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The Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch (MSRW) hawk count set two records this year in tallying migrating birds in the Straits. The large tally is attributed to a delayed migration from bouts of poor flying conditions that stalled migration for many days.
On May 22, counter Kevin Georg from Johnston, Pennsylvania tallied 17,022 Broad-winged Hawks, more than half the total seen in 2015, which boasted the highest numbers of the ten years of counting. The month before, on April 19, Georg recorded 5,360 Red-tailed Hawks, the most seen on a single spring day from all the hawk counts across North America.
“While Red-tails are the most common hawk in the country, watching that many circle overhead was mind-boggling,” explained Georg. “Already this year, I have counted 12,800 of this species. Since the immature birds are just beginning to migrate, I feel confident about passing the previous maximum count of Red-tails set at this site of 14,105. I expect to a new site record for Broad-wings as well.”
For the fifth year, Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch (MSRW) contracted with biologists and specialists from around the country to study north-bound migration of selected species in the Straits area. The spring Hawk watch and Waterbird count are conducted in Mackinaw City, while Owl research takes place in Cheboygan.
The Hawk Watch lasts until June 5 and is free to the public. The geography of Michigan funnels hawks to the Straits for the shortest crossing to the north, since it takes less energy for the birds to fly over land than over Lake Michigan or Lake Huron. Visitors will find the hawk watchers and an informational kiosk with a tribute to major donors off Central Avenue behind the Mackinaw City Recreation Complex. On weekends, thanks to a grant from the Petoskey Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation, Hawk Watch Greeter Megan Sorensen from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan welcomes guests with hawk identification sheets and loaner binoculars.
On May 15, MSRW ended the 26th year of owl research near Cheboygan
Biologists Matthew Hanneman from Stevens Point, Wisconsin and Connor Vara from the Adirondack region of New York captured, banded, and released 178 Northern Saw-whet Owls, one Long-eared Owl, and two Barred Owls. The age and sex information they collected on each bird helps conservationists understand population dynamics.
The third spring of waterbird research, conducted by contractor Adam Bradley from Reno, Nevada, also concluded May 15. His work took on extra potential significance after the spring spill of hundreds of gallons of dielectric fluid in the Straits of Mackinac near the Bridge. Bradley recorded unusually prolonged preening by deep-diving Red-breasted Mergansers on April 5, the only time he observed this during spring migration. The birds, reliant on functional wings, run their bill along feathers to clean them and re-align the matching barbs and hooks that operate like velcro. Bradley, an expert observer who spent eight hours on the waterfront every day, alerted response agency representatives to this behavior so they could investigate further whether it was related to the spill.
The Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch conducts scientific studies of hawks, owls, and waterbirds migrating through this region of northern Michigan, educates the public about them, and aids in conserving and protecting the resting and feeding stop-over habitat for birds of prey in the Straits of Mackinac region. To learn more, visit the MSRW Facebook, Instagram, or www.mackinacraptorwatch.org for maps, blogs, event dates, support options, and link to photos of Mackinac Raptor Fest, the primary educational event held the first weekend of every April.