Owl update: October 16 – 20

Tuesday night, October 16, saw quite a bit of action at the set with 8 unbanded owls, as well as a hatchyear female who was banded at Hilliardton, Ont.  It’s wonderful that this bird is so inclined to get caught, because it tells us a great deal about her stop-by-stop pathway as she heads south.

Also!  Take a look at the odd pupil distortion in this After Second Year saw whet.  Apparently it hasn’t hindered her any given her good condition and ripe old age!

I was able to open the nets every day except Thursday night, as I was stymied by high winds.  The weather still hasn’t been favorable, yet I’ve played with 2 owls every night so far and I’m certainly very happy about that!  Since Wednesday I caught 6 owls, with 4 of those being hatchyear birds.  I am glad to see more babies moving through.

Weather conditions look… OK for tonight.  Supposedly it’s going to be cloudy and calm later with a chance of owls, so we shall see about that.

Until next time,

-MH

Waterbird Count October 18th & 19th

Winter ducks are moving in.  The Long-tailed Duck numbers have been going up every day.  LTDU’s and scoters are passing McGulpin Point daily.  Also there has been an increase in Common Goldeneye & Buffleheads.  Highlights from the 18th include some Sanderlings, a total of 31 American Pipits that crossed the strait, and 7 Red-necked Grebes (I guess they’re not all done yet.)  On the 19th, the 1st Great Black-backed Gull of the season flew to the west, a 1st cycle individual.

Below are the complete lists via eBird…

10/18

10/19

Hello!

Executive Director, MSRW, Richard Couse

I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself. I am Richard Couse, the new, and first, Executive Director here at the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch. I’m incredibly humbled and honored to have the opportunity to advance MSRW’s mission to conduct scientific studies of hawks and owls and waterfowl migrating through this region of northern Michigan and educating the public about the birds and their migration.

As a lifelong lover of nature, the principles of responsible stewardship, ethical conservation and mindful leadership are tenets that I value highly. I see these tenets strongly reflected in the work MSRW has done in its few short years of operation. And now, there could not be a more exciting time to begin a journey as equally compelling as the journeys of the birds we seek to understand and protect.

A little about me, for years I worked in the field of Human Services advocating for troubled teens, first as a counselor, then as a grant writer and eventually as program coordinator. The one common thread I saw in all my work was that these children had no connection to nature. I worked to develop experiential outdoor programs and learned that nature had the power to heal broken lives.  This gave me a mission and I returned to school to attain my Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies. I focused on conservation biology, writing and photography and my work became about creating meaningful connections to nature through research, stewardship, education, and the arts.

It has been a rewarding career. Beginning in graduate school, I became interested in herpetology and conducted my own research on microhabitat preferences of lizards in the coastal region (Sea of Cortez) of the Sonoran Desert in Mexico. Using radio-telemetry, I also researched the spatial ecology of the Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) defining the differences in the daily movement patterns of male and female Eastern Hognose Snakes on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Over the past two years I have spent time  working with farmers in the Netherlands to alter when they harvest hay to help protect the Bar-tailed Godwit and other field nesting birds, and most recently I have worked with Conservación Panamá, focusing my attention on the Glow-throated Hummingbird (Selasphorus ardens), a Panamanian endangered endemic species with a declining population due to habitat loss. With a goal of creating the first conservation area for this species that is operated solely by native people, this research has far reaching implications for bird conservation and indigenous communities.

Presently, I couldn’t be any more excited than I am right now to be calling Northern Michigan my new home. The Mackinac Straits certainly deserves it’s designation as an IBA (Important Bird Area). There are thousands of birds who use this flyway to return to and from home every year, and it is a wonderful and iconic place to observe this natural phenomenon! On any given day in the spring or fall, one will see Golden Eagles soaring, Peregrine Falcons gliding, and Sharp-shinned Hawks powering their way across the Straits, and to sum it up in one word, it is – Magical.

I am lucky to be joining a dedicated team and an inspiring community. I am excited to get to know the places, meet the people and explore the challenges that can make a true difference and to show that these birds are worth protecting. Your support has been crucial to MSRW’s growth and success, and as we set forward into new era of leadership your support is even more important to us. Please keep us in mind during your year-end giving, either by check to P.O. Box 465, Petoskey, MI 49770 or by clicking http://usinc.org/donations/.

I sincerely welcome you along for what will be a very engaging and fulfilling journey. I look forward to watching the skies with you.

Richard (Rich) Couse

Executive Director, MSRW

Rcouse.msrw@gmail.com

Hawk Count-October 15th-19th

Hail on the 15th

Snow on the 17th

The weather has continued to be rather neat and interesting for October, but not very conducive for raptor migration.  Despite these adverse conditions, raptors have still been attempting to migrate through the straits.

buy Depakote tablets online On the 15th there was rain until 11:45.  From 11:45 until 12:45 there was no form of precipitation, and this was when the raptors pushed through for the day.  After 12:45 there was more rain which transitioned into sleet, then snow, and finally hail.  is nolvadex cheap A total of 186 raptors for the day was rather good considering all the weather, with highlights being  buy Lyrica 150 mg 90 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 41 Red-tailed Hawks,  a Broad-winged Hawk, and a Golden Eagle.

Hail on the 15th

On the 16th there was on and off rain until 12:45 and winds steady at 20 mph out of the SW to WSW, gusting to 30 mph throughout the day.  Only 4 raptors were tallied, but of these were Northern Harriers.

On the 17th there was snow and sleet squalls throughout the day, lasting up to 30 minutes at a time.  Fortunately there were NW winds all day, which led to 127 raptors tallied.  Eleven Red-shouldereds was the most so far this season and another Rough-legged Hawk flew by.

Red-shouldered Hawk

The first legit snow of the season on the 17th

The 18th saw strong SW winds all day, increasing in strength nearly every hour or two.  It was the first sunny day, that remained sunny, in over a month!  In fact, the last time we had this much sun was on September 17th!  This led to a rather nice movement despite a wind direction raptors had to work against.  In fact, they chose to go during the middle of the day, rather than the less windy, earlier part of the day.  From 12 until 2 contained the bulk of the flight, with most Red-tailed Hawks flying across the straits in steady 15 mph SW winds and still regularly crossing in steady 17 mph winds that were gusting to 25 mph.  It seemed as if the steady 18-20+ mph mark was when they stopped crossing into the SW wind.  Many still got to the lake but subsequently turned around and headed north or lingered around.  At one point there was even a distant kettle of 45 Red-tailed Hawks to the northeast, with an additional 17 in view at the same time.  So 148 of the 210 Red-tailed Hawks crossed the straits into a strong headwind.  This was incredibly surprising and unexpected to see.  Red-tailed Hawks prefer not to cross large bodies of water and yet they did so in some of the most unfavorable winds.  It was definitely the most unfavorable conditions I’ve ever seen Red-tailed Hawks cross anywhere.  From 1:00 onward, winds were steady at 18-25 mph and gusting 25-33 mph.

A total of 357 raptors were tallied for the day including 109 Turkey Vultures, 4 Red-shouldered Hawks, 4 Rough-legged Hawks, a “dark morph” Red-tailed Hawk, and a Golden Eagle.

Red-tailed Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

Golden Eagle

Today, the 19th, saw SW winds steady at 20-26 mph, gusting to 39 mph, with rain from around noon onward.  Just 3 Sharpies were tallied.

Tomorrow may finally be the last day of this long stretch of strong winds.  As a plus it’s out of the NW so it might be rather productive, particularly for later season migrants.  After tomorrow no precipitation is currently in sight, and winds are forecast to be less than 15 mph for the near and long future.  With weather becoming “normal” again, we should start seeing raptors in average numbers again (hundreds).  The forecasts change hour to hour here more than anywhere I’ve ever been, but if the forecasts are correct, then Tuesday looks very promising.  If it stays that way (moderate NW winds) a 750+ raptor day is probable.

Waterbird Count updates.

Numbers of ducks especially Scoters and Mergansers are on the rise.  Today in particular with the strong northwest wind, 1040 ducks were counted.  Of those, 418 were Red-breasted Mergansers, 97 Redhead, 106 White-winged Scoters, 1 for sure Black Scoter, & 39 Surf/Black Scoters.  Other recent highlights include a Bonaparte’s Gull on 10/11, a Long-tailed Duck on 10/12, an American Black Duck on the 12th & 16th, and a flock of 19 Northern Pintail on the 16th.

Today & yesterday there was a Red-necked Grebe that just sat on the water all day within fairly close distance to the beach.  Northern Harriers have been crossing the strait more frequently in the past week, 5 were counted today.  A noteworthy passerine observation was a Snow Bunting that flew across the strait today.

Based on the current weather predictions, Saturday and Sunday look like they will probably be the best days for birds on the move for the rest of this week.

Below are the recent lists via eBird…

10/11

10/12

10/16

10/17

Owl update: October 13 – 15

On the night of the 13th, our fellow owl banding neighbors from Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, Ceeanna and Tori, joined Ed and me for an evening around the fire.  As has been the trend this week, it was super windy; yet, throughout the night, the nets yielded 6 unbanded saw whet owls.  Half of these were birds hatched this year, so hip hip hooray for babies moving out on their first migration!

I’m trying to improve my artistic photography skills by modeling the bird in front of a blanket.

And then the night of the 14th came!  I was so stoked to meet some new birds, send them on their way equipped with a unique band — wee fluffy stewards of migration science!  But then???!!!!  Rain.  I didn’t set the nets this night.

It was clear earlier in the day that I wouldn’t be able to operate the station, so I instead spent the extra free time visiting my peers at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory.  The Point itself is a fun spot and totally brimming with birders pursuing birds in defiance of the blustery conditions.

Speaking of, our most recent recaptured bird (see previous blog post) was banded at Whitefish Point last spring.  Another saw whet showing migration route fidelity to the Straits.

Last night I tried opening again even though the winds were going crazy and making the nets flap like Marilyn Monroe’s famous flying skirt… somehow I caught 2 second year female saw whets, before closing early at 5 am.  The winds had shifted to the southwest, straight into my trio of nets and it was just a ridiculous wind tunnel.

I would like to conclude this post with a piece of special artwork (via photo reference) submitted by my friend Alma Schrage, who is currently part of the raptor banding project at the Cape May Bird Observatory.

“Fluff of the woods”, by Alma Schrage. A juvenile California spotted owl clad in down.

Prior to arriving in Michigan for this owl banding project, I monitored California spotted owls in the northern Sierra Nevada region.  My supervisor and I banded this young spotted owl this spring with a standard US Fish and Wildlife lock-on band, as well as a color band to help us recognize her should we encounter her again next year in the field.   Thanks Alma for the artwork!  I can’t deal with the excessive cuteness of the down poking out around her emerging facial disc.

Until next time,

–MH

Hawk Count-October 9th-14th

Afternoon Conditions on Friday, the 12th

The first half of October has continued to be plagued by bad weather for hawk migration.  On the 9th there was heavy fog till noon.  On the 10th there was heavy fog throughout the day and rain in the afternoon.  On the 11th there were steady 25 mph SW winds, frequently gusting to 35 mph, all day long.  On the 12th there was sleet throughout the day transitioning into rain late.  On the 12th and to start the 13th it has looked (and felt!) much more like November than October.  Temperatures have been around 10 degrees cooler than normal for this time of year.  Despite the weather, there have been some signs that birds are wanting to move, and the 12th-13th probably had what would be raptors in average numbers for Pt. LaBarbe at this date.

There’s not much to speak of from the 9th through the 11th apart from a nice pulse of Sharp-shinned Hawks on the 9th.  A total of 126 pushed through in just a few hours after the fog lifted.

The 12th and the 13th have been incredibly similar to one another, with the addition of a few more species on the 13th.  A total of 369 raptors were tallied on the 12th, and 361 raptors were tallied on the 13th.  The breakdown of these two days’ species totals are side-by-side below, with the 12th first and the 13th second.

Turkey Vulture: 216, 202

Bald Eagle: 5, 6

Northern Harrier: 4, 5

Sharp-shinned Hawk: 56, 33

Cooper’s Hawk: 3, 1

Northern Goshawk: 0, 1

Red-shouldered Hawk: 8, 8

Broad-winged Hawk: 4, 0

Red-tailed Hawk: 65, 99

American Kestrel: 2, 1

Merlin: 0, 1

Peregrine Falcon: 1, 1

 

Apart from some Turkey Vultures crossing early this morning, it was a surprisingly dead day.  It was a darker overcast day than normal, but no wind seemed like decent conditions.

Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks have remained consistent the past two days and in numbers probably close to normal for the time of year.  Sharp-shinned Hawks have tailed off, suggesting their triple digit days may now be over.  The pick up in Red-shouldered Hawks has been nice to see, as was the prolonged look at an adult Northern Goshawk yesterday.

This adult Northern Goshawk gave some uncharacteristically prolonged views for several minutes before flying south to Green Island and then crossing the straits

Red-shouldered Hawk

Non-raptors have been comprised of many of the same as the past few weeks.  There has been an increase in diversity and numbers of waterfowl streaming past.  Two-hundred Sandhill Cranes on the 12th was nice and pushed us over 3,000 for the season Eleven Snow Geese (including 7 blue morph) flew by on the 13th.  Large numbers of American Crows having been crossing, with nearly 1,500 in the past three days Blue Jays have been moving in good numbers again and their season total is nearly 5,000 now.

Over 1,000 American Crows have flown south in the past few days

The near future continues to look bleak for raptor migration.  Rain, snow, and many really windy days are all forecast for the upcoming week.  When this poor weather finally ends it may really bust open though, particularly with Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, and, if the weather is favorable sooner rather than later, Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Owl update: October 12

Greetings All,

On the night of the 12th, we once again had the pleasure of hosting a batch of wildlife techniques students from Sault College, but sadly the weather got fickle and slushy on us so we couldn’t open the nets.  Such is the tragic condition of weather-contingent field work, alas!   Regardless, I don’t think the snow-rain and lack of wee owls really dampened anyone’s enjoyment of the night, and much fun was had around the fire.

By 3 am I got to open the nets, and eventually caught 4 saw whet owls and 1 barred owl.

Mister 391. I admired his equanimity while I took measurements.

None of the saw whets were hatch years, which makes me concerned for the owl populations who tend to use the Straits for their migration routes.  Saw whets clutch between 3 and 7 eggs, meaning in a good baby year we would easily expect to see a 3:1 ratio of young birds to adult birds.

One of the saw whets was a foreign recapture, so as always – stay tuned as we uncover more tidbits about where this bird was originally banded!

Finally, I am delighted to share a special piece of artwork by MSRW Executive Director, Rich Couse.

“He captures well the quality of saw whet eyes that wobbles along the narrow edge of cute and the screaming abyss.” — critique by Alma Schrage, intern for Cape May Bird Observatory

Until next time,

-MH

Update on the waterbird count.

As we have now entered October some species have become more common now and others seem to have tapered off.  White-winged Scoters are now found almost daily and Horned Grebes are now pretty regular.  Scaup numbers have also gone up recently.  As far as passerines go, American Pipits now roam the beach daily and will often come in close for great looks.

October 2nd was the best raptor day of the season from the McGulpin side with over 700 individual raptors counted including a light morph Rough-legged Hawk.  On the same day the Sandhill Crane total was 1005 from McGulpin.

Some pictures from the past few weeks…

Turkey Vultures in flight in late September.

A morning rainbow on 9/26

Common Tern on 9/29

One of several American Pipits that have been seen lately.

Complete eBird lists are below.

9/28

9/29

10/1

10/2

10/3

10/4

10/5

10/6

10/7

10/8

10/9

10/10

Owl update: October 2 – October 7

This past week, the weather has been most dreary and unconducive to saw-whet movement. But movement does seem to be picking up, on the clear nights at least. For the last three nights of opening the nets, I’ve caught an average of 8 owls, which is great considering how slow the first two weeks have been.

On October 4, Ed, Rich, and I hosted a wildlife techniques class from Sault College, Ontario. Conditions were promising… it was nearing freezing, with a clear sky and mild winds… sure enough we totaled our standing best of the season, at 10 owls. It was so great to show the student how saw-whet owls vary in size and molt limit pattern.

As of now, we’ve banded 47 northern saw-whet owls, and caught 3 foreign recaptures. One long-eared owl and one barred owl have also graced us with their presence.

Until next time,

-MH