Ducks in the Fog

4/6: Morning began in dense fog, and provided essentially a study in waterbirding by ear: a large raft of long-tails was calling, goldeneye could be heard in flight, common merg males were giving their breeding grunts, and a FOY male loon was calling, though his yodel call was repeatedly cut short. Visibility improved shortly, to at least the point where birds could be ID’ed within a half-mile or so of the shore, and waterfowl moved steadily through the morning: Leonard and I recorded a redhead pair, a wood duck pair, 6 black ducks, 46 mallards (the most common duck on the day), a pair of hooded mergs, 6 greater scaup, and decent numbers of goldeneye and the other two merg species, though most of these were loafing or flying locally. 

Two nice surprises: a group of three flyby loons to add to the present caller, and a group of 18 white-winged scoters right near the end of the count—a FOY for the point. A distantly calling killdeer as well.

A mammalian surprise as well, as a lone coyote was trotting purposefully East along the coast around 9:30 AM, stopping about 200’ short of us when it noticed we were there, and abruptly heading back towards the Headlands.

Passerines were not moving in substantial numbers, with crows and ravens the only ones braving the straits. Robins, and mixed blackbird flocks milled about the point, with a bluebird calling as well. 

Around 4:30 I drove to the point for a bike ride, and the water was still just visible, but on my return at 5:30, the fog had returned, and was so dense that I couldn’t see 50 feet offshore beyond the ice edge. To make matters worse, a rain started to pick up, and with a quick check of the radar I found it was only going to worsen, and last until after sunset, so I made the call to cancel the evening count. Data entry night!

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54637115

Fog obscures the bridge

4/7: A day of strong East winds, with a Southerly inclination, which brought decent numbers of waterfowl, ample helpings of passerines and waders, and an army of raptors (more on these later—see Kevin’s Hawkwatch list).

Morning: The morning started foggy again, but visibility was better than yesterday, and the fog lifted in spells as each bank was blown West by the strong winds. The first of these spells, around the second hour of the count, was the most productive, but waterfowl continued through steadily throughout the morning. Big numbers of geese (89), mallards (71), and unidentified ducks (62, +22 Aythya sp.), as a number of flocks were flying both high and distant, where fog made it difficult to pick up any field marks. Still, diversity was good, with redheads, long-tails, black ducks, and wood ducks passing through. Present, too, were the customary local groups of goldeneye, and red-breasted and common mergs, though there were strong Eastward movements of all three species in the early hours, so some are likely migrating.

More notable today were the non-waterfowl fliers:

Early shorebirds and waders were passing North, with two killdeer (plus two circling local birds), 11 sandhill cranes, and six great-blue herons (FOY!). I had first picked up on three of the herons as they flushed from their roost when I pulled in before dawn, and had seen another flying South into the trees about an hour before, this bird missing a primary.

Passerines were abundant, with several species making cross-strait flights in small numbers (crow, raven, robin, grackle, starling, and red-wing). A mixed blackbird flock at least 150 strong made several attempts at crossing, but still were reluctant. Heard and seen along the shoreline were a snow bunting, a bluebird, several flocks of golden-crowned kinglets (including a couple that may have come off the water), and a FOY flicker! 

Raptor numbers had yet to pick up, but we had three stunningly close fly-bys of male harriers, with each gray ghost practically posing in midair as it battled against the wind. Wish I’d had a camera. A female harrier, a couple local balds, and a local merlin rounded out this cohort for the morning.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54671713

Afternoon: After a quick noon stop at the hawk-watch, where birds were running like water, I decided to take an afternoon bike out along the coastal road to Wilderness SP, as Kevin had said the East wind was blowing raptors in this direction. Boy, was he right! Multiple species were present in droves, and at several points I was biking along with them clearly visible above, as the high winds and fog were forcing many birds low. 

Wilderness SP was the most productive segment of the journey, as in addition to five harriers, a rough-leg, a red-tail, two turkey vultures, and three merlins, I had 48 hoodies on the mill pond (males giving their bizarre growling breeding call), with mallards, a kingfisher, and a FOY muskrat.

Also, noted that the waterbird site at Trails End Bay Marsh has just begun to open up, as a running creek mouth has created a crack in the ice. Loafing here were several goose pairs, mallards, black ducks, common mergs, a mute swan pair, and a lone trumpeter swan.

Totals for the bike trip: 

Rough-legged hawk: 6 (light) 2 (dark) 2 (unknown)

Red-tailed hawk: 9

Red-shouldered hawk: 2

Bald Eagle: 5

Turkey Vulture: 140

Northern Harrier: 7

Sharp-shinned Hawk: 7

Cooper’s Hawk: 4

Merlin: 5

(Sandhill Crane): 30

eBird lists:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54679662

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54680321

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54698307

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54698359

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54698625

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54698701

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54698754

Evening: Quieter than the morning, though the raptor rush continued, with four rough-legs (two flying North over the channel), two North-flying harriers, a red-tail, and a merlin seen at the waterbird count. Three more sandhill cranes (also abundant in general today), and the biggest surprise of the day: an early great egret! Flew North first at 6:07, but oddly came back (it must have been the same bird) at 7:51. Perhaps the UP is a little too snowy still for this early bloomer. 

Waterfowl were comparatively few and far between, with most movements from stirring merg flocks as the local eagles passed overhead. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54699174

All in all, a big ‘ol’ unintentional Big Day in Emmet County: 51 species!

Evening at McGulpin

4/8: Slow day, as persistent fog through the morning kept visibility at about a quarter-mile maximum. A few harriers, a wood duck group, and a FOY sapsucker squealing upslope were the highlights.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54727261

Evening was similarly slow, though the fog had cleared, but was highlighted by the reappearance (surely) of yesterday’s great egret, which according to eBird is about 2 weeks early, heading North once more.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54734647