Monthly Archives: April 2019

Trails End Bay produces another rarity!

4/26: Another slow morning, with minimal breezes and periodic fog. A handful of ducks moved through, but the vast majority were loafing and calling on the still water—primarily long-tails and red-breasted mergs. Loons continued to move (they seem to be flying West every single day, regardless of wind and weather conditions), though in much smaller numbers. Couple Caspian tern flybys, and some tree swallows.

eBird list:

Evening count took place in wild conditions, with a howling North wind, six-foot-plus surf, and blowing sand. Consequently, very low numbers of everything, with half the number of buffleheads seen recently, three common mergs, and one calling pied-billed. The eared grebe was not observed but may have been loafing somewhere more sheltered. Only movers were four Caspian terns, headed West, and a surprise pair of greater scaup that flew off to the East end of the bay. 

eBird list:

4/27: Wicked Wind of the West made for a positively oceanic morning, with high surf and strong winds off the water. Long-tails, red-breasted mergs, and loons were all taking advantage of the updrafts to make strong Westward movements in the first hour, yet these all but died down by 7:30 or so. A likely contributing factor was the increase in heat shimmer as the sun rose, which made spotting low-flying fowl all but impossible among the churning breakers several miles out. A few flocks were spotted as they rose briefly above the shimmer line, but I was probably missing many birds flying closer to the UP shore. Big flight of ring-bills and herring gulls, including several immatures, which I ended up relocating at Trail’s End Bay just after the morning count, where the high surf had washed up a noxious mass of pond-weeds that around 100 gulls were sifting through. 

eBird list:

Wind once again slowed the evening count, with few birds on the marsh. Bufflehead numbers were back up, so I expected the eared grebe to show, but it was nowhere to be seen. Briefly caught a small grebe off to the West in the scope around sunset, but it appeared a better match for horned grebe. 

eBird list:

Painted lady, Wilderness SP

4/28: Winds continued, with little movement in general. A pintail group, two small scoter groups, and a single greater scaup were the only duck migrants, with continuing steady movement among common loons, and a number of loons and grebes loafing with the red-breasted mergs in near-shore waters. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the arrival of a lone beaver, seen moving along the shore to the East in the predawn hours. 

eBird list:

Evening began with steady winds, but these finally abated around 8PM, and produced a real surprise: a TRICOLORED HERON. I had just finished scanning the bay to count the small red-breasted merg flocks when the heron burst from the marsh edge, and offered great looks (see eBird list for more detailed notes). I followed it in flight, as it first powered Northward, then veered West around towards Cecil Bay and Wilderness SP. Trails End Bay is really becoming a rarity magnet!

eBird list:

Foggy fallouts, eared grebe continues

4/23 Bumper morning, as dawn fog caused fallouts among early fliers, many of which ended up loafing relatively close in the straits. For the first time, movements were strong among all waterfowl groups, with multiple dabbler species, several bay ducks, and loons and grebes moving in the double figures. Nearly all were headed West, with the dabblers moving earliest after a brief lift in the fog, followed by a series of loons and Aythya flocks, and ending with a rise in grebe movement near the end of the morning, when the wind was strongest. Big numbers especially among wigeon (83), mallard (64), and ring-necked duck (63), including a single-species raft of around 30 ring-necks.

eBird list:

White-throated Sparrow, Wilderness SP

Many of the dabblers from the morning count likely ended up as part of a large loafing assembly seen at the evening count, with 30 mallards, 26 shovelers, 42 wigeon, 9 gadwall, 6 blue-winged teal, and 7 green-winged teal feeding frantically in a sheltered area to the West. Presented a real problem for counting, as many were obscured by vegetation, and I was racing the Sun setting directly behind them, but managed to find a good viewing location a bit up the road. The local calling marsh birds (woodcock, bittern, pied-billed grebe, sandhill), were all silent tonight, surely due to the wicked Northwest wind that was battering the marsh. No doubt this was the reason for the fallout, as well. 

The eared grebe put in an appearance for the fifth night in a row, and seems very content with its neighboring bufflehead flock. Sole Caspian tern flying West at sunset, and about 80% of the dabbler flock flew West around this time as well, though I would bet they settled in either Cecil Bay or somewhere off Wilderness SP that was more sheltered than Trails End Bay tonight. 

eBird list:

4/24: Pretty slow morning, with only a smattering of ducks besides a large raft of long-tails out towards the UP. The big movers today were loons (76)—nearly all headed West—flickers (100), and sandhill cranes (54), plus the very beginnings of what would be a massive broad-wing day at the hawk watch, as a group of raptors and cranes was seen flying North alongside the bridge right at the end of the count.

eBird list:

Evening count saw the marsh really come alive with resident breeders: bittern, sandhill crane, and pied-billed grebe were calling, and both woodcock and snipe (FOY) were doing their displays. Large groups of buffleheads continue, and were joined yet again by the little eared grebe, still seeming perfectly healthy and diving regularly. Five Bonaparte’s gulls were probably the only migrants on the night, headed West at the start of the count. 

eBird list:

4/25: Very slow morning, with almost nothing moving apart from a smattering of loons and white-winged scoters. Bonaparte’s gulls were the only migrants in large numbers, with a total of 60 headed West over the five hours. FOY pine warbler sang once from the hillside, and FOY barn swallow flew past.

eBird list:

Evening foggy and rainy, but the usual species were present, with a new high count for buffleheads (72). Notably, in these later stages of migration, the balance is way more heavily female, with a ratio of 25m:47f, the opposite of that earlier in the season. More female common mergs were present as well. Two great blue herons, calling pied-billeds, woodcock, and snipe (bittern silent tonight), and the still-continuing eared grebe, plus a couple loons and a horned grebe further out in the fog. Single Caspian tern flyby. 

eBird list:

Hawk Mania 2K19!

Greetings yet again fellow MSRW supporters and followers! Now I know what you may be thinking after reading the title to this blog and let me assure that YES we have started trapping diurnal raptors this past week as a side project apart from our regular owl banding duties! With the number of hawks that have been migrating as of late it is definitely worth putting in the effort to try and catch some of these migrants and gather as much data as possible as they move though the area. The crazy part about doing diurnal trapping is that we have to attempt to catch them from the late morning to the early afternoon. If you are just “OK” at math like me then you would realize that by running owl nets all night then getting up relatively early to trap, this leaves little time for sleep and rest. If I were to calculate how much sleep we get on days when we have both banded owls and hawks I would have to ballpark that number to be between anywhere from 3-4 hours of sleep! This is very hard to do but totally worth it! I’m driven by my passion for studying raptors and who needs sleep anyways it is overrated if you ask me!
Now for the exciting part of this blog, we have trapped for only two days thus far but have had incredible results. The first day of trapping took place on April 19th and we managed to band 3 adult Red-tails. Our next day of trapping took place on the April 22nd and this was a big day by anyone’s standards. We managed 12 new birds of 3 species which included 7 sharp-shinned hawks, 4 more red-tails and drummmm rolllll please….. 1 adult female Northern Harrier which is just incredible and quite honestly left me speechless! These birds are incredibly aware and are usually quite difficult to catch; we are also running a simple set-up here which makes the task all the more difficult. However the exciting thing about banding is you really never know what you may catch you may think it is impossible but literally anything is possible! It also helps that I always have an optimistic outlook on whatever it is I may be doing which I think definitely helps! This was the first harrier caught by MSRW since 2013 so it’s been a while and the dry spell has ended hallelujah! Tomorrow we will hopefully be able do some trapping as well and as always I do my best to keep all you fine folks updated on the happenings of this spring season! Until next make sure you get your 8 hours of recommended sleep and stay classy.

Adult Female Northern Harrier Captured; What a beautiful bird

Diurnal Raptor Totals:
SSHA (Sharp-shinned hawk) – 7
RTHA (Red-tailed hawk) – 7
NOHA (Northern Harrier) – 1
Total Hawks: 15

April 23

21146 red-tailed hawks seen so far with a record high of 7218 on 4-19. Also 134 Golden Eagles seen this year with most being immature this last few days. 297 Rough-legged Hawks were seen this year a high  for this site.

Eared Grebe continues! (still here as of 4/23)

4/20: Slow morning, with light winds tamping down migration. White-winged scoters and cormorants appeared to be the only waterbird species on the move, with large rafts of several hundred long-tails and red-breasted mergs waiting on the water’s surface a few miles out. Flickers again made a big Northward push, with 49 making the journey, and at least five more waiting by 11:15. Decent raptor movement but not as much as yesterday. 

eBird list:

The evening count was also relatively uneventful, but was highlighted by the reappearance of yesterday’s eared grebe, still associating with the buffleheads but this time just a bit closer, allowing slightly better phone-scoped photos. Six pintails and three ring-necks showed up to loaf right around sunset.

eBird list:

4/21: Water smooth as glass all morning, with very little movement as a result. Two flyby white-winged scoter flocks, and a flyby redhead flock (though this group flew towards Mackinaw City and hence seemed semi-local). By far the biggest volume was among a massive group of loafing long-tailed ducks, which was stretched out in small groups along the full length of the straits, from below the bridge to up West of St. Helena. In one sweep I conservatively notched 940 individuals, but there were likely at least another 300 more, as I saw about this many in flight after being flushed by a passing ship, but couldn’t be 100% certain they came from behind the heat shimmer line. Red-breasted mergs in decent numbers—also almost entirely loafing—and a handful of grebes, with two red-neckeds and five horneds, one of which was calling.

Male Wood Duck, McGulpin

Scattered Northward flights among passerines and other small birds, but nothing like the past few days. 

eBird list:

Evening count started well, with good raptor movement: a sharpie, a harrier, four turkey vultures, and an osprey headed East on warm afternoon winds, with five sandhills headed North as well. Activity slowed from then on, as a low bank of dark clouds rolled in, but I had nice close views of a preening pied-billed grebe, with its neighbor calling once more from the dense vegetation. A big flock of green-winged teals was also present, with 21 males and only 1 female; they were very skittish, and would take off at the slightest sign of danger, so I suspect they’ll move tomorrow. Late on in the evening, a male harrier came winging by along the shore, and I spotted a female kestrel perched on a tamarack about a mile distant while counting blackbirds, so there are raptors waiting in the wings for good winds tomorrow!

Pied-billed grebe, Trails End Bay Marsh

Yet again, though, the star of the show was the eared grebe, now here for its third night, seen diving and loafing with the same bufflehead flock in the usual spot. Hoping it sticks around! 

4/22: Decent morning, with a steady Easterly breeze that seemed to be aiding flights. The big long-tail raft from yesterday was slowly moving East, with most taking short flights of a half-mile or so before landing and loafing again (was careful to avoid recounts here). A couple white-winged scoter groups, five loons, a green-winged teal pair, a scaup pair, and a lone hoodie were also moving through, and there were notable movements of both other merg species that seemed to constitute migration. Raptor numbers were low but the species diversity represented gave a good idea of what was to come for the hawk-watchers, with a turkey vulture, three harriers, five sharpies, a red-tail, and a rough-leg. Highlight of the day was the arrival of the year’s first Bonaparte’s gulls, seen flying West at a distance of a mile or so. 

eBird list:

Between counts I took a long walk in Wilderness SP, and turned up FOY fox sparrow, pine warbler, and purple finch, as well as abundant white-throated sparrows, drumming woodpeckers, calling hawks, and a blue-winged teal pair!

A great night at the marshes, with pleasant sunshine and light breezes bringing in lots of new Spring sights and sounds! Notable highlights were the arrival of a FOY Caspian tern, a calling American Bittern (FOY), a pair of calling pied-billed grebes, two active Canada goose nests, three great egrets briefly hunting in the marsh, and a bugling sandhill crane pair that came in to land (may try to nest). Eared grebe continued with bufflehead flock, and a male wigeon and nine green-winged teal were loafing with the usual mallards.

A successful hunt.
Sunset, Trails End Bay Marsh

eBird list:

Waterbird Fallout

4/18: Densely foggy morning, with absolutely no breaks in the weather. Barely any birds besides a FOY (for the point) pied-billed grebe fishing briefly just offshore. 

eBird list:

It appears most were waiting around Cheboygan, as around lunchtime I noticed that a good number of birds were moving just offshore of where we’re staying near Edgewater Beach. Wish I’d been paying attention sooner, as by the time I got set up with the scope, the fog had begun to roll back in and numbers were slowing. While I watched, though, I had 30 loons, 20 redheads, 11 wigeons, 5 horned grebes, 3 red-necked grebes, 8 long-tails, a cormorant, and a white-winged scoter, plus the usual mergansers—all flying North or loafing. Also, singing juncos and redpolls aplenty, a passing female harrier, and a FOY female yellow-rumped warbler!

eBird list:

This was certainly the case: as I was driving to the Headlands for a quick bike before the evening count, I noticed a large mass of ducks on the water as I was passing the little sheltered cove South of Mackinaw City (along the hotel strip). I pulled in to a hotel parking lot and ended up doing a 45 minute count of all the birds present, as both the total numbers and species diversity were daunting—this appears to have been a massive weather-driven fallout! I scanned the flock one full time each for redheads, scaup, ring-necks, buffleheads, and dabblers.

Small section of the fallout raft

Final count of the raft revealed two Canada geese, 10 blue-winged teal, 24 shoveler, 5 gadwall, 40 wigeon, 25 mallard, 2 black duck, 28 green-winged teal, 5 canvasback, 215 redhead, 137 ring-necked duck, 60 bufflehead, 5 goldeneye, 6 red-breasted mergs, 1 common merg, 1 horned grebe, and 310 scaup, which I estimated were evenly divided between greater and lesser—with greater scaup in higher density in the deeper sections of the bay, as suits their more maritime habits. For species with >50 birds, counts are a little rough, but these are all probably low estimates, as near halfway through the count I spotted a distant cloud of maybe 300 ducks flying off into the fog (possibly formerly part of this raft).

Most species were present in roughly 3:1 ratios of males : females. It’s interesting that I saw almost nothing during the morning count—this seems to indicate that on foggy days Northward migrants may use the coastline to aid navigation, but fall out when they near a crossing point—in a sheltered area like this cove, or Trails End Bay (more on that next!)

eBird list:

Fallout conditions continued at Trails End Bay, and I had a heck of a time trying to sort out all the species present (and their male:female ratios), as a large flock of at least a dozen species was gathered in a dense assemblage at a small creek mouth East of the count location. Most of the birds were feeding and moving around when I started counting, and many were moving back towards the marsh edge, becoming partially obscured by vegetation. What’s more, while males and females of each species were generally associating in pairs, there were few single-species groups, so I had to individually sort through for each species. To make matters worse, the Northwest wind was driving a cold drizzle directly at my back, so it was a constant battle to keep the scope de-fogged. Still, by the end of the count I had managed a satisfactory male:female count of each species, and was surprised by the overall diversity: large numbers of bufflehead, wigeon, and mallard; decent numbers of green-winged teal, gadwall, and shoveler; and a few blue-winged teal and black ducks. Also present was an exuberant flock of ring-necks and scaup (both lesser and greater), feeding in the shallow water near the creek mouth with the buffleheads. Common mergs were present in their highest numbers yet, and the ducks were joined by the local geese and mute swans as well. Three hoodies briefly visited the creek at dusk, but flew on towards Wilderness SP (which seems to be their favorite haunt on migrating through this area—didn’t get out there today but suspect the mill pond had quite a few of them!)

On a short foray up the road to get a better scope view of the gadwalls (near the back of the assemblage), I turned up an American tree sparrow (state bird! First in a while for this area), and  a hermit thrush (FOY), plus a FOY white-throated sparrow seen earlier on my brief bike ride. The local woodcock male was peenting again despite the rain, so I think he’s here to stay. Also heard: a flyover horned lark (FOY). 

eBird list:

4/19: Knew the large raft at Mackinaw City would move this morning, and was expecting a good portion to come through the straits. It would appear they did, although viewing conditions were made difficult by the low light and overcast sky, which tended to mask field marks in the earlier hours. Additionally, with the strong Southeast winds, the majority of ducks came very quickly straight overland from their previous roost, resulting in a stream that went directly overhead, and often resulted merely in from-behind views. Eventually I repositioned to be able to swivel and catch them coming overhead, but even then the backlighting from the sky made quick ID’s difficult before flocks continued on. Still, managed a decent species diversity, especially as the sun came out around 9:30. 

Aythya sp. were by far the most numerous (as they had been in yesterday’s raft), and included redheads and both scaup species. Dabbler flocks were even more difficult to pin down, as they seemed to be hugging the McGulpin coast even closer (I probably missed a bunch that went West behind the trees), but they included many mallards, a flock of pintail, and two definite teal flocks.

The most impressive waterbird spectacle of the day came with the grebes, which moved through en masse, all headed West. I had 17 horneds, 59 red-neckeds, and an additional 36 grebe sp. that were too distant or poorly lit to identify. Loons moved too, though in limited numbers.

Sandhill Cranes over McGulpin

Another spectacle was warming up near the end of the count, as the clearing weather brought the first birds of what must have been a massive raptor wave: 25 turkey vultures, a female harrier, 33 sharpies, 71 red-tails, and 2 rough-legs passed as I was counting, plus an additional 39 sandhill cranes, two great blue herons, and 34 flickers (which appeared to be making a big push North). FOY ruby-crowned kinglet called once from the trees, and a yellow-bellied sapsucker flew in to perch with some flickers, so likely crossed later in the day. 

eBird list:

The evening count began much slower, with only the local staging buffleheads in the place of yesterday’s fallout. Activity picked up near dusk, though, with seven sandhills, a kingfisher, and several grackle flocks. The highlight of all, though, was a big surprise: an EARED GREBE (Rare), resting with the buffleheads. I first spotted it around 7:30/7:45, and spent about a half-hour studying it and taking phone-scoped photos before I was fully convinced. A very small grebe (same size as neighboring buffleheads), with a more raised rear, a sharp crest with a steep slope on the front end (forming almost a right angle with the bill), a black neck, head, and back, and a broad patch of yellow on the cheek, in the “ear” position. Have a couple photos that show key field marks, and found after a little research that this appears to be the first record for the straits!

Other items of interest at the marshes: FOY spring peepers calling from the maple swamp, a pair of muskrats in a brief tussle at dusk (surprisingly violent for such small, otherwise docile creatures), a massive beetle flying skyward from somewhere on the marsh. Earlier, I had two colonies of wood frogs and 7 early butterflies along the Waugoshance Trail in Wilderness SP, and a lone leopard frog on Trails End Rd. that I ushered across. Spring has sprung!

eBird list:

Setting moon, McGulpin

Spring of the Recaptures


Hello once again followers and supporters of MSRW! I’m back again to give all you fine folks an update on what has been going on at the banding station this past week. I have to start by mentioning that it is starting to feel like spring at the park. That is because 95% of the snow is now gone which is quite exciting to us and we are also starting to see more and more songbirds show up. Some of the notable sightings have been Belted Kingfisher, Winter wren, Song sparrow, American robin, Merlin, Sharp-shinned hawk, Yellow-shafted flicker, Brown creeper, Golden-crowned kinglet, Eastern phoebe, Yellow-bellied sapsucker and one of my personal favorites the American Woodcock aka the “Timberdooodle”. Now apart from the songbirds the owls have also continued to move through but it has definitely been slower this past week as we have only been averaging between 3-5 a night. It also has not helped that we haven’t had favorable winds or the best weather but we stay positive nonetheless and have still been doing very good.

Now the crazy thing is the amount of recaptured saw-whets we seem to be continually getting so let me get you caught up on the new birds from this past week! Since my last blog I left you with one bird on which we were waiting to get news on. Well we got the information and it turns out this NSWO was originally banded at Whitefish Point as a second year female in the spring of 2017. Therefore this bird would have hatched in 2016 which means this bird is in its 4th calendar year of life! Lucky for us we aged her as ATY (after third year) which means we assigned her the right age! Also in this past week we managed to catch an additional 3 recaptures and have info on two of the three. The one NSWO had no information available on it meaning that it probably was just banded this past fall and wherever it originated from the data has not yet been entered. The other owls turned out to be both Canadian birds one was originally banded in Malden Centre, Ontario which is also known as a banding station called Holiday Beach. The last recapture was very interesting as this bird was originally banded in D’alembert, Quebec and the distance from here to Cheboygan is about 500 miles! This owl was banded as a hatch year female this past fall, which means she is still a young bird and far from where she originally called home. Sometimes younger birds take different routes as they try and navigate their way back north to their breeding grounds. This is one reason we love recaptures to see how and if migration routes are changing for these birds. All we can say is that we wish her all the best on the rest of her journey and hope she makes it back to the boreal forest! Until next time keep your eyes to the sky and stay classy I will as always do my best to keep you all updated as the season continues to progress and hopefully will have more exciting news in the upcoming week.

Season Totals: Total Birds: 150

NSWO: 131



Recaptures: 14

Slower days at McGulpin

4/16: Decent morning count. Mild breeze out of the Southeast had things feeling almost springlike—despite the remaining foot or so of snow up against the cedars! A good array of species, but not that much apparent migratory movement. Six loons, a redhead pair, a male wood duck, and quite a few small flocks of white-winged scoters passed, but by the fourth hour nearly all movement was local, with a flock of 23-24 white-winged scoters giving me a counting headache by passing back and forth several times (fairly certain it was the same flock—conservatively counted as such).

Raptors, shorebirds, and passerines provided a bit more flavor, with two sharpies and 28 turkey vultures headed north, another great egret (headed North towards the colony on the Mackinac County shore, and greater yellowlegs (FOY) heard calling overhead as it made the journey across the straits. A local merlin was present, as well as about 30 redpolls, two flickers, and three more meadowlarks, though none of these appeared to make the journey across.

eBird list:

Trails End Bay was free of ice by evening, and hosted good numbers of common mergs (27) and buffleheads (54), as well as two great-blue herons. The highlight of the night came when I spotted two green-winged teal pairs (FOY for Emmet County, first since I saw a pair back in March at Cheboygan SP) loafing with some mallards at the marsh edge. 

eBird list:

Sunset No. 4, Trails End Bay

Woodcock are finally around in good numbers: not only was the local male peenting again at Trails End Bay, but on the way home I had one sky-dance over the car near Headlands Park, and two more peenting next to I-75. Hopefully lots more on the way!

Waxing gibbous, Trails End Bay

4/17: Foggy morning had movement essentially down to zero, though there was a brief period around mid-morning where the sky cleared and activity picked up a little bit. Very few waterfowl in general, with only a Canada goose flock, five long-tails, and a mallard pair likely migrating (plus the usual local movements of mergs). Raptors appeared in good numbers during the brief clear spell, with two sharpies, a turkey vulture, and six red-tails kettling and flying East, a likely dark-morph rough-leg headed North just before, and a peregrine and another sharpie in earlier clear moments.

Herring gulls, McGulpin Point

Finally got the Dunkadoo program working, so full hour-by-hour numbers for all counts thus far should be available!

eBird list:

The evening count again hosted large numbers of buffleheads, which appear to be using this bay as a staging ground. Max count at one time was 30 males, 29 females, but another 10 or 20 at least were probably in the area. Waterfowl life otherwise unremarkable, but had a good raptor evening, with five harriers (3f2m), two osprey, and three turkey vultures headed East. All three female harriers flew close to shore, even over the remaining ice, while the males flew further out and beelined for the Headlands. Both osprey paused to hover during their flight, and a third was seen hovering earlier but not tracked for a flight direction (though it likely went East). Two more tree swallows, this time flying East.

Female Harrier, Trails End Bay

The local balds were terrorizing the ducks as usual, with a 1cy, a 2cy, and an adult all seen several times. At one point the adult was carrying several strands of plant matter off to the West towards Cecil Bay—likely nest lining. 

By 7:00 the rain had begun, and I called the count at 7:25 once it started coming down more heavily, as the birds had essentially stopped moving around, and most were hunkered or feeding within a small area. 

eBird list:

Sunset No. 5, Trails End Bay

April 17

Today at Darrow’s there were 2651 Red-tails today with one immature Golden Eagle that flew right over head giving great looks also had 28 Rough-legged hawks . Day started out foggy but cleared in the afternoon opening the flood gates truely awesome.