Category Archives: Newsletter

Raptor Fest 2020 is CANCELED

With heavy hearts, we have canceled this year’s Mackinaw Raptor Fest on April 3 to 5. With the growing risk of contracting Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) and the closure of Mackinaw City School, there is no choice. 

While you are likely as disappointed as us, you’ll agree that it’s vital to keep everyone safe and healthy.  That means being sure that none of us unknowingly gets exposed to COVID-19 and carries it home to families, friends, and communities.

Next week, all paid registrants will get a full refund of the registration fee, with no penalties.  If you paid by check, your refund will come by U.S. mail. 

If you gave extra to assist the research and the education work of MSRW, please let us know at if you would like this refunded as well.  Your gifts for the Student Scholarship and Education Fund will carry forward, but likewise – let us know if you want a refund. 

Since MSRW has already invested money in the Fest as well as hundreds of hours of volunteer time, your donations would help at this time, at

In good news, we are exploring the possibility of re-scheduling the Fest this fall to enjoy the hawk and owl south-bound migration.  If so, we’d love for you to attend then or in 2021.

Please cancel any hotel reservations you made on your own.  OR come up then or another time to enjoy the hawk watch.  Already, 52 Golden Eagles have been recorded by counter Kevin Georg. The birds are moving and you’ll find plenty of “social distance” at the site behind the Recreation Complex in Mackinaw City.  You can marvel as spectacular kettles form almost at head level, rise up, and then dissipate high overhead as the birds peel off to soar across the Straits.  Besides directly experiencing this unique natural history experience, you can learn more about these birds, where they’ve been and where they are going, from newly-hired Raptor Naturalist Abigail Fischer.

Thank you for understanding the situation and for your interest in raptors.  If you can devote a few hours of volunteer time either on the Fest or other MSRW committees, please email so we can match your interests with MSRW’s needs.


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

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

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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, 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.

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 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

Press Release, Golden Eagle Banquet Keynote, April 2015

Invitation to Golden Eagle Banquet Keynote Speech by Mark Martell on April 8 and Owl Banding and Stars on April 15

Greetings! Spring migration is well underway now, after some rough weather with lots of precipitation. So far, the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch has tallied 145 Bald Eagles, 125 Golden Eagles, 59 Rough-legged Hawks, and 584 Red-tailed Hawks along with some Red-shouldered Hawks, American Kestrels, Merlins, and Turkey Vultures. In his first week, the Waterbird Counter, Josh Jaeger, has recorded Long-tailed Ducks and White-winged Scoters as well as Mergansers, Scaup, Buffleheads, and more. Among the ten owls already captured at Cheboygan State Park’s research site was a Northern Saw-Whet Owl previously banded in central Indiana in 2014.

The Mackinaw Raptor Fest on April 7 to 9 is quickly approaching its attendance limit, with more than 150 people attending both daytime sessions and the banquet. It promises to be a memorable weekend.

Limited space is still available, especially for the banquet on Saturday, April 8. To inquire, please email Kathy Bricker at before Tuesday night, April 4. The cost for just the banquet is $30 and may be paid on site by people who are not attending the Fest. The doors at St. Anthony’s Church in Mackinaw City open at 4:45 pm, where you will have the chance to buy some raptor-themed apparel and submit the winning bid on a couple dozen excellent Silent Auction items. Dinner will begin at 5:15 pm. See for the Merchandise description and photographs.

We also have a few openings left for the April 15 Owl Banding and Star evening event at Headlands Dark Sky Park, the only chance in 2017 for this experience. We will target Northern Saw-whet Owls, with other species possible as well. Capturing owls on any particular night is hoped for but not guaranteed. However, this should be prime time for owl migration. Learning about owls will alternate with indoor and outdoor sessions with stars, by Kathy Bricker. To inquire or register, email Kathy Bricker. To support the owl research, a donation to MSRW of $15 per person is requested.

The Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch reports that spring migration has gained steam after a stretch of unfavorable rainy weather for flying. Three types of bird research have launched. Ed Pike, Chair, explains that now that the ice has moved out of the Straits near McGulpin Point, Mackinaw City, the contracted Waterbird Counter Josh Jaeger works from sunrise to early afternoon. Jaeger has seen the first Long-tailed Ducks and White-winged Scoters of the year, as well as Mergansers, Scaup, Buffleheads, and a few Redheads still lingering from the winter.
According to Pike, another team of researchers is beginning to work on night-time migrants. “Arthur Sanchez and Nick Alioto have captured, measured, and banded ten Northern Saw-whet Owls at Cheboygan State Park, including one foreign re-cap. Another biologist had banded this bird in central Indiana in 2014.” Pike explains that bird banding is a time-tested, safe, and moderately low-cost method of learning such information on age and movements of birds.

The public is welcome to visit Mackinaw City’s Waterbird site from dawn to 2 p.m., and the Hawk Watch from 10 to 4 p.m., to learn about the birds and their research. So far, counters have tallied 145 Bald Eagles, 125 Golden Eagles, 59 Rough-legged Hawks, and 584 Red-tailed Hawks. Other raptors seen include Red-shouldered Hawks, American Kestrels, Merlins, and Turkey Vultures. Up to 20 species of daytime raptors may pass through the Straits, which holds records for the numbers of Red-tailed Hawks and Golden Eagles.

“Golden Eagles excite many people more than other species, so this year we chose to feature them at the Mackinaw Raptor Fest.” says Kathy Bricker, Secretary of MSRW. “We have space still available at the keynote presentation and the banquet, so offer the public as well as Fest registrants the chance to hear Mark Martell talk about his research on these cousins of Bald Eagles.”

For twelve years, Martell directed Bird Conservation at Audubon Minnesota where he studied both Golden and Bald Eagles. He became an expert on the eastern population of Golden Eagles, using radio telemetry to track their movements.

Golden Eagles occur in more places than any other species of eagle. Common in western U.S. and the national bird of Mexico, they also live in Europe and have been named the official national animal of Albania, Germany, Austria, and Kazakhstan. Golden Eagles prey mostly on small mammals like rabbits, which they can see from a mile away. Unlike the fish-eating Bald Eagles that often dive into the water for their prey, Goldens have feathers covering their legs. Like other large raptors, their numbers are declining due to habitat loss, wind turbines, and poisoning by lead shot.

To inquire about the Golden Eagle program and banquet on Saturday, April 8, email before Tuesday night, April 4. The cost for the banquet is $30
and may be paid on site by people who are not attending the Fest. The doors at St. Anthony’s Church in Mackinaw City open at 4:45 pm, with dinner catered by Audie’s served at 5:15 pm.
Bricker continues: “Of additional interest, we have a few openings for the Owl Banding and Star evening event on Saturday, April 15 at Headlands Dark Sky Park. We will target Northern Saw-whet Owls. Learning about owls will alternate with sessions on Making Friends Among Stars.” This event will be held regardless of the weather. To support the owl research, a donation to MSRW of $15 per person is requested. Registration is required through email

Press Release, Spring Research Begins, March 2018

MSRW Spring Research Starts

The fifth year of raptor research has officially begun for the Mackinaw Straits Raptor Watch (MSRW). MSRW hires professional hawk watchers, owl banders, and waterbird counters to conduct research on migration numbers in the Mackinac Straits area.

The geography of Michigan makes the Straits a critical bird migration pathway, where thousands of birds converge during spring and fall migration to cross at the narrowest part of the Great Lakes. Every year since 2012, MSRW hawk counters have counted from 12,345 -50,399 raptors during spring migration. Researchers here have recorded the highest number of migrating Golden Eagles east of the Mississippi and the most Red-tailed Hawks in one day.

“It has been a somewhat slow and snowy start to the MSRW hawk watch season. Winds have been unfavorable and slowed down movement, but there are still raptors funneling through. I have counted 102 raptors since March 3,” says professional Raptor Counter Kevin Georg. He has returned from Pennsylvania for his 5th spring season as MSRW raptor counter. Georg commented that March and April are especially good times to come to the hawk watch site and see Golden Eagles. Weather permitting, the Hawk Watch site on Central Avenue in Mackinaw City is free and open to the public every day from 11 AM – 5 PM. Look for the Hawk Watch sign.

The nightly MSRW owl banding surveys started Wednesday, March 13th. Ed Pike, MSRW chair, commented, “It was a smooth start to the 2018 spring owl surveys.” Pike is overseeing two new MSRW hired owl banders and training them in the research protocol used at this site. Matthew Hanneman from Wisconsin is Lead Owl Bander, while Connor Vara from New York is Assistant Owl Bander.

The spring Waterbird survey begins Tuesday, March 20th at McGulpin Point outside Mackinaw City. MSRW has hired Adam Bradley of Nevada as counter, working every day. The waterbird count also is free and open to the public, from sunrise – 2:00 PM. In spring 2017, 39,386 total waterbirds of 34 different species were counted.

MSRW hosts the third annual Mackinaw Raptor Fest on April 6th-8th, 2018. “Anyone interested in birds will love this event. We have excellent speakers and field trips planned. Our raptor
counting site is right next door and we will have extra staff on hand to help people see and
identify the amazing birds of prey migrating through the Mackinac Straits area,” said Melissa
Hansen, a member of the MSRW Raptor Fest planning committee. Tickets are available for the
whole conference or just the banquet and live raptor program with Glen McCune.

Additional Owl Banding and Star programs are available on Friday, April 13th and Saturday April
14th at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, located three miles west of downtown
Mackinaw City. The suggested donation is $15 per person or $25 per family. This is an especially
popular field trip, and the additional program allows local people another chance to participate.
Registration for both the extra owl weekend and the Mackinaw Raptor Fest is open until March
24th, although spaces are filling quickly. To register or learn more,

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 pages
or for blogs, event dates, and support options.

Press Release, Registration Open for Raptor Fest, January 2018

Registration Open for Mackinaw Raptor Fest

The nonprofit group Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch has opened registration for the popular Mackinaw Raptor Fest. Held April 6th-8th in Mackinaw City, this weekend of activities promotes public awareness and knowledge of raptors and waterbirds in the Straits region. The Fest attracts 150 to 200 people to the Straits of Mackinac to experience its unique bird migration.
Available events include opportunities to view hawks, owls, and waterbirds with qualified interpreters, a meet-and-greet reception, classroom-style presentations by regional experts, a live raptor program, a hawk identification film, birding field trips, and a banquet catered by Audie’s of Mackinaw City.

According to Fest Chair Kathy Bricker, “This year for the first time we will focus on owls. We offer different programs each Fest so people can return every year and learn new things.” Bricker said wildlife artist and falconer Glen McCune will share one of his live hawks in a special session before the Fest banquet on Saturday. Local residents may purchase a standalone ticket for this evening. “Seeing these birds in person amazes even people who are not bird watchers,” says Bricker.

The 2018 Raptor Fest keynote speaker is Gene Jacobs, owner of Raptor Services consulting firm and Director of Linwood Springs Research Station in Wisconsin. Jacobs will present Snowy Owl Winter Habitat Use based on his research using solar-powered transmitters that record owl locations. During break-out sessions, Jacobs will describe his studies on Merlins and Red-Shouldered Hawks and reveal information gained over years of banding Northern Saw-whet Owls.

In the morning plenary session of April 7th, Josh Haas, of Hawks on the Wing, will present a video to teach raptor identification. Haas will offer optional sessions on Bird Photography for Beginners and the Special Challenges of Photographing Hawks on the Wing. Other break-out sessions feature excellent speakers on Boreal Owls, the science and magic of migration, waterbird migration over Lake Superior, and American Kestrels.

On the evenings of April 6th and 7th, Owl Banding and Constellation Discovery will take place at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City. Registrants will have a chance to
see migrating owls being caught, examined, and released from banding nets, as well as to learn
about the spring constellations.

On Sunday April 8th, Steve Baker and Leonard Graf will take people to observe a courtship lek of Sharp-tailed Grouse. This field trip will allow attendees to witness the courtship ritual of these grouse, including dancing and calls. Leader Darrell Lawson offers a late winter birding in the Upper Peninsula with possible sightings of Snowy Owls, Northern Shrikes, Rough-legged Hawks, and other winter migrants and residents throughout Mackinac County.

Raptor Fest 2018 includes free hawk count viewing daily for both registrants and the general
public from 10 am to 4 pm. At the 2017 Raptor Fest, 1,366 raptors of 12 different species were
observed, including 1,104 Red-tailed Hawks, 24 Bald Eagles, 15 Rough-legged Hawks and 165
Turkey Vultures. The free waterbird count is open from sunrise to 2 pm.

The full conference with Friday night reception, banquet and live raptor show costs $65. There
are partial conference options available including: Friday night reception and conference only,
for $30; or Live Raptor Show and Banquet only, for $40. Field trips cost $15. Limited
scholarship funds are available for interested students.

Bricker adds, “To meet local demand for the popular experience with owls at Headlands, MSRW
has added the nights of April 13th and 14th. Registration is required for this extra event, since
space is limited.”

Registration for both the extra owl weekend and the April 6 to 8 Mackinaw Raptor Fest is open
now. To register or learn more, visit

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 pages
or for blogs, event dates, and support options.

Waterbird count begins Aug. 20

Today was the first day of the waterbird count with our new counter Aspen Ellis, from Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a slow start as expected. We are again using Dunkadoo on a tablet to enter data for each days sightings so you can look at what is being seen by going and click on “Explore” on their home page, then click on the flag marked Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch and you can see what waterbirds are being seen. Or you might try:

Stop by McGulpin Point and you can get some first hand looks at what is in the Straits. today we had some nice looks at Red-necked Grebe, Common Loon and a Great Egret flying south across the Straits.