The weather has brought some mixed results this past week.
On October 5th and 6th, the station was paralyzed due to high winds. However, the following night a gentle west wind brought 22 owls, as well as the first barred owl of the season. Ed and I were very busy!
Since then it’s been eerily slow, despite the aid of the new net array bringing in a few more owls. On Tuesday (Oct 8) we had six saw-whet owl visitors and another barred owl visitor to the station. Last night we encountered 9 more owls, but 6 of those were new; two of the others were banded a few days prior, and one was banded back in September! Most of the repeat birds had put on weight; evidently, they’re unwilling to migrate and are opting to fuel up on prey. I suspect the low movement has something to do with unfavorable southeast winds and the incoming storms.
Tuesday night we had some extra human visitors to the station, Rob’s cohort of students from Sault College. It’s always a joy to share an upclose encounter of the secretive and highly nocturnal saw-whet with folks.
Thus far we have encountered 69 newly banded saw-whet owls and four foreign recoveries, owls which were originally banded outside of our fall station. Two of the birds were banded at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory back in 2017: one was a hatch-year then (she hatched in the spring of 2017) and the other was a second-year, so re-capturing them in fall 2019 has confirmed their ages to be about 2.5 years and 3.5 years, respectively. We’re still waiting to hear back on the other recoveries.
Alas, the weather looks uncooperative for the foreseeable future. We’ll see how it goes.
Welcome back to the banding station. Since my last update, owls were at a paucity, but now over the past week, movement has been picking up.
Back on Tuesday (Oct 1) I enjoyed the company of six owls, which was the season’s best night. This isn’t a particularly impressive number for early October, but I still felt like a lucky lady rich in owls after nearly two weeks of effort running the banding station with hardly any activity. Thursday night was similarly bountiful, at five owls.
Thanks to special permission from TC Energy and a little extra funding, last night we manned a new saw-whet owl audio lure net array one mile northeast from our original site. There was certainly some difficulty in running a second productive net array, but it did pay off with higher numbers of saw-whets and the first long-eared owl of the season. October 4th now holds the season best at 14 saw-whets, one long-eared, and one woodcock.
Sooooo~ we’ll see how this new net array goes! The habitat is open woodland, so there’s higher potential for the nets there to yield long-eared owls and barred owls.
Season totals are as such NSWO 37 LEOW 1 Other guys: 1 woodcock, 1 whip-poor-will
Raptors: 3 of the last 4 days of September had at least a drizzle throughout most of the count period. The expected amazing day, Saturday, September 28th, was very good, but more like a moderate version of what was hoped for/expected.
September 27th:Rain occurred from 11:45 throughout the rest of the count period. Most interesting was the 2nd highest Turkey Vulture day(88) of the season and a Merlin.
September 28th:The 2nd best day of the season, with 528 raptors comprised of 9 species. Turkey Vultures had by far their best day of the season, with 226 individuals. Of the 226 Vultures, 218 crossed the straits. Red-shouldered Hawk also had its best day of the season, with 2 adult birds. Bald Eagle (53) and Broad-winged Hawk (171) had their 2nd best day of the season. Sharp-shinned Hawks (63) had a very disappointing showing as did the falcons, with just 6 recorded. Red-tailed Hawks decided they didn’t want to start leaving just yet, with a measly 5 birds recorded. Sandhill Cranes (1,165) turned up, with their first 4-digit day, mainly occurring between 11 and 3. Canada Goose (370) had a decent, but smaller than expected, day.
September 29th: There was a drizzle, with the occasional light rain from 11:40 through the rest of the count period. This significantly hampered the count, with just 44 raptors recorded. Northern Harrier (3), American Kestrel (9), and Peregrine Falcon (1) were the most notable.
September 30th: Another day affected by weather, but very interesting nonetheless. Heavy rain, with the occasional thunderstorm, occurred from 11:00 through the rest of the count period.153 raptors were recorded, comprised of Turkey Vulture (142) and Sharp-shinned Hawk (11). Upon arrival, it was rather dark, with very low clouds, indicative of the weather that was to come. That didn’t stop the vultures though. After only recording 2 vultures the day before, a day that had occasional light rain until 4:00, a large group of 104 vultures greeted me along the road upon arrival at the hawk watch (8:50). The winds were 10-12 mph, initially from the east and quickly switching to the southeast. The large vulture group frequently broke up into 3 or 4 groups, quickly re-grouped into one group, then broke up into smaller groups over the next few hours. One could really get a sense of urgency these vultures had to migrate before the approaching thunderstorms. Initially a group of 20 headed out over the straits with the remaining 84 still debating crossing the straits on essentially no thermals. While they debated making a bolt for it across the straits, the group soon grew to 122 individuals. Looking at the radar, large cells were quickly approaching from the west, and it was interesting that these vultures hadn’t yet put down for the day in St. Ignace. Most of the group soon headed out to Green Island, circling profusely, and faster than I’ve ever seen vultures do before. Clearly, they wanted to move before the weather, despite less than optimal conditions. As the cell started to approach, and a drizzle started to occur, 80 vultures started pumping across the straits, while the remaining 24 headed back to Pointe LaBarbe and quickly set down in the woods somewhere. I was very intrigued as to how the vultures were going to continue to fly across the straits through this upcoming rain/thunderstorm cell, but luckily for them, the cell only clipped Pointe LaBarbe, and completely missed the straits. I’ve never seen so many vultures migrating in such non-optimal conditions, barely missing such hazardous weather.
SEPTEMBER OVERVIEW: Although the fall hawk count at Pointe LaBarbe is still rather new, this felt like a top-tier September. It’s hard to imagine many scenarios that’ll produce significantly higher overall raptor totals in September in the years to come. The big, and seemingly only, exception to this are Broad-winged Hawks. Broad-winged Hawks are often variable in numbers from one season to the next at many hawk counting sites, and often make or break a September at many sites. Fortunately, there’s more than just Broad-wingeds to enjoy in September at Pointe LaBarbe, but their numbers are still hard to grasp in 2 full and 1 partial season of counting. In the partial season, 2017, a total of 185 Broad-winged Hawks were recorded in September. Last year, 553 Broad-winged Hawks were recorded in September. This year, 1,013 Broad-winged Hawks were recorded in September. It does seem like this was a very good to top tier Broad-winged season, but I could see some scenarios where 1,500-2,000 Broad-wingeds is the upper limit for a season at Pointe LaBarbe. There are always the perfect weather conditions that could always set-up Pointe LaBarbe for a few thousand Broad-wingeds in a day as well, but that feels like it’d be rather unlikely or very inconsistent at best in the seasons to come.
Having said that, it seems like 5,000 to 6,000 raptors is the upper limit for a September at Pointe LaBarbe, with any season above 5,200 likely only due to a large (for Pointe LaBarbe) Broad-winged September. Ignoring the possibility of more Broad-winged Hawks, there were only 2 additional possible things that could’ve made this September even more productive. 1) The first 13 days of September felt like they were slower than normal in an average season. Potentially several hundred more raptors could’ve been recorded during this period. 2) The last several days were impacted by rain and could’ve had several hundred more raptors, particularly vultures and potentially Red-tailed Hawks. However, the trade-off in gaining these hundreds of raptors in these two scenarios would rarely outweigh the seemingly hundreds to over a thousand more raptors than normal that occurred in the 2nd half of September this season.
It was an awesome 2nd half of September, with 6 of 15 days tallying at least 300 raptors. Last year, only 2 days exceeded 300 raptors in the 2nd half of September. Additionally, 3 days tallied over 500 raptors in September this year, while only 1 day (barely) exceeded 500 raptors last year. 3,672 raptors were recorded in the 2nd half of September this year compared to 2,645 raptors last season.
Nearly 1,000 more raptors were recorded in September this season (4,942) than last season (4,036). Species that were significantly HIGHER this September than last September include Osprey (30 vs. 18), Northern Harrier (37 vs. 25), Sharp-shinned Hawk (1,969 vs. 1,338), Broad-winged Hawk (1,013 vs. 416), and American Kestrel (196 vs. 161).Species that were significantly LOWER this September than last September include Turkey Vulture (1,151 vs. 1,511) and Peregrine Falcon (16 vs. 27). Bald Eagle (398), Cooper’s Hawk (19), Northern Goshawk (1), Red-shouldered Hawk (4), Red-tailed Hawk (91), and Merlin (11) had similar September totals this season compared to last season. Notably absent this September were the lack of any early Rough-legged Hawks or Golden Eagles; However, we tallied an early Northern Goshawk unlike any in September last season. These 3 species are sure to be variably recorded in September (particularly the last week) throughout the seasons to come.
Sharp-shinned Hawks were particularly impressive this September and it seems like this will be one of the highest Septembers in the years to come. 7 days tallied at least 100 Sharpies, with 4 of these days exceeding 200 Sharpies. Last year, only 2 days exceeded 100 Sharpies in September, with no days exceeding 200 Sharpies, let alone 130 Sharpies. However, last year sure seemed like a significantly slower than normal season for Sharpies, especially in September.
Non-raptors: The best bird(s) of the period were 4 Cackling Geese on the 27th. Next best were large numbers of Rusty Blackbirds.220 were recorded only 28th (along with 480 distant blackbirds which were probably mostly Rusties) and 320 were recorded on the 29th. Other highlights have included an increase in the numbers and frequency of waterfowl, including Mute Swans, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Redhead, and Red-breasted Mergansers, American Golden-Plovers, a Pectoral Sandpiper, 250 Blue Jays on the 28th, a Lapland Longspur, 15 Palm Warblers on the 28th, an Eastern Phoebe, and 120 Common Grackles on the 29th.
Monarchs:517 were tallied on the 28th. Only 1 individual was recorded in the other 3 days combined.
Best of the next 5 days: They truly are terrible at predicting the weather in the straits, particularly when it comes to raining or not on any given day. Having said that, Wednesday and Friday will be the best days if the forecasts remain true. Wednesday is harder to predict just how great it’ll be than Friday is, as the winds are stronger and there is a (supposed) higher chance (than Friday) of rain occurring. Nonetheless, it should be an excellent day, and could easily be one of the best of the season, particularly if the winds aren’t as strong as predicted, which frequently happens (currently steady 12-16 mph NE winds predicted). Current winds are coming all the way down from the Hudson Bay tomorrow, unlike Friday’s forecast, which may give Wednesday the edge, particularly for the first Rough-legged Hawk or Golden Eagle. If the current forecasts remain true for Friday (wind chill 35 degrees 9 AM, wind chill 47 degrees 2 PM, 7-8 mph north winds, 15-20% cloud cover all count period, 1% chance of rain, no fog, a similar forecast to the north of us in Sault Ste. Marie) then it is very very likely this day will tally over 1,000 raptors and be the best day or a top 3 day this season. Whether or not this is a huge day comes down to 3 raptor species-Turkey Vulture, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Red-tailed Hawk. Turkey Vultures are the easiest to analyze and there shouldn’t be any worry that Friday will be an amazing day for them. Sharp-shinned Hawks were in much lower numbers than anticipated on Saturday, which gives some pause as to whether or not this day will produce several hundred of them. However, I still think that they will move in great numbers. Likewise, Red-tailed Hawks moved in much smaller numbers than expected on Saturday, but that shouldn’t be the case on Friday. The amount of Red-tailed Hawks moving tomorrow (Wednesday) will give some indication as to how many potentially will come through on Friday. If Broad-winged Hawks have any large (for Pointe LaBarbe) numbers left it should occur on Friday. The first Rough-legged Hawk and Golden Eagle of the season should occur on this day as well (if they aren’t tallied on Wednesday first). Canada Goose, Sandhill Crane, Blue Jay, Rusty Blackbird, and Common Grackles may have their seasonal peaks on this day as well. Hopefully this forecast will remain true, and we’ll be in for quite the spectacle.
I suspected that Saturday night would bring a big push, as conditions were optimized for migration relative to these past warm and windy nights; at last, a night with temperatures dropping into the crisp 40’s and a gentle wind blowing from the north.
Instead, the most productive night of the season occurred on Wednesday, the 25th, with three owls. Since then, it’s been just a wee smattering of an owl or two each night, bringing our current total to eight owls.
Apparently, it’s been rather slow for other stations in the great lakes region. I wonder if the saw-whets are biding their time at a stop-over site somewhere, fueling up on prey items. Or have they hardly budged from their breeding grounds?
Monitoring movement trends over time is why dedicated biologists run banding stations. I look forward to learning more as fall migration unfolds.
Raptors:The last week has been excellent, with more than 2,000 raptors moving through. In fact, this week alone nearly tallied (46%) half of all the raptors recorded this season. We are now significantly ahead of last year’s pace with more than 1,000 raptors tallied than this date last year in the season. Compared to last year through this date, significantly more Sharp-shinned Hawks (1,886 vs. 1,213) and Broad-winged Hawks (860 vs. 475) have been tallied. In fact, we have didn’t reach or exceed today’s current seasonal Sharp-shinned Hawk total (1,886) until October 9th (13 days later) last year! The only species not ahead of last year’s pace is Turkey Vulture (923 last year through today vs 760 this year). However, they are expected to significantly pick up very soon.
September 20th:243 raptors of 8 species were tallied.Sharp-shinned Hawks (172) had another nice day and American Kestrels (23) had their best day of the season at the time.
September 21st: A total of 515 individuals comprised of 10 species resulted in the best day of the season at the time. Sharp-shinned Hawks busted out of the gate 20 minutes into the count and didn’t start slowing down until 3:00. An incredible 341 birds were recorded. This tied or exceeded every single previous DAY total but one! This was over 100 more Sharpies than last year’s peak of 217 birds. American Kestrels also had their best day of the season so far, with 25 birds. Likewise, Red-tailed Hawks had their first double-digit day of the season in the form of ten birds. The second Red-shouldered Hawk of the season was tallied as well.
September 22nd:Rain and thunderstorms occurred during most of the count period resulting in only 1 Sharpie and 2 Kestrels being tallied.
September 23rd: Another day with a lot of rain resulted in only 64 raptors being tallied. Most notable was a Peregrine Falcon.
September 24th: Ed and Steve filled in for the count resulting in another record-breaking Broad-winged Hawk count, with 169 birds recorded. Red-tailed Hawkshad a rather early push, with 50 birds recorded. This is nearly 3 times the previous September high for Red-taileds (18 on September 22nd, 2018). 66 Turkey Vultures was one of the better days this season.
September 25th: The day was among those that had the strongest sustained winds for the season (~15 mph). This resulted in fewer raptors, but amazing views of them low. 141 birds of 9 species were recorded. Northern Harrier (6) and Peregrine Falcon (4) had new seasonal highs at the time. Twenty-two Kestrels was another very strong day for them.
September 26th:The best day of the season so far in nearly all aspects.711 raptors of 11 species were the highest number and diversity so far this season. Broad-winged Hawks was perhaps the star of the day, with another record-breaking count of 252 birds. At onepoint there was 118 birds in two connecting kettles that quickly disappeared into the low clouds. From the start of the count Vultures and Broad-wingeds would briefly kettle up far in the east (blown by the moderately strong west winds) and then stream south. This continued throughout most of the day, especially with Vultures. In fact, all but two of the new seasonal high count of 121 Turkey Vultures crossed the straits today. Northern Harrier (7) and Peregrine Falcon (5) had their best day of the season, while Osprey (3) had their 2nd best day. Bald Eagles (38) had their best count in nearly two weeks. The third Red-shouldered Hawk of the season was recorded as well. In addition to raptors, 188 Canada Goose, 376 Sandhill Cranes, and 745 Monarchs were recorded. It was a day for everything, and it was nice to be able to experience it with our largest group of people this season. Thanks to everyone with their help spotting and counting!
Non-raptors: Highlights have included an increase in waterfowl, including Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, American Black Duck, Redhead, Scaup, and Red-breasted Mergansers, Black-bellied Plover, American Golden-Plovers, a peak of 18 Common Loons, a peak of 94 Blue Jays, a peak of 19 American Crows, a peak of 62 American Pipits, Savannah Sparrows, a peak of 69 American Goldfinches, and Common Grackles. Canada Goose had their best day on the 23rd, with 826 birds. Sandhill Cranes peaked (during the period) on the 26th, with 376 individuals.
Monarchs: Monarchs have continued to remain in excellent numbers. Most notable were 1,011 on the 23rd, 745 on the 26th, and 512 on the 20th.
Best of the next 5 days: It looks like we’ll be in for some excellent days in the very near future, as well as beyond that. All forecasts currently point to Saturday as being the best day during the period, probably one of the best days of the season, and possibly the best day of the season. The set-up for this is rather nice as it should rain throughout the afternoon on Friday, and then 2, possibly 3, days of rain/thunderstorms on Sunday, Monday, and possibly Tuesday. Saturday has the ideal moderate northerly winds, a drop in temperature to start the day (though no longer as steep as originally predicted), and partly cloudy skies. Sunday should be excellent as well, and there is a small, but decent chance that this could be the better day. The drop in temperature is more significant, as is the high for the day, but some forecasts are predicting strong easterly winds, picking up around noon. Each time I look at Sunday’s forecast though, the northerly winds from Saturday extend further and further into Sunday, suggesting there’s a chance they will extend into Sunday much later than currently predicted; thus, the chance Sunday could possibly be better. Monday and Tuesday have consistently shown Thunderstorms for these days, so little should move on these days. Wednesday shows less and less chance of rain each time I look at it, currently having a 25-35% chance of rain. If it doesn’t end up raining, Wednesday could be the best day of the period, as it follows two days of rainy weather, has northerly winds throughout the day, and has lower temperatures to start as well as a lower high for the day. Regardless of which day (Saturday, Sunday, or Wednesday), there should be hundreds to possibly over 1,000 raptors moving each day, along with hundreds to thousands of Geese and Cranes during the period. Beyond that, Thursday and Friday both are predicted to have northerly winds, colder weather, no rain, and currently look like amazing days as well. After having a lack of most of day/all-day northerly winds since September 4th (and what will be 24 days ago), we are now (potentially) in for a plethora of them during the absolute best time for overall numbers and diversity. We have already been having amazing days without northerly winds, and multiple 1,000+ raptor days may be headed our way over the next 8 days.
It’s usually hard to predict what numbers of each raptor species will show up, and perhaps even foolish to do so, but they’re fun to do. So, assuming the forecast remains true for Saturday here are some attempts at predicting numbers and should only be used as general guidelines, not set in stone.
Turkey Vulture: 200-800, Osprey: a few, Bald Eagle: arguably the biggest unknown, but perhaps 10-50 birds, Northern Harrier: 4-12, Sharp-shinned Hawk: 200-500, Cooper’s Hawk: a few, Northern Goshawk/Rough-legged Hawk/Golden Eagle: 1 or 2 birds of each is possible, but hard to say which of the 3 species will come through, Red-shouldered Hawk: 3-15, Broad-winged Hawk: 30-250, Red-tailed Hawk: 40-250, American Kestrel: 10-40, Merlin: several, Peregrine Falcon: 5-15, Canada Goose: 500-2,500, Sandhill Crane: 500-3,000
I am happy to introduce our first netted critter of the season: an eastern whip-poor-will, met Monday night.
This one hatched this spring, indicated by its set of juvenile flight feathers and wide buffy tinge to tail. I found it at the net array where the saw-whet owl audio lure is place – I wonder if the nightjar was attracted to the call as well, or just happened to amble along into the net by happenstance.
I must take a moment to profess my profuse adoration for nightjars, goatsuckers, frogmouths, nighthawks and the myriads of quirky common names.
Anyway, without further delay, I am also happy to introduce our first saw-whet owl, a girthy female (102 grams, an excellent weight) who also hatched this spring and is undertaking her first migration.
Alas, these are the only two captured avians to report as of late. I believe migration is delayed this season due to the balmy weather, but perhaps a few more owls and friends will trickle into the station before cold fronts come and migration can start in earnest.
Last fall, there was speculation that it was a poor reproductive year because of regional population crashes of the red vole, which is a major prey resource for small owls. However, last night I encountered a small good omen:
I hope to see a higher proportion of healthy young owls stream down through the Straits.
September 20th was the first night of my second season running the MSRW owl banding station. I am very glad to share what I see and hear here at Point la Barbe until the fall migration season comes to a close on November 10th.
That said, it was an owl-less night. Dropping temeratures caused the 100% humidity index to descend upon the land as a soupy mist. This sort of weather is not ideal to the travelling saw-whet owl, who must take great care to prevent its poorly water resistant feathers from getting soaked. I got drenched just wading through some tall grass and juniper.
This afternoon I woke up to Ed preparing the diurnal raptor luring station, which was a nice surprise. A few hours of sweltering in the blind later, we were treated with 7 female sharp-shinned hawks and 1 red-tailed hawk.
There are lots of things to look forward to this autumn, such as mushroom and berry hunting, monarch butterfly tagging, ogling at hawks, and of course the owls. Perhaps even milking goats if Ed and Anne will indulge me.
Storms are forecasted for the weekend, but maybe there will be opportunity to open the owl nets in between intermittent showers.
Raptors: As expected, raptors have picked up significantly. In fact, they’ve been better than expected. After taking 26 days to tally the 1,000th raptor of the season (on September 14th), it was only 3 days later (September 17th), when the 2,000th raptor was tallied. Two days tallied over 300 raptors during the period, and there now have been three days this season that would’ve been 3 of the top 10 daily raptor totals last season. Every top 10 raptor day last year occurred between September 22nd and October 22nd, suggesting we’re in for an excellent season if the weather cooperates. Despite these great days, we are only slightly ahead of last year’s raptor total through this date (2,395 vs 2,287 raptors).
September 15th:255 raptors comprised of 6 species were tallied. Sharpies (136) and Turkey Vultures (84) had a nice day, and the 26 Bald Eagles tallied was good as well.
September 16th: The heaviest fog of the season, combined with a drizzle/mist hampered the count. Only 66 raptors were tallied, most notable of which, were 33 Sharp-shinned Hawks.
September 17th:325 raptors of 9 species resulted in the second best day of the season (at the time) in terms of total number of raptors and number of species. Broad-winged Hawks had an excellent day (for Pointe LaBarbe in fall). A total of 166 Broad-wingeds were tallied, nearly tripling the previous best day ever for them in fall (previous high 63). Of the 166 recorded, 112 crossed the straits. Sharpies had another strong day, with 114 birds, but no other species moved in notable numbers.
September 18th:The best day of the period and 2nd best of the season. 341 raptors of 9 species were observed. Sharp-shinned Hawks (217) had another amazing day and their current best day of the season. Broad-winged Hawks (62), Red-tailed Hawks (4), and American Kestrels (16) all had their 2nd best days of the season. Twenty-seven Bald Eagles was another solid day as well.
September 19th: There was a light rain until 10:30 and the raptors just never picked up. Only 47 birds were recorded. Sharp-shinned Hawks (33) and American Kestrels (9) made up the majority of the flight.
Non-raptors: The best bird of the period was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on the 18th. The best day for geese was on the 17th, with 48 birds. Lots of warblers were flitting around overhead on the days with heavy fog. Waterfowl, Blue Jays, Pipits, and Goldfinches have all increased during the period.
September 16th-Most notable were Northern Shoveler (15), American Wigeon (12), American Golden-Plover (1), European Starling (9), and American Goldfinch (54).
September 17th-Highlights included American Golden-Plover (2), Solitary Sandpiper (1), Eastern Phoebe (1), Blue Jay (12), American Pipit (25), and American Goldfinch (76).
September 18th-Best of the day was Semipalmated Plover (1), Great Egret (1), Pileated Woodpecker (2), Blue Jay (78), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1), and American Goldfinch (76).
September 19th-Highlights included Blue-winged Teal (80), Lesser Yellowlegs (2), American Pipit (60), and Bobolink (9).
Monarchs:An amazing, and unexpected, 668 were tallied on the 17th. Another unexpected 278 were tallied on the 18th. These should be the last great days of the season.
Other:Hawkcount.orghas been having some issues lately, particularly with the monthly format, but daily raptor totals can still be seen under the homepage.
Best of the next 5 days: They’ve been terrible with predicting rain, but whatever days it doesn’t rain should be the best. Provided that’s the case, then Monday and especially Tuesday currently look best. Tomorrow (Friday) could be pretty solid as well.