Monthly Archives: May 2018

2018 Waterbird Count Season Totals

Season Total

Snow/ Ross’s Goose – 1
Canada Goose – 1135
goose sp. – 28
Trumpeter Swan – 5
Mute Swan – 3
Wood Duck – 8
Gadwall – 0
American Wigeon – 2
American Black Duck – 14
Mallard – 139
Blue-winged Teal – 2
Northern Shoveler – 10
Northern Pintail – 17
Green-winged Teal – 4
Redhead – 90
Ring-necked Duck – 12
Greater/ Lesser Scaup – 95
Athya sp. – 117
Black Scoter – 2
Surf Scoter – 2
White-winged Scoter – 1089
scoter sp. – 25
Long-tailed Duck – 8295
Bufflehead – 84
Common Goldeneye – 288
Hooded Merganser – 4
Common Merganser – 1094
Red-breasted Merganser – 7837
merganser sp. – 297
duck sp. – 2318
Red-throated Loon – 2
Common Loon – 1156
loon sp. – 30
Horned Grebe – 222
Red-necked Grebe – 23
American White Pelican – 4
Double-crested Cormorant – 1628
Great Blue Heron – 19
Great Egret – 38
White-faced Ibis – 2
Bonaparte’s Gull – 157
Ring-billed Gull – 130
Herring Gull – 182
gull sp. – 3416
Caspian Tern – 8
Common Tern – 130
tern sp. – 3

Total waterbirds – 30,167

Notable sightings:

May 3rd: Before dawn the sky was filled with COLO (334). Had I not been in place before official sunrise I would have missed nearly 100 birds. Before anyone steals the thunder out of migration in the straits, I understand more loon are seen in an hour at Whitefish Point. Either way after sitting patiently through the last of the winter weather I enjoyed the spectacle thoroughly. 161 COLO flew through between 6:18 – 6:22AM. Another 117 flew through between 6:24 – 7:23AM. The straits were literally filled with COLO! HOGR (35) are increasing in numbers daily and again defying many peoples assumptions. These birds were all staged in close to McGulpin Point. Arriving well before dawn and walking as quietly as possible to the gazebo made it such that the birds stayed close to be counted and observed.

May 5th: (246) COLO continued through the straits today in a westerly direction. Today’s flight was different than Thursdays in that the birds were predominantly a steady trickle throughout the day versus the first hour after dawn. The busiest hours were 6:00AM (42), 7:00AM (69) and 8:00AM (56). (33) HOGR were the high count of loafing birds in the 9:00AM hour. (2) TRUS crossed high and moving north. It has been a long time since I had seen any swans.

May 5th: Big surprise for the day was (2) WFIB winging their way south. I noted them as two black birds off over the north side of the straits coming almost directly at me. They seemed like crows at a distance, but their flight style and spacing was definitively un – crow like. As they got to the middle of the straits they swung a little west of me and a long down curved bill came into view. I knew it was an ibis instantly as they are quite common back home in the west. The two birds ended up flying just to the west of me less than .25 mile. I could make out the glossy sheen on the feathers and very long bright red legs dragging behind them. I was surprised to see it was a rarity here in MI and was happy I payed attention to every detail as without the leg color it may have been hard to make the call between a GLIB and a WFIB.

May 7th: A nice surprise to the end of the count was AWPE (4) spotted about mid – channel winging north low over the water to the Pt. Labarbe vicinity.

2018 Spring Owl Banding Update

Welcome back raptor enthusiasts to another update for the spring owl banding blog!

The saw-whet migration is definitely coming to an end. Our recent nights of banding have been relatively slow, but we’ve continued to have pleasant weather most nights.

May 6th – 2 saw-whets

May 7th – 1 saw-whet. We also had some guests visit the banding station which I will get to later.

May 8th – 3 saw-whets, 1 barred owl

May 9th – no owls. We had to delay opening until midnight due to rain in the area.

May 10th – 1 saw-whet

May 11th – 2 saw-whets

As you can see from our totals we are on the tail end of the saw-whet owl spring migration. We did catch another barred owl on May 8th, a second year (SY) male. We have also surpassed last spring’s total of 175 saw-whets. This spring’s total is currently at 178.

On the night of May 7th we had a group of MSRW committee members and friends come out to the banding station to join us for a night of owl banding. We had great weather, clear skies, no wind and relatively warm temperatures (in the 40’s). Luckily on our second net check we caught a saw-whet (our only one of the night) for all to see up close. We demonstrated our banding procedures and released it to continue on its migration. Thanks to all those who came out, we certainly enjoyed having some guests for part of the night!

Thanks for checking in and be sure to come back for more updates!



Northern saw-whet owls: 178

Barred owls: 2

Long-eared owls: 1

Sharp-shinned hawks: 2


May 8th Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

Awesome conditions to observe waterbirds today. Completely calm and no wave action to the start of the count. Heat shimmer was on hand early though. 5C at the start of the count and I was able to work with my bare hands for the first time this season.

Waterbird Notes –

Todays flight was off to a good start with the first (2) BLSC spotted flying low over the shipping channel to come to loaf near St. Helena. (79) LTDU were on the move from west to east early in the morning as well. (40) COTE made there way through the straits as well from east to west at 7:18AM. Unfortunately what started off as a good flight came to a screeching halt when a barge carrying marine construction equipment moved to within .25 mile of McGulpin Point. This barge has been approaching .25 mile closer daily now for the last few days. The noise associated with the work from cranes, tugs, outboard motors is deafening at times and waterbirds left the area in droves. In short order about (5) RBME were the only birds left in the vicinity of the count location. I spent the next 5.5 hours counting distant COLO (92) and WWSC (l24). See below for other impacts to this years count regarding the chaotic response to this springs near miss with environmental disaster in the straits.

Non- waterbird Notes –

EABL (1) has returned after nearly a month hiatus.


RESQ was happy to have some crackers this morning. A BLSQ was spotted moving through the forest westbound. (3) White- tailed deer made there way down to the waterfront while things were still quiet this morning. They waded out a little way into the lake just to the west of the gazebo.


John G. Munson west bound at 9:08AM and American Integrity east bound at 11:52.

Visitors –

Lynn stopped by to take some photos of the ongoing assessment of the damage to several structures under the straits. On that note it would be advised to visit between the times of dawn to 8:30AM if your plans include observing waterbirds in the straits. Currently on a daily basis a barge with marine construction equipment is slowly inching its way closer towards the shore near McGulpin Point at about .25 mile a day. As noted above the general noise level at times is deafening and as a result very few birds ( 5 – 10 RBME) remain in the immediate vicinity to rest or forage. It seems this particular barge, tug and smaller outboard boat make there way into the area by 8:30AM. I am not sure if they plan on being out this weekend like they did this past weekend.

Total observer hours – 8.0

Todays tally is posted on eBird here.

This will be the last detailed blog post for the season as I must prepare for my departure which I am looking forward to.

This count season has been difficult and left me concerned about the future of the straits as a migratory pathway for waterbirds. Since April 1st of this year’s count I have watched and read about the impacts of an anchor strike on every major structure in the straits. I have been approached by USCG, USDA, DEQ, documentary filmmakers, news crews, reporters and employees of every company who sustained damage during this event on a regular basis. Most of the information disseminated to me in the field has been misleading at best. I do appreciate the concerted effort of Joe Haas of DEQ making regular visits to keep me informed about the process and what to look for. He exceeded all my expectations in handling my report of excessive preening by RBME and discolored rafts of ice. I stand by that observation as I have not observed this kind of behavior before or since the recent spill; it’s important to note that it only takes a dime sized spot of oil to kill a bird in cold water. I have had to listen to pumps running nearly 24 hours a day for 3 weeks strait and now when I thought I was through the worst of it the next disturbance has arrived in the form of barges full of marine construction equipment. It seems I am having to live through the ongoing “response theater” on a daily basis for the remaining 6 weeks of the count. I have been watching this type of theater unfold for far too long.

Until all of this had happened I had no idea that I was counting from a location so close to where a potential environmental disaster nearly occurred. As I have watched the marine construction barge moving closer on a daily basis I am concerned about the natural gas smell I reported on April 11th and subsequent headache that evening. I hope that I have not been exposed to any dangerous chemicals while attempting this year’s count.

I have a long history with oil spills having grown up in Alaska. I was a junior in high school when the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred. At the time I wasn’t engaged with the long term impacts to my home state and its wildlife. A few years later I began working for the company that ended up responding to the spill in Prudhoe Bay. I worked on a variety of “clean ups”: diesel fuel truck spills, benzene removal, fin fan cleaning and shut downs. Most of the time we merely moved contaminants around or hid them. We rarely “cleaned” anything. My last job up there was pouring carboline paint ( a subsidiary of RPM) and the thinner into 50 gallon drums and sealing them shut. My coworker and I then kicked the drums down into unmarked and unlined pits where the chemical is probably seeping into the tundra to this day. VECO finally was caught up in its own bribery scandal and was later acquired by Colorado-based CH2M Hill.

I was fortunate enough to return to Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Americas ONLY Arctic Refuge ) where I trapped and banded shorebirds for Manomet. It was special to see what the north slope looks like without all of the resource extraction and chemical spills. Seeing a shorebird nest in the tundra with a full clutch is worth more to me than all the riches in the world; the nest may belong to a bird that has traveled all the way from Argentina. That summer I rode my bicycle up to do this job and when I returned to Fairbanks I continued on up to Prudhoe along the Dalton Highway. Once in Prudhoe I had to go on a paid bus tour to actually dip in the Arctic Ocean before returning back to Reno on my trusty bicycle. Seeing a tiny little Red-necked Phalarope delicately spinning in a pond for insects below a gas flare is imagery straight out of the Blade Runner movie. I had to question my motive for riding back up there after my less than savory work in college. I did learn some interesting facts from the disgruntled ex-BP employee who led the tour though.

I had no idea over 25 years later I would be sitting next to another potential Exxon Valdez during this year’s waterbird count. If I wanted to experience that again I could go work in Prudhoe and kick chemicals in 50 gallon drums into unmarked and unlined pits. I do think it is more than coincidence that I ended up in Mackinaw City during this critical event. As such I have a perspective that may differ from the residents of the immediate area. There really isn’t any need to rely on the validity of my claims of this years events as it has all been extensively studied by industry experts and a German biologist. The entire event this spring can be summarized in this Smithsonian article from 2016: Why We Pretend to Clean Up Oil Spills.

So it is with the thoughts of these experts that I ask you my fellow bird lovers this question: what use is counting and studying birds if you aren’t willing to speak up for them when their lives and habitat are in danger? At the very least if and when the birds of Mackinaw Straits are impacted I hope some of you will urge that they be killed not cleaned.

May 7th Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

1.7C at the start of the count today at 6:00AM. Superb waterbird observation weather today at McGulpin Point. Virtually no wind for the entire day, no wave action and heat shimmer didn’t become an issue until the last 1.5 hours of the count.

Waterbird Notes –

Surprisingly it wasn’t a busy flight as I would have expected. LESC (7), GRSC (1) and RNDU (4) are all being seen more regularly now. Although patience is a virtue as I have no idea as to when or where they might be spotted. They do tend to fly in from the east and loaf to the west of McGulpin Point. Once they are loafing on the water they are near impossible to spot. (46) COLO came through in a steady trickle today. (29) HOGR and (1) RNGR rounded out the Podiceps.

Non- waterbird Notes –

The first YRWA (1) of this years count was heard behind the gazebo in the afternoon. A nice surprise to the end of the count was AWPE (4) spotted about mid – channel winging north low over the water to the Pt. Labarbe vicinity.


RESQ actually has me trained now which wasn’t I had hoped for. I had hoped I could train it to help me spot COLO. Instead RESQ now arrives at dawns early light with an appetite for crackers. If the crackers aren’t provided a loud chatter ensues from behind the gazebo. Now it appears RESQ is possibly interested in just helping itself to the stash in my duffel bag. I do believe there may have been an altercation between RESQ and the BLSQ today, but I didn’t catch the entire thing as I was visiting with Audrey and Cliff.


Stewart J. Cort east bound at 12:22.

Visitors –

Audrey and Cliff stopped by to see some WWSC and LTDU. As such Audrey put me on the first WWSC of the day while Cliff spotted our BAEA. Not only am I inspired by the young birders who have visited the water bird count this year, but by life long birders like Audrey and Cliff or Leonard Graf. The wealth of information these people possess and experiences they have had tracking birds down is admirable. I really enjoyed their company today and hope they had a good time at French Farm Lake.

The road down to the parking lot and the lot have completely melted out. It has dried out sufficiently too. The shore is completely ice free and there is no ice or snow on the gravel beach leading to the gazebo. It is important to note that I count from the gazebo which gets no sun currently. I have been able to shed one layer from the winter clothing system and the sleeping bag most days as of late, but be aware I am not counting from the boat ramp for a variety of reasons. Primarily less traffic disturbance, a better perch to view from and bigger horizon to scan. Additionally the gazebo acts as a blind allowing me to detect many raptors at a close distance. Even more so I don’t have to smell cigarettes wafting in the wind or deal with the occasional loose dog. So if birding near the waterbird counter is of interest be prepared to be cold! I have noticed that 6:00AM – 10:00AM is currently the busiest part of the days flight as of late. There is a marked drop off in the afternoon. However, this is entirely weather dependent. If cold, wet weather or unfavorable winds are on hand the entire flight could be almost non- existent or pushed back until later in the day when conditions are favorable. I have yet to determine what conditions are favorable for all waterbirds. Although it does seem as of late COLO do fly when raptors are on the move and I have seen WWSC take advantage of the same conditions.

There is about 8 days left in this seasons count and I did want to give a brief update on the seasons numbers. 89 species of birds have been detected and 29,124 individuals have been tallied. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next week. I am not sure if migration has already passed McGulpin Point or if it is still ramping up.

Total observer hours – 8.0

Next days forecast –

Sunny, with a high near 63. West wind around 5 mph.

Todays tally is posted on eBird here.

Total Species: 37

Total Count : 877