Fall Surveys

Hello all
Summer is almost gone and the fall bird migration is starting. We will be conducting our usual fall surveys for Waterbirds, diurnal Raptors and Owls.

The Waterbird count starts August 20 at McGulpin Point, outside Mackinaw City continuing till Nov. 10. This count is done for 8 hours starting at sunrise everyday, except with heavy rain (thunderstorms), fog, or snow.

The Hawk Count starts on August 25 at Point LaBarbe outside Saint Ignace and continues till Nov. 14. The count will be conducted everyday with good weather conditions, generally from 9 am till 4 pm.

The Owl surveys start Sept. 20 continuing through Nov. 10 also at Point LaBarbe. Owl work will be done every night with good weather. Because of the type of work involved, attendance at the Owl survey station requires prior permission, contact Ed Pike, edandanne6750@gmail.com about attending.

For the Waterbird Count and Hawk Watch you are welcome any day counts are taking place. Bring a chair and your binoculars (some loaners are available), and learn about the migra

Looking at Waterbirds at McGulpin Point

Waterbirds in flight

Migration at Pt. LaBarbe

Banding at Pt. LaBarbe

Hope to see everyone at the counts.

Banding Am. Kestrel chicks

Again this summer Ed Pike has been working with Little Traverse Conservancy (LTC), Arnie Pokorzynski, and a couple of individuals with Kestrel nesting boxes. We have been checking nest boxes and when the young are old enough, they are banded with USGS numbered bird bands. LTC has placed nest boxes on their properties in the Petoskey area; Arnie has placed nest boxes in the Alpena area; with a few nest boxes private individuals have placed in their area near Cheboygan and Harbor Springs.

All together 26 nest boxes have found to be used for nesting by Am. Kestrels. A number of other nest boxes were empty or used by Starlings, Tree Swallows and E. Bluebirds. A total of 102 Am. Kestrels have been banded, 2 adults and 100 nestlings. Of the nestlings, 49 were males, 49 were females and 2 were unknown sex (too young to be sexed at time of banding). This ratio should be expected; however there were a few nests with all males or all females; mostly mixed numbers of males and females, making it amazing that the ratio ended up 50-50.

There are a couple of late nests still to be checked and hopefully a few more young banded.

last day of the season

The season is over, but what a season ! 227 Golden Eagles, 44036 Broad-winged Hawks, 13091 Red-tailed Hawks 242 Rough-legged Hawks 1 Black Vulture, 1 Gyrfalcon, 1 Swainson’s Hawk and 1 Mississippi Kite! THANKS TO everybody who help out this year especially to Ed Pike and Steve Baker and to the rest of the gang Bruce and Dave, Jack and Bev  and a special thanks to Cathy Freebarin for letting me stay at her summer house! Hope to see you guys next year!

Press Release, Birds Set Spring Records, June 2018


The Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch (MSRW) hawk count set two records this year in tallying migrating birds in the Straits. The large tally is attributed to a delayed migration from bouts of poor flying conditions that stalled migration for many days.

On May 22, counter Kevin Georg from Johnston, Pennsylvania tallied 17,022 Broad-winged Hawks, more than half the total seen in 2015, which boasted the highest numbers of the ten years of counting. The month before, on April 19, Georg recorded 5,360 Red-tailed Hawks, the most seen on a single spring day from all the hawk counts across North America.

“While Red-tails are the most common hawk in the country, watching that many circle overhead was mind-boggling,” explained Georg. “Already this year, I have counted 12,800 of this species. Since the immature birds are just beginning to migrate, I feel confident about passing the previous maximum count of Red-tails set at this site of 14,105. I expect to a new site record for Broad-wings as well.”

For the fifth year, Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch (MSRW) contracted with biologists and specialists from around the country to study north-bound migration of selected species in the Straits area. The spring Hawk watch and Waterbird count are conducted in Mackinaw City, while Owl research takes place in Cheboygan.

The Hawk Watch lasts until June 5 and is free to the public. The geography of Michigan funnels hawks to the Straits for the shortest crossing to the north, since it takes less energy for the birds to fly over land than over Lake Michigan or Lake Huron. Visitors will find the hawk watchers and an informational kiosk with a tribute to major donors off Central Avenue behind the Mackinaw City Recreation Complex. On weekends, thanks to a grant from the Petoskey Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation, Hawk Watch Greeter Megan Sorensen from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan welcomes guests with hawk identification sheets and loaner binoculars.

On May 15, MSRW ended the 26th year of owl research near Cheboygan

Biologists Matthew Hanneman from Stevens Point, Wisconsin and Connor Vara from the Adirondack region of New York captured, banded, and released 178 Northern Saw-whet Owls, one Long-eared Owl, and two Barred Owls. The age and sex information they collected on each bird helps conservationists understand population dynamics.

The third spring of waterbird research, conducted by contractor Adam Bradley from Reno, Nevada, also concluded May 15. His work took on extra potential significance after the spring spill of hundreds of gallons of dielectric fluid in the Straits of Mackinac near the Bridge. Bradley recorded unusually prolonged preening by deep-diving Red-breasted Mergansers on April 5, the only time he observed this during spring migration. The birds, reliant on functional wings, run their bill along feathers to clean them and re-align the matching barbs and hooks that operate like velcro. Bradley, an expert observer who spent eight hours on the waterfront every day, alerted response agency representatives to this behavior so they could investigate further whether it was related to the spill.

The Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch conducts scientific studies of hawks, owls, and waterbirds migrating through this region of northern Michigan, educates the public about them, and aids in conserving and protecting the resting and feeding stop-over habitat for birds of prey in the Straits of Mackinac region. To learn more, visit the MSRW Facebook, Instagram, or www.mackinacraptorwatch.org for maps, blogs, event dates, support options, and link to photos of Mackinac Raptor Fest, the primary educational event held the first weekend of every April.

Snowy Owl on Little Traverse Bay

On the morning of May 29, 2018 I received a call that a Snowy Owl was on the Beach of Little Traverse Bay near Page Hill Rd. (Another report of a very late Snowy Owl that should be in the Arctic.) The Owl reportedly had something tangled around one foot. The Snowy was observed being harassed by Crows and Gulls; however it flew about 1/4 mile down the beach with something hanging from it’s foot.
We relocated the Snowy where it had landed near the base of some Cedar Trees just off the beach. I kept the tree trunks between myself and the snowy until close enough to net it.

It was carrying a large piece of fish skin in it’s foot which it dropped when netted. The Snowy appeared in good health; a second year bird (hatched last summer), probably a female. I banded the Snowy and held it until late afternoon, gave it a nice meal of chicken pieces and released it further north on Wilderness State Park. The Snowy flew off and disappeared behind some trees about one half a mile away. Hopefully it will be less likely to be disturbed by people walking the beach and will shortly leave for the Arctic.

Ed Pike with late Snowy Owl

right wing showing uniform plumage

over 60

With todays count it brought the count so far to over 60000 raptors one young golden eagle today brings the total at 226. With east winds tomorrow could be another good day.

2018 Waterbird Count Season Totals

Season Total

Snow/ Ross’s Goose – 1
Canada Goose – 1135
goose sp. – 28
Trumpeter Swan – 5
Mute Swan – 3
Wood Duck – 8
Gadwall – 0
American Wigeon – 2
American Black Duck – 14
Mallard – 139
Blue-winged Teal – 2
Northern Shoveler – 10
Northern Pintail – 17
Green-winged Teal – 4
Redhead – 90
Ring-necked Duck – 12
Greater/ Lesser Scaup – 95
Athya sp. – 117
Black Scoter – 2
Surf Scoter – 2
White-winged Scoter – 1089
scoter sp. – 25
Long-tailed Duck – 8295
Bufflehead – 84
Common Goldeneye – 288
Hooded Merganser – 4
Common Merganser – 1094
Red-breasted Merganser – 7837
merganser sp. – 297
duck sp. – 2318
Red-throated Loon – 2
Common Loon – 1156
loon sp. – 30
Horned Grebe – 222
Red-necked Grebe – 23
American White Pelican – 4
Double-crested Cormorant – 1628
Great Blue Heron – 19
Great Egret – 38
White-faced Ibis – 2
Bonaparte’s Gull – 157
Ring-billed Gull – 130
Herring Gull – 182
gull sp. – 3416
Caspian Tern – 8
Common Tern – 130
tern sp. – 3

Total waterbirds – 30,167

Notable sightings:

May 3rd: Before dawn the sky was filled with COLO (334). Had I not been in place before official sunrise I would have missed nearly 100 birds. Before anyone steals the thunder out of migration in the straits, I understand more loon are seen in an hour at Whitefish Point. Either way after sitting patiently through the last of the winter weather I enjoyed the spectacle thoroughly. 161 COLO flew through between 6:18 – 6:22AM. Another 117 flew through between 6:24 – 7:23AM. The straits were literally filled with COLO! HOGR (35) are increasing in numbers daily and again defying many peoples assumptions. These birds were all staged in close to McGulpin Point. Arriving well before dawn and walking as quietly as possible to the gazebo made it such that the birds stayed close to be counted and observed.

May 5th: (246) COLO continued through the straits today in a westerly direction. Today’s flight was different than Thursdays in that the birds were predominantly a steady trickle throughout the day versus the first hour after dawn. The busiest hours were 6:00AM (42), 7:00AM (69) and 8:00AM (56). (33) HOGR were the high count of loafing birds in the 9:00AM hour. (2) TRUS crossed high and moving north. It has been a long time since I had seen any swans.

May 5th: Big surprise for the day was (2) WFIB winging their way south. I noted them as two black birds off over the north side of the straits coming almost directly at me. They seemed like crows at a distance, but their flight style and spacing was definitively un – crow like. As they got to the middle of the straits they swung a little west of me and a long down curved bill came into view. I knew it was an ibis instantly as they are quite common back home in the west. The two birds ended up flying just to the west of me less than .25 mile. I could make out the glossy sheen on the feathers and very long bright red legs dragging behind them. I was surprised to see it was a rarity here in MI and was happy I payed attention to every detail as without the leg color it may have been hard to make the call between a GLIB and a WFIB.

May 7th: A nice surprise to the end of the count was AWPE (4) spotted about mid – channel winging north low over the water to the Pt. Labarbe vicinity.