Category Archives: 2015

Press Release, December 2015

Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch reports record year in 2015

Tens of thousands of eagles, hawks and vultures recorded in Straits region, attracting
observers from around state, U.S.

MACKINAW CITY – The Straits of Mackinac region at the top of Michigan’s Lower
Peninsula has been garnering national attention for the vast numbers of raptors
gathering here during their annual migration cycles, including the most golden eagles
counted anywhere east of the Mississippi and the highest number of red-tailed hawks
tallied in the United States.

“In the last year, both the research work on migrating birds and the public outreach
more than doubled, thanks to a longer observation period enabled by generous
contributors and volunteers,” said Ed Pike, Chair of the Mackinaw Straits Raptor Watch
group (MSRW) that formed in 2014 to monitor birds of prey passing here in migration
and educate people about them.

Pike noted the following highlights from this year’s counts that set records and drew
national attention to the quality of the birding experience in the Straits of Mackinac:

Spring Hawk Count
From March 8 through June 6, 2015, the contracted counter Kevin Georg posted 613
hours of observation in Mackinaw City and tallied 50,399 raptors migrating across the
Straits. Of special interest were the 374 golden eagles, the highest number recorded
east of the Mississippi, and the 9,334 red-tailed hawks, the highest number of any spring
count in the country. There were over 700 recorded guest visits. For comparison, the
2014 numbers were 481 hours to record 43,191 raptors, including 164 golden eagles
and 9,702 red-tailed hawks with 352 guests visits.

Spring Owl Survey
From March 18 through May 2, contracted biologists conducted MSRW’s first spring
mist netting and banding at Cheboygan State Park near Cheboygan. They set nets on 40
nights, totaling 281 hours of research time. They captured, processed, and released 132
northern saw-whet owls, four barred owls, and four long-eared owls. Eleven of the sawwhets
were already banded by other scientists at Whitefish Point near Paradise and
Point LaBarbe near St. Ignace (both Michigan), New Hampshire, Ontario, and Indiana.
Such re-traps yield information about owl distribution, migration, and life span.

Fall Owl Survey
From Sept. 20 through Nov. 10, the contracted biologist Selena Creed conducted mist
netting and banding at Pte. LaBarbe near St. Ignace. She set the nets on 45 nights and
checked them during 455 hours. She captured 250 northern saw-whet owls, one barred
owl, and three long-eared owls, nearly double the number of birds in the spring survey.
For comparison, in 2014, 285 survey hours yielded 233 northern saw-whet owls and
four barred owls.

“It is normal to capture more owls in the fall because they just hatched this summer.
Most of these first-year birds will not survive their first winter,” Pike explained. Fifteen
of the 2015 saw-whets were foreign re-traps and two were banded here last fall. The
foreign re-traps were banded at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, Michigan, several
sites in Wisconsin, and in Indiana. Two of the saw-whets banded this fall were retrapped
a few weeks later in southern Michigan and Ohio.

Fall Waterbird Survey
From Aug. 15 through Nov. 10, four trained volunteers recorded the waterbirds and
other migrants seen moving through the Straits of Mackinac. Observations were made
from McGulpin Point near Mackinaw City on 63 days, at least three hours each day
starting at sunrise. The goal was to provide baseline data on these fall migrants. High
numbers of common loons were sighted, amid 36 total species of birds.

Waterfowl seen were Canada goose; mute swan; wood duck; gadwall; American black
duck; mallard; teal (which species impossible to tell); redhead; greater scaup; surf
scoter, white-winged, and black scoters; long-tailed duck; bufflehead; common
goldeneye; hooded, common, and red-breasted mergansers, common and red-throated
loons; horned and red-necked grebes; and double-crested cormorant. Raptors observed
were turkey vulture; bald and golden eagles; American kestrel; merlin; sharp-shinned
and broad-winged hawks; and northern harrier. Other birds of interest were jaeger
(which species impossible to tell); great egret; Bonaparte’s gull; common crow; and
common raven.

“This supports and substantiates the selection by National Audubon of the Straits of
Mackinac as an Important Bird Area,” Pike said.

Kathy Bricker, Secretary of MSRW, felt that while the number of birds is impressive, it
does not convey the sense of wonder and beauty of being outside. A visit to the
website,, and the group’s Facebook page reveals the
impact these experiences had on visitors: “From a tree limb in a nearby field, a redtailed
hawk takes flight. It soars, circling higher and higher above the field, using the
updrafts created by the warming air. It climbs to staggering heights until lost against the
clouds. More and more hawks, eagles, and vultures soon join in the aerial waltz that
began in times long forgotten. A common loon cuts through the sky taking a direct
route across the lakes. Undaunted by the water, it needs not climb to dizzying heights
before crossing the five-mile wide strait.

“A boisterous trumpeting precedes fifty sandhill cranes flying in formation, making their
own way to the land beyond. Meanwhile, the number of raptors in the air reaches
numbers almost uncountable. When they finally reach the crest of the updraft, one by
one they peel away from the dance, gliding into the distance in hopes of reaching land
on the other side without having to flap their wings and use precious energy. Taking
their place lower down come other birds from farther south, in the constant soar and
glide procession of the annual spring migration north.”

Public outreach
Bricker explained that the total number of recorded guest visits to the hawk and owl
research was 987, more than double the 352 of 2014.

Because of the burgeoning interest in birding activities in the Straits region, MSRW will
hold its first birding festival in 2016. The Mackinaw Raptor Fest is scheduled for April 1-2
in the Mackinaw City- Petoskey area. Complete details will be available in late January at Generous core funding for the festival has been
received from the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation and the
Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau.

In addition to the new festival, MSRW will produce new rack cards to inform the public.
Regular media releases, radio interviews, field trips, social media, word-of-mouth,
poster displays at Michigan and Ohio birding/nature festivals, and in-person
presentations reached thousands of people in 2015 and will expand even more next
year to inform the public about the migration spectacle.

Pike concludes: “Our research and outreach efforts rely on the generosity of private
individuals interested in nature. We thank all of them, along with the Bay Harbor
Foundation, MPS Foundation, Straits Area Audubon Society, Audubon Society of
Kalamazoo, Copper Country Audubon, Thunder Bay Audubon Society, Genesee
Audubon Club, and Au Sable Valley Audubon Society. We especially appreciate the
friendly spirit of the Mackinaw City community during the spring hawk watch.”
For more information, visit or contact Ed Pike at 231-

Final Post of the Season

We did it!

At 0200 hours on the last night of owl surveys, the 250th Northern Saw-whet Owl of the season was captured and banded and it also happened to be the very last bird of the season, too. What a great way to end the 8-week season.

I want to thank MSRW for the opportunity to run the banding station again this fall. I am beyond grateful to had been a part of another successful season on Pointe La Barbe. Of course, this position would not have been possible without the generosity from our donors, which is definitely worth mentioning. Thank you so much for your support!

Lastly, thank you to the many visitors who helped make this a memorable season. Perhaps, I’ll see you all again in the future or run into you on the trail somewhere. Cheers.

Season totals:
NSWO: 250


Late migration waterbird count

On Nov 10, 2015 Ed Pike conducted the last scheduled waterbird count from 7:50 am till 10 am.  The count was slow with few birds moving.  The winds were light from the south which probably kept many birds from migrating or even moving around.  Conditions over the water were hazy leading to a reduced visibility making it difficult to see across the Straits.

C. Merganser 4, Gadwall 1, Long-tailed Duck 11, C. Goldeneye 1, C. Loon 3 sitting on the water with 1 flying toward the east.  Swan sp. 2 flying south, and Duck sp. 8.

Although we did not document large numbers of waterbirds migrating through the Straits area we did have some interesting sightings as with the Common Egrets seen early in the count period.  The numbers of loons counted over the fall shows a large number of Loons migrate through the Straits area.  Although the count of Redheads was not large on a daily basis from McGalpin Point, counts taken from the area at the north end of the Mackinac Bridge give an estimate of 5000 on Nov. 2.  Daily counts for 8 hours would definitely increase the numbers and possilbly the species counted.

Farewell dinner and misc. photos

Monday,November 9 there was a farewell dinner for Selena at the Keyhole in Mackinaw City. We celebrated a very successful owl banding season thanks to Selena’s efforts. Thanks to Tony for the group photo. Tuesday was the last day for the waterbird count and Ed closed out the season. Sunrise over the straits was a good show as usual and I will miss these early morning scenes.


Redheads at north end of bridge

Redheads at north end of bridge



The Mighty Mac

The Mighty Mac

Boats at sunrise

Boats at sunrise

Ed scanning the Straits

Ed scanning the Straits



Owl News: 8 November and 9 November

Wind, wind, and more wind. On Sunday night, the winds were out of the southwest and were pretty relentless the whole night. Down on the point, they stayed at a steady 8 mph with gusts as high as 16 mph. I could see the tops of the spruce trees swaying like crazy and I’m willing to bet the winds were stronger up on US-2. Even though the winds were strong, protocol states that as long as they aren’t exceeding 15 mph, the station must be opened and that it was. I kept my fingers and toes crossed from dusk to dawn, but never caught a single owl. At about 0400 hours, I heard one Northern Saw-whet Owl calling near the audio lure, but it never came in to visit. Sunday night, skunked.

Last night, the winds were calm out of the south/southwest and I was hopeful we’d catch a few. My goal this season is to reach 250 saw-whets and I guess I might be pushing it with so little time to reach that goal. Three saw-whets were captured and banded last night bringing our count to 245 (not including the three long-eareds and one barred owl).

Tonight, the final night of the banding season, the winds are predicted to be light out of the south/southeast. I think a few more birds will move through, but it will likely be another slow night. Stay tuned.


Waterbirds – 11/17 – Goldeneyes!

The waterbird count on Saturday started out with a bang. I had difficulty keeping up with the number of Common Goldeneyes that were flying by. One flock even contained a Hooded Merganser. I believe this was the first Hoody I had counted during the waterbird count. By the end of the first hour the Goldeneye had slowed significantly, but Red-breasted Mergansers then took over to keep things interesting. Other notable species included Red-throated Loons. Ten of them flew by. Of the identified Loons, this meant that more Red-throated than Common were counted, although a few unidentified Loons went by as well. Here are the numbers with some photos and videos to follow.

Species East West
Common Goldeneye 12 173
Loon sp. 3 0
Hooded Mergansers 0 1
Common Loon 6 1
Red-breasted Merganser 9 66
Long-tailed Duck 2 29
Duck sp. 6 41
Mallard 2 0
Red-throated Loon 9 1
Redhead 0 10
Bufflehead 6 4
Surf/Black Scoter 0 9
White-winged Scoter 14 14

One of a few Bald Eagles that were flying around the straits.


A flock of Common Goldeneye.


An early morning flock of Common Goldeneye. Even as a silhouette the identification is relatively obvious (for those with experience waterbird counting anyway).


Red-breasted Mergansers

Final Saturday of the season brings???

Absolutely nothing.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s update, the winds were due to die down around midnight. They slowed down enough by 2230 hours that I was able to open them up, but by midnight they were blowing at around 15 mph out of the west. That was enough to keep the birds from flying, I guess, and the nets remained empty until I closed the station at 0630 hours.

I’m still hoping to reach 250 by the time we wrap the season up in a couple of days. Tonight doesn’t look promising with the predicted 10-15mph SW winds, but I’ll give it try. Monday and Tuesday, the winds are predicted to be light from the south, which looks a little better. Fingers crossed for a few more birds.

Night of 6 November


Photo by Emily Grasch. Selena and Ed with the 2100 hour captures. Take note of the slight color differences in each owls’ head and face.

The saw-whets are still on the move and we saw a nice push during the first few hours of the night. Between 2000 hours and 2330 hours, seven saw-whets were captured and banded. The winds really picked up around 2130 hours, which slowed the movement down quite a bit. The last two birds came in at 0330 hours and 0530 hours. I really tried to reach double digits last night, but nine is a great number!

The winds are still pretty strong out of the west at the moment, so I have yet to open the nets. They’re due to die down sometime around midnight, so we’ll give it a shot then.

NSWO: 242                                                         LEOW: 3                                                               BDOW: 1






Owl update: Night of 5 November

I did finally end up catching that noisy saw-whet from two nights ago. It was the last capture of the night making our total on Wednesday a whopping two birds. Still pretty exciting with that Long-eared Owl that came in.

Last night started off looking really promising with four saw-whets captured in the first few hours after setting nets. Unfortunately, the winds picked up and I had to shut the banding station down at 2330 hours. Rain followed at around 0200 hours. We’re seeing some pretty impressive winds here on the point today, but it looks like they’re starting to die down with a current west wind of 17 mph with gusts at about 28 mph. We’ll have to see how things look around dusk.

Five nights left of the season and our totals are:
NSWO: 233

Waterbirds for November 5

it was supposed to be a foggy morning but a visit to the bridge view cam showed pretty good visibility at 6 am so I did a few hours of observation at McGulpin Point. Migration has definitely slowed to a trickle. Several flocks of 20-50 small birds, probably finches, were seen headed south, but none were close enough to ID.

RB Merganser 2
Common Loon 3
Unidentified Flying Ducks 33
Mallard 2
Long-tailed duck 12
C. Goose 19