Slow days continue for waterfowl at Cheboygan SP

3/31. Another day of almost nonexistent migration at Cheboygan SP. A bitter wind was roaring out of the North, only picking up after sunrise. What few birds were flying were visibly struggling—both gull species flew close to shore, and a pair of adult bald eagles looked almost like black vultures with their labored wingbeats. One of these birds took three different tries to fly past where I was stationed. 

Red-breasted mergs and goldeneyes were the only waterfowl spp. showing in any numbers, with decent flights North over two hours, with no loafing birds seen. However, I had a suspicion that many were still local birds heading to a more sheltered area nearby. With wind only increasing and temperatures hovering low, I decided once more to head to the Cheboygan River mouth to look for sheltering birds and fallouts.

Perhaps as expected, a large congregation of goldeneyes had gathered in the River mouth, with around 45 seen mixed with a few red-breasted mergs near the ice edge. Heat shimmer and piled ice made it impossible to see the open water out towards Bois Blanc, but I suspect that many of the moving mergs and goldeneyes that passed the State Park today were staging somewhere out in that direction, as large numbers of both spp. were seen there yesterday. A couple nice surprises: a pied-billed grebe diving by the marina (almost certainly the same individual I saw at Cheboygan SP a few days ago), and a singing adult male Northern shrike in the riverside brush. I heard this bird yesterday but had no idea what it could be, as I’d never heard the song before. Nice to get good views!

More Southerly/Easterly winds predicted for tomorrow and scattered days throughout this week, so should be some decent movements once more. The straits are still locked up, though there are promising signs: on a ski at Headlands Park this afternoon, I couldn’t miss the line of massive ice crushes running along the shoreline, where the sheet in the middle of the straits has rammed against the sheets along the shore. Still, most of the blocks tossed about by this action are at least a few feet thick, so thaw-out may be a ways away yet!

Hourly totals:

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54425310

4/1. Surprisingly slow day. Began promisingly, with light wind out of the Southeast, and clear skies, and I was expecting a decent push of both waterfowl and passerines. Perplexingly, almost nothing showed within identifiable range, with four red-breasted mergs the only definitive Northward fliers of the waterfowl cohort. Gull movements were decent, but lower than previous pushes—both species seem to move here in at least some numbers regardless of wind and weather conditions. 

Unfortunately, winds shifted after about an hour, and a Northwest wind further depressed what little was moving. The Coast Guard icebreaker went by close to Bois Blanc around this time, and I noticed it was churning up a lot of ice from the water out beyond the heat-shimmer line (about two miles out). Most likely yesterday’s Northwesterly winds shifted a large portion of detached ice mass to this side of the channel, and indeed, on closer inspection, I found there were significant numbers of ice floes behind the heat shimmer line across most of the horizon. This could have acted as a migratory barrier, despite the favorable winds, as I’ve noticed in the preceding week that when ice floes occupy a significant amount of the channel’s surface area, more migrant waterfowl tend to fall out and loaf near the ice-line. As if to confirm this hypothesis, I spotted a far-off group (maybe 4-5 miles out) of 45 ducks—likely Aythya sp. headed swiftly Northeast, beyond Bois Blanc. 

The one highlight of the day was a lone adult sandhill crane, who came in low and calling from the East and flew Northwest towards town. From the sounds of things shortly after, this flyover caused some commotion with a local raven pair. 

Hourly totals:

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54446284

4/2: Another slow day. Woke up at 6:15 to dense fog in front of the house, and rain passing over Cheboygan, so I waited an hour for things to clear and got out to the site by 8:20 hoping for fallouts. Unfortunately, despite mild winds and improving visibility, almost nothing was migrating, with most passing waterfowl moving locally. Sporadic flights of blackbirds and robins in the first hour, and a handful of ever-migrating gulls, but otherwise not much activity. 

Have developed the theory that there may be a large mass of ice floes somewhere south of here (perhaps near Presque Isle County) stymieing migration, as on previous days at this site, large migratory flocks have fallen out and loafed when they reach a front of high ice floe density. Hopefully these blocks will clear out with more wind and warm weather. 

After a couple hours, I decided to head to the Cheboygan River mouth, but again came up short, with most of the same local birds, and the singing male shrike now moved on to other environs. 

However, promising signs from the straits, as several narrow open-water channels were visible between ice sheets today, so a strong wind could open up a lot of countable water—stay tuned!

Hourly totals: 

eBird lists: 

Cheboygan SP: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54500701

Cheboygan River Mouth: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54479697