Migrants abound at Cheboygan SP (still waiting on straits)

3/27: First full morning at Cheboygan SP, and conditions were optimal, with considerable numbers and diversity of migrating waterfowl, raptors, and passerines, with some other surprises, too!

Started at 7:15 to a rosy sunrise, glassy inshore waters now completely clear of ice floes, and a steady Southeasterly breeze scalloping the waters further out. Waterbirds were already on the move: large numbers of herring gulls (at an estimated rate of 1-5 per minute) were driving Northwest a couple miles offshore, all headed towards their island breeding colonies up in the straits. Common goldeneye, mallard, and all three merg species were moving, too, and one group loafing just offshore was joined briefly by a smart little male bufflehead, who continued on NW a few minutes later. Long-tailed ducks were swirling about in a large feeding/loafing assemblage way offshore, and many more ducks were on the move towards the East side of Bois Blanc Island, but were too far off to identify.

Goldeneye, red-breasted merganser, and mallard numbers peaked in the second hour, and herring gull numbers had begun to decline, but were continuing steadily. Ring-billed gulls were moving, too, though these seemed much more tied to the shoreline, as most were well within binocular range. Waterbirds in general tended closer to shore than in the first hour, as the Southeast wind continued.

Duck diversity peaked in Hour 3, with a flyby flock of mallards and black ducks that included a surprise pintail pair—a first for Cheboygan SP. Red-breasted mergansers continued in large numbers, and Canada goose flights reached their peak. By now, the temperature had risen by about 5°C, but a Northwesterly breeze had picked up in inshore waters, and appeared to be depressing flights somewhat. What’s more, the goose flocks now were being pushed towards Bois Blanc Island, instead of continuing right up to the straits. 

By 1015, most waterbirds had passed peak numbers, though a migrating bald eagle that had just reached the South tip of Bois Blanc appeared to have dislodged a large group of loafing ducks: 3 red-breasted mergs flew NW, one flew SE, five long-tailed ducks flew about a quarter-mile before landing to the South, and, most surprising, an early pair of white-winged scoters set off to the South in the commotion. Another first for the park.

I concluded the waterbird count at 1115 as numbers of all species had dwindled to a trickle, and focused my efforts for the next 45 minutes on getting a sense of whether this site hosted decent raptor movement, as well. Rewarded with a circling immature golden eagle, several more balds, and a pair of unidentified large accipiters.

Perhaps most remarkable today was the great diversity of moving passerines and other small birds: I had a killdeer, a male kingfisher, an early eastern bluebird, a pine grosbeak, a white-winged crossbill, a pine siskin, and 16 redpolls, all flying Northwest. Robins, grackles, and blackbirds were also streaming past, with 20-30 of each species, though I’m sure I undercounted as many were heard-only above the canopy. What’s more, had a single crow and a single raven—both far out over the water headed North—so corvids may also be migrating.

Hourly Spp. Totals:

Full eBird List: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54275910


3/28

Another stellar day at the start of waterfowl migration in the area! Far fewer passerines, as a moderate yet steady Northwesterly breeze may have proved difficult to fly against; but the wind did little to suppress northward waterbird movements, and flocks were steadily churning up the channel between Cheboygan and Bois Blanc Island for all five hours. 

Just before sunrise, the ring-billed gulls put on a real spectacle, flying over en masse just above the shoreline (143 of the total 150 Northward migrants for the day were seen in the first hour, and 83 of these within the first ten minutes of the count). Herring gull numbers were down from yesterday, with 52 total birds, most likely due to the heavier wind further out, where most of them were flying yesterday. 

The heavy-hitting waterfowl today were the mallards, with 167 total birds. Most of these came in small flocks of 5-15, and many flocks contained surprises! Seen with mallard flocks today were two wood duck pairs, ten pintails, a wigeon pair, a green-winged teal pair, a male shoveler, and healthy helpings of ring-necked ducks, redheads, and black ducks. Goldeneyes were also moving in large numbers, with 82 Northward fliers. Some of these may have been local birds, as regular handfuls of goldeneye were seen loafing and diving near the shoreline; but the majority set an unwavering trajectory Northward in flocks of 5-10. 

Red-breasted and common mergs were moving North in smaller numbers, with many local loafers. Uptick in buffleheads as well. Goldeneyes, red-breasted mergansers, and mallards were all performing breeding displays, at times turning their loafing flocks into an array of office desk toys.

Another surprise was a very contented pied-billed grebe, which was seen on and off throughout the five-hour count period as it dove for food. 

Raptor numbers were surprisingly low given what came through at the Hawk Watch today, but I did have four immature bald eagles put on a show, continually harassing the loafing flocks of dabblers and divers, especially as increasing wind and a growing mass of ice floes seemed to hamper Northward progress for several large mixed flocks, making them sitting ducks in both the literal and figurative sense! Single male harrier, too, flying Southwest from Bois Blanc.

Hourly Totals:

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54322611