Author Archives: Jonah Levy

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56050641

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56068650

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56106448

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56080920

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56122178

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55845465

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55854507

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55886229

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55908627

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55940898

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55958442

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55985112

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56021636

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56027445

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55678090

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55696105

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:  https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55719100

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55739037

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55764281

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55781567

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55818992

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55564621

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55578100

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55589909

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55617194

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55633687

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: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55655480

Trails End Bay produces another rarity!

4/26: Another slow morning, with minimal breezes and periodic fog. A handful of ducks moved through, but the vast majority were loafing and calling on the still water—primarily long-tails and red-breasted mergs. Loons continued to move (they seem to be flying West every single day, regardless of wind and weather conditions), though in much smaller numbers. Couple Caspian tern flybys, and some tree swallows.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55439685

Evening count took place in wild conditions, with a howling North wind, six-foot-plus surf, and blowing sand. Consequently, very low numbers of everything, with half the number of buffleheads seen recently, three common mergs, and one calling pied-billed. The eared grebe was not observed but may have been loafing somewhere more sheltered. Only movers were four Caspian terns, headed West, and a surprise pair of greater scaup that flew off to the East end of the bay. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55446400

4/27: Wicked Wind of the West made for a positively oceanic morning, with high surf and strong winds off the water. Long-tails, red-breasted mergs, and loons were all taking advantage of the updrafts to make strong Westward movements in the first hour, yet these all but died down by 7:30 or so. A likely contributing factor was the increase in heat shimmer as the sun rose, which made spotting low-flying fowl all but impossible among the churning breakers several miles out. A few flocks were spotted as they rose briefly above the shimmer line, but I was probably missing many birds flying closer to the UP shore. Big flight of ring-bills and herring gulls, including several immatures, which I ended up relocating at Trail’s End Bay just after the morning count, where the high surf had washed up a noxious mass of pond-weeds that around 100 gulls were sifting through. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55490764

Wind once again slowed the evening count, with few birds on the marsh. Bufflehead numbers were back up, so I expected the eared grebe to show, but it was nowhere to be seen. Briefly caught a small grebe off to the West in the scope around sunset, but it appeared a better match for horned grebe. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55490612

Painted lady, Wilderness SP

4/28: Winds continued, with little movement in general. A pintail group, two small scoter groups, and a single greater scaup were the only duck migrants, with continuing steady movement among common loons, and a number of loons and grebes loafing with the red-breasted mergs in near-shore waters. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the arrival of a lone beaver, seen moving along the shore to the East in the predawn hours. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55521445

Evening began with steady winds, but these finally abated around 8PM, and produced a real surprise: a TRICOLORED HERON. I had just finished scanning the bay to count the small red-breasted merg flocks when the heron burst from the marsh edge, and offered great looks (see eBird list for more detailed notes). I followed it in flight, as it first powered Northward, then veered West around towards Cecil Bay and Wilderness SP. Trails End Bay is really becoming a rarity magnet!

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55537110

Foggy fallouts, eared grebe continues

4/23 Bumper morning, as dawn fog caused fallouts among early fliers, many of which ended up loafing relatively close in the straits. For the first time, movements were strong among all waterfowl groups, with multiple dabbler species, several bay ducks, and loons and grebes moving in the double figures. Nearly all were headed West, with the dabblers moving earliest after a brief lift in the fog, followed by a series of loons and Aythya flocks, and ending with a rise in grebe movement near the end of the morning, when the wind was strongest. Big numbers especially among wigeon (83), mallard (64), and ring-necked duck (63), including a single-species raft of around 30 ring-necks.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55309198

White-throated Sparrow, Wilderness SP

Many of the dabblers from the morning count likely ended up as part of a large loafing assembly seen at the evening count, with 30 mallards, 26 shovelers, 42 wigeon, 9 gadwall, 6 blue-winged teal, and 7 green-winged teal feeding frantically in a sheltered area to the West. Presented a real problem for counting, as many were obscured by vegetation, and I was racing the Sun setting directly behind them, but managed to find a good viewing location a bit up the road. The local calling marsh birds (woodcock, bittern, pied-billed grebe, sandhill), were all silent tonight, surely due to the wicked Northwest wind that was battering the marsh. No doubt this was the reason for the fallout, as well. 

The eared grebe put in an appearance for the fifth night in a row, and seems very content with its neighboring bufflehead flock. Sole Caspian tern flying West at sunset, and about 80% of the dabbler flock flew West around this time as well, though I would bet they settled in either Cecil Bay or somewhere off Wilderness SP that was more sheltered than Trails End Bay tonight. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55402051

4/24: Pretty slow morning, with only a smattering of ducks besides a large raft of long-tails out towards the UP. The big movers today were loons (76)—nearly all headed West—flickers (100), and sandhill cranes (54), plus the very beginnings of what would be a massive broad-wing day at the hawk watch, as a group of raptors and cranes was seen flying North alongside the bridge right at the end of the count.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55335305

Evening count saw the marsh really come alive with resident breeders: bittern, sandhill crane, and pied-billed grebe were calling, and both woodcock and snipe (FOY) were doing their displays. Large groups of buffleheads continue, and were joined yet again by the little eared grebe, still seeming perfectly healthy and diving regularly. Five Bonaparte’s gulls were probably the only migrants on the night, headed West at the start of the count. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55374340

4/25: Very slow morning, with almost nothing moving apart from a smattering of loons and white-winged scoters. Bonaparte’s gulls were the only migrants in large numbers, with a total of 60 headed West over the five hours. FOY pine warbler sang once from the hillside, and FOY barn swallow flew past.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55389625

Evening foggy and rainy, but the usual species were present, with a new high count for buffleheads (72). Notably, in these later stages of migration, the balance is way more heavily female, with a ratio of 25m:47f, the opposite of that earlier in the season. More female common mergs were present as well. Two great blue herons, calling pied-billeds, woodcock, and snipe (bittern silent tonight), and the still-continuing eared grebe, plus a couple loons and a horned grebe further out in the fog. Single Caspian tern flyby. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55410893

Eared Grebe continues! (still here as of 4/23)

4/20: Slow morning, with light winds tamping down migration. White-winged scoters and cormorants appeared to be the only waterbird species on the move, with large rafts of several hundred long-tails and red-breasted mergs waiting on the water’s surface a few miles out. Flickers again made a big Northward push, with 49 making the journey, and at least five more waiting by 11:15. Decent raptor movement but not as much as yesterday. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55180812

The evening count was also relatively uneventful, but was highlighted by the reappearance of yesterday’s eared grebe, still associating with the buffleheads but this time just a bit closer, allowing slightly better phone-scoped photos. Six pintails and three ring-necks showed up to loaf right around sunset.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55192922

4/21: Water smooth as glass all morning, with very little movement as a result. Two flyby white-winged scoter flocks, and a flyby redhead flock (though this group flew towards Mackinaw City and hence seemed semi-local). By far the biggest volume was among a massive group of loafing long-tailed ducks, which was stretched out in small groups along the full length of the straits, from below the bridge to up West of St. Helena. In one sweep I conservatively notched 940 individuals, but there were likely at least another 300 more, as I saw about this many in flight after being flushed by a passing ship, but couldn’t be 100% certain they came from behind the heat shimmer line. Red-breasted mergs in decent numbers—also almost entirely loafing—and a handful of grebes, with two red-neckeds and five horneds, one of which was calling.

Male Wood Duck, McGulpin

Scattered Northward flights among passerines and other small birds, but nothing like the past few days. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55211049

Evening count started well, with good raptor movement: a sharpie, a harrier, four turkey vultures, and an osprey headed East on warm afternoon winds, with five sandhills headed North as well. Activity slowed from then on, as a low bank of dark clouds rolled in, but I had nice close views of a preening pied-billed grebe, with its neighbor calling once more from the dense vegetation. A big flock of green-winged teals was also present, with 21 males and only 1 female; they were very skittish, and would take off at the slightest sign of danger, so I suspect they’ll move tomorrow. Late on in the evening, a male harrier came winging by along the shore, and I spotted a female kestrel perched on a tamarack about a mile distant while counting blackbirds, so there are raptors waiting in the wings for good winds tomorrow!

Pied-billed grebe, Trails End Bay Marsh

Yet again, though, the star of the show was the eared grebe, now here for its third night, seen diving and loafing with the same bufflehead flock in the usual spot. Hoping it sticks around! 

4/22: Decent morning, with a steady Easterly breeze that seemed to be aiding flights. The big long-tail raft from yesterday was slowly moving East, with most taking short flights of a half-mile or so before landing and loafing again (was careful to avoid recounts here). A couple white-winged scoter groups, five loons, a green-winged teal pair, a scaup pair, and a lone hoodie were also moving through, and there were notable movements of both other merg species that seemed to constitute migration. Raptor numbers were low but the species diversity represented gave a good idea of what was to come for the hawk-watchers, with a turkey vulture, three harriers, five sharpies, a red-tail, and a rough-leg. Highlight of the day was the arrival of the year’s first Bonaparte’s gulls, seen flying West at a distance of a mile or so. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55278688

Between counts I took a long walk in Wilderness SP, and turned up FOY fox sparrow, pine warbler, and purple finch, as well as abundant white-throated sparrows, drumming woodpeckers, calling hawks, and a blue-winged teal pair!

A great night at the marshes, with pleasant sunshine and light breezes bringing in lots of new Spring sights and sounds! Notable highlights were the arrival of a FOY Caspian tern, a calling American Bittern (FOY), a pair of calling pied-billed grebes, two active Canada goose nests, three great egrets briefly hunting in the marsh, and a bugling sandhill crane pair that came in to land (may try to nest). Eared grebe continued with bufflehead flock, and a male wigeon and nine green-winged teal were loafing with the usual mallards.

A successful hunt.
Sunset, Trails End Bay Marsh

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55279963

Waterbird Fallout

4/18: Densely foggy morning, with absolutely no breaks in the weather. Barely any birds besides a FOY (for the point) pied-billed grebe fishing briefly just offshore. 

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It appears most were waiting around Cheboygan, as around lunchtime I noticed that a good number of birds were moving just offshore of where we’re staying near Edgewater Beach. Wish I’d been paying attention sooner, as by the time I got set up with the scope, the fog had begun to roll back in and numbers were slowing. While I watched, though, I had 30 loons, 20 redheads, 11 wigeons, 5 horned grebes, 3 red-necked grebes, 8 long-tails, a cormorant, and a white-winged scoter, plus the usual mergansers—all flying North or loafing. Also, singing juncos and redpolls aplenty, a passing female harrier, and a FOY female yellow-rumped warbler!

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This was certainly the case: as I was driving to the Headlands for a quick bike before the evening count, I noticed a large mass of ducks on the water as I was passing the little sheltered cove South of Mackinaw City (along the hotel strip). I pulled in to a hotel parking lot and ended up doing a 45 minute count of all the birds present, as both the total numbers and species diversity were daunting—this appears to have been a massive weather-driven fallout! I scanned the flock one full time each for redheads, scaup, ring-necks, buffleheads, and dabblers.

Small section of the fallout raft

Final count of the raft revealed two Canada geese, 10 blue-winged teal, 24 shoveler, 5 gadwall, 40 wigeon, 25 mallard, 2 black duck, 28 green-winged teal, 5 canvasback, 215 redhead, 137 ring-necked duck, 60 bufflehead, 5 goldeneye, 6 red-breasted mergs, 1 common merg, 1 horned grebe, and 310 scaup, which I estimated were evenly divided between greater and lesser—with greater scaup in higher density in the deeper sections of the bay, as suits their more maritime habits. For species with >50 birds, counts are a little rough, but these are all probably low estimates, as near halfway through the count I spotted a distant cloud of maybe 300 ducks flying off into the fog (possibly formerly part of this raft).

Most species were present in roughly 3:1 ratios of males : females. It’s interesting that I saw almost nothing during the morning count—this seems to indicate that on foggy days Northward migrants may use the coastline to aid navigation, but fall out when they near a crossing point—in a sheltered area like this cove, or Trails End Bay (more on that next!)

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Fallout conditions continued at Trails End Bay, and I had a heck of a time trying to sort out all the species present (and their male:female ratios), as a large flock of at least a dozen species was gathered in a dense assemblage at a small creek mouth East of the count location. Most of the birds were feeding and moving around when I started counting, and many were moving back towards the marsh edge, becoming partially obscured by vegetation. What’s more, while males and females of each species were generally associating in pairs, there were few single-species groups, so I had to individually sort through for each species. To make matters worse, the Northwest wind was driving a cold drizzle directly at my back, so it was a constant battle to keep the scope de-fogged. Still, by the end of the count I had managed a satisfactory male:female count of each species, and was surprised by the overall diversity: large numbers of bufflehead, wigeon, and mallard; decent numbers of green-winged teal, gadwall, and shoveler; and a few blue-winged teal and black ducks. Also present was an exuberant flock of ring-necks and scaup (both lesser and greater), feeding in the shallow water near the creek mouth with the buffleheads. Common mergs were present in their highest numbers yet, and the ducks were joined by the local geese and mute swans as well. Three hoodies briefly visited the creek at dusk, but flew on towards Wilderness SP (which seems to be their favorite haunt on migrating through this area—didn’t get out there today but suspect the mill pond had quite a few of them!)

On a short foray up the road to get a better scope view of the gadwalls (near the back of the assemblage), I turned up an American tree sparrow (state bird! First in a while for this area), and  a hermit thrush (FOY), plus a FOY white-throated sparrow seen earlier on my brief bike ride. The local woodcock male was peenting again despite the rain, so I think he’s here to stay. Also heard: a flyover horned lark (FOY). 

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4/19: Knew the large raft at Mackinaw City would move this morning, and was expecting a good portion to come through the straits. It would appear they did, although viewing conditions were made difficult by the low light and overcast sky, which tended to mask field marks in the earlier hours. Additionally, with the strong Southeast winds, the majority of ducks came very quickly straight overland from their previous roost, resulting in a stream that went directly overhead, and often resulted merely in from-behind views. Eventually I repositioned to be able to swivel and catch them coming overhead, but even then the backlighting from the sky made quick ID’s difficult before flocks continued on. Still, managed a decent species diversity, especially as the sun came out around 9:30. 

Aythya sp. were by far the most numerous (as they had been in yesterday’s raft), and included redheads and both scaup species. Dabbler flocks were even more difficult to pin down, as they seemed to be hugging the McGulpin coast even closer (I probably missed a bunch that went West behind the trees), but they included many mallards, a flock of pintail, and two definite teal flocks.

The most impressive waterbird spectacle of the day came with the grebes, which moved through en masse, all headed West. I had 17 horneds, 59 red-neckeds, and an additional 36 grebe sp. that were too distant or poorly lit to identify. Loons moved too, though in limited numbers.

Sandhill Cranes over McGulpin

Another spectacle was warming up near the end of the count, as the clearing weather brought the first birds of what must have been a massive raptor wave: 25 turkey vultures, a female harrier, 33 sharpies, 71 red-tails, and 2 rough-legs passed as I was counting, plus an additional 39 sandhill cranes, two great blue herons, and 34 flickers (which appeared to be making a big push North). FOY ruby-crowned kinglet called once from the trees, and a yellow-bellied sapsucker flew in to perch with some flickers, so likely crossed later in the day. 

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The evening count began much slower, with only the local staging buffleheads in the place of yesterday’s fallout. Activity picked up near dusk, though, with seven sandhills, a kingfisher, and several grackle flocks. The highlight of all, though, was a big surprise: an EARED GREBE (Rare), resting with the buffleheads. I first spotted it around 7:30/7:45, and spent about a half-hour studying it and taking phone-scoped photos before I was fully convinced. A very small grebe (same size as neighboring buffleheads), with a more raised rear, a sharp crest with a steep slope on the front end (forming almost a right angle with the bill), a black neck, head, and back, and a broad patch of yellow on the cheek, in the “ear” position. Have a couple photos that show key field marks, and found after a little research that this appears to be the first record for the straits!

Other items of interest at the marshes: FOY spring peepers calling from the maple swamp, a pair of muskrats in a brief tussle at dusk (surprisingly violent for such small, otherwise docile creatures), a massive beetle flying skyward from somewhere on the marsh. Earlier, I had two colonies of wood frogs and 7 early butterflies along the Waugoshance Trail in Wilderness SP, and a lone leopard frog on Trails End Rd. that I ushered across. Spring has sprung!

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Setting moon, McGulpin

Slower days at McGulpin

4/16: Decent morning count. Mild breeze out of the Southeast had things feeling almost springlike—despite the remaining foot or so of snow up against the cedars! A good array of species, but not that much apparent migratory movement. Six loons, a redhead pair, a male wood duck, and quite a few small flocks of white-winged scoters passed, but by the fourth hour nearly all movement was local, with a flock of 23-24 white-winged scoters giving me a counting headache by passing back and forth several times (fairly certain it was the same flock—conservatively counted as such).

Raptors, shorebirds, and passerines provided a bit more flavor, with two sharpies and 28 turkey vultures headed north, another great egret (headed North towards the colony on the Mackinac County shore, and greater yellowlegs (FOY) heard calling overhead as it made the journey across the straits. A local merlin was present, as well as about 30 redpolls, two flickers, and three more meadowlarks, though none of these appeared to make the journey across.

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Trails End Bay was free of ice by evening, and hosted good numbers of common mergs (27) and buffleheads (54), as well as two great-blue herons. The highlight of the night came when I spotted two green-winged teal pairs (FOY for Emmet County, first since I saw a pair back in March at Cheboygan SP) loafing with some mallards at the marsh edge. 

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Sunset No. 4, Trails End Bay

Woodcock are finally around in good numbers: not only was the local male peenting again at Trails End Bay, but on the way home I had one sky-dance over the car near Headlands Park, and two more peenting next to I-75. Hopefully lots more on the way!

Waxing gibbous, Trails End Bay

4/17: Foggy morning had movement essentially down to zero, though there was a brief period around mid-morning where the sky cleared and activity picked up a little bit. Very few waterfowl in general, with only a Canada goose flock, five long-tails, and a mallard pair likely migrating (plus the usual local movements of mergs). Raptors appeared in good numbers during the brief clear spell, with two sharpies, a turkey vulture, and six red-tails kettling and flying East, a likely dark-morph rough-leg headed North just before, and a peregrine and another sharpie in earlier clear moments.

Herring gulls, McGulpin Point

Finally got the Dunkadoo program working, so full hour-by-hour numbers for all counts thus far should be available!

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The evening count again hosted large numbers of buffleheads, which appear to be using this bay as a staging ground. Max count at one time was 30 males, 29 females, but another 10 or 20 at least were probably in the area. Waterfowl life otherwise unremarkable, but had a good raptor evening, with five harriers (3f2m), two osprey, and three turkey vultures headed East. All three female harriers flew close to shore, even over the remaining ice, while the males flew further out and beelined for the Headlands. Both osprey paused to hover during their flight, and a third was seen hovering earlier but not tracked for a flight direction (though it likely went East). Two more tree swallows, this time flying East.

Female Harrier, Trails End Bay

The local balds were terrorizing the ducks as usual, with a 1cy, a 2cy, and an adult all seen several times. At one point the adult was carrying several strands of plant matter off to the West towards Cecil Bay—likely nest lining. 

By 7:00 the rain had begun, and I called the count at 7:25 once it started coming down more heavily, as the birds had essentially stopped moving around, and most were hunkered or feeding within a small area. 

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Sunset No. 5, Trails End Bay