Author Archives: Josh Jaeger

Waterbird Count, May 16

The final day of the waterbird migration season, and unfortunately it was not one to go out with a bang. The weather was relatively cold and overcast throughout the day, with moderate winds and episodes of rain in the afternoon. Today marked the first day since April 7th to have a daily count to not include a Common Loon, and the first one since April 16th to have no White-winged Scoters. If that isn’t a sign that migration is drawing to a close I don’t know what is. Although a pair of both Buffleheads and Peregrine Falcons were seen resting near McGulpin Point and moving south across the bridge respectively. Comparisons between last years season totals yielded some surprising consistencies as well as dramatic differences- for full details, refer to the soon-to-be-completed report. It has been a pleasure and honor to be the waterbird counter for the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch, as it has allowed me the opportunity to not only incorporate my hobby into work, but meet many people with similar interests and aspirations. I’d like to thank Ed Pike for providing me the opportunity of a lifetime, as well as to the Bakers, Lawsons, Kirbys, Brickers, Grafs, and Jason Newton for sharing with me the splendor of Michigan’s wilderness and its animals. From here, I will be returning to California to work in the Sierra Nevadas for the Institute for Bird Population’s Southwestern Willow Flycatcher study. Working as a waterbird counter in Mackinac City ranks as one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I hope future waterbird counts will be even more successful.

Long-tailed Duck – 152
Bufflehead – 2
Common Goldeneye – 1
Common Merganser – 21
Red-breasted Merganser – 239
Double-crested Cormorant – 53
duck sp. – 1
Common Tern – 3

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 3
Turkey Vulture – 2
Bald Eagle – 1
Killdeer – 3
Peregrine Falcon – 2

Waterbird Count, May 15

The weather had calmed and cleared from the previous day, revealing ducks far and wide over the glass-like water. However, by the final hours, the wind began to pick up, and birds at further distances became harder to pick out from the rising waves. The count for today came dangerously close to yielding a list without a White-winged Scoter or Common Loon, with only lone individuals for each species seen loafing at the beginning and end of the count respectively. As the spring begins to draw to a close, the birds continue to show the signs of starting off strong for the breeding season; yet another family of Canada Geese visited the shores of McGulpin Point. Tomorrow marks the final day of waterbird counting before my return to California, and I hope the final day can bring one last surprise.

Canada Goose – 16
Greater/Lesser Scaup – 1
White-winged Scoter – 1
Long-tailed Duck – 1914
Common Goldeneye – 1
Common Merganser – 11
Red-breasted Merganser – 265
Common Loon – 1
Double-crested Cormorant – 66
duck sp. – 5
Caspian Tern – 1
Common Tern – 5

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 14
Bald Eagle – 2
Red-shouldered Hawk – 1
Buteo sp. – 18
Killdeer – 1

Waterbird Count, May 14

Unlike the last few days, the straits were experiencing moderate winds, creating waves just high enough to hide the birds in excess of one mile away. Another trend breaker for today was the fact that even though there was only a small number of loons seen today, they were all seen in the morning rather than the afternoon. Despite the increase in wind speed, that did not deter the insects from infesting the air at McGulpin Point- in fact, the winds seemed to make the situation only worse.

Canada Goose – 4
White-winged Scoter – 6
Long-tailed Duck – 481
Common Goldeneye – 2
Common Merganser – 9
Red-breasted Merganser – 254
Common Loon – 6
Double-crested Cormorant – 59
duck sp. – 5
Caspian Tern – 1
Common Tern – 3

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 4
Osprey – 1
Bald Eagle – 1

Waterbird Count, May 13

The Global Big Day for 2017 has finally arrived, and the members of the Mackinaw Straits Raptor Watch have all chipped in to document as many species as possible for this “ornithological holiday”.  The waterbird count had some impressive contributions for the cumulative list today, including over two thousand Long-tailed Ducks, and more than a dozen Common Goldeneyes moving west- a respectable number for May.  The loons today also seemed to make a comeback from a lone individual to several pairs out on the lake.  Though there were no species of particular interest or rarity, the total counts were still high, and any data is good data- especially when there are other people also contributing elsewhere.  Adding to the high waterbird counts was the substantial increase in flying insect activity around the lake.  The air was so thick with midges it felt as if I was walking in rain, and the insects consistently tried to find their way into my eyes, nose and mouth.  I myself have been in many environments where local biting and flying insects are labeled as a major hindrance, but nothing I’ve experienced before can even begin to compare to today.

Canada Goose – 6
Greater/Lesser Scaup – 1
White-winged Scoter – 5
Long-tailed Duck – 2250
Common Merganser – 15
Red-breasted Merganser – 375
Common Loon – 7
Double-crested Cormorant – 75
duck sp. – 5
Common Tern – 9

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 6
Bald Eagle – 2
Buteo sp. – 2
Merlin – 1

Waterbird Count, May 12 (Evening Census)

With the fading light the winds began to fall further than earlier today, but the heat shimmer had grown far more intense.  Though the common species were still out in force, this marks the first evening census to include species that were not documented earlier the same day, or even recently.  With a single Common Goldeneye and half a dozen Redheads, the sunset has brought out birds the sunrise could not.  Unfortunately the same could not be said about the insects, as they seemed to be out in greater numbers than earlier today.  There were plenty of visitors enjoying the sunset on the lake shore, though very few actually approached me to inquire what I was doing.

Redhead – 6
Long-tailed Duck – 1079
Common Goldeneye – 1
Common Merganser – 5
Red-breasted Merganser – 245
Double-crested Cormorant – 39
duck sp. – 8
Common Tern – 3

Other Species:
Killdeer – 1

Waterbird Count, May 12

With moderate cloud cover throughout the day and gentle winds from the east, the stage was set for a good day of counting at McGulpin Point.  The low heat shimmer also provided the opportunity to pick out most of the Long-tailed Ducks loafing throughout the survey area.  I was beginning to doubt that the Long-tailed Duck numbers would ever begin to compare to last years, but after today it seems the trend has gained momentum.  With over two thousand individual Long-tailed Ducks tallied, today marks the first time of this season that the Long-tailed Duck numbers have exceeded one thousand.  On the other hand, today could have been the first day with no Common Loons if it were not for a single individual moving west in the seventh hour.  Raptor activity also gained some notoriety today when a group of Blue Jays were seen harassing a Peregrine Falcon.  The insects are also making an impact at McGulpin Point; the spider webs that decorate the gazebo and cedar trees are now completely full of flying insects.

Canada Goose – 8
Mallard – 1
White-winged Scoter – 12
Long-tailed Duck – 2032
Common Merganser – 5
Red-breasted Merganser – 365
Common Loon – 1
Double-crested Cormorant – 50
duck sp. – 5
Common Tern – 3

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 8
Osprey – 1
Accipiter sp. – 1
Bald Eagle – 4
Broad-winged Hawk – 20
Buteo sp. – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 1

KODAK Digital Still Camera

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Adult Canada Geese with gosling pair

Waterbird Count, May 11 (Evening Census)

With the cloud cover receded from the previous days, spotting birds in the west was far more difficult.  However, even the setting sun was not enough to hide some nice additions to the evening census:  Common Terns, Great Blue Heron, and Mallard.  The mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks and cormorants were still omnipresent as they have been in the day, in addition to White-winged Scoters passing through.  As the evening censuses continue to accrue more species to the lists, I’m hopeful it may soon yield a species yet to be documented in the morning counts.

Mallard – 1
White-winged Scoter – 4
Long-tailed Duck – 262
Common Merganser – 5
Red-breasted Merganser – 162
Double-crested Cormorant – 19
duck sp. – 10
Common Tern – 2

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1

Waterbird Count, May 11

With the sky continuing to clear up, identification of species over the well-lit straits was no difficult feat today.  Though the activity overall was very impressive, it was the third hour that delivered the most excitement:  a pair of Gadwalls, a pair of Common Terns, and a lone Red-throated Loon heading east.  Visitor activity at McGulpin Point also continues to increase, and for the first time in nearly two weeks, a fellow birdwatcher came down to greet me and inquire what I was doing and seeing.  The woman from Connecticuit had many questions for me regarding the waterbird activity and migration- some of which I am ashamed to say I did not have all the answers for.  Needless to say, it was a welcome relief from the simple tourists walking in front of my field of view and the swarms of flying insects flying into my eyes.  Aside from absorbing a little too much refracted sunlight, today was ideal for waterbird watching; moderate eastern winds with patchy cloud cover, low heat shimmer, and a gradually increasing temperature.

Canada Goose – 3
Gadwall – 2
Mallard – 2
White-winged Scoter – 5
Long-tailed Duck – 638
Common Merganser – 5
Red-breasted Merganser – 187
Red-throated Loon – 1
Common Loon – 3
Double-crested Cormorant – 77
duck sp. – 3
Common Tern – 2
tern sp. – 1

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 9
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 2
Accipiter sp. – 1
Bald Eagle – 4
Broad-winged Hawk – 1
Buteo sp. – 2
Sandhill Crane – 1
Killdeer – 1
Spotted Sandpiper – 1

Red Admiral Butterfly

Waterbird Count, May 10 (Evening Census)

Unlike the earlier hours today, the winds at dusk were much stronger, creating larger waves, and making it difficult to pick out loafing birds at greater distances.  The visibility had also been cut in half, making it even more difficult to distinguish birds on the horizon.  Nevertheless, the evening census was still successful; the first Common Tern of the season was identified, and the first Merlin since April 26th was seen making its way north.  The insect activity showed no sign of waning since the early hours, since they were still finding their way into my eyes and nostrils.

White-winged Scoter – 10
Long-tailed Duck – 308
Common Merganser – 11
Red-breasted Merganser – 175
Double-crested Cormorant – 53
duck sp. – 6
Common Tern – 1

Other Species:
Merlin – 1

Waterbird Count, May 10

It took a long day of staring out on the straits, but today’s results were well worth the eye strain.  The weather was relatively benign, with wind speeds not exceeding ten miles per hour, and the temperature rising throughout the day.  It was easier to spot waterbirds in the morning due to the calmer waters, and spread within the first four hours to increase the diversity were Buffleheads, a Red-necked Grebe, and even a Trumpeter Swan heading south.  Right around noon is when the sky began to cloud over again, and it was around this time the first Sterna tern of the season was seen.  Unfortunately, due to the poor light, and self-doubt on distinguishing Forster’s from Common Terns, the species was not identified.  Almost immediately following this sighting was a flock of over fifty Bonaparte’s Gulls swerving low and in unison over the straits as they made their way west.  There was even a flock of perhaps two hundred Blue Jays circling McGulpin Point throughout the day.  In addition to the birds, the insects were out in force at McGulpin Point.  Swarms of midges and other flying insects were buzzing around my work space and even into my eyes and nose throughout the day.  As summer continues to grip the straits, I’m hopeful it will also bring more new visitors to the waters surrounding McGulpin Point.

Canada Goose – 4
Trumpeter Swan – 1
White-winged Scoter – 12
Long-tailed Duck – 566
Bufflehead – 7
Common Merganser – 6
Red-breasted Merganser – 320
Common Loon – 6
Red-necked Grebe – 1
Double-crested Cormorant – 97
duck sp. – 19
Bonaparte’s Gull – 53
Common/Forster’s Tern – 1

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 7
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 2
Northern Harrier – 1
Bald Eagle – 4
Broad-winged Hawk – 2
Red-shouldered Hawk – 1
Red-tailed Hawk – 1
Buteo sp. – 2
Sandhill Crane – 1