Author Archives: Darrell Lawson

Waterbird Count – September 30, 2018 – Late Report

Hi Everyone,

I filled in for Kyle last Sunday, but due to some website issues, I have not been able to type up this report until now.

It was an interesting day.  The weather was very dull and dreary and rainy in the morning, as will be evident in the photographs.  The rain died down after a few hours, but the clouds never let up.  For much of the day, the front edge of a front was traveling through the straits parallel to it.  Around 2PM it produced this between McGulpin Point and St. Helena Island.


It only lasted for about thirty second and then quickly dissolved, but was still pretty interesting.

Birdwise, the day was generally marked with slow periods punctuated with a few minutes of activity.  Overall, it was a good day for diversity.  Highlights include an early morning Pine Siskin that I heard fly in off the lake.  I wasn’t able to locate it for a few minutes, but eventually it flew out of the woods and landed in a nearby bush for a few minutes.

Red-throated Loons outnumbered Common Loons.  This happens from time to time, but is not really a common occurrence.  Here is a pair that flew by midday.

Red-throated Loons

There were a few Horned and a couple of Red-necked Grebes hanging out off the beach for much of the day.

Red-necked Grebe with food

Red-necked Grebe

Horned Grebe

There was also a Surf Scoter swimming off of the beach for about twenty minutes.  All three species of Scoter were recorded, which is pretty unusual.

Surf Scoter

The highest count of the day was 199 Canada Geese that threw by either south or west.

The songbird activity was slow.  This was probably partially due to the weather and partially due to the changeover in species composition.  Warblers are leaving the area, but soon we should be seeing more Pine Siskins, Snow Buntings, American Pipits, and Horned Larks.  I’ll leave you with a photo of a Palm Warbler that was still hanging around.

Palm Warbler

Waterbird Count – 28 October

Hello everyone,

Sorry for the out-of-sequence post, but after filling in for Aspen on Saturday I decided to stick around and visit the owl banders.  Having not made it home until after midnight, I decided to wait to post until I could write it while actually awake.  The waterbird count on Saturday featured lots of birds, but nothing in comparison to Aspen’s Harlequin Duck from today!  My day mostly consisted of Long-tailed Ducks, Redheads, and White-winged Scoters.  The surprise though was the number of Northern Harriers that came south.  It was a big day for them with 11 spotted during the count.  The real excitement was that both a Great Black-backed Gull and a Lesser Black-backed Gull were seen flying south during the count.  This is the first time I have spotted both species in the same day.  Here is a list of all birds counted for the day.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  35
goose sp. (Anser/Branta sp.)  11
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)  5
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  9
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)  3
Redhead (Aythya americana)  126
Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)  2
Aythya sp. (Aythya sp.)  130
White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca)  115
Black Scoter (Melanitta americana)  4
Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)  1175
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  3
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)  12
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  8
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)  39
duck sp. (Anatinae sp.)  219
Common Loon (Gavia immer)  9
Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)  21
Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)  1
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)  11
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  4
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)  11
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)  2
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)  3
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  1
Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)  6
Buteo sp. (Buteo sp.)  2
hawk sp. (Accipitridae sp. (hawk sp.))  4
Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)  117
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  3
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)  4
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)  1
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)  1
gull sp. (Larinae sp.)  9
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  165
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  5
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)  35
Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus)  1
passerine sp. (Passeriformes sp.)  12

Waterbird Count – October 8

Today was an exciting day at the count. I once again filled in for Aspen so she could have a day off. That’s not really the exciting part (unless, of course, you happen to be Aspen).

The pace was fast and furious when I first arrived. The west winds had birds swirling around all over. Most were various species of aythya, mostly Redheads with some Greater Scaup thrown in. The first exciting bird of the day was a Canvasback that was in with a flock of Redheads. This was exciting because it is the first time one has been recorded during any of the counts going back to when we began them. In fact, it may be the first time one has been recorded at this site ever. I didn’t get photos of this bird though, but here is one of a Greater Scaup that flew by close to shore.

Greater Scaup

Loons were also on the move this morning.  Good numbers of both Common and Red-throated were present, although their activity diminished very quickly during the late part of the second hour.

This is the first day this fall that I counted more Horned Grebes and Red-necked although both were present.  Here is a photo of one of the former that was hanging out just off shore.

Horned Grebe

There were also a few dabblers in the air today.  Here is a distant American Black Duck that was flying west early in the morning.

American Black Duck

And here is a mixed flock with three Mallards and an American Wigeon.

Mallards with American Wigeon

And of course, there were still a few Common Mergansers flying back and forth just off shore throughout the day.

Common Mergansers

As the day warmed up, Bald Eagles began to make regular forays into the lake, often returning with food.  Here are a couple of photos of one that flew directly overhead.

Bald Eagle – always fun when they watch you take their photo!

Bald Eagle

There were quite a few Northern Harriers flying south today also.

Northern Harrier

However, the most exciting bird of the day was a shorebird.  We don’t get many shorebirds at the McGulpin Point count, so when they do show up they are always a treat.  In this case, the one that showed up was extra special since it is an uncommon bird in Michigan in general.  This may be not just a new bird for the count and the McGulpin Point site, but also for the entire county.  Although the photo is pretty awful, here is the American Avocet.

American Avocet

Speaking of horrible photos, here is a terrible photo of Bonaparte’s Gulls flying by Saint Helena Island.  If you’re as nerdy as me, you might get a chuckle out of it.

Bonaparte’s Gulls

And I’ll leave you with one last photo before the final bird list for the day.  The moon was kind enough to keep me company this morning so I took a photo of it.  Besides, the moon is just cool.

The Moon

And here is the list for the day:

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  8
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)  3
American Wigeon (Mareca americana)  1
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  3
American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)  1
Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)  1
Redhead (Aythya americana)  569
Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)  44
Aythya sp. (Aythya sp.)  1639
Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)  1
White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca)  52
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  50
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)  108
duck sp. (Anatinae sp.)  44
Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata)  5
Common Loon (Gavia immer)  36
Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)  18
Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)  4
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)  58
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)  12
Accipiter sp. (Accipiter sp.)  1
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)  6
hawk sp. (Accipitridae sp. (hawk sp.))  3
Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)  14
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)  1
Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)  8
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  8
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)  5
Larus sp. (Larus sp.)  12
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)  1
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)  2
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  20
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  2
Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)  8

Waterbird Count – 30 September

Hi everyone,

I filled in for Aspen again today.  The morning was more productive than I have seen yet this fall.  Most of the early morning consisted of counting Redheads and White-winged Scoters.  Here are a few of the former.


The highlight of the morning came when a group of Canada Geese came over with a blue-morph Snow Goose.  Although the picture is not great, here it is.

Snow Goose with Canada Geese

The loon numbers were very low today, with only two Common Loons and three Red-throated Loons.

After the first two and a half hours had a decent amount of activity, the waterbird movement just sort of died.  The next two hours were pretty slow until the raptors started moving.

Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures and Sharp-shinned Hawks all came south in good numbers.  The real excitement came when a western subspecies (calurus) Red-tailed Hawk flew directly overhead.

“Western” Red-tailed Hawk

I’ll leave you with a few more photos from today, followed with a full list of birds counted.  Thanks for reading!

American Pipits

American Pipit

American Pipit

Northern Harrier

Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens)  1
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  73
goose sp. (Anser/Branta sp.)  15
Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors)  1
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  10
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)  1
Redhead (Aythya americana)  1137
Aythya sp. (Aythya sp.)  413
White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca)  63
scoter sp. (Melanitta sp.)  10
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  9
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)  2
duck sp. (Anatinae sp.)  63
Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata)  3
Common Loon (Gavia immer)  2
Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)  17
Horned/Eared Grebe (Podiceps auritus/nigricollis)  1
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)  17
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  57
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)  2
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)  11
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)  7
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)  2
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  19
Red-tailed Hawk (calurus/alascensis) (Buteo jamaicensis calurus/alascensis)  1
Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)  6
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  6
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)  5
gull sp. (Larinae sp.)  100
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon))  1
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)  1
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)  1
Merlin (Falco columbarius)  1
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)  2
falcon sp. (Falco sp.)  1
Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus)  1
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  4
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  7
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)  2
American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)  28
Northern Parula (Setophaga americana)  1
passerine sp. (Passeriformes sp.)  33

Waterbird Count – 17 September

Today I once again provided Aspen with a much deserved day off.  It was rather interesting in terms of weather.  It seems that at least three different fronts came through with each changing the wind direction slightly.  The first change was the most exciting as it brought a small flurry of Common Loons flying in front of it.  Of course, the sudden changes in the wind and wave activity that can take place on the great lakes is probably one of the reasons that you rarely see this:

Freighter with piles of dirt.

I can’t imagine that would be much fun if the seas really get big, but hopefully they were not going far…

Anyway, other than the major shifts in wind, today was unseasonably warm.  This  may explain why many of the birds flying by today had their bills open.

Herring Gull

Common Loons

Birds often do this on warm days, so I assume it helps them thermoregulate.

Despite the frequent changes in the direction of the wind, it primarily had a strong southern component to it all day long, which meant that it was overall a pretty slow day at the count.  Loons, all Common, and raptors moved through in decent numbers prior to the first shift in the wind.  The most exciting bird of the day came through early when a distant but unmistakable jaeger flew south along the bridge.  Unfortunately, it was far too distant to determine species with any certainty.  Three species of falcon migrated south today also, including Merlin, American Kestrel, and Peregrine Falcon.  Unfortunately, once the wind changed, the flight shut down entirely.  This happened about halfway through the day, so the last four hours were pretty dull.  Here are a few photos from the first few hours followed by the daily totals.

American Crow enjoying the beach

An American Kestrel that came through in the first hour.

The same kestel as above

A small flock of Common Mergansers were floating offshore for bit today.

First cycle Herring Gull

In the fall, we also keep track of Monarch Butterflies that we see flying south across the straits.

Bright, male Northern Harrier.

A Tufted Titmouse that came in looking for food.

Canada Goose 108

Mallard 1

Long-tailed Duck 2

Common Goldeneye 1

Common Merganser 7

merganser sp. 5

Common Loon 22

loon sp. 1

Horned Grebe 3

Red-necked Grebe 4

Double-crested Cormorant 99

Osprey 3

Northern Harrier 1

Sharp-shinned Hawk 4

Bald Eagle 4

jaeger sp. 1

Ring-billed Gull 11

Herring Gull 19

gull sp. 8

Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1

Belted Kingfisher 1

Downy Woodpecker 1

American Kestrel 3

Merlin 1

Peregrine Falcon 1

Red-eyed Vireo 1

Blue Jay 33

American Crow 8

Black-capped Chickadee 8

Tufted Titmouse 3

Red-breasted Nuthatch 1

American Pipit 7

Monarch Butterfly 5

Waterbird Count – 3 September

Hi everyone,

I filled in for Aspen on Sunday to give her a day off.  Sorry this post is coming a day late.  The morning was extremely windy and overcast, which meant it was very dark.  How dark?  Well, consider that the following photo actually was taken in color and you can see how little light there was to work with while identifying birds.


You may notice the relatively large head with a pinched-in skinny neck, a silvery stripe running the length of the wing, and overall lack of contrast.  That is enough to identify these ducks as Redheads, despite the lack of color.

Despite the lack of light in the morning, there were quite a few birds on the move with the wing changing to the north-west.  Red-necked Grebes were definitely the bird of the day.  Here are a few shots of some of the flocks that were flying through the straits.

Red-necked Grebes

Red-necked Grebes

Many of the grebes that were flying around even stopped to sit on the water, although it was difficult to see them sitting in the waves.

Red-necked Grebes sitting on the water

And here is a flock of four Blue-winged Teal that kept jumping from one flying grebe flock to another for about five minutes.  Not sure what they were up to.

Blue-winged Teal

The other birds that seemed to be moving in numbers today were Bald Eagles.  Here an adult and an almost-adult that passed over the straits on their way south.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Just before the count ended, the only Canada Geese for the day flew along the lakeshore providing a little bit of entertainment in the slow afternoon (even though the weather had turned nice by then).  My photos show that the lead goose kept an eye on me the entire time they were flying by.

Canada Geese

Canada Goose

Throughout the season so far, there have been a few Hooded Mergansers hanging around and making occasional fly-bys throughout the day.  This day was no exception.

Hooded Merganser

Anyway, Aspen is back to counting now, but I’ll probably be filling in for her periodically throughout the season.  I look forward to seeing what she will find.  Here is a rundown of all the birds counted on Sunday.

Bald Eagle 15
Black-capped Chickadee 6
Blue-winged Teal 4
Common Loon 14
Common Merganser 33
Double-crested Cormorant 107
duck sp. 6
Green-winged Teal 4
gull sp. 5
Herring Gull 19
Hooded Merganser 3
Long-tailed Duck 4
passerine sp. 2
Red-necked Grebe 377
Red-throated Loon 1
Redhead 13
Ring-billed Gull 33
Canada Goose 8
White-winged Scoter 1
Turkey Vulture 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1
Merlin 1
American Crow 1
Monarch Butterfly 2

Waterbird Count, May 7

Strong north winds made for little waterbird movement and a long day for a waterbird counter.  I filled in for Josh today so that he could have a much-deserved day off.  There were very few highlights as there were very few birds.  A Red-throated Loon flew over during the first hour.  This is a much more expected species in the fall, but during the spring it is pretty much a rarity.  In the fifth hour, a Golden Eagle flew over the straits on its way to the Upper Peninsula.  Other than that, there was a slow, but steady trickle of White-winged Scoters.  There were quite a few Red-breasted Mergansers and some distant Long-tailed Ducks resting on the water, but they were typically only visible when they were frightened and lifted off to escape.  A pair of Bald Eagles and a helicopter provided such a threat, real or perceived, which made it easier to count the mergansers.

For a full list of birds, visit

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Common Goldeneye

Red-breasted Mergansers

Waterbird Count – April 8th

Today was the Saturday of RaptorFest and unfortunately, Josh was feeling ill.  I filled in for him at the waterbird count on what proved to be a rather slow day.  The morning got off to a decent start in terms of diversity with both Red-breasted and Common Mergansers, Wood Ducks, Common Goldeneye, Long-tailed Ducks, and Common Loons.  Today was the first real push of Common Loons for the season with fourteen counted.  Many Red-breasted Mergansers were loafing off of shore, which provided decent viewing for our visitors.  Unfortunately, the movement never really picked up.  There was a steady trickle of waterbirds for the first few hours, but on two Canada Geese were counted for the entirety of the last two hours.  Other than the first multi-Loon day, the first Double-crested Cormorants of the season flew by as well.

Raptor numbers were decent, but not high.  There was a good showing of Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks, and an unusually high four Red-shouldered Hawks, but little else.  The best raptor moment came early when a Merlin flew in and landed on top of a spruce tree a very short distance off.  Leonard Graf, who was kind enough to act as a waterbird interpreter for the day so I could focus on counting, was able to get it in his scope so visitors could get great views of this little falcon.

The other highlight of the day came a short time later when a Pine Siskin landed in a tree right next to us so everyone was able to get really good looks at it as well.

You can find the complete list of birds for the count at

And here are a few photos from today.

Leucistic American Crow

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Common Loon

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

Common Mergansers



Pine Siskin

Red-breasted Mergansers

Red-breasted Mergansers

Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk

Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk (Northern)

Red-tailed Hawk (Northern)

Red-tailed Hawk (Northern)

Red-tailed Hawk (Eastern)

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane