Slower days at McGulpin

4/16: Decent morning count. Mild breeze out of the Southeast had things feeling almost springlike—despite the remaining foot or so of snow up against the cedars! A good array of species, but not that much apparent migratory movement. Six loons, a redhead pair, a male wood duck, and quite a few small flocks of white-winged scoters passed, but by the fourth hour nearly all movement was local, with a flock of 23-24 white-winged scoters giving me a counting headache by passing back and forth several times (fairly certain it was the same flock—conservatively counted as such).

Raptors, shorebirds, and passerines provided a bit more flavor, with two sharpies and 28 turkey vultures headed north, another great egret (headed North towards the colony on the Mackinac County shore, and cheap beer lyrics websites greater yellowlegs (FOY) heard calling overhead as it made the journey across the straits. A local merlin was present, as well as about 30 redpolls, two flickers, and three more meadowlarks, though none of these appeared to make the journey across.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55018168

Trails End Bay was free of ice by evening, and hosted good numbers of common mergs (27) and buffleheads (54), as well as two great-blue herons. The highlight of the night came when I spotted two green-winged teal pairs (FOY for Emmet County, first since I saw a pair back in March at Cheboygan SP) loafing with some mallards at the marsh edge. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55037526

Sunset No. 4, Trails End Bay

Woodcock are finally around in good numbers: not only was the local male peenting again at Trails End Bay, but on the way home I had one sky-dance over the car near Headlands Park, and two more peenting next to I-75. Hopefully lots more on the way!

Waxing gibbous, Trails End Bay

4/17: Foggy morning had movement essentially down to zero, though there was a brief period around mid-morning where the sky cleared and activity picked up a little bit. Very few waterfowl in general, with only a Canada goose flock, five long-tails, and a mallard pair likely migrating (plus the usual local movements of mergs). Raptors appeared in good numbers during the brief clear spell, with two sharpies, a turkey vulture, and six red-tails kettling and flying East, a likely dark-morph rough-leg headed North just before, and a peregrine and another sharpie in earlier clear moments.

Herring gulls, McGulpin Point

Finally got the Dunkadoo program working, so full hour-by-hour numbers for all counts thus far should be available!

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55053185

The evening count again hosted large numbers of buffleheads, which appear to be using this bay as a staging ground. Max count at one time was 30 males, 29 females, but another 10 or 20 at least were probably in the area. Waterfowl life otherwise unremarkable, but had a good raptor evening, with five harriers (3f2m), two osprey, and three turkey vultures headed East. All three female harriers flew close to shore, even over the remaining ice, while the males flew further out and beelined for the Headlands. Both osprey paused to hover during their flight, and a third was seen hovering earlier but not tracked for a flight direction (though it likely went East). Two more tree swallows, this time flying East.

Female Harrier, Trails End Bay

The local balds were terrorizing the ducks as usual, with a 1cy, a 2cy, and an adult all seen several times. At one point the adult was carrying several strands of plant matter off to the West towards Cecil Bay—likely nest lining. 

By 7:00 the rain had begun, and I called the count at 7:25 once it started coming down more heavily, as the birds had essentially stopped moving around, and most were hunkered or feeding within a small area. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55071953

Sunset No. 5, Trails End Bay

April 17

Today at Darrow’s there were 2651 Red-tails today with one immature Golden Eagle that flew right over head giving great looks also had 28 Rough-legged hawks . Day started out foggy but cleared in the afternoon opening the flood gates truely awesome.

Trails End Bay Open!

4/13: Well, apparently the birding powers-that-be heard yesterday’s lament that numbers were low, because today was a bumper day! Activity picked up just before sunrise, and waterfowl began to absolutely stream past. Red-breasted mergs and long-tails were by far the two most common ducks, with the mergs coming by within a mile in pairs or flocks of 5-10, and the long-tails 2 or more miles out, in groups typically of 3-5. Numbers were massive compared to those seen previously, with 208 red-breasted mergs in the first hour, with 513 by the end of the count at 11:35. Hour 1 was also the biggest for long-tails, with 171 (486 total by 11:35). 

Another remarkable sight was the massive influx of common loons, which have been seen sparsely until today. A breath-taking 247 of them came through over the morning, generally in small groups, but with a maximum group size of 8. I also noted 23 loon sp. that were either too far off to be definitive about, or had an intermediate impression, but no clear red-throated loons (early yet for these). 

Grebes were also present in their highest numbers yet, with 19 horned grebes, one red-necked grebe, and four unidentified. The horned grebes seemed either to be taking the leisurely route to migrating, or were struggling with the wind, for many ditched out and fished or loafed for ten or twenty minutes in front of where I was sitting before continuing on. Tried hard to avoid recounts with these in particular. Other waterfowl were relatively sparse, with just 19 white-winged scoters, a wigeon pair, 15 pintails, 7 mallards, and 4 Canada geese across the morning. 

Gull movement was limited, as was raptor and passerine movement. 9 turkey vultures circling above the UP and a single local merlin; and only crows and ravens seen (it was hard to hear passerines in the woods due to high winds). All in all a big, exciting morning, and certainly an exercise in endurance looking through the scope, which was essentially in action for all five hours straight.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54929028

The spectacle continued for the evening count, and the three stars from the morning kept up the show (they probably had been moving all day given apparently favorable winds). Numbers were smaller, but still notable: 117 long-tails, 61 red-breasted mergs, and 59 common loons. An additional 3 horned and 4 red-necked grebes passed, along with ten more pintails. 

Gull movement picked up around sunset, and was also almost entirely Westward. Several tight lines of 30-40 birds flew right above the surface; these appeared to be mostly ring-bills, while the higher, more separated flocks were primarily herring. Four immatures were seen: a 2cy ring-bill, 2cy and 1cy herrings, and a possible immature great black-backed gull, though views were poor.

First woolly bear caterpillar of Spring on the road today!

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54938600

4/14: Slow morning. Moderate breeze from ENE, but surprisingly almost nothing was migrating. Had four loons fly over (all headed West, this time with the wind), five white-winged scoters, and ten cormorants (though these may have been local birds). Around 90 long-tails were seen in flight near St. Helena, but they were simply milling about, and didn’t seem to be making a foray in either direction (likely in flight from an eagle spook). Passerines were slow, and raptors were all moving South, aside from a single intrepid female harrier. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54953769

For the evening count, I headed to Trails End Bay Marsh, as I noticed on my bike ride that it had finally melted out! Limited waterfowl movement here, but a good number of ducks on the water, with common and red-breasted mergs, buffleheads, goldeneyes, mallards, mute swans, and Canada geese in good numbers, as well as a single pintail and black duck. Several flew West near the end of the count, but this seemed to be in response to an eagle flyover. 

Some interesting non-ducks, though: a great blue heron headed North from the shore, three tree swallows (FOY) headed West towards Wilderness SP, a singing winter wren (FOY), and a male woodcock, first peenting across the road, then giving five sky-dances right above the count location. Got a pretty good recording of a full dance, and am looking forward to more as the season progresses, as across the road from the marsh is absolutely ideal habitat: a dense thickety maple swamp with scattered open patches and standing water. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54966991

Sunset, Trails End Bay
Tamarack/Maple Swamp, Trails End Bay

4/15: Super slow morning. Breezy directly from the North, and shifting to the Northwest over the morning, warming to about 40°F. Almost nothing was moving, apart from three loons and 8 white-winged scoters.

About 30 crows headed North, along with a male harrier, but no other movement across among non-waterbirds. FOY cedar waxwing heard overhead.

eBird List: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54989124

The evening count was hampered by the return of ice cover to much of the bay, as the North winds had blown down the remaining large sheet. Still, one surprise turned up: a hunting osprey (FOY!) came cruising in from the East, and was later seen carrying a fish off to the South.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S55004146

Sunset No. 2, Trails End Bay

Duckinaw City: winds bring big species total

4/11: Startled up a woodcock upon driving in—county bird!

Strong East-Southeast wind throughout the morning, which hovered around freezing. Bitter day, with depressed waterfowl migration probably due to wind and variable ice cover in the straits (at times around 50% as sheets were blown in). A few nice birds, though: another loon, all 14 cormorants from yesterday (once again out near St. Helena), and a single male pintail, all by himself, flying East. Gulls were getting absolutely battered in the air, but were moving throughout, with primarily almost-out-of-control Westward flights for the first three hours, transitioning to dogged Eastward flights by the fifth hour. Cut off counting around 11 to avoid recounts as some early fliers may have been out on fishing/foraging trips from the colony.

Passerines and raptors made limited flight attempts, though five starlings, some unid’ed passerines (likely red-wings), a rough-leg, and a female harrier making the trek across.

Headed out hopeful for an evening count around 4, but while running at the Headlands, a wicked blizzard kicked up, and by the time 5:30 rolled around I was limping the drive home through near-white-out conditions. Snow cleared around 7, but with lots of material still on the road, buffeting winds, and potential for more precip on the way, I decided to call the evening count. Hopefully the roads are clear tomorrow!

List: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54844444

Sunrise, McGulpin Point.

4/12: Absolute bumper day! Big winter storm last night left the roads still a mess in the morning, but the wind had cleared much of the ice from around Mcgulpin, and had whipped up some wild seas. Wasn’t sure what to expect given the strength of the wind, but lots of waterfowl were moving! Most numbers weren’t particularly notable, but species diversity was high. Among dabblers/pond ducks, there were 21 mallards, 6 black ducks, 10 pintails, two pairs of wigeon (FOY for the point), a pair of gadwall (FOY), and a single wood duck, all headed due East into the wind. 

Aythya were moving too, with 3 ring-necks (all male), 3 greater scaup (two males), and 3 redheads, plus another 35 that couldn’t be identified to species due to distance or height in the clouds (though most were probably redheads). Goldeneye and mergs were present in the usual numbers, though the goldeneye were moving almost entirely East, so they registered a high count of 24. Buffleheads came through in big numbers as well (also nearly all headed East), with 47 total birds.

Loons and grebes are here, too: a single horned grebe (FOY) was seen feeding just offshore, and a total of 13 loons passed (5 definite commons, 2 probable commons, and 6 possible red-throats, though these were about 4 miles off and impossible to be definitive about).

I’m beginning to suspect that ice cover has a huge effect on bird passage, as on previous days the arrival of large sheets of ice in the straits has seemed to immediately depress migration. This effect appears to be independent of wind speed (aside from the fact that strong windy days can blow more ice into the channel), as birds have been absent on previous strong windy days, but were very present today. Hoping I’ve been keeping track of this variable enough to use it in my final report.

As further anecdotal evidence for this hypothesis, today a long finger of an ice sheet was reaching out in a Northwesterly direction from the direction of Mackinaw City, and this repeatedly appeared to act as a “funnel,” as birds (especially Aythya sp., dabblers, and buffleheads) would come in from the West about a mile out, and gradually work their way right along the ice edge to pass close to shore. This apparent aversion to ice on the water would certainly make adaptive sense, as flying over a solid surface would make ditching to avoid an eagle attack essentially impossible (have yet to witness a successful eagle kill, but several are on the hunt every day). Curiously, the mergansers seem to be the exception to this rule, perhaps due to their stronger, faster flight. 

In any case, besides waterbirds, it was a quiet morning. A single rough-leg (which looked a lot like the one seen yesterday) was seen headed Southeast, gulls were moving steadily East, and the robins appear to have gotten cold feet, as at least 120 came flying South from the UP to land on McGulpin Point! 

An interesting incident after one flock passed: I heard agitated robin calls from somewhere towards the ice, but only saw a crow investigating a small crevasse between two bergs. The crow began reaching into the space, but hopped out quickly, somewhat ruffled. A robin proceeded to scream out of the crevasse and into the trees—unsure if it was looking for a drink, or perhaps became disoriented after the crossing. Either way, it had enough spirit left to avoid making a meal for a crow!

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54866604

A very cold moth sp.

The remarkable run of waterfowl diversity continued for the evening count, where the winds had shifted dramatically, and almost all birds were now, accordingly, flying West. 

An early pair of blue-winged teal (FOY) zipped by with a merg just after I arrived, followed by a male pintail, a wood duck pair, a wigeon pair, six redheads (plus 17 probable redheads), a male lesser scaup (FOY), also flying with a lone merg, a couple white-winged scoters, 10 long-tails, and 8 shovelers (FOY for point) right at sunset. Buffleheads and goldeneyes were weirdly absent, but red-breasted mergs picked up the slack, with strong Westward movements. Loons moved too, with 5 commons and two probable commons headed West. 

Limited gull movement, and almost nonexistent passerines. A single great blue heron heading West rounded out the night. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54886250

Total waterbird species on the day: 21

April 10

1672 Red-tailed Hawks and 8 Golden eagles and also 32 Rough-legged Hawks were seen.The first Broad-winged and Peregrine came thru. 7136 Hawks were seen so far this season.

Passerines steal the show at Waterbird Count

Birch Branch in the Early Morning

4/9: Decent day. Fog continuing in the morning, but it lifted for a couple brief periods and activity  picked up. Aythya ducks were on the move, with several flocks of greater scaup and redhead flying both East and West, as well as some more distant unidentified flocks. Some flocks of white-winged scoters and a couple mallard and wood duck pairs were also moving, plus the usual array of mergs and goldeneyes. Passerines were present in large numbers, with several dozen red-wings, robins, grackles, and redpolls seen overhead (plus two snow buntings), but none were making the trip North. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54762534

Fog had cleared by evening, but the rising wind had driven a large ice sheet into the channel, and movements were basically nonexistent, aside from some far-distant (>5 mi) Aythya and merganser flocks. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54817914

Male Red-breasted Merganser in the Fog

  4/10: A bitter but productive morning! Passerines were abundant and moving strongly Northward in the first two hours, with 5 flickers, 138 robins, 9 starlings, 30 red-wings, 20 grackles, 27 redpolls, and 6 meadowlarks (FOY for the point!) heading across the straits. Most seemed to be towering as high as they could before making the journey, though the flickers and meadowlarks were more direct, and burst straight from the trees towards the opposite shore. Crows and ravens were also moving North (though some crows were coming South as well), and an even more diverse assortment of songbirds was present in and above the near-shore trees, with three bluebirds, a golden-crowned kinglet, a junco, and a song sparrow heard near in flight, six more meadowlarks perched in an aspen (one singing), and a pair of Eastern phoebe (FOY) seen near the end of my watch (one singing). 

Waterbird diversity was down, as a large mass of ice chunks covered about 90% of the near waters for most of my time, only starting to break up and reveal a wider channel near the UP by mid-morning as the sun loosened the blocks.Notable highlights were a flock of 8 white-winged scoters, four sandhill cranes, and 14 double-crested cormorants (FOY), flying in from the East to land near St. Helena Island (with some departing back towards the UP).

Right near the end of the morning, a steady stream of raptors was picking up, with a turkey vulture, 12 red-tails, and a peregrine falcon (FOY) making the trip across, as well as a local merlin and three local bald eagles. Seen early as well was the local coyote, which this time trotted right past me—maybe 15 feet away, without noticing I was there!

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54803847

Eastern Meadowlark at McGulpin Pt.

Evening was very quiet, with only a few Aythya flocks moving right at the start of the count. The mass of ice chunks now filled 90% of the straits, and covered the water’s surface for about a 2-3 mile radius out from the McGulpin shoreline. Heat shimmer and increasing haze/fog made for difficult viewing beyond the ice edge, but I counted through a milling group of 173 red-breasted mergansers—the high count on the season so far! 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54817201

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

Ducks in the Fog

4/6: Morning began in dense fog, and provided essentially a study in waterbirding by ear: a large raft of long-tails was calling, goldeneye could be heard in flight, common merg males were giving their breeding grunts, and a FOY male loon was calling, though his yodel call was repeatedly cut short. Visibility improved shortly, to at least the point where birds could be ID’ed within a half-mile or so of the shore, and waterfowl moved steadily through the morning: Leonard and I recorded a redhead pair, a wood duck pair, 6 black ducks, 46 mallards (the most common duck on the day), a pair of hooded mergs, 6 greater scaup, and decent numbers of goldeneye and the other two merg species, though most of these were loafing or flying locally. 

Two nice surprises: a group of three flyby loons to add to the present caller, and a group of 18 white-winged scoters right near the end of the count—a FOY for the point. A distantly calling killdeer as well.

A mammalian surprise as well, as a lone coyote was trotting purposefully East along the coast around 9:30 AM, stopping about 200’ short of us when it noticed we were there, and abruptly heading back towards the Headlands.

Passerines were not moving in substantial numbers, with crows and ravens the only ones braving the straits. Robins, and mixed blackbird flocks milled about the point, with a bluebird calling as well. 

Around 4:30 I drove to the point for a bike ride, and the water was still just visible, but on my return at 5:30, the fog had returned, and was so dense that I couldn’t see 50 feet offshore beyond the ice edge. To make matters worse, a rain started to pick up, and with a quick check of the radar I found it was only going to worsen, and last until after sunset, so I made the call to cancel the evening count. Data entry night!

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54637115

Fog obscures the bridge

4/7: A day of strong East winds, with a Southerly inclination, which brought decent numbers of waterfowl, ample helpings of passerines and waders, and an army of raptors (more on these later—see Kevin’s Hawkwatch list).

Morning: The morning started foggy again, but visibility was better than yesterday, and the fog lifted in spells as each bank was blown West by the strong winds. The first of these spells, around the second hour of the count, was the most productive, but waterfowl continued through steadily throughout the morning. Big numbers of geese (89), mallards (71), and unidentified ducks (62, +22 Aythya sp.), as a number of flocks were flying both high and distant, where fog made it difficult to pick up any field marks. Still, diversity was good, with redheads, long-tails, black ducks, and wood ducks passing through. Present, too, were the customary local groups of goldeneye, and red-breasted and common mergs, though there were strong Eastward movements of all three species in the early hours, so some are likely migrating.

More notable today were the non-waterfowl fliers:

Early shorebirds and waders were passing North, with two killdeer (plus two circling local birds), 11 sandhill cranes, and six great-blue herons (FOY!). I had first picked up on three of the herons as they flushed from their roost when I pulled in before dawn, and had seen another flying South into the trees about an hour before, this bird missing a primary.

Passerines were abundant, with several species making cross-strait flights in small numbers (crow, raven, robin, grackle, starling, and red-wing). A mixed blackbird flock at least 150 strong made several attempts at crossing, but still were reluctant. Heard and seen along the shoreline were a snow bunting, a bluebird, several flocks of golden-crowned kinglets (including a couple that may have come off the water), and a FOY flicker! 

Raptor numbers had yet to pick up, but we had three stunningly close fly-bys of male harriers, with each gray ghost practically posing in midair as it battled against the wind. Wish I’d had a camera. A female harrier, a couple local balds, and a local merlin rounded out this cohort for the morning.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54671713

Afternoon: After a quick noon stop at the hawk-watch, where birds were running like water, I decided to take an afternoon bike out along the coastal road to Wilderness SP, as Kevin had said the East wind was blowing raptors in this direction. Boy, was he right! Multiple species were present in droves, and at several points I was biking along with them clearly visible above, as the high winds and fog were forcing many birds low. 

Wilderness SP was the most productive segment of the journey, as in addition to five harriers, a rough-leg, a red-tail, two turkey vultures, and three merlins, I had 48 hoodies on the mill pond (males giving their bizarre growling breeding call), with mallards, a kingfisher, and a FOY muskrat.

Also, noted that the waterbird site at Trails End Bay Marsh has just begun to open up, as a running creek mouth has created a crack in the ice. Loafing here were several goose pairs, mallards, black ducks, common mergs, a mute swan pair, and a lone trumpeter swan.

Totals for the bike trip: 

Rough-legged hawk: 6 (light) 2 (dark) 2 (unknown)

Red-tailed hawk: 9

Red-shouldered hawk: 2

Bald Eagle: 5

Turkey Vulture: 140

Northern Harrier: 7

Sharp-shinned Hawk: 7

Cooper’s Hawk: 4

Merlin: 5

(Sandhill Crane): 30

eBird lists:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54679662

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54680321

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54698307

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54698359

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54698625

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54698701

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54698754

Evening: Quieter than the morning, though the raptor rush continued, with four rough-legs (two flying North over the channel), two North-flying harriers, a red-tail, and a merlin seen at the waterbird count. Three more sandhill cranes (also abundant in general today), and the biggest surprise of the day: an early great egret! Flew North first at 6:07, but oddly came back (it must have been the same bird) at 7:51. Perhaps the UP is a little too snowy still for this early bloomer. 

Waterfowl were comparatively few and far between, with most movements from stirring merg flocks as the local eagles passed overhead. 

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54699174

All in all, a big ‘ol’ unintentional Big Day in Emmet County: 51 species!

Evening at McGulpin

4/8: Slow day, as persistent fog through the morning kept visibility at about a quarter-mile maximum. A few harriers, a wood duck group, and a FOY sapsucker squealing upslope were the highlights.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54727261

Evening was similarly slow, though the fog had cleared, but was highlighted by the reappearance (surely) of yesterday’s great egret, which according to eBird is about 2 weeks early, heading North once more.

eBird list: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54734647

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

Straits are clear!

Greetings, all! Figured now that I’m starting official waterbird counts at McGulpin, I should briefly introduce myself: I’m Jonah, a 22-yo bird nerd from Maine, and am hoping to bring my love of the sea-watch to bear on a season of inland-sea-watches! Find me on eBird here: https://ebird.org/profile/NjMzOTUy/US-MEor on any morning or evening in person down at McGulpin!

4/3: Got a call from Steve just as I was leaving that the straits had opened up overnight! That they had, but winter was not giving up a fight: a 20-30 mph, sub-freezing wind kept up the whole morning, and by 11 had suppressed waterfowl movement by driving a large ice blockade back into the channel. Several near-whiteout snow flurries came through as well. Still, duck were flying despite the trying conditions. 

Long-tails, mallards, goldeneyes, and both red-breasted and common mergansers were moving in decent numbers, with three male redheads as well. Surprisingly, few mergansers were loafing, so many were likely migrants. Decent numbers of gulls, and a handful of local bald eagles rounded out the morning totals.

By the evening count, the wind had lessened some, but ice still covered most of the channel, so very few birds were moving. Large numbers of red-breasted mergs were now loafing. The only notable spectacle of the night was an extremely low flyover of a very dense group of turkey vultures—eighty-five in all!—as I arrived back at the car at 8:40 PM. Likely headed towards a night roost near the Headlands Park. 

eBird Lists:

Morning: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54520406

Evening: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54533803

McGulpin Sunset

4/4: Shifting winds overnight had moved out much of the new ice, but the channel remained mostly blocked for the first half of the morning. Consequently, waterfowl movements were limited. In the meantime, huge numbers of gulls were moving in the first few hours, collecting in an aggregation above a breeding colony site in numbers estimated at 1000 birds. Red-breasted mergs aggregated in impressive numbers, with over 50 males feeding and loafing by the time I left at noon.

Passerines, taking advantage of the limited winds, were moving in surprising numbers. The biggest by far were the robins, which could be heard calling throughout the dense cedar forest in the early morning hours, and began making forays in groups of 10-20 towards the UP, before typically deciding to turn around. Eventually, some passerine groups became more emboldened, with several flocks of redpolls, grackles, blackbirds, and robins making the trip. More notably, three starlings, two snow buntings, and an Eastern bluebird flew over, with an additional two starlings, another bluebird, and a pine siskin heard overhead flying parallel to the shore. Corvids were also moving, with both ravens and crows making the trip across the channel.

Noted raptors besides local eagles: 20 turkey vultures crossing and kettling again over the UP.

By evening, temps had dropped a bit, and the East wind had picked up, clearing the channel for more waterfowl flights. A bit more species diversity, but still mostly local movements of mergansers, especially after eagle flyovers. Crows were still moving across. 

By far the most interesting spectacle came 20 minutes after sunset, as I spotted a distant flock of at least 600 gulls, strung out in a dense fan. As they moved West, the shape of the fan shifted and bent, recalling the murmurations of a starling flock. Not sure if these were new birds, or a large portion of those that had milled about the colony area earlier today, but I lost sight of the flock way off West above Lake Michigan. 

eBird lists:

Morning: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54547042

Evening: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54569582

4/5: Another cold one! Light snow through the first half of the count, transitioning to light drizzle, and then big, flaky “Hallmark” snow. Good movement of mergansers, with large numbers loafing as well. Duck diversity was appreciable as well, with a small flock of buffleheads, three redheads, three black ducks, a ring-neck, and a long-tail, in addition to larger flocks of mallard and goldeneye. Movement overall tended West, though most ducks landed within close range and loafed for an hour or two before either continuing on or scattering in response to an eagle flyover. 

Single mute swan seen in flight (spotted by Leonard), then swimming East later on. Gull numbers down due to poor visibility, suboptimal flying conditions, and passerines minimal. Notably, crows were still flying across the straits, though all were headed South today, whereas all yesterday’s birds headed North. Locals?

The evening count was very quiet, as low clouds and fog settled over the channel. Some movement of mergansers, a sole mallard and black duck flock, two pairs of goldeneye, and a pair of geese were the only identifiable fliers.

Interestingly, large numbers of gulls were spotted flying West far along the horizon at sunset, for the second day in a row. By this time, visibility was much reduced by fog and low light, so I was only able to pick out ~30 birds against the cloudy backdrop (larger flights later would have been possible, as was the case yesterday). 

eBird lists:

Morning: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54601671

Evening: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54605818

Snow Flurries