Monthly Archives: March 2018

March 23rd Waterbird Count Summary


This morning dawned clear and cold. Temperatures were again in the mid teens as I made may way to the count site. At the frozen lakeshore it was calm, but there was significant haze on the north shore from controlled fires. At about 8:30AM a strong eastern wind suddenly gusted through. 2 hours later the winds started to subside. The channel was open again as if a boat had gone through sometime after yesterdays count was terminated. A large pool of open water was directly in front of the count site. The Coast Guard and a ship named the Niagara motored through both of which shifted the ice and suddenly connected the pool in front of the count site to the channel. It was also noted that the ice that had slowly moved south yesterday was again moving towards the north and west as the lighthouse on St. Helena Island was more visible. Barometer held steady throughout the day and the temps gradually warmed up to the high 20’s before the count was terminated around noon.

Waterbird Notes-

It didn’t take long for the wintering resident birds to take advantage of the open water near the count site. Canada Goose, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser and Red-breasted Merganser were all active between 8:30 – 9:30. The merganser were busy fishing in the newly opened water directly in front of the count site. A lone Herring Gull was sited flying high and to the north. The gull activity on the north shore was again in full swing with approximately 35 birds swirling around.

Two Red- breasted ( one has his head down fishing) and one Common Merganser

Non-waterbird Notes-

A flock of Snow Buntings were observed crossing the strait today. Some Common Redpoll were heard early behind the gazebo mixed in with the PISI calls. A lone Adult Bald Eagle was seen flying low across the straits, possibly a resident bird.

Freighters – Niagara


Ed Pike.

Total observer hours – 5.25

Next Day Forecast-

Sunny with a high near 31. Wind chill values as low as -2. East wind 10 to 15 mph.

Canada Goose – 17
Common Goldeneye – 1
Common Merganser – 3
Red- breasted Merganser – 7
duck sp. – 6
Herring Gull – 1
gull sp. – 35

Bald Eagle – 1
American Crow – 2
Common Raven – 2
Black- capped Chickadee – 3
American Robin – 1
Snow Bunting – 11
Red- winged Blackbird – 1
Common Redpoll – 3
Pine Siskin – 3

2018 Spring Owl Banding

Greetings raptor enthusiasts! Welcome to the 2018 spring owl banding blog. I am Matthew Hanneman and I’ll be the head owl bander for the MSRW this spring alongside my assistant owl bander, Connor Vara. We are very excited to be here contributing to the owl research for the Mackinaw Straits Raptor Watch.

Connor and I arrived in Cheboygan on the 14th of March and got settled into our cabin before starting banding operations on the night of the 15th. Unfortunately it has been a very slow season thus far with only one northern saw-whet owl captured and banded, a third-year (TY) female, meaning she hatched in the spring of 2016 and is now entering her third year of life. The winds have been out of the North and East lately which is not ideal for capturing owls at our site. However, we are optimistic that the winds will change in our favor and we’ll be able to band more owls soon!

That’s all for now, but be sure to check back regularly for more updates on the progress of our owl banding as well as the hawk migration and waterbird counts!

The ice returns


Another clear, cold but thankfully still morning today. Temps hovered in the mid – teens as I made my way in the dark to the count location. It actually felt warmer at the count location before sunrise than it did later in the day due to the lakeshore being in the shade. It was still noticeably more comfortable than yesterdays stiff breeze. Barometer held steady all day and the winds picked up a little by the afternoon. Visibility was excellent and no heat shimmer was coming off the ice. By afternoon the temps were still in the negatives.

Waterbird Notes-

The only waterbird movements today were a couple of Common Merganser who were the first two waterbirds noticed yesterday. They flew on a west to east flight line directly in front of the count site. Later in the day I noticed them loafing in an open pool near the southwest edge of the bridge. A larger flock of 6 Common Merganser were noted flying from somewhere in the vicinity of St. Helena Island. It was interesting to compare their movements to yesterday as they initially headed back to the west of the McGulpin Point, but quickly wheeled around and came directly towards the count site. They then turned again and ended up flying to the north of St. Helena Island. By the looks of it even the merganser were caught off guard by the shifting ice which has closed off much of the channel that was open yesterday. On that note I watched the lighthouse on St. Helena Island slowly disappear from view between a wall of ice that was moving towards McGulpin Point slowly throughout the morning from the north to the south. I heard Canada Goose but could never get eyes on them. Even the gulls normally seen along the north shore directly across from the count site seemed less active today. I did have one lone Herring Gull flying high directly across the strait.

Non-waterbird Notes-

The resident crows were not too interested in crossing the strait today. Some new detections today ( auditory) were Red- bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, White- breasted Nuthatch, Northern Cardinal and a lone Pine Grosbeak singing to me from behind the gazebo.


Ed Pike visited a little before noon.

Total observer hours – 4.25

Next Day Forecast-

Sunny, with a high near 33. North wind around 5mph.

Common Merganser – 10
Herring Gull – 1
gull sp. – 28

Mourning Dove – 1
Red- bellied Woodpecker – 1
Blue Jay – 1
American Crow – 3
Common Raven – 2
Black Capped Chickadee – 3
White- breasted Nuthatch – 1
American Robin – 1
Northern Cardinal – 1
Pine Grosbeak – 1
Pine Siskin – 8

2018 Waterbird count has begun!

Adult Bald Eagle perched along the edge of the lead


Today dawned mostly clear, cold and windy. Temperatures hovered in the teens as a stiff 10 mile and hour breeze blew from the north. Barometer held steady throughout the day. By 14:00 the temperature finally climbed above freezing and the wind became light and variable.

Waterbird Notes-

First birds to be spotted this morning were in a perfect “V” near the NE side of the Mackinac Bridge. During the first hour of the count 3 Canada Goose were noted flying low to the North directly in front of the count location. Shortly after 3 Common Merganser were noted heading East again directly in front of the count site. Several flocks of ducks were noted at a great distance crossing from St. Helena Island back to the south and west of the count site. Due to the direction of flight and low altitude they were considered as resident birds.

Non-waterbird Notes-

The first birds noted were the gull species emanating from the North West side of the bridge. They seemed to be in constant motion throughout the day. A group of resident crows made short work of the crossing early in the morning. They seemed to stage somewhere behind the count location before heading across the straits together. 3 Adult Bald Eagles were perched on the edge of the ice directly in front of the count location a little before mid- day. A lone CORA was heard gurgling some strange call in addition to BCCH, AMRO and Pine Siskin. Flying just above the tree line behind the gazebo was a lone Red-winged Blackbird.


Two visitors from Traverse City made it down the icy road to the count site. As of now please use caution coming down the sheet of ice to the lower parking lot. Your best bet is to use either side of the road and make use of the trees as something to lean on. I promptly went down on my first visit and I would like to think I have good balance! Somehow Ed Pike made it look simple when he visited towards the end of the count today. I still had to clamber up and down with my micro-spikes on so chains are advised.

Total observer hours – 6.75

Next Day Forecast-

Mainly sunny with a high of 34. Winds NW at 10-15mph.

Canada Goose – 3
Common Merganser – 3
duck sp. – 24
gull sp. – 50

Bald Eagle – 3 (Adult)
American Crow – 15
Common Raven – 1
Black- capped Chickadee – 1
American Robin – 1
Red- winged Blackbird- 1
Pine Siskin – 2


Ice in the Straits

Today is the beginning of the Mackinac Strait Raptor Watch 2018 Waterbird Count. Unfortunately no count was conducted today due to the ice packed in the strait. Ed Pike visited the count site during the afternoon and noticed that quite a bit of open water was visible and as such I will try to count tomorrow. I visited the count site myself before sunset and indeed a channel was visible running west to east through the strait and even more open water was visible out near St. Helena Island.

I did want to introduce myself to the birders, volunteers and members of Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch. My name is Adam Bradley ( Adam Richardson on eBird) and I am honored to be conducting this springs waterbird count. It is my first time visiting this part of Michigan and I am pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the scenery is at McGulpin Point and the surrounding country side. Over the past few winters I have had an opportunity to work on several game bird studies in the west and more recently this winter in Wisconsin. My current migration corridor involves returning to Montana and Idaho to conduct avian point counts until late summer. Fall is spent counting raptors at Bridger Bowl Hawk Watch outside of Bozeman, MT. I was born and raised in Anchorage, AK and was lucky enough to nest search, trap and band shorebirds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. As I scan the lakeshore along McGulpin Point I keep expecting a Polar Bear to walk out from the edge of the ice flows! I look forward to meeting more of the volunteers and members of Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch and I am grateful to your efforts and contributions which allow me to count birds in such a beautiful area.

Red Phalarope – Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Hawk Watch March 4, 2018

On Sunday March 4, Ed Pike, Steve Baker, Dave Mayberry, and Kevin Georg spent time at the Rec. Center at Mackinaw City hoping for some raptors. The weather conditions were not the best with east winds and clouds moving in and out till mid-afternoon when it became cloudy. A few raptors were seen as listed below:
Golden Eagle 2
Bald Eagle 7
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Tomorrow March 5, Kevin starts the main count. Hopefully some more raptors will be moving.
Ed Pike

Hawk watching on March 3, 2018

We had a beautiful spring day, with a good number of raptors flying, at the hawk watch site on the south side of the Mackinaw City Recreation building. Steve Baker and Ed Pike did the observations with help from Dave Mayberry. Four visitors were able to see a number of raptors at a distance including several Golden Eagles. Kevin Georg our spring counter arrived about noon and helped with the count. We counted from 10 am to 3 pm with most of the raptors moving north from about 11:30 till 2:30. We had a great count for early March:
Golden Eagle 10
Bald Eagle 2
Red-shouldered Hawk 3
Red-tailed Hawk 18
Rough-legged Hawk 3 (2 light& 1 dark)
Sunday, March 4, looks like it could be a good day to see raptors.
Ed Pike

Hawk count for spring 2018

Hello all
The Offical Hawk Count starts on March 5, although the weather is not predicted to be conducive for migrating raptors.
Steve Baker and I have done some observations on days that look good in the last week. On Wed. Feb. 28 we counted our first Golden Eagle. Today with what appeared to be good weather for migration we again did observations from 10am till 3pm; we counted 6 Golden Eagle, 3 Bald Eagle, 1 Red-shouldered Hawk, 6 Red-tailed Hawk, and 1 (dark) Rough-legged Hawk. Made for a good day in early March.
Hoping for more Golden Eagles on Sat.
Ed Pike

Press Release, Spring Research Begins, March 2018

Tastylia Germany MSRW Spring Research Starts

The fifth year of raptor research has officially begun for the Mackinaw Straits Raptor Watch (MSRW). MSRW hires professional hawk watchers, owl banders, and waterbird counters to conduct research on migration numbers in the Mackinac Straits area.

The geography of Michigan makes the Straits a critical bird migration pathway, where thousands of birds converge during spring and fall migration to cross at the narrowest part of the Great Lakes. Every year since 2012, MSRW hawk counters have counted from 12,345 -50,399 raptors during spring migration. Researchers here have recorded the highest number of migrating Golden Eagles east of the Mississippi and the most Red-tailed Hawks in one day.

“It has been a somewhat slow and snowy start to the MSRW hawk watch season. Winds have been unfavorable and slowed down movement, but there are still raptors funneling through. I have counted 102 raptors since March 3,” says professional Raptor Counter Kevin Georg. He has returned from Pennsylvania for his 5th spring season as MSRW raptor counter. Georg commented that March and April are especially good times to come to the hawk watch site and see Golden Eagles. Weather permitting, the Hawk Watch site on Central Avenue in Mackinaw City is free and open to the public every day from 11 AM – 5 PM. Look for the Hawk Watch sign.

The nightly MSRW owl banding surveys started Wednesday, March 13th. Ed Pike, MSRW chair, commented, “It was a smooth start to the 2018 spring owl surveys.” Pike is overseeing two new MSRW hired owl banders and training them in the research protocol used at this site. Matthew Hanneman from Wisconsin is Lead Owl Bander, while Connor Vara from New York is Assistant Owl Bander.

The spring Waterbird survey begins Tuesday, March 20th at McGulpin Point outside Mackinaw City. MSRW has hired Adam Bradley of Nevada as counter, working every day. The waterbird count also is free and open to the public, from sunrise – 2:00 PM. In spring 2017, 39,386 total waterbirds of 34 different species were counted.

MSRW hosts the third annual Mackinaw Raptor Fest on April 6th-8th, 2018. “Anyone interested in birds will love this event. We have excellent speakers and field trips planned. Our raptor
counting site is right next door and we will have extra staff on hand to help people see and
identify the amazing birds of prey migrating through the Mackinac Straits area,” said Melissa
Hansen, a member of the MSRW Raptor Fest planning committee. Tickets are available for the
whole conference or just the banquet and live raptor program with Glen McCune.

Additional Owl Banding and Star programs are available on Friday, April 13th and Saturday April
14th at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, located three miles west of downtown
Mackinaw City. The suggested donation is $15 per person or $25 per family. This is an especially
popular field trip, and the additional program allows local people another chance to participate.
Registration for both the extra owl weekend and the Mackinaw Raptor Fest is open until March
24th, although spaces are filling quickly. To register or learn more,

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 for blogs, event dates, and support options.