Author Archives: Nick Alioto

Owl’s well that ends well…. That’s a Wrap Spring 2K19.. (Owl update)

Greetings once again MSRW followers and supporters. This blog will be the last blog I will be posting as our spring 2019 owl season has come to an end and even though it is over, it was a very successful season. Spring migration banding and surveys took place from March 20 to May 8 2019. 40 nights of banding/surveys resulted in the capture of 181 owls over the 50 day season; this included 156 newly banded Northern Saw-whet Owls (Aegolius acadicus) of which 15 were foreign recaptures and 2 were local recaptures that were originally banded by MSRW at Cheboygan State park in previous seasons, thus recaptures totaled 17. Other owl captures included 3 Barred Owls (Strix varia) and 5 Long-eared Owls (Asio otus) of which 1 was a foreign recapture. We were also able to band one American Robin (Turdis migratorius) and two Sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus).

This spring season in comparison is the second best spring season since 2015. The last four season’s totals are as follows; in 2015 there were 132 owls captured, while 2016 yielded 82 owls, 2017 yielded 175 owls and 2018 totaled 182. Although this season was very successful and we were open for 40 nights many of those nights were cut short as we had to deal with persistent winds and precipitation that was intermittent throughout the whole season.

It is sad once again to have to leave Northern Michigan but as always it’s been amazing! Hopefully I will make my way back up there again soon. But in the meantime as always stay classy folks and keep your eyes to the sky!

Season Totals: Total Birds: 181

NSWO: 156

LEOW: 5 (1 Foreign Recap)

BDOW: 3

Recaptures: 17 (NSWO)

Hawk trapping season wrap up:

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Unfortunately our time hawk trapping in Mackinaw has ended. However that being said the last week of trapping produced some very interesting captures and good numbers. Since my last update on the 30th we were able to get in four more sessions of trapping before I departed Michigan on May 9th. Our first session occurred on May 3rd. This day was very slow except for one capture and no it wasn’t a red-tail hawk which is our most prevalent species captured but instead we caught a PEREGRINE FALCON!!! Now this was exciting not only because it was the first PEFA ever caught by MSRW but because it was already banded. Now mind you most Peregrines are already banded due to their population numbers being so low, therefore most breeding pairs and chicks are monitored and all banded. Now the guy we captured has quite the story. He was originally banded in June of 2015 as a nestling at the international bridge in Sault St. Marie and they named him Frank. Now I am not sure what side of the bridge he was on but since I’m Canadian I am of course bias and hope that this bird is a fellow Canuck like me! Anyways, Frank now currently resides on the Mackinaw Bridge and is reported to be nesting there which is awesome. I guess he decided to move to Northern Michigan like myself. Needless to say Frank is 4 years old now and all of us at MSRW hope he has a successful nesting season.

Frank the Foreign Recapture Peregrine Falcon

Out of the 4 trapping sessions that occurred during the last week on two separate occasions we got skunked meaning we caught nothing which was very disheartening but that’s the name of the game and good days come with slow days. However on our last day we had a fantastic day which occurred on May 5th.  We managed to capture 7 red-tailed hawks in just a few hours which was a great way to end the trapping season. Out of these 7 tails 6 were second year birds and 1 was an adult with the beautiful red tail. Also during my last two nights of owl banding I passively caught 2 more Sharp-shinned hawks so they were added to this specific diurnal raptor list! In conclusion I bid all you fine people of Northern Michigan a fine farewell for now as I continue on to my next field job in Central Illinois where I will be monitoring Eastern Whip-poor wills with the University of Illinois over the summer and luckily enough my assistant from Cheboygan Chad will be with me here as well… what a small world. Until next time stay classy and hopefully I will be back in the North sooner rather then later!

Diurnal Raptor Totals:

SSHA (Sharp-shinned hawk) – 9

RTHA (Red-tailed hawk) – 18

NOHA (Northern Harrier) – 1

MERL (Merlin) – 1

PEFA (Peregrine Falcon) – 1

Total Hawks/Falcons: 30

OWlTASTIC: Owl update x4

Hello everyone! If you have just finished reading my above blog on the diurnal raptor banding update and enjoyed it then you will for sure be interested in this blog post regarding what has been going on during the owl surveys/banding in Cheboygan State Park over the past week or so. Since I last left off we have continued to capture Saw-whets but things are beginning to taper off as we approach the end of the migration and subsequently the end of the spring banding season.

Over the past 10 days we have had to battle adverse weather conditions and had lost 3 full nights of banding. We have also been battling strong winds from the North, East and the combination of northeast which is just the worst… and with all of these variables combined it has not facilitated great owl movement. However despite all of this our season continues to be quite successful in terms of owl species diversity, number of recaptures and number of saw-whets which is our target species. As I titled my last blog (spring of the recaptures) that continues to hold true as we continue to catch more and more recaps! Let me get you all caught up;

Since my last blog we have added another 4 recaptures, 3 of which have been saw-whets annnddd get this one was a Long-eared owl which is incredible since so few are banded the chance of getting a recapture is very uncommon. First let me tell you about the saw-whets before we talk about the long-ear. One of the recaps came to us yet again from Whitefish point we always seem to catch a lot of their birds which is great, this shows us that these birds are using the same migration pathway through Michigan year after year. We also netted another bird from Hilliardton, ON that was banded just this past fall not by me but by one of my friends that was with me up north so this was very cool to say the least! Finally our last saw-whet also hailed from Ontario and was banded this past fall in a town called Wheatley. This bird was a Hatch year last fall so it is great that she has survived her first migration as she heads back to the boreal forest to breed. Now the Long-eared owl we recaptured was originally banded back in April of 2017 at Whitefish Point. This is pretty neat as at that same time this bird was banded I was working here in Cheboygan state park with my good friend Arthur as we ran the owl protocol for MSRW a few years back. Now what was really cool about this recap was that back in 2017 this owl was aged as an after third year/female which is the oldest age you can assign a long-ear with confidence meaning this bird is at least 3 years old but it could be older. When we captured this bird we also aged this bird that same and this was based off of various plumage characteristics including replacement patterns of feathers in the wing along with patterns seen in the tail. Then we determined the sex of the long-ear based off of the plumage coloration in the underwing feathers. Needless to say we know from recapturing this bird that she is at LEAST 5 years old which is amazing! This bird may take the cake for the most exciting recap this spring but who know there is still a fair amount of time left in the season. We will just have to wait and see! Until next time we hope that we get a last push of owls and I will like always do my best to keep all you fine folks updated!

The Foreign Recap LEOW from Whitefish, this lass is at least 5 years old!

Season Totals: Total Birds: 175

NSWO: 151

LEOW: 4 (1 Foreign Recap)

BDOW: 3

Recaptures: 17 (NSWO)

Trap City aka Mackinaw City: Hawk Update X2

Greetings yet again MSRW followers and supporters! It has been just over a week since my last blog regarding our raptor trapping side project and I thought now would be the perfect time to give everyone an update. Since the 23rd we have been able to make it over to Mackinaw on a few occasions and yes we have still been capturing birds and EVEN added a new species for the spring!

Adult Male Merlin Captured! What a Beauty

The highlight came on the 24th when we were expecting a big day but caught only one bird, however that bird was an after second year male Merlin! Now I would like to tell you that I was the great trapper that lured this bird into our set-up but it was quite the contrary. This merlin just seemed to be flying by to check out our set-up and passively got caught in our mist-net. Regardless of how it happened it was super exciting and made the day all worthwhile on what turned out to be a dead day with empty skies. Since then we decided to switch our trapping spot to a more open area in the hopes of increasing Buteo specie captures in this case we are primarily after Red-tailed hawks. Anyway our next day out was on the 26th and we managed to capture two new red tails! Winds were strong that day and we had over 8 red tails come into to check us out but none committed and instead perched in a nearby trees off and on throughout the day as if to tease us. The next trapping day occurred on the 30th and this day was different for a few reasons. First my assistant Chad had to depart back to his home state of Illinois to get ready for his next field job which coincidentally I will be working with him yet again for the summer! BUT I will tell all you fine folks about that next job as I get closer to my own departure date. Now back to the good stuff, since Chad was gone that meant that local legend and chair of MSRW Ed Pike was going to join me in the blind today, it is always nice to have his company. The change in personal must have brought us some luck as we managed yet another 2 new red-tails, we also had one get out of the net and had a few make passes but overall it was a very good day! Ed will be accompanying me in the blind for the remainder of the season as we will continue to trap this upcoming week as often as the weather permits us. Until next time keep your eyes to the sky and as always stay classy!

Ed got in on the fun and banded his first red-tail for 2019! Hopefully many more to come

Diurnal Raptor Totals:

SSHA (Sharp-shinned hawk) – 7

RTHA (Red-tailed hawk) – 11

NOHA (Northern Harrier) – 1

MERL (Merlin) – 1

Total Hawks: 20

Hawk Mania 2K19!

Greetings yet again fellow MSRW supporters and followers! Now I know what you may be thinking after reading the title to this blog and let me assure that YES we have started trapping diurnal raptors this past week as a side project apart from our regular owl banding duties! With the number of hawks that have been migrating as of late it is definitely worth putting in the effort to try and catch some of these migrants and gather as much data as possible as they move though the area. The crazy part about doing diurnal trapping is that we have to attempt to catch them from the late morning to the early afternoon. If you are just “OK” at math like me then you would realize that by running owl nets all night then getting up relatively early to trap, this leaves little time for sleep and rest. If I were to calculate how much sleep we get on days when we have both banded owls and hawks I would have to ballpark that number to be between anywhere from 3-4 hours of sleep! This is very hard to do but totally worth it! I’m driven by my passion for studying raptors and who needs sleep anyways it is overrated if you ask me!
Now for the exciting part of this blog, we have trapped for only two days thus far but have had incredible results. The first day of trapping took place on April 19th and we managed to band 3 adult Red-tails. Our next day of trapping took place on the April 22nd and this was a big day by anyone’s standards. We managed 12 new birds of 3 species which included 7 sharp-shinned hawks, 4 more red-tails and drummmm rolllll please….. 1 adult female Northern Harrier which is just incredible and quite honestly left me speechless! These birds are incredibly aware and are usually quite difficult to catch; we are also running a simple set-up here which makes the task all the more difficult. However the exciting thing about banding is you really never know what you may catch you may think it is impossible but literally anything is possible! It also helps that I always have an optimistic outlook on whatever it is I may be doing which I think definitely helps! This was the first harrier caught by MSRW since 2013 so it’s been a while and the dry spell has ended hallelujah! Tomorrow we will hopefully be able do some trapping as well and as always I do my best to keep all you fine folks updated on the happenings of this spring season! Until next make sure you get your 8 hours of recommended sleep and stay classy.

Adult Female Northern Harrier Captured; What a beautiful bird


Diurnal Raptor Totals:
SSHA (Sharp-shinned hawk) – 7
RTHA (Red-tailed hawk) – 7
NOHA (Northern Harrier) – 1
Total Hawks: 15

Spring of the Recaptures

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Hello once again followers and supporters of MSRW! I’m back again to give all you fine folks an update on what has been going on at the banding station this past week. I have to start by mentioning that it is starting to feel like spring at the park. That is because 95% of the snow is now gone which is quite exciting to us and we are also starting to see more and more songbirds show up. Some of the notable sightings have been Belted Kingfisher, Winter wren, Song sparrow, American robin, Merlin, Sharp-shinned hawk, Yellow-shafted flicker, Brown creeper, Golden-crowned kinglet, Eastern phoebe, Yellow-bellied sapsucker and one of my personal favorites the American Woodcock aka the “Timberdooodle”. Now apart from the songbirds the owls have also continued to move through but it has definitely been slower this past week as we have only been averaging between 3-5 a night. It also has not helped that we haven’t had favorable winds or the best weather but we stay positive nonetheless and have still been doing very good.

Now the crazy thing is the amount of recaptured saw-whets we seem to be continually getting so let me get you caught up on the new birds from this past week! Since my last blog I left you with one bird on which we were waiting to get news on. Well we got the information and it turns out this NSWO was originally banded at Whitefish Point as a second year female in the spring of 2017. Therefore this bird would have hatched in 2016 which means this bird is in its 4th calendar year of life! Lucky for us we aged her as ATY (after third year) which means we assigned her the right age! Also in this past week we managed to catch an additional 3 recaptures and have info on two of the three. The one NSWO had no information available on it meaning that it probably was just banded this past fall and wherever it originated from the data has not yet been entered. The other owls turned out to be both Canadian birds one was originally banded in Malden Centre, Ontario which is also known as a banding station called Holiday Beach. The last recapture was very interesting as this bird was originally banded in D’alembert, Quebec and the distance from here to Cheboygan is about 500 miles! This owl was banded as a hatch year female this past fall, which means she is still a young bird and far from where she originally called home. Sometimes younger birds take different routes as they try and navigate their way back north to their breeding grounds. This is one reason we love recaptures to see how and if migration routes are changing for these birds. All we can say is that we wish her all the best on the rest of her journey and hope she makes it back to the boreal forest! Until next time keep your eyes to the sky and stay classy I will as always do my best to keep you all updated as the season continues to progress and hopefully will have more exciting news in the upcoming week.

Season Totals: Total Birds: 150

NSWO: 131

LEOW: 3

BDOW: 2

Recaptures: 14

If Birds are Business then Business is Good!

If Birds are Business then Business is Good!

Greetings yet again fellow MSRW followers and supporters! Now usually I would not post a blog so soon after just recently publishing one based on the fact that I like to leave a little time in-between to keep the readers wanting more, however there has been a lot going on out at the state park and I would feel selfish to keep such exciting news from you all. Since my last post we have continued to have great numbers of owls moving through the park. We also are continuing to capture more and more previously banded saw-whets which is always exciting. Let’s get you all caught up on the new foreign recaptures. Since my last entry we netted another 5 NSWO that have been previously banded. One of these was banded right here in Cheboygan state park back in 2017 by either me or my close friend Arthur. The other 4 birds all hailed from different locations. One was banded in Duluth, Minnesota in 2015 as a hatch year bird. This is neat because that means that this bird is in its 5th year of life which is pretty amazing and quite old, we are glad she’s doing well. We also captured another bird that was banded at Whitefish Point in 2017 and our last recapture which has been our furthest was a bird that was banded all the way over in Sullivan County, New York back in 2017. Thus far we have captured 11 NSWO that have been already banded and we are still awaiting information on one bird which I will include in the next blog as soon as I get some information.

We have also started to see larger owl species moving through the park over the past week and yes to my delight and yours we did manage to capture some. We have caught 2 Barred Owls so far and just last night we banded 3 Long-eared owls which is seriously incredible! We have been playing the LEOW call for over a week and it just seems now that they are showing up hopefully we will capture many more especially if last night was an indicator of what is yet to come. Now not everything is perfect until last night we were closed on the 6th, 7th and 8th due to rain so we are hoping we get a good stretch of weather here and that this season only gets better and better! As always I will do my best to keep you all updated on what’s going on out in the park. Until next time let us all hope that the weathermen/women of Michigan are wrong and that we continue to have nice weather! As always stay classy folks!

Season Totals: Total birds: 113

NSWO: 97

LEOW: 3

BDOW: 2

Recaptured NSWO: 11

And….. We’re off! Owl Mania 2k19

Greetings once again fellow MSRW supporters and followers! Since my last blog there has been a lot going on out here in Cheboygan and I’m here to catch all you fine folks up on the latest news. Brace yourself there is quite a lot… which is a good thing trust me! After starting off the season with a great push of owls it has only gotten better for us since the 22nd. Since then we have been consistently open every night and have only stayed closed on the 27th due to rain and on the 30th due to high winds.

In that time frame we have managed to capture 51 more Saw-whets. Our best night was on the 28th when we captured 22 birds. The previous night we were closed due to rain which probably helped us in the sense that owls don’t typically move in bad weather. Therefore the nice weather we had the following day created a big push of owls that night, which decided to wait out the rain before continuing north. This resulted in a great banding night here at the cabin. It is always exciting to have a big night so that we can stay busy through the long hours in which we normally just sit in the dark and watch the wood stove like a TV. Anyways, out of those 51 new saw-whets 4 of these ended up being recaptures, 3 foreign and 1 local. The local recapture turned out to be yet another bird that was originally banded here in Cheboygan State Park this past spring. We also had our 2nd foreign recapture via Whitefish Point and the other two were Canadian birds which were both quite exciting in their own respective ways! Let me give you the quick rundown. The first bird was originally banded at Long Point Bird Observatory in southern Ontario. This bird was interesting because it was banded their originally in the fall of 2017 and aged as an after second year bird, meaning it was at least three years old at that point. We captured it and aged it as an after third year bird which was the correct age assigned based on how it had replaced its feathers over the years…. man I’m good! BUT what that technically means is that this owl is at least 5 years old and she’s definitely clocked a lot of miles over the years migrating and probably has raised quite a few families along the way. It’s always awesome to catch older birds to learn more about their molt, longevity and migration routes.

Now for that other Canadian owl, this bird was banded this past fall in a small town called Hilliardton, which is located in the Boreal forest of Northern Ontario, now you might ask how I know all that. Well funny enough I spent all of 2018 at the Hilliardton Marsh Research & Education center as their intern assistant bander but I also helped run their fall owl protocol. So to me this is exciting that a bird I banded this past fall managed to get caught in one of our nets here in Cheboygan?!?! It’s crazy and exciting all at the same time. I guess she wanted to stop in and make sure I’m doing good, well thanks little lady I sure am and it was good to see that she was healthy and doing good as she continues north to the boreal forest to hopefully raise a family this summer!

This week we will also be putting out an audio lure for Long-eared owls (LEOW) out at our furthest nets in the hopes to capture more as they move through the area in the next few upcoming weeks. As my old boss in Hilliardton would say “If birds are business then business is goooddd!” We hope this great push of migrants continues and I will continue to give you all updates on what goes on out here in the woods! Until next time keep your eyes to the sky and stay classy folks!

Season Totals:

NSWO: 56

Recaptures: 6 NSWO

Total: 62

Spring is Here… Owl Style

Spring is here! 

Hello once again fellow MSRW supporters and followers! My name is Nick Alioto and I will be the lead owl bander for the spring 2019 season. For those of you who do not know me let me give you a rundown of my experience here with MSRW as this is not my first rodeo here!  It all started in 2017 when I was hired to be the assistant bander for the spring season. I loved it so much I decided to come back again to be the lead bander for the fall 2017 season! I then took a brief hiatus in 2018 to take on a new adventure in Canada. That being said I still thought about Northern Michigan and knew I would like to do one more season here and I am thrilled to be back yet again in an area that I consider to be my second home. Now enough about me let’s talk owls and migration shall we.

Checking the band number on the foreign recap.

Our protocol officially began on March 20th but me and my assistant (Andy) arrived here on the 18th to get settled in and set-up.  Now I would be lying if I said setting up was a little tougher than normal and this was due to all the snow accumulation here in the park. Nonetheless we persevered and had all the nets set up in a mere couple of hours and were ready to go. The first night of banding we were only able to stay open until 11:30 due to rain  but still managed to capture our first Northern saw-whet owl on the first day of spring… Coincidence I think not! On the 21st we were able to stay open almost the whole night until strong winds picked up round 4am. However while open we were able to capture 5 new NSWO and 2 Recaps. Then on the 22nd we were once again forced to shut down early due to strong winds however we managed to capture 3 more new NSWO. March is always unpredictable but we are certainly off to a good start despite it still being very early and having to deal with adverse weather every night that we have been open thus far. 

Now you must be thinking what about those recaps I mentioned earlier? Well lucky for you I have the information on both of them due to my diligence and commitment to doing a good job along with providing all the information to you fine folks who read this! Our first recap turned out to be a bird that was originally banded here in Cheboygan State park in the Spring of 2018 as a third year female, we aged it and sexed it as after third year female. The second bird we captured was our first foreign recapture for the season and this bird was originally banded at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in Paradise Michigan in 2017 as Hatch year unknown bird. We aged and sexed it as a third year female; it is always exciting to capture other bander’s birds. Tonight looks like the first night that we will be able to be open all night and we are hoping that we will get a good push of migrants. Stay tuned for more updates from yours truly,

Nick Alioto

Season Totals:

NSWO: 9

Recaptures: 2 NSWO

Total: 11

Owls: Season Summary

Fall owl banding at Point LaBarbe in St. Ignace began on September 17th and finished up on November 10th. Although we faced many nights of adverse weather, mainly heavy precipitation and fierce winds, we managed to open our nets for 38 nights this season. Throughout that time, 282 owls were captured. A total of 280 were Northern Saw-whet Owls (Aegolius acadicus), while one Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) and one Barred Owl (Strix varia) were also captured.

As suspected, the main movement of Saw-whets occurred in mid- October, more specifically from Oct 9th to Oct 24th. We managed to catch 126 owls in that time. Our best night occurred on Oct 13 when we captured a season best of 28 Saw- whets. A highlight from the season was capturing 16 Saw-whets that were already banded, which we call foreign recaptures. Two notable recaptures were: one Saw-whet from Fairfield, Ohio and another from Wabasha, Minnesota. We also had a recapture that was banded at Point LaBarbe in Oct 2014 and was aged at that time as an after second year (ASY) bird. We caught this bird October 11th 2017 and also aged it as an ASY. This means that this bird is at least 6 years old!

Another exciting development is that two owls we banded this fall have already been recaptured further south. One Saw-whet was banded by us on September 29th and was recovered on November 4th in Ridgway, PA, a journey over 600 miles from our St. Ignace location. Another Saw-whet we banded on October 13th was recaptured in Chesterton, IN on November 11th. This bird managed to fly over 375 miles in just under a month. Despite many nights of unfavourable weather, the fall 2017 owl banding season ended up being quite successful. Owl capture rates were unusually high last fall, yet we still managed to capture 282 owls this fall, the second most abundant yield since owl banding began at Point LaBarbe in 2014. This fall has been fantastic and thank you to everyone who kept up with our blogs. Until next time my fellow strigiphiles, good owling !