Straits Still Frozen

3/26: Recap of Days 1-9.

Winter continues for Mackinaw waterfowl, as the straits remain locked beneath a foot of ice—in fact, the only waterfowl in Emmet County so far was a single Canada goose in a wet depression off of the road to Wilderness S.P. Hence, we’ve had to be a bit creative about finding ways to count. 

The Cheboygan River, mostly ice free, has been pretty productive. Ed and I had a good morning here on my first full day (3/19), with 11 waterfowl species (lists below). Most appeared to be local over-winterers, though a few new migrants had arrived. Highlights included two pairs of hoodies below the Dentist’s office, and the first wood duck pair of the year at the end of Mill St. One of the owl-banders says he saw a shoveler on the river recently, but this did not show for us.

River mouth: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54022354

First bridge: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54022384

River lock: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54022466

Below dentist’s office: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54022495

Upriver stops: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54022552

Returned to the river lock for photos in the evening, and picked out a greater scaup pair among the milling mallards, redheads, and goldeneyes, plus a new pair of black ducks:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54024207

3/19-3/22: For the next few days, water-birding was minimal, and I spent most birding time at the hawk watch, plus some exploring in Chippewa county (primarily on the lookout for my lifer sharp-tailed grouse and the abundant snowy owls in the area):

Snowy Owl, Pickford, Chippewa County

Fortunately, on the evening of the 20th, after helping with owl nets in the afternoon, I discovered that the channel East of Cheboygan State Park was essentially ice-free; what’s more, I had a flyby group of long-tail ducks while standing, binocular-less, on my skis—so surely there was more to be found further out!

3/23: Quick scouting trip on the evening of the 23rd, once I’d picked up the scope and data sheets. It was a calm evening, with relatively minimal movement, though both merg species were present, and herring gulls were moving purposefully offshore.  

List:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54150722

3/24: The morning of the 24th was surprisingly productive. A relatively warm start grew colder over the two hours I was there, as an increasing wind out of the East eventually brought fog and light snow, and with it, a number of birds from further out on Lake Huron—most notably, a flock of 25 redheads that cruised in from open water and banked up towards the straits to the NW. Also notable: a continuing pattern of herring gulls flying steadily NW, most likely towards island breeding colonies up near Bois Blanc and Mackinac Is. An adult male harrier cruised over at 11:58, headed out towards Bois Blanc—likely island-hopping. Overall breakdown:

CAGO: 1 adult flying NW
MUSW: 1 adult flying NW
MALL: pair flying NW; 2 males flying SE
CANV: female flying NW
REDH: 25 adults flying NW
LTDU: male flying NW; 5 males, 1 female loafing
COME: 8 males flying NW
RBME: 5 males; 5 females flying NW
COME/RBME: pair flying NW
duck sp.: 9 flying NW
RBGU: 1 adult flying NW
HEGU: 20 adults flying NW, 4 adults flying SE (likely recounts), 2 adults loafing
NOHA: male flying East to Bois Blanc I.

List:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54172784

3/25: Both overall numbers and species diversity decreased on the 24th, as a moderate yet bitter wind from the NW fronted down from the still-frozen straits. The watch began with a good deal more ice just off the beach, as a large jam appeared to have rumbled down from near the straits. However, this cleared as the wind picked up, leaving mostly open water out to where the heat shimmer began to affect visibility. No new or particularly notable species. Another steady flight of herring gulls, mostly NW. Overall breakdown:

CAGO: 4 adults flying NW
MUSW: 1 adult flying NW
TRSW: 2 adults flying NW
LTDU: 1 adult flying NW
COGO: 3 males, 1 female flying NW; 2 males, 1 female flying SE (one male a likely recount)
COME: 1 male flying NW
RBME: 1 male flying NW; 6 males 6 females loafing.
COME/RBME: pair flying NW
duck sp.: 3 flying NW, likely LTDU
RBGU: 1 flying NW
HEGU: 17 adults, 1 1CY flying NW, 2 adults flying SE (likely recounts)
BAEA: 2 local birds

List:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54212538

The morning of the 26th was even slower, with temperatures hovering around freezing for the hour I was there, and originally stagnant winds picking up once more into a North-westerly breeze. Seemed to be mostly local back-and-forth movement today, aside from continuing steady herring gull flights.
A thin sheen of ice webbed between the larger blocks on the near-shore waters, leaving only the outer channel free for scanning for most of the count period. Heat shimmer was a real issue today, though I managed to pick out a few long-tails by their batlike wings as they ducked above and below the line of invisibility within the heat shimmer, and by their eventual emphatic bellyflop-landings, which due to the warping and magnification of the heat shimmer, looked as if they must be 20 feet tall. Red-breasted mergs were also identifiable in the heat, especially as the males began their comical duck-and-bob displays, though these, too, appeared absurdly disproportioned. Overall breakdown:

CAGO: 2 heard only
LTDU: 3 loafing.
COGO: 2 males, 2 females flying SE
RBME: 3 males, 1 female loafing; 2 males flying NW
duck sp.: 10 loafing, probably RBME
HEGU: 22 flying NW, 1 flying SE (likely recount)
BAEA: 1 immature flying SE from Bois Blanc, one (presumably local) adult overhead

List:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54243697

Have been getting out later than I’d like as I’ve been trying to sleep off a cold, but planning a full pre-sunrise-to-noon count tomorrow.