lot over 2 miles away that is east facing.

Hooded Merganser

Waterbird Notes –

The waterbirds really wanted to use the area off of McGulpin Point to perform their breeding displays and to fish. Unfortunately the point was no longer ice free and most of the straits were choked with ice. Most of the days waterbirds were Common and Red-breasted Merganser with a few Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead mixed in. These birds tried to make the small bits of open water work, but quickly moved east or returned west to more open waters. By 2:30PM the ice had shifted yet again and the birds returned in large flocks. 191 Red-breasted Merganser returned, but this time they were focused on fishing, not courtship. It was interesting to watch them fish cooperatively which I never realized they did. I find all the social behaviors of waterbirds during spring very interesting. The new waterbird I had yet to detect that arrived today was a pair of Hooded Mergansers. Looking at their plumage through a spotting scope never gets old. The pair was very focused on preening and I was impressed with the finish product when they tucked their heads behind their wings and drifted for a bit while resting.

Non- waterbird Notes –

One of the resident adult Bald Eagles was back briefly on the ice. Later in the day two immatures where spotted, one circling the gazebo and another soaring high on a thermal. A female Northern Harrier flew across the straits low over all of the ice flow hunting. She came extremely close to the gazebo so I got an excellent look at her. She then proceeded east along the shoreline and out of view. That really perked me up! In addition to the raptor excitement I had auditory detections of my first Killdeer of the season, White- breasted Nuthatch and Eastern Bluebird respectively. Busy day for the counter even if not many waterfowl where in the straits early.

Freighters –

The Robert S Pierson became stuck in the shipping channel on the ice jams.  They were heading to Sturgeon Bay to load taconite, but ended up spending 45 minutes or so getting off the ice they had been stuck on.  I learned later these freighters are more likely to become stuck when they are empty as this ship was.  The Spartan barge pushing a larger barge passed by to pick up a load of CaCl2 at 13:30.

Visitors –

One visitor was out walking her dog. Other than that a quiet, but special day.

Total observer hours – 8.0

Next days forecast –

Cloudy, then gradually becoming mostly sunny, with a high near 36. Northwest wind 5 to 10 mph.

Canada Goose – 39
Bufflehead – 6
Common Goldeneye – 3
Hooded Merganser – 2
Common Merganser – 24
Red- breasted Merganser – 194
merganser sp. – 11
duck sp. – 120
Herring Gull – 7
gull sp. – 150

Northern Harrier – 1 AF
Bald Eagle – 1 Adult 2 Immature
Killdeer – 1
Mourning Dove – 1
Pileated Woodpecker – 1
Blue Jay – 1
American Crow – 2
Common Raven – 5
Red- breasted Nuthatch – 2
White- breasted Nuthatch – 1
Golden- crowned Kinglet – 2
Eastern Bluebird – 3
Northern Cardinal – 1
Red-winged Blackbird – 2
Common Redpoll – 2
Pine Siskin – 2

Also, the plan to embed Dunkadoo on the blog didn’t quite function properly. I am hoping it can be worked out so that there will be a live map posted with the migration tally coming through in real time. That being said I did get the 2018 MSRW Waterbirds Spring page up. Just click the link here. You can start following along in real time as I am using my phone as a hotspot. This is actually why Dunkadoo ( the application I use on the tablet to record birds with ) was developed. So we may engage with people in real time which hammers home the spectacle of migration. Many friends back home could see things really picking up. If anything I hope the effort puts what the journey is like for many of these birds into perspective. I also spiffed out our public page which has additional totals and the daily tally much like the HMANA website. Check that out here.

March 27th Waterbird Count Summary

One of the resident adult Bald Eagles was perched less than 100 meters from the gazebo this morning



Today started off above freezing at 2.3 C with light rain falling. Visibility was limited to 2 miles, the northern shoreline of the straits obscured by fog. Very low nimbostratus clouds came and went past McGulpin Point. The barometric pressure fell steadily over the 4 hours of todays count. It continued to rain off and on, but the visibility by the end of the count was limited to 100 meters off the point. No wind or wave action to speak of. By the end of the count the temperature had hardly changed.

The wall of ice to the west was rapidly diminishing in the rain. The shore ice too was shifting quickly and it probably won’t be long before it is gone and the wall of blue ice moves on. This will greatly help with detections to the west of the count location.


Common Goldeneye

Waterbird Notes-

Despite the rain, waterbirds were moving through today. The birds that did move through were close to the point, however the fog certainly could have made detections more than 2 miles difficult. That 2 miles gradually decreased to 100 meters by noon. At that point I could hear Common Goldeneye whistling by, but I was unable to spot them in the fog. Since the fog slowly moved in over a 4 hour period I wasn’t completely aware of how this was impacting detections as it is difficult to determine the edge of the fog over open water as it approaches. Even at 2 miles birds would suddenly appear out of the fog from nowhere. It was interesting to observe how this caused all species of waterfowl to hug the shore and fly low. The rain and fog did seem to put a damper on courtship displays by Common and Red- breasted Merganser as well as Common Goldeneye. A few small groups gathered and attempted to display only to disband quickly. The highlight of the morning was 3 Long- tailed Duck who flew in fairly close to shore from west to east, landing somewhere to the east of the point out of view. These birds have striking plumage and I enjoy seeing waterbirds I haven’t seen since working in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It is special to have seen them on nests in their breeding range and now en-route to the arctic during migration. I could always tell if an arctic fox was sniffing around in the never ending light of the arctic summer when I heard a Long- tailed Duck calling amongst the other birds sounding off their alarms.

Non-waterbird Notes-

The resident adult Bald Eagle was perched on the ice less than 100 meters from the gazebo. The eagles presence appeared to have an impact on waterbirds loafing, foraging or courting in the area. A bold Herring Gull made quite a fuss about this and eventually the eagle left of its own accord.


None except for the feeder birds. It will probably only be a few more days if the weather stays warm before the treacherous descent to the lakeshore is melted out. It was almost mushy today, but if it freezes again I have no doubt it will be slick. I am looking forward to it melting out as I will be able to drive down to the count location which will cut down on the time needed for my commute.  Also, the eBird output will be down for the next few days until the system we log data into gets dialed in.  However, check out tomorrows post as there is another way you may follow waterbird migration in real time!

By noon the visibility off of the point was limited to less than 100 meters

Total observer hours – 4.25

Next Day Forecast-

Patchy fog before 11:00AM. Otherwise, mostly sunny, with a high near 40F.

Long- tailed Duck – 3
Bufflehead – 1
Common Goldeneye- 20
Common Merganser – 15
Red- breasted Merganser – 33
merganser sp. – 5
duck sp. – 5
Ring- billed Gull – 2
Herring Gull – 2

Bald Eagle – 1 Adult
Mourning Dove – 1
American Crow – 2
Black- capped Chickadee – 5
Golden- crowned Kinglet – 1
American Robin – 1
Common Redpoll – 3
Pine Siskin – 2

March 26th Waterbird Count Summary


This morning dawned quite pleasant with almost no wind and a temperature of -4 C. By 10:30 the winds began to pick up but the temperature was nearly above freezing. Out on the straits almost no wave action was to be seen nor heat shimmer which was good for detecting distant birds. By the afternoon the winds had kicked up to 12-19 kph out of the NE so it almost felt as cold as in the morning even though it was now just above freezing. High cirrus clouds came and went throughout the day. The barometer dropped slightly possible signaling the approaching weather forecasted for tomorrow. Visibility was excellent at over 10 miles.


Waterbird Notes-

In general all birds were on the move today. Over 70 Canada Geese were spotted flying in large flocks, primarily out near St. Helena Island. One Trumpeter Swan flew directly over the gazebo at 9:30AM. A large flock of Mallard moved through with 35 individuals and 2 American Black Duck mixed in with them. The first Redhead of the season were noted directly out in the middle of the straits off McGulpin Point flying east. It was exciting to detect the first White-winged Scoter of the season flying ahead of a freighter on the far northern side of the straits westbound. I learned from that experience to scan in front of the freighter and along its wake as this flushes birds that I may have missed. Ed Pike spied a lone Long- tailed Duck crashing down in the straits out near St. Helena Island. A lone Bufflehead was detected before sunrise in close to McGulpin Point, later to be joined by another. 10 Common Goldeneye were mixed in with 15 Common Merganser at about 10:30. Red- breasted Merganser were out in numbers, 43 to be exact. Both Common and Red- breasted Merganser were again performing their communal displays. I personally think the Red- breasted display is more complex than what I am seeing from the Common. Currently the 7:30-10:30AM is the peak of the waterbird movements. From 12:30 to 2:00PM I didn’t see any other birds moving nor did the resting birds outnumber the high counts from the morning.

Communal display of the Red-breasted Merganser

The far right bird is partially submerging itself with its neck bowed low and beak open

Non-waterbird Notes-

The resident adult Bald Eagle was detected both fishing out near St. Helena Island and loafing on the rafts of ice directly in front of McGulpin Point. This resident Bald Eagle is a “bruiser” as I saw it either escorting another adult out of its territory or it was mating behavior. I would lean towards the former though as it didn’t look too friendly, with the smaller bird rolling over on its back and flashing its talons up. The resident was not to be deterred though until this interloper left the area, which it did in a hurry. I am curious to know if this is the same bird seen last week at the Hawk Count site that actually was pulling tail feathers off of another bird that had strayed into its territory. The size disparity between the two was obvious even with the naked eye. Perhaps to occupy a territory as rich in habitat as the straits an eagle has to be substantial.

the resident adult Bald Eagle

The forest birds were vocal today: Downy Woodpecker ( drumming), Pileated Woodpecker ( wild man call), Golden- crowned Kinglet ( a new liquid call I have not heard ), American Robin ( scolding something), Northern Cardinal, Common Redpoll and Pine Siskin.

As I approached the gazebo I had a hunch the feeders Steve had installed had seen some action after my departure yesterday. Sure enough a herd of Black- capped Chickadees arrived shortly after determining it was safe to approach with the waterbird counter in position. Of course one chickadee is attempting to lay claim to the feeders so we will have to see how that pans out. Thanks to the feeders I got my first Red- breasted Nuthatch for Michigan! He or she is so cute, flitting through the underside of the roof of the gazebo and stopping to look at me to make sure I am on task and not a threat. I don’t know why but the scolding, raspy call they give when not pleased makes me happy. This is a result of the “chief” chickadee trying to displace just about all visitors other than those he has approved.

Freighters –

The straits were busy with freighter traffic this morning. At 7:30 the Alpena was westbound to Greenbay, WI with cement. The Roger Blough was east bound at 7:45 en route to 2 Harbors to load taconite. The Mesabi Miner ( also en route to load taconite) passed en route to Silver Bay and it was this boats wake that flushed the White- winged Scoter. The Niagara was headed east again at 12:50 possibly with more salt.


Ed Pike and Sue Stewart visited the count today. Ed located the first Long-tailed Duck of the season.

Total observer hours – 5.5

Next Day Forecast-

Rain, mainly before 1pm. High near 41. Southeast wind 5 to 10 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New precipitation amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.

Canada Goose – 70
Trumpeter Swan – 1
American Black Duck – 4
Mallard – 37
Redhead – 7
White- winged Scoter – 4
Long- tailed Duck – 1
Bufflehead – 2
Common Goldeneye – 10
Common Merganser – 27
Red- breasted Merganser – 43
duck sp. – 89
Herring Gull – 9
gull sp. – 100

Bald Eagle – 2 Adult
Mourning Dove – 1
Downy Woodpecker – 1
Pileated Woodpecker – 1
American Crow – 18
Common Raven – 1
Black- capped Chickadee – 6
Red- breasted Nuthatch – 1
Golden- crowned Kinglet – 2
American Robin – 1
Northern Cardinal – 1
Red- winged Blackbird – 1
Common Redpoll – 23
Pine Siskin – 20

I have also included several pie charts that show the first weeks numbers and how they break down by species.  Figure 1 is a representation of all the focus species.  Figure 2 accounts for what makes up the “other” category.  Figure 3 accounts for all species detected and 4 accounts for the “other” category.

Figure one


Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

March 25th Waterbird Count Summary


The temperature this morning at McGulpin Point upon arrival was hovering near -5.6 C warming to -1.8 C by mid afternoon. The winds picked up around 9:30AM but it was still pleasant on the point compared to the Hawk Count site today, gusting to only 6-11kph out of the north. The barometer held steady throughout the count. No cloud cover and excellent visibility over 16 kilometers. The wave action on the lake wasn’t too bad with the waves at or near 1ft. It should be noted however that to the west of McGulpin Point the blue ice has really grown in elevation at roughly 6-10ft. This wall of blue ice has no doubt caused me to miss some low flying waterbirds ( which is primarily what I am seeing now) out to the west. As far as ice in the straits goes, it is diminishing rapidly. Throughout the day large rafts of ice were seen blowing through the straits. The shore ice is becoming quite dangerous in my opinion as several times during the count I could hear it creaking and groaning as if it could give way at any moment.

I have enjoyed watching birds like this Common Merganser float by on rafts of ice

Waterbird Notes-

Upon arrival and before I even officially began the count there were many Common Merganser making use of the open water near the edge of the shore ice just east of McGulpin Point. I am impressed with the Common Mergansers ability to begin their day so early, something we both have in common. The high count for the day was 33 individuals with males greatly out numbering the females. Later in the morning their were several communal courtship displays and a call I have never heard the merganser make. This involved a fanning of their tails and what look liked a kicking of water into the air as well as males escorting one another away from the hens. These merganser seemed to be flying to the west, only to come back hourly and increasing in numbers. Eventually near noon they returned with 6 male Common Goldeneye. Only 3 Red- breasted Merganser were detected today. Ring- billed Gull and Herring Gull were both detected close to the point and it is apparent as the ice continues to move out of the straits and more shore is exposed the greater their scouting and loafing is on the south side of the straits.

Non-waterbird Notes-

Just after dawn what I believe to be a resident juvenile Bald Eagle was seen flying from the NW side of the bridge and along it to the south side of the straits. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the large eagle commuting alongside the commuters on the bridge. Each had its own business to attend to. The resident adult Bald Eagle was noted fishing to the west of the point. American Crow were seen in small flocks of 7 to 24 moving north and south across the straits. One crow perched on a mound of shore ice in front of the point and was quite vocal. Later in the morning a crow was vocalizing in the same way and was soon joined by 3 other crows. I am not sure what was going on but lots of displacement activity ensued and it appeared that at least 2 of the crows were attempting to chase the other two off of the shore ice. Behind the gazebo the usual forest birds were detected.

Freighters –

A ship, the CSL Niagara returned eastbound today from Milwaukee having offloaded its salt. At first, looking out over the horizon past St. Helena Island I thought it was a very large iceberg. As it neared I recognized the boat from Friday.


Steve Baker came by with a hopper and suet feeder he expertly installed next to the gazebo. He is under the impression that we may be able to do a fair amount of business down here in the export of black oil sunflower seed. I will keep everyone posted on the comings and goings of the newly installed feeders as I look forward to the new “bird TV” channel he has installed. Steve heeded the chain control restrictions on the road down and had some nifty spike traction devices. With that being said a visitor took a really hard tumble that I could hear all the way over at the gazebo so that is two incidents I have observed with myself being one of the early victims. Please use extreme caution on this steep icy descent if you choose to come down and I will keep all updated as to how the melt is progressing.

As I was getting ready to call the count for the day I had 4 visitors stop by. Judy and Bryan from Saginaw City and Midland respectively and Kent and Toni from Traverse City and Lake. I was able to share with them a little of the purpose and reason why Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch came about and the purpose of counting waterbirds and raptors during migration. Toni had been to Whitefish Point and was enjoying the Snowy Owls this winter.

Total observer hours – 5.25

Next Day Forecast-

Tomorrow looks to be downright tropical with a high of 43 and mostly sunny skies. Southeast wind 10 – 15 mph.

Canada Goose – 16
goose sp. – 12
Common Goldeneye – 10
Common Merganser – 46
Red- breasted Merganser – 3
merganser sp. – 1
duck sp. – 28
Ring- billed Gull – 4
Herring Gull – 4
gull sp. – 86

Bald Eagle – 2 ( 1 adult 1 immature)
American Crow – 54
Common Raven – 1
Black- capped Chickadee – 4
American Robin – 1
Common Redpoll – 10
Pine Siskin – 3

The Common Merganser returned towards the end of the day with Common Goldeneye

March 24th Waterbird Count Summary

Herring Gull loafing along the shore ice


20 degrees out as I made my way down to the count location this morning. It was impressive to see the straits completely free of ice ( minus the shore ice) since I left yesterday afternoon. The temperature started at -7 degrees C at 7:30AM and managed to warm up 1 degree by 11:30. Winds were steady all morning at 12-19kph out of the NE. Wave action was noticeable at 2-3ft which is tall enough for a waterbird to be hidden behind. As usual excellent visibility over 16km. Barometric pressure held steady throughout the day. It should be noted that until temperatures rise above freezing all weather measurements with the exception of temperature are being read off the Mackinac Straits Bridge weather station.

Waterbird Notes-

Common Merganser were the first waterbirds detected moving shortly after dawn to take advantage of the newly opened straits. By 8:30AM things started to pick up with both Red-breasted Merganser and Common moving into the straits to fish. This continued into the 9:00 hour with Mallard, American Black Duck and Herring Gull moving through. It was nice to have birds come through mostly on a East to West or West to East flight path directly in front of the count site for really good views. By 9:30AM duck movements tapered off to be overtaken by Herring and Ring-billed Gulls. Some Herring Gull perched on the shore ice right in front of the count site and I was happy to watch them enjoying their newly opened up territory. Some Canada Goose were noted early at the start of the count and again near noon but very distant near St. Helena Island or the far northern shore of the straits.

Non-waterbird Notes-

First bird of the day was an adult Bald Eagle flying low over the count site. My guess would be this was the same bird perched on the ice nearby later in the morning. It is my assumption that I likely flushed the bird off the high blocks of blue ice that are growing in height as more ice blows into the straits and piles into the shore ice. Later in the morning an immature Bald Eagle was seen flying off of St. Helena Island. The most exciting observation of the day was a Merlin flying off of Gros Cap. It was obviously a notable bird from a distance and lucky for me it turned and came directly at me for a closer look, crossing the straits from North to South. It may be a resident bird that was detected later in the day up at the alternate hawk count site hunting starling. The power and limited time it took for the bird to cross the straits is impressive, compared to watching the corvids “row” themselves slowly across the straits. In addition to the raptors the usual cast of characters were noted in the forest behind the count site.


Ed Pike.

Total observer hours – 7.25

Next Day Forecast-

Clear with a high of 33. East wind 10 to 15 mph.

I also wanted to add that all the daily totals are being posted to the eBird hotspot for McGulpin Point at:

Canada Goose – 17
American Black Duck – 2
Mallard – 4
Common Merganser – 16
Red- breasted Merganser – 3
merganser sp. – 18
duck sp. – 20
Herring Gull – 8
gull sp. – 115

Bald Eagle – 1 Adult 1 Immature
Merlin – 1
American Crow – 8
Common Raven – 3
Black- capped Chickadee – 1
Common Redpoll – 7
Pine Siskin – 10

Adult Bald Eagle perched in the ice jam