Author Archives: Josh Haas

Press Release, Spring Red-tailed Hawk Record, April 2016

Hawk Watch breaks world record

HawkWatch International announced that a world record in hawk migration was recently
broken by the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch. On April 13, more Red-tailed Hawks were seen
in a single day than at any time anywhere in the world. Said HawkWatch International,
“Congratulations to Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch on setting the single-day Red-tailed Hawk
count record with an amazing 4,966 individual migrants!!! This breaks the previous record of
4,591 set at Derby Hill, New York on April 11, 1995.”

Explained Kevin Georg, contracted hawk counter for MSRW, “The cold, snowy weather we
had in Mackinaw City in early April apparently held the migrating hawks downstate. When a
day of good weather finally came, the hawks headed north en masse, and many flew over the
hawk counting site near the Recreation Center.” MSRW already held the nation’s record for the
highest number of Red-tailed Hawks seen during a spring count period. So far in 2016, 12,123
have been tallied, 3,000 birds more than the previous record set in 2015. Concludes Georg,
“There’s no telling how high we will go this year. Seeing all these Red-tails is exciting for me,
right up there with our record number of golden eagles.”

Enjoying the non-stop hawk spectacle that day were several members of Straits Area Audubon
Society, including Cheboygan photographer Bruce Seeger. “So many birds were circling in the
air at once, it was magic. Besides red-tails with their normal brown and white plumage with a
bright red tail, I captured pictures of both an albino and a very dark-colored morph. This was a
day none of us will ever forget.”

Already, the hawk watch has recorded species seldom seen here. Eight Black Vultures, nine
Peregrine Falcons, one Gyrfalcon, and one Swainson’s hawk have passed over. Broad-winged
Hawks have just begun to head north and are expected to continue through early June.
Thousands of hawks choose to fly above Mackinaw City enroute to their nesting grounds, since
this is the narrowest place to cross the Straits of Mackinac. Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch
tracks the migration numbers and species; studies the movements of loons, grebes, ducks, and
other waterbirds in the Straits; and researches owl migration near Cheboygan. Guided field
trips occasionally are held, and the public is invited to visit the study sites in Mackinaw City
anytime in the coming several weeks. Visit www.mackinacraptorwatch or call 231-758-3319
for more information.

Press Release, Mackinaw Fest Award, April 2016

Emmet County awarded for ‘unflagging support’ in helping in Mackinaw Raptor Fest, public raptor migration count take flight.

At the Mackinaw Raptor Fest closing ceremony April 2, Emmet County was awarded the first-ever Wind Under Wings Award, in recognition of the assistance by numerous county staff who helped launch the inaugural event, and for supporting a public raptor migration watch in Mackinaw City.

In front of 110 people, Gary Appold, Assistant County Administrator and Human Resources Director, accepted the award of a framed adult bald eagle from Ed Pike, chair of the non-profit group, Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch.  The photograph was donated by professional photographer, Lynn Walters-Fraze of J-A-M Productions International, Alanson.

“When I first broached the idea of a hawk watch in the Straits area in 2004, people were daunted by the amount of work and funding that it would entail,” said Pike. “Thanks to help from many colleagues and the proof from three years of preliminary counts that this is a vital hawk migration corridor, we launched the full research and public outreach work in 2014. This weekend, birders came to Emmet and Cheboygan Counties from throughout Michigan as well as Indiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin. Along with contributors of funds, topping the list that made it possible is the unflagging support and encouragement of Emmet County, which has been there at every turn.”

That support from the county began back in 2010 with owl research demonstrations at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, combined with an educational night sky experience.  In July of 2013 when Pike and others began meeting about a new public festival during the spring shoulder season, Emmet County sent representatives who provided “wise guidance and advice,” Pike noted.

“Emmet County and its commissioners exemplify what it means to be forward-thinking and community-caring. Through our formative years and even after MSRW started, Emmet County has helped in so many ways behind the scenes, it’s hard to enumerate them.

From owls, Emmet County’s help spread to hawks.  “The professionalism of their staff and encouragement of their commissioners has figuratively given us wings. Emmet County has helped with housing and computer service for some of the biologists. They have assisted with audiovisual equipment setup, publication design, media outreach, and publicity on their website. I am delighted to present them with the first Wind Under Wings Award.”

Emmet County’s Appold said the county is pleased to partner with such an important group as the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch and to support their work in raising awareness about protecting sensitive regional environments and habitats.

“It’s vital to Emmet County’s future to understand the environmental assets in our region. The raptor count has been an amazing example of educating the public about what an important area this is for birds of prey on an international level,” Appold said. “As a secondary benefit, Emmet County receives exposure about our unique amenities and experiences and we attract tens of thousands of visitors to our communities and parks, in turn supporting our economy and encouraging families and individuals to relocate here and invest in our area. We will continue to support excellent efforts such as the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch and we’re glad we could help MSRW launch a very successful first year festival.”

Press Release, Raptor Fest, March 2016

Live Raptor Viewing in Northern Lower Michigan

With migration of hawks and owls well underway, high public interest in those birds has prompted the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch to sponsor an indoor program featuring live raptors.  Wings of Wonder, headed by educator and wildlife rehabilitator Rebecca Lessard, welcomes families to a free hour-long showing of birds that cannot be released into the wild due to injuries.  The event takes place on Saturday, April 2 at 10:30 am at Camp Daggett on Walloon Lake near Petoskey.  There is no charge and no need to pre-register.

Rebecca Lessard says, “Since 1990, we have fostered appreciation, understanding, honor, and respect for raptors and the important role these birds play in keeping the ecosystem healthy.  We present more than 150 educational programs that reach over 10,000 people a year.  I am delighted to bring some of these birds to Petoskey and Mackinaw City for MSRW.”  Wings of Wonder is licensed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to admit injured, sick, and orphaned raptors.  The primary goal is to release healthy and fully conditioned raptors back into the wild.

Along with the free show of live birds in Petoskey, Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch is holding the Mackinaw Raptor Fest in Mackinaw City that weekend.  Says Kathy Bricker, Secretary of MSRW, “With all 80 paid-registration spots taken and the speakers and other volunteers, we expect 100 people in the Mackinaw City and Petoskey area this weekend, all for the purpose of seeing and learning about birds of prey.”  Both events were funded in large part by the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation and the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau.

MSRW, based in Petoskey, surveys raptors that fly through the bottleneck of the Straits between their wintering grounds and nesting sites.  Hawks are counted from an open field near the Recreation Center in Mackinaw City.  Chair and long-time owl researcher Ed Pike explains, “The biggest attraction, that visitors can see easily and for free, is the day-time migration of eagles and hawks.  Our contracted counter, Kevin Georg, from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, returned in early March for his third year of working for MSRW.  So far, he has tallied 344 bald eagles, 251 golden eagles, and 773 red-tailed hawks.  In addition, a few days ago, Georg scored a first observation for the site – a gyrfalcon.  One never knows what will appear.  Whether common or rare, it’s always interesting to watch and learn about these long-distance travelers who connect the hemispheres.”

To put the numbers in perspective, more golden eagles are seen at the Straits than any other hawk watch site east of the Mississippi and more red-tailed hawks are counted here than any other spring hawk watch in the country.  More than 250 hawk watches are active in North America, with all data posted daily on-line.  MSRW data, a blog, photographs, and field trip information can be viewed at www.mackinacraptorwatch.org.

In addition to studying daytime raptors, Pike explains, “We also are well underway with owl research, conducted near Cheboygan State Park.  Many species of owls migrate, but they must be studied in a different way.  We hired biologists Emily Wilmoth from Greendale, Wisconsin and Kim Edgington from Port Angeles, Washington.  They work all night long to capture and band the birds with fine nets.  Already, two ‘foreign re-traps’ have been found, meaning owls that were banded earlier in another place.  At least one of these was banded at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory last spring.  Through many decades of banding and releasing owls, researchers are learning that northern saw-whet owls move widely throughout the Great Lakes region, with a few that fly all the way to New England.”

People can experience the owl research through opportunities occasionally offered jointly with Headlands Dark Sky Park, Petoskey Regional Audubon Society, and Straits Area Audubon Society.

“Expanding this spring’s research program,” Pike continues, “this winter we raised enough money to hire a biologist to conduct the first full spring waterbird survey.  Jason Newton from Aurora, Illinois works eight hours a day from Mackinaw City.  In just a few days, he already has counted thousands of long-tailed ducks, along with more than a hundred white-winged scoters and red-breasted mergansers.

MSRW welcomes the public to observe its work and enjoy the birds.

Press Release, MSRW Receives Large Grant, February 2016

MSRW Receives its Largest Grant to Date

This January, the local non-profit group, Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch (MSRW), received its largest grant for public education, $4,000, from the Petoskey Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation.  The goal of the grant is to expand public education and enjoyment of hawks and owls, in part through the first-ever Mackinaw Raptor Fest.  A free, family-friendly public program featuring live hawks and owls will be held at Camp Daggett on Walloon Lake on April 2, 10:30 am.  There is no charge and no need to pre-register for this program given by Rebecca Lessard, Wings of Wonder from Traverse City.

The second part of the Mackinaw Raptor Fest requires advance registration and runs from 7 pm April 1 through all day and night of April 2, in Mackinaw City.  It features outdoor observations of hawks and owls, conditions permitting, and educational indoor programs about birds of prey.  Wings of Wonder will repeat its live raptor program for these attendees in the afternoon.  After dinner at Audie’s, the keynote speaker, Dr. William Bowerman from University of Maryland, will present information and reflections from the just-completed 55 years of research on bald eagles nesting in Michigan.  Visit www.MackinawRaptorFest.org for the full schedule, presenter, and registration information.

MSRW was created in 2014 to formally survey the hawks and owls that migrate through the Straits region every fall and spring.  Chair Ed Pike explained “For fifty-plus years, some people noticed that exceptionally large numbers of raptors pass through Mackinaw City and St. Ignace.  The birds concentrate before crossing the five-mile-wide Straits.  During the daytime, hawks are easily visible as they ride rising air currents to gain altitude for their flight.  We have counted hawks in Mackinaw City for five springs, with the most thorough coverage during 2015 when 50,399 were tallied.”

Pike continues, “Owls, which generally move at night, are less easily observed by the general public.  Some species of owls migrate through the Straits in considerable numbers, and we are studying them as well.”   All data collected by MSRW’s paid contractors is made available for free to researchers, conservationists, and wildlife managers concerned with population levels, life histories, and geographic distribution of these species.  In 2015, the first fall waterbird survey of migrating loons, grebes, and ducks was conducted by volunteers.  Funds permitting this spring, MSRW will expand its research to this component of the Straits migration as well.

All the research is free and open to the public, with most people coming to watch the hawks.  In 2015, MSRW reported more than 856 guest visits, nearly two and a half times the number of 2014.  “The word is spreading,” says Pike, “especially about the golden eagles.  Last year, more golden eages, 374, were recorded crossing the Mackinac Straits than at any other hawk watch site east of the Mississippi River.”

To increase the chance that fest attendees will get to see golden as well as bald eagles, along with red-tailed hawks, rough-legged hawks, and other species, the Mackinaw Raptor Fest is scheduled early in the season, with the main day being April 2.  Besides the core funding from the Community Foundation, additional support for the Mackinaw Raptor Fest was received from the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau.  Visit www.mackinawraptorfest.org for more information and to register.

Press Release, December 2015

Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch reports record year in 2015

Tens of thousands of eagles, hawks and vultures recorded in Straits region, attracting
observers from around state, U.S.

MACKINAW CITY – The Straits of Mackinac region at the top of Michigan’s Lower
Peninsula has been garnering national attention for the vast numbers of raptors
gathering here during their annual migration cycles, including the most golden eagles
counted anywhere east of the Mississippi and the highest number of red-tailed hawks
tallied in the United States.

“In the last year, both the research work on migrating birds and the public outreach
more than doubled, thanks to a longer observation period enabled by generous
contributors and volunteers,” said Ed Pike, Chair of the Mackinaw Straits Raptor Watch
group (MSRW) that formed in 2014 to monitor birds of prey passing here in migration
and educate people about them.

Pike noted the following highlights from this year’s counts that set records and drew
national attention to the quality of the birding experience in the Straits of Mackinac:

Spring Hawk Count
From March 8 through June 6, 2015, the contracted counter Kevin Georg posted 613
hours of observation in Mackinaw City and tallied 50,399 raptors migrating across the
Straits. Of special interest were the 374 golden eagles, the highest number recorded
east of the Mississippi, and the 9,334 red-tailed hawks, the highest number of any spring
count in the country. There were over 700 recorded guest visits. For comparison, the
2014 numbers were 481 hours to record 43,191 raptors, including 164 golden eagles
and 9,702 red-tailed hawks with 352 guests visits.

Spring Owl Survey
From March 18 through May 2, contracted biologists conducted MSRW’s first spring
mist netting and banding at Cheboygan State Park near Cheboygan. They set nets on 40
nights, totaling 281 hours of research time. They captured, processed, and released 132
northern saw-whet owls, four barred owls, and four long-eared owls. Eleven of the sawwhets
were already banded by other scientists at Whitefish Point near Paradise and
Point LaBarbe near St. Ignace (both Michigan), New Hampshire, Ontario, and Indiana.
Such re-traps yield information about owl distribution, migration, and life span.

Fall Owl Survey
From Sept. 20 through Nov. 10, the contracted biologist Selena Creed conducted mist
netting and banding at Pte. LaBarbe near St. Ignace. She set the nets on 45 nights and
checked them during 455 hours. She captured 250 northern saw-whet owls, one barred
owl, and three long-eared owls, nearly double the number of birds in the spring survey.
For comparison, in 2014, 285 survey hours yielded 233 northern saw-whet owls and
four barred owls.

“It is normal to capture more owls in the fall because they just hatched this summer.
Most of these first-year birds will not survive their first winter,” Pike explained. Fifteen
of the 2015 saw-whets were foreign re-traps and two were banded here last fall. The
foreign re-traps were banded at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, Michigan, several
sites in Wisconsin, and in Indiana. Two of the saw-whets banded this fall were retrapped
a few weeks later in southern Michigan and Ohio.

Fall Waterbird Survey
From Aug. 15 through Nov. 10, four trained volunteers recorded the waterbirds and
other migrants seen moving through the Straits of Mackinac. Observations were made
from McGulpin Point near Mackinaw City on 63 days, at least three hours each day
starting at sunrise. The goal was to provide baseline data on these fall migrants. High
numbers of common loons were sighted, amid 36 total species of birds.

Waterfowl seen were Canada goose; mute swan; wood duck; gadwall; American black
duck; mallard; teal (which species impossible to tell); redhead; greater scaup; surf
scoter, white-winged, and black scoters; long-tailed duck; bufflehead; common
goldeneye; hooded, common, and red-breasted mergansers, common and red-throated
loons; horned and red-necked grebes; and double-crested cormorant. Raptors observed
were turkey vulture; bald and golden eagles; American kestrel; merlin; sharp-shinned
and broad-winged hawks; and northern harrier. Other birds of interest were jaeger
(which species impossible to tell); great egret; Bonaparte’s gull; common crow; and
common raven.

“This supports and substantiates the selection by National Audubon of the Straits of
Mackinac as an Important Bird Area,” Pike said.

Kathy Bricker, Secretary of MSRW, felt that while the number of birds is impressive, it
does not convey the sense of wonder and beauty of being outside. A visit to the
website, www.MackinacRaptorWatch.org, and the group’s Facebook page reveals the
impact these experiences had on visitors: “From a tree limb in a nearby field, a redtailed
hawk takes flight. It soars, circling higher and higher above the field, using the
updrafts created by the warming air. It climbs to staggering heights until lost against the
clouds. More and more hawks, eagles, and vultures soon join in the aerial waltz that
began in times long forgotten. A common loon cuts through the sky taking a direct
route across the lakes. Undaunted by the water, it needs not climb to dizzying heights
before crossing the five-mile wide strait.

“A boisterous trumpeting precedes fifty sandhill cranes flying in formation, making their
own way to the land beyond. Meanwhile, the number of raptors in the air reaches
numbers almost uncountable. When they finally reach the crest of the updraft, one by
one they peel away from the dance, gliding into the distance in hopes of reaching land
on the other side without having to flap their wings and use precious energy. Taking
their place lower down come other birds from farther south, in the constant soar and
glide procession of the annual spring migration north.”

Public outreach
Bricker explained that the total number of recorded guest visits to the hawk and owl
research was 987, more than double the 352 of 2014.

Because of the burgeoning interest in birding activities in the Straits region, MSRW will
hold its first birding festival in 2016. The Mackinaw Raptor Fest is scheduled for April 1-2
in the Mackinaw City- Petoskey area. Complete details will be available in late January at
www.MackinacRaptorWatch.org. Generous core funding for the festival has been
received from the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation and the
Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau.

In addition to the new festival, MSRW will produce new rack cards to inform the public.
Regular media releases, radio interviews, field trips, social media, word-of-mouth,
poster displays at Michigan and Ohio birding/nature festivals, and in-person
presentations reached thousands of people in 2015 and will expand even more next
year to inform the public about the migration spectacle.

Pike concludes: “Our research and outreach efforts rely on the generosity of private
individuals interested in nature. We thank all of them, along with the Bay Harbor
Foundation, MPS Foundation, Straits Area Audubon Society, Audubon Society of
Kalamazoo, Copper Country Audubon, Thunder Bay Audubon Society, Genesee
Audubon Club, and Au Sable Valley Audubon Society. We especially appreciate the
friendly spirit of the Mackinaw City community during the spring hawk watch.”
For more information, visit www.mackinacraptorwatch.org or contact Ed Pike at 231-
758-3319.