Monthly Archives: May 2019

Owl’s well that ends well…. That’s a Wrap Spring 2K19.. (Owl update)

Greetings once again MSRW followers and supporters. This blog will be the last blog I will be posting as our spring 2019 owl season has come to an end and even though it is over, it was a very successful season. Spring migration banding and surveys took place from March 20 to May 8 2019. 40 nights of banding/surveys resulted in the capture of 181 owls over the 50 day season; this included 156 newly banded Northern Saw-whet Owls (Aegolius acadicus) of which 15 were foreign recaptures and 2 were local recaptures that were originally banded by MSRW at Cheboygan State park in previous seasons, thus recaptures totaled 17. Other owl captures included 3 Barred Owls (Strix varia) and 5 Long-eared Owls (Asio otus) of which 1 was a foreign recapture. We were also able to band one American Robin (Turdis migratorius) and two Sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus).

This spring season in comparison is the second best spring season since 2015. The last four season’s totals are as follows; in 2015 there were 132 owls captured, while 2016 yielded 82 owls, 2017 yielded 175 owls and 2018 totaled 182. Although this season was very successful and we were open for 40 nights many of those nights were cut short as we had to deal with persistent winds and precipitation that was intermittent throughout the whole season.

It is sad once again to have to leave Northern Michigan but as always it’s been amazing! Hopefully I will make my way back up there again soon. But in the meantime as always stay classy folks and keep your eyes to the sky!

Season Totals: Total Birds: 181

NSWO: 156

LEOW: 5 (1 Foreign Recap)


Recaptures: 17 (NSWO)

Hawk trapping season wrap up:


Unfortunately our time hawk trapping in Mackinaw has ended. However that being said the last week of trapping produced some very interesting captures and good numbers. Since my last update on the 30th we were able to get in four more sessions of trapping before I departed Michigan on May 9th. Our first session occurred on May 3rd. This day was very slow except for one capture and no it wasn’t a red-tail hawk which is our most prevalent species captured but instead we caught a PEREGRINE FALCON!!! Now this was exciting not only because it was the first PEFA ever caught by MSRW but because it was already banded. Now mind you most Peregrines are already banded due to their population numbers being so low, therefore most breeding pairs and chicks are monitored and all banded. Now the guy we captured has quite the story. He was originally banded in June of 2015 as a nestling at the international bridge in Sault St. Marie and they named him Frank. Now I am not sure what side of the bridge he was on but since I’m Canadian I am of course bias and hope that this bird is a fellow Canuck like me! Anyways, Frank now currently resides on the Mackinaw Bridge and is reported to be nesting there which is awesome. I guess he decided to move to Northern Michigan like myself. Needless to say Frank is 4 years old now and all of us at MSRW hope he has a successful nesting season.

Frank the Foreign Recapture Peregrine Falcon

Out of the 4 trapping sessions that occurred during the last week on two separate occasions we got skunked meaning we caught nothing which was very disheartening but that’s the name of the game and good days come with slow days. However on our last day we had a fantastic day which occurred on May 5th.  We managed to capture 7 red-tailed hawks in just a few hours which was a great way to end the trapping season. Out of these 7 tails 6 were second year birds and 1 was an adult with the beautiful red tail. Also during my last two nights of owl banding I passively caught 2 more Sharp-shinned hawks so they were added to this specific diurnal raptor list! In conclusion I bid all you fine people of Northern Michigan a fine farewell for now as I continue on to my next field job in Central Illinois where I will be monitoring Eastern Whip-poor wills with the University of Illinois over the summer and luckily enough my assistant from Cheboygan Chad will be with me here as well… what a small world. Until next time stay classy and hopefully I will be back in the North sooner rather then later!

Diurnal Raptor Totals:

SSHA (Sharp-shinned hawk) – 9

RTHA (Red-tailed hawk) – 18

NOHA (Northern Harrier) – 1

MERL (Merlin) – 1

PEFA (Peregrine Falcon) – 1

Total Hawks/Falcons: 30

May 16

Yesterday had two Swainsons’ Hawks come by with the Broad-winged Hawks. And one Gyrfalcon flew south on May 13th. The total for the year so far is 57,697 raptors.

Big Late Push of Waterfowl Migrants

5/9: Very odd morning, with a lot of species on the move, but mostly in small numbers, variable directions, and with several putting on the disappearing act after loafing for a while. Spotted sandpipers, of all things, were the heavy hitters today, with a minimum of 30 flying East, and often ditching out briefly on McGulpin Rock due to the strong winds and driving rain. With them were six killdeer, a mystery flock of passerines that looked a bit like phoebes, and another mystery passerine that could have been a robin. Two tree swallows also flying East, two common terns (alone, and separated by four hours) also headed East, and a lone Bonaparte’s headed West. Waterfowl were thin on the water, with a single loafing loon and horned grebe, and depressed numbers of red-breasted merg and long-tail (which themselves appeared to be headed East in scattered numbers). Lone greater scaup and small bufflehead flock flew in to loaf, but then disappeared. Single great blue heron also battling the winds Eastward, eventually flying around towards Mackinaw City. 

eBird list:

It became a particularly odd afternoon as well, as on a short trip around the Headlands trails before the evening count, I came across an American bittern in the middle of the woods. No joke—it flushed from the trail beside a tiny mud puddle in the open oak/beech forest at the top of the hill; no doubt a fallout migrant caught up in the rain and dumped out by the descending fog in mid-afternoon. By far the weirdest place I’ve ever found one. FOY blackburnian warbler in a small foraging flock, and finally an abundance of spring ephemerals! Mostly trout lily and hepatica in the lower gallery forest, but a carpet of wild ramps at the top of the hill, with scattered squirrel corn, trillium, and ostrich fern fiddleheads. Only the hepatica were fully in bloom.

Evening count was misty and dour, but produced some good highlights. Roving flock of yellow-rumped and palm warblers passed West, a Caspian tern was present throughout the count, and snipe, bitterns, sora, Virginia rail, and pied-billed grebes were calling. Further out, a large flock of mainly tree swallows was swirling about in the fog, and included at least two barn swallows. Once again no tricolored (it doesn’t seem to show on days of inclement weather), but a great blue and a great egret showed well. Solitary sandpiper heard migrating Eastward right at the end of the count, and a pair of barred owls was calling back up in the swamp near the North Country Trail.

eBird list:

Palm Warbler, Dingman Marsh

5/10: MASSIVE morning! Strong NW wind had whipped the lake into a frenzy, but was in just the right direction to release a torrent of migrants that had been backed up further South in Lake Huron. Big numbers of white-winged scoter (147, including large flocks of 16, 21, and 29), red-breasted merg (231), and long-tail (170), and a late surge of greater scaup (65, including one flock of 52). Common loons, horned grebes, and red-necked grebes continued to stream through (though in lower numbers than in previous weeks), but were joined by four red-throated loons, which finally showed well enough for me to call the ID (FOY were probably sometime this week, but logged as “loon sp.” due to poor viewing conditions, etc.). Other notable birds included a close-passing male black scoter (FOY) with a small white-winged scoter group, a pair of North-flying great blue herons, and a late-ish goldeneye pair. Good gull diversity, but small numbers, with three Bonaparte’s, one Caspian, and four Common terns beyond the usual ring-bills and herrings.

The biggest surprise of the day, however, was the passage of a highly unusual but expected (Kevin has been saying I’ll get one all spring!) maritime migrant—a parasitic/pomarine jaeger! The bird was between 0.5 and 0.75 miles off-shore, and was seen for about a minute flying NW. Currently in conversation with Adam Byrne, the regional reviewer, about how whether this bird is reportable to species level, but my initial impression was parasitic, and I’m still leaning that way (see eBird list for more lengthy discussion).

eBird list:

Spring Beauty, Headlands Park

Comparatively quiet evening count, with Northerly winds stirring the marsh and keeping most birds quiet. Still a few buffleheads hanging about.

eBird list:

5/11: Pretty lackadaisical morning, with red-breasteds and long-tails loafing once more on  glassy waters. A single passing red-throated loon was a nice highlight mid-morning, and I also picked out a tight raft of horned grebes off to the West, two of which were engaged in the beginnings of a breeding dance, which I’d never seen in person before. Lots of passerine stirrings in the woods behind the count, with the first Northern parula of the year, along with plentiful yellow-rumpeds, a few black-throated greens, a black-and-white, and a palm warbler.

eBird list:

Well, that does it for my time in Mackinaw! It’s been an exciting and rewarding season, and our intrepid avian adventurers have done their best to bring life back to the forests and marshes despite the late cold. Thanks to all the people involved with this organization and visiting along the way who made this a unique and truly memorable experience!

Sunset, Trails End Bay

Marsh comes to life

5/5: May has hit with a bang! Waterbirds relatively sparse in the morning, but a few windy periods stirred the long-tails and kicked up some white-winged scoter flocks, a few loons, and handful of late scaup. Sandhill crane flying South; heron flying North. Big influx of passerines last night, with two new warbler spp. on the spring—black-and-white and black-throated green—singing from the launch area. Ended the morning with 49 species at the point, most of them passerine. 

eBird list:

Yellow-rumped warbler, Dingman Marsh

Went for another trip on some French Farm Lake trails, and came across a massive warbler pocket at the West end in the short birch/oak woodland there, which this morning was shielded from the wind by the nearby dunes. At least 50 warblers in the near vicinity, with several dozen pine, palm, and yellow-rumped, a half-dozen black-throated green, a black-and-white, a waterthrush, and FOY black-throated blue and Nashville warblers. Two lesser scaup, 58 bufflehead, and all three merg species continue on the lake, along with local loon pairs and Caspian tern.

eBird list:

Pleasant evening, with plenty of activity among local marsh birds: calling bittern, sora, and pied-billed grebe, and red-wings flying everywhere and displaying emphatically now that the females are back. A late group of teal (4 green-wing and 3 blue-wing) were feeding among the flooded marsh grasses. Highlight once again was the tricolored heron, now making its third appearance with a flight straight out from where it went in yesterday, and once more around towards Cecil Bay.

eBird list:

5/6: Productive morning, with a cool NW breeze, rolling fog, and periodic rain. Good movement of loons West, including one that might have been a red-throat (my scope chose this exact inopportune moment to fog up until the bird had passed). 22 loafing horned grebes, a single red-necked grebe, and about 1000 long-tails along the length of the straits. Bumper day for gull/tern species, with several Bonaparte’s flocks, two Caspian terns, and six FOY common tern flying West in addition to the local ring-bills and herrings. Still waiting on the pelicans to arrive!

eBird list:

Evening count relatively quiet, but it was a good night for herons, notably, another visit from the tricolored. It flew in from the West, and after a quick bike towards its vanishing point, I found it in one of the densely-vegetated creek mouths near the road, where it flushed to a nearby perch and then out of sight. About a half-hour later it flew back West for the night. Two bitterns calling, one great blue, and one great egret, plus a local sandhill crane. Three late wigeon pairs were loafing for most of the count, and flew off West at sunset.

eBird list:

Best photo so far of the Tricolored Heron

5/7: Very slow morning. Clear skies and variable winds (shifting ENE-WNW over the course of the morning) made for minimal flights, with only two scoter flocks, a handful of common loons, and a single Bonaparte’s flock making Westward movements.

eBird list:

By evening, things had really picked up! Tricolored heron made several appearances before flying off once more towards Cecil Bay at sunset. Two bitterns, the sora pair, and the pied-billed grebe pair were calling, and Darrell picked out a sedge wren (FOY) singing right behind the count location. Flyby osprey and three Caspian terns, plus a lone wood duck, a female hoodie (both getting late for this location), and a flock of long-tails waaaay out in the straits.

Sunset, Trails End Bay

eBird list:

5/8: Cold morning with moderate East winds, and limited movement. Remarkably, no loons or grebes in flight (surely due to the wind direction, as these have nearly all flown West this season), but a good scoter showing, with 17 white-winged scoters, and a flyby surf scoter pair (FOY). 

eBird list:

Evening count uneventful compared to the past few days, with no showing from the tricolored heron. Persistent East wind started driving in a drizzle early on that turned to steady rain by 8:50. There was a brief pocket of activity right at the start, as a harrier pair passed East along the marsh edge, along with a lone Caspian tern, but things died down after this.

eBird list:

may 8

Today with the approaching front bought 7 Golden Eagles 4 in the air at one time with 4 Rough-legged Hawks. 678 Broad-winged hawks were seen today bringing the total so far at 25831,the count for Golden Eagles are 168 with 325 Rough-legged Hawks. AlsoEd Pike spotted a dark-morph Broad-winded Hawk a few days ago being the second of the season. Seven White Pelican were seen!

Tricolored returns!

5/2: Finally a more productive morning, with strong movements West. Slightly lighter winds than yesterday, but still out of the ESE, with light periodic rain and rolling banks of fog—essentially ideal duck conditions this season. Mysteriously, though, this wind direction meant that today essentially all fliers were riding with the wind—the opposite of most other days so far this season. Possibly a result of other environmental factors/weather patterns elsewhere. Started the morning with a good red-breasted merganser push, with 73 in the first hour, though many of these were either flying short distances or heading around the Headlands towards Trails End Bay, so may not have been migrants. Stronger migratory movements later on. Had some late-ish Aythya headed past by mid-morning: 4 redheads, a lone male greater scaup, and ten unidentified; and by late morning, the loons and grebes began to move in decent numbers, with 18 loons headed West in a sudden burst of activity just before fog rolled in at 10AM, and a min-fallout of 7 red-necked grebes just after the fog’s arrival. One Caspian tern headed West, and two great blue herons headed North. 

eBird list:

Displaying male red-breasted mergansers, and a rather disinterested female preening above.

Evening count started slow, with notably fewer buffleheads, and at least one immature male in the mix (going to be a bit more precise sorting through female-type birds now that immature males have begun to come through). Some nice surprises near the end: a Caspian tern flyby, a calling sora (FOY), a calling Virginia rail (heard last night faintly, but called for sure tonight, FOY), and the third rarity on the season, a passing WILLET (Rare). The bird was first heard calling, and spotted in flight a moment later, winging East. The distinctive call and the bold black-and-white wing markings were a winning combination!

eBird list:

5/3: Another productive morning. Light Northwest winds had held up a dense bank of fog when I arrived, but this began to lift around sunrise to reveal a dispersed but massive raft of several hundred long-tails and red-breasted mergs, a handful of loons, and many small groups of red-necked and horned grebes. As the fog continued to lift, more birds became visible, and the mergs and long-tails began to move (primarily West, and East, respectively). Grebes were only sporadically seen in flight, with most opting to drift West instead. Loons flew in good numbers, with 49 passing West (29 in the third hour). Still no red-throateds. Good shorebird/wader day, with three great blue herons, four killdeer, a FOY spotted sandpiper, and a lone sandhill crane. Small flock of Bonaparte’s gulls passed West near the end of the count.

eBird list:

Very slow evening, with only the pied-billed grebes and a single bittern of the usual marsh assortment calling. Bufflehead numbers much diminished, and no notable gulls/shorebirds/waders. 

eBird list:

5/4: Glass-still morning, with temps around freezing early, but warmer air later on with a light breeze. Almost no movement: three greater scaup males (getting late), a couple scoter flocks, and a few loons flew, and little else. Big rafts of red-breasted mergs and long-tails continue. Notable pulse of passerines this morning, with pine siskin, goldfinch, blue jay, robin, red-winged blackbird, flicker, and grackle making trial forays Northward, but always returning. Of greater note were single flyovers of common redpoll (pretty late in a typical year, but not unreasonable given the very slow start to spring this year), and brown-headed cowbird (FOY), and a flock of (minimum) 60 black-capped chickadees, which made a couple trial forays but very quickly changed their minds. Wonder if this is a taiga-breeding group ready to migrate, esp. as numbers have been steadily increasing this past week, and the flock is very mobile. 

eBird list:

Between the morning and evening count, I biked some of the trails around French Farm Lake, and turned up a whole assortment of long-awaited spring arrivals: several palm warblers, singing blue-headed vireos, and a single waterthrush all put in their first appearances, and purple finch, pine warbler, and yellow-rumped warbler were singing in good numbers. Still a big raft of buffleheads, a few lesser scaup, a group of ring-necks, both common and red-breasted mergs, and resident mallards, loons, wood ducks, and mute swans were all present on the lake. 

eBird list:

Blue-headed vireo, French Farm Lake trails

Very productive evening count, with calm water and pleasant temps. Two soras heard calling, along with a ticking snipe, the usual pied-billeds, two bitterns, and a distant sandhill pair. Woodcock has been silent for two nights now. Big flock of rusty blackbirds (FOY) flew in to the tamaracks behind the count area, and stayed for about half an hour, and the female red-winged blackbirds had finally arrived back at the marsh, which set the local males into a frenzy of chases, displays, and songs. Stealing the show, however, was the night’s main surprise: the return of the TRICOLORED HERON from a few days ago. Managed to get pictures this time, so hopefully these will suffice for the Michigan Records Committee. The bird flew in from the West and landed East of the count location. Keep your eyes peeled if you’re in the area!

eBird list:

Tricolored Heron (Rare), Trails End Bay, 5/4/19

Dour weather holds back waterbirds

4/29: Decent morning, finally with some lateral winds through the straits. These seemed to get the long-tails into more purposeful motion, with several hundred flying East through the morning, along with a few small white-winged scoter flocks, and the ever-present loons. Other species and all non-waterbirds in short supply. 

eBird list:

Evening count dogged first by strong East winds, then snow, then rain as the night wore on, so very little in motion. A Caspian tern at the start of the count and an East-flying osprey were the two highlights. Present, too, was the usual bufflehead flock, though interestingly tonight twelve of these birds flew off West near to sunset—the first time I’ve seen a group in the act of leaving the Bay—so this may indicate individual turnover among the group despite essentially steady numbers. No tricolored, sadly. 

eBird list:

Sunrise, McGulpin

4/30: Easterly winds continue, but to little effect. Steadier movements in early hours, particularly among long-tails far out in the straits, but almost no other species seen moving, aside from a few white-winged scoters, and the ever-intrepid loons. Some grebes resting, and plentiful cormorants, which now appear to be fully back and ready to breed (with at least 50 in the area, 30-40 of which are seen daily across the straits in the trees at their colony site). 

eBird list:

Another slow evening count, but with pleasantly milder temperatures. Breeding activity is picking up: there are two active Canada goose nests, a mute swan nest, and a very vocal pair of pied-billed grebes finally seen calling together tonight. Peenting and sky-dancing woodcock male continues nightly. Many of the mergs (both common and red-breasted) appear to have paired up as well, as I am far more often seeing them in solo pairs or groups of a few males and a female than earlier in the season. Sandhill crane pair heard distantly; snipe and bittern silent tonight.  

eBird list:

Mating ring-billed gulls, McGulpin

4/31: Morning looked like it was going to be productive, with moderate winds from the East, a light rain, and fog a few miles distant (with the potential for fallout conditions), but numbers never materialized. First couple hours were decent, with Eastward movement among horned grebes, long-tails, red-breasted mergs, and common loons, but as the morning wore on the wind increased and the rain fell steadier, to the point that even the powerfully-flying large loons were struggling Eastward, with nearly all just above the water’s surface, and a few ditching out. Few other species besides.

eBird list:

Evening cold and clammy, with a shifting fog and strong, cold winds. Consequently, the marshes were pretty quiet. April (or maybe even March) is not giving up without a fight. Usual peenting woodcock and calling pied-billeds.

eBird list: