Monthly Archives: September 2019

Fall 2019 owl and hawk banding

Hello again everyone!

September 20th was the first night of my second season running the MSRW owl banding station. I am very glad to share what I see and hear here at Point la Barbe until the fall migration season comes to a close on November 10th.

That said, it was an owl-less night. Dropping temeratures caused the 100% humidity index to descend upon the land as a soupy mist. This sort of weather is not ideal to the travelling saw-whet owl, who must take great care to prevent its poorly water resistant feathers from getting soaked. I got drenched just wading through some tall grass and juniper.

This afternoon I woke up to Ed preparing the diurnal raptor luring station, which was a nice surprise. A few hours of sweltering in the blind later, we were treated with 7 female sharp-shinned hawks and 1 red-tailed hawk.

Adult sharp-shinned hawk in her second year of life.
Young red-tail who hatched this spring is on its first migration. Good luck out there!

There are lots of things to look forward to this autumn, such as mushroom and berry hunting, monarch butterfly tagging, ogling at hawks, and of course the owls. Perhaps even milking goats if Ed and Anne will indulge me.

Storms are forecasted for the weekend, but maybe there will be opportunity to open the owl nets in between intermittent showers.

Let’s see what the night brings.

Until next time,


Hawk Count-September 15th Through 19th

The 16th and 17th both had days with heavy fog, as demonstrated here on the Mackinac Bridge-photo by Jack and Bev Kirby

Raptors: As expected, raptors have picked up significantly. In fact, they’ve been better than expected. After taking 26 days to tally the 1,000th raptor of the season (on September 14th), it was only 3 days later (September 17th), when the 2,000th raptor was tallied. Two days tallied over 300 raptors during the period, and there now have been three days this season that would’ve been 3 of the top 10 daily raptor totals last season. Every top 10 raptor day last year occurred between September 22nd and October 22nd, suggesting we’re in for an excellent season if the weather cooperates. Despite these great days, we are only slightly ahead of last year’s raptor total through this date (2,395 vs 2,287 raptors).

Sharp-shinned Hawks have been the most dominant raptor of the period

September 15th: 255 raptors comprised of 6 species were tallied. Sharpies (136) and Turkey Vultures (84) had a nice day, and the 26 Bald Eagles tallied was good as well.

September 16th: The heaviest fog of the season, combined with a drizzle/mist hampered the count. Only 66 raptors were tallied, most notable of which, were 33 Sharp-shinned Hawks.

September 17th: 325 raptors of 9 species resulted in the second best day of the season (at the time) in terms of total number of raptors and number of species. Broad-winged Hawks had an excellent day (for Pointe LaBarbe in fall). A total of 166 Broad-wingeds were tallied, nearly tripling the previous best day ever for them in fall (previous high 63). Of the 166 recorded, 112 crossed the straits. Sharpies had another strong day, with 114 birds, but no other species moved in notable numbers.

September 18th: The best day of the period and 2nd best of the season. 341 raptors of 9 species were observed. Sharp-shinned Hawks (217) had another amazing day and their current best day of the season. Broad-winged Hawks (62), Red-tailed Hawks (4), and American Kestrels (16) all had their 2nd best days of the season. Twenty-seven Bald Eagles was another solid day as well.

September 19th: There was a light rain until 10:30 and the raptors just never picked up. Only 47 birds were recorded. Sharp-shinned Hawks (33) and American Kestrels (9) made up the majority of the flight.

American Kestrels have started picking up

Non-raptors: The best bird of the period was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on the 18th. The best day for geese was on the 17th, with 48 birds. Lots of warblers were flitting around overhead on the days with heavy fog. Waterfowl, Blue Jays, Pipits, and Goldfinches have all increased during the period.

September 16th-Most notable were Northern Shoveler (15), American Wigeon (12), American Golden-Plover (1), European Starling (9), and American Goldfinch (54).

September 17th-Highlights included American Golden-Plover (2), Solitary Sandpiper (1), Eastern Phoebe (1), Blue Jay (12), American Pipit (25), and American Goldfinch (76).

September 18th-Best of the day was Semipalmated Plover (1), Great Egret (1), Pileated Woodpecker (2), Blue Jay (78), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1), and American Goldfinch (76).

September 19th-Highlights included Blue-winged Teal (80), Lesser Yellowlegs (2), American Pipit (60), and Bobolink (9).

Eastern Phoebe

Monarchs: An amazing, and unexpected, 668 were tallied on the 17th. Another unexpected 278 were tallied on the 18th. These should be the last great days of the season.

Other: has been having some issues lately, particularly with the monthly format, but daily raptor totals can still be seen under the homepage.

Best of the next 5 days: They’ve been terrible with predicting rain, but whatever days it doesn’t rain should be the best. Provided that’s the case, then Monday and especially Tuesday currently look best. Tomorrow (Friday) could be pretty solid as well.

Hawk Count-September 11th Through 14th

Raptors: Raptors were slow until today, but not nearly as slow as anticipated, due in large part to significantly different weather than predicted. We are starting to get into the peak period, where raptors could move no matter what (apart from rain). That surely was the case today, when they significantly picked up, and the 1,000th raptor of the season was tallied. It didn’t take much to reach that today, as we only needed 4 birds, but we tallied well beyond 4 birds. Raptors went from slow to peak numbers in just a day, without any gradual buildup. Winds were supposed to be sustained 20 mph from the west, gusting to 25 mph all day, and we only had 18 mph sustained for the first hour, and then averaging 11 mph sustained the rest of the day. The clouds broke up and the raptors burst loose, especially Sharpies. A remarkable 214 were tallied today! This is higher than the seasonal peak number recorded last year (204 on October 2nd), as well as the seasonal peak number in 2017 (213 on September 25th). Tallying this many 11 days before the earliest previous peak, suggests we are in for some even bigger days in the days/weeks to come. Incredibly, we are still behind last year’s pace for Sharpies at this point in the season. At this date last year, the season had 131 more Sharpies tallied than we have this season.

The past few seasons the peak period for raptors has roughly been September 20th to October 31st, with September 10th to 20th also very good. A potential trend has also supported this the past two seasons. Starting from the day after the 1,000th raptor was tallied, the next 6 weeks averaged ~1,300 raptors/week. In 2017, the 1,000th raptor was tallied on September 22nd. The next 6 weeks (September 23rd to November 3rd) averaged 1,272 raptors/week. In 2018, the 1,000th raptor was tallied on September 10th. The next 6 weeks (September 11th to October 22nd) averaged 1,302 raptors/week. In each of these seasons, the only week (of the 6) that didn’t tally at least 1,000 raptors/week was the first week following the 1,000th raptor tallied, where the first week in 2017 tallied 948 raptors, and the first week in 2018 tallied 930 raptors. It’s remarkable how similar these seasons were in this aspect.

Another somewhat surprising thing is that despite averaging 1,300 raptors/week during this peak period, not every day, or even 90%+ tallies 100+ raptors. It should be around 185 raptors/day for 6 weeks if all was evened out, but there are unfavorable weather conditions and peak pulses that reduce the number of 100+ days. With peak days within this peak and bad weather days one would still think at least 80% of all days would tally 100+ raptors/day, but that still is not the case. However, a respectable 2 out of 3 days tallies 100+ raptors during this 6 week period. Once again there are remarkable similarities between the two seasons in this aspect. In 2017, during this 6 week period, 27 out of 42 days tallied 100+ raptors for a percentage of 64% of days tallying 100+ raptors during this 6 week period. In 2018, 28 out of 42 days tallied 100+ raptors for a percentage of 67% of days tallying 100+ raptors during this 6 week period. It’ll be interesting to see if this season has similar results.

An American Kestrel caught two snakes on the 12th
American Kestrel

September 11th: Twenty-seven Sharpies and 2 Merlin were the most notable of the 43 raptors tallied.

September 12th: American Kestrels had their best day at the time, with 6 birds. Thirty Sharpies and 8 additional raptor species were the most notable of the 71 raptors tallied.

September 13th: Twenty-five raptors were tallied comprised of Northern Harrier (2), Sharp-shinned Hawk (18), American Kestrel (4), and unknown falcon (1).

September 14th: The best day of the season so far, with the first double-digit (countable) raptor species day (10) and 365 individuals. Nearly 200 more Sharpies were tallied than just the day before, and the 214 tallied today was significantly more than the previous peak this season of 39 birds. American Kestrels had a very strong day, with 20 tallied and a new seasonal peak. Bald Eagles and Turkey Vultures had their 2nd best days of the season, with 51 and 63 birds respectively. Five Harriers tied their seasonal peak of 5 individuals. The 2nd Peregrine Falcon of the season flew by as well.

One of today’s (September 14th) migrant Osprey

Non-raptors: American Goldfinch, Canada Goose, and Cedar Waxwings have started to pick up some. Goldfinches have been in the 40s most days and Cedar Waxwings increased to 48 on the 12th. Eighty-six geese flew by on the 12th, the most so far this season. There have been two Sandhill Cranes in the immediate area since the start of the count and it looks like they took off today, as two headed out south over the straits, rather low. The first American Golden-Plover of the season flew by on the 13th. Other highlights include daily Common Loons, Red-necked Grebes, and a lone Rock Pigeon.

Monarchs: 56 on the 11th was the most during the period.

Best of the next 5 days: There is a chance of rain tomorrow and Thursday. Otherwise, the weather looks very similar and it’s hard to know which day will produce the most raptors. All days should be very good. Although Broad-winged Hawks don’t move in huge numbers through Pointe LaBarbe, the best numbers so far this season are likely to occur during the next 5 days.

Hawk Count-September 5th Through 10th

A very early (for Pointe LaBarbe) Northern Goshawk was the highlight of the period in the raptor department
The first somewhat sizable kettles of the season occurred on the 9th

Raptors: Raptors picked up significantly during the period. Of the 6 days, 3 were very poor and 3 were very good. In fact, just 3 days of counting, September 7th, 8th and 9th, made up more than 50% of the total raptors seen this season in 22 days of counting! Furthermore, one hour alone on September 9th (from 12-1) tallied more raptors than any other DAY but one this season, with 86 birds recorded during the hour.

September 5th: A very slow day, with only 4 raptors tallied.

September 6th: Not a single migrant raptor was tallied. It rained until 11, with very low clouds throughout the day.

September 7th: Seventy-three raptors of 9 species made this the best day of the season at the time. The clear highlight of the day, and period, was an immature Northern Goshawk that immediately headed south over the straits. Goshawks are rather rare at Pointe LaBarbe, with all but 1 of the 8 recorded last season occurring in the 2nd half of October. The earliest recorded last year was on October 13th, so this season’s bird was rather early. Even in the seasons to come this should still be a very early date for a migrant Northern Goshawk. 13 Sharpies, 11 Broad-wingeds, and 3 Kestrels had their best day of the season at the time. The first migrant Peregrine Falcon of the season flew south. 24 Bald Eagles was a nice tally as well.

September 8th: One-hundred and five raptors of 8 species made this the best day of the season at the time. Turkey Vulture (29), Sharp-shinned Hawk (23), Cooper’s Hawk (2), Broad-winged Hawk (16), and American Kestrel (3), had their best day of the season at the time. Bald Eagles also had another nice day, with 29 recorded.

September 9th: The best day of the season, with 278 raptors, and five new seasonal peaks. Bald Eagles were arguably the best highlight of the day, with 82 birds recorded. 35 Bald Eagles flew south in one hour alone (11-12). It’s hard to know if this will remain the peak day of the season. Last year, Bald Eagles peaked on September 22nd, with 119 birds. However, more than 120 Bald Eagles have been recorded this year than last year at this point in the season. Turkey Vultures and Broad-wingeds had by far their best day of the season, with 87 and 58 birds respectively. Of the 87 Turkey Vultures recorded, 83 crossed the straits. Five Osprey and 39 Sharpies had their best day as well.

September 10th: Rain, then a drizzle to start, and very low clouds throughout the day led to one lone migrant for the day-a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

An Osprey hung around the count site for 4 days
Peregrine Falcon
Northern Harrier

Non-raptors: Most interesting during the period were 6 Red-throated and 9 Common Loons on the 7th, 2 American Pipits on the 8th, and a Northern Pintail today (the 10th). Other birds of interest during the period included Great Blue Heron, Pileated Woodpecker, Chimney Swift, Northern Flicker, Common Grackle, Palm Warbler, Eastern Kingbird, Hooded Merganser, and a slight increase in the number of American Goldfinches. Canada Goose are now being seen about every other day in very small numbers.

Five very distant Red-throated Loons flew east over the Mackinac Bridge on the 7th
The first Northern Pintail of the season on the 10th

Monarchs: The 7th was the last really good day for them, with 603 tallied. Other notable counts included 109 on the 8th and 98 on the 5th. It is highly unlikely any more triple-digit days will occur this season.

Other: On the evening of the 7th I headed up to Point Iroquois to do some ‘lakewatching’. 15 mph northwest winds seemed ideal for waterbirds, but it was quite slow. Most interesting was a single flock of 33 Canada Goose, which contained one blue-morph Snow/Ross’s Goose. Other birds of interest included 2 Blue-winged Teal, 87 Red-necked Grebes, and a Bald Eagle that came in off the lake.

A blue-morph Snow/Ross’s Goose (center, bottom) in the lone Goose flock of the day at Point Iroquois. Canada Goose migration will start picking up soon

Best of the next 5 days: Tomorrow (Wednesday) should be by far the best day of the period, as long as the rain holds off. After that, Sunday should be the next best day if it doesn’t rain. Apart from an expected nice day tomorrow, this is likely to be the last slow period for raptors until we get closer to the end of the season.

Monarch Butterfly tagging

This fall (2019) MSRW is conducting preliminary research, tagging Monarch Butterflies migrating through the Mackinac Straits.  Bert Ebbers (MSRW Board member) is heading the project and purchased the equipment and tags. Bert is investigating the habitat used by Monarchs on Point LaBarbe.  As well as learning the techniques utilized in capturing and tagging Monarchs, and the data to be collected.  This project will lead to the determination of the habitat use, migration period and movement of Monarchs through the Straits.

August 31, the first day of the project, was a good Monarch migration day at Point LaBarbe – we tagged 52 monarchs.  This was a group effort, 5 people with nets (Bert, Steve Baker, Ed Pike, Jack Kirby, John and Mary Fix), 2 people (Bert and Ed Pike) tagging.  At least a 1000 got away untouched.  Monarchs were crossing the Straits or getting ready to cross, so mostly flying fast with migration on their minds.  Only a few stopped to feed on flowers which allowed easier capture.

Sept. 1 was an even better day; the experience from the previous day allowed more Monarchs to be captured and tagged.  Large numbers of Monarchs were in migration across Point LaBarbe.  A total of 73 were tagged over a 3.5 hour period in the morning.  The first half of the morning was with Bert conducting the capture and tagging alone, with help from 3 others (Ed Pike, John and Mary Fix) later in the morning.

We are planning to continue the tagging effort on several more weekends, depending on the weather and numbers of Monarchs migrating.

Releasing Monach after weighing
Monarch with tag
Monarch tags and data sheet
Placing tag on Monarch

Hawk Count-August 30th Through September 4th

Raptors: Raptors have continued to remain slow through the period. The best day was on August 31st, with 50 individuals tallied, comprised of 8 species. The breakdown for that day was Turkey Vulture-6, Osprey-2, Bald Eagle-23, Northern Harrier-2, Sharp-shinned Hawk-5, Cooper’s Hawk-1, Broad-winged Hawk-6, and Red-tailed Hawk 5. Today (September 4th) had light, northwest winds, with sunny conditions, but yielded a very surprising total of only 8 raptors. Osprey and Kestrels are now seen most days, but still only a few individuals at most. Broad-winged Hawks continue to remain largely absent.

Non-raptors: The clear highlight of the period was an American White Pelican on August 30th. The bird was initially riding a thermal with a Bald Eagle far in the east, before disappearing out of view. 30 minutes later, it flew right down the shore, behind the hawk count site, flying west out of view. Other highlights have been far and few between with 3 White-winged Scoters, a Least Sandpiper, a Solitary Sandpiper, 5 Great Egrets, and a few Palm Warblers the best of the rest. Canada Goose migration has commenced, with 6 birds on the 2nd and a flock of 16 today.

American White Pelican with Bald Eagle
American White Pelican with Bald Eagle
American White Pelican flying near Green Island
American White Pelican
White-winged Scoters

Monarchs: Monarchs more than made up for raptors with likely peak numbers coming through during the period. Every day but Tuesday, when it rained, tallied at least 150 Monarchs. The best day was on September 2nd, when 3,488 were tallied!!! At times there were over 100 Monarchs surrounding the count site, and many Monarchs could be seen in the distance as well at all heights. It was rather difficult to attempt to count them, but surely this tally was only a portion of those going across. It wouldn’t surprise me if 10,000 Monarchs flew across the vicinity of the straits that day. 406 Monarchs were tallied today, (September 4th) but they may be winding down very quickly. Last year, the show ended nearly as quickly as it came, with no notable Monarch counts beyond September 6th. The peaked a few days later this year though, so perhaps they’ll continue in good numbers to at least September 10th this year.

Best of the next 5 days: Northerly winds are bound to be good for raptors one of these days, which means Saturday is likely to be one of the best days of the period. Sunday looks good as well. Tomorrow, Thursday, may see a moderate number of Bald Eagles move through.