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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 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 Spring Owl Banding Update

Welcome back raptor enthusiasts to another update for the spring owl banding blog!

The saw-whet migration is definitely coming to an end. Our recent nights of banding have been relatively slow, but we’ve continued to have pleasant weather most nights.

May 6th – 2 saw-whets

May 7th – 1 saw-whet. We also had some guests visit the banding station which I will get to later.

May 8th – 3 saw-whets, 1 barred owl

May 9th – no owls. We had to delay opening until midnight due to rain in the area.

May 10th – 1 saw-whet

May 11th – 2 saw-whets

As you can see from our totals we are on the tail end of the saw-whet owl spring migration. We did catch another barred owl on May 8th, a second year (SY) male. We have also surpassed last spring’s total of 175 saw-whets. This spring’s total is currently at 178.

On the night of May 7th we had a group of MSRW committee members and friends come out to the banding station to join us for a night of owl banding. We had great weather, clear skies, no wind and relatively warm temperatures (in the 40’s). Luckily on our second net check we caught a saw-whet (our only one of the night) for all to see up close. We demonstrated our banding procedures and released it to continue on its migration. Thanks to all those who came out, we certainly enjoyed having some guests for part of the night!

Thanks for checking in and be sure to come back for more updates!



Northern saw-whet owls: 178

Barred owls: 2

Long-eared owls: 1

Sharp-shinned hawks: 2


May 8th Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

Awesome conditions to observe waterbirds today. Completely calm and no wave action to the start of the count. Heat shimmer was on hand early though. 5C at the start of the count and I was able to work with my bare hands for the first time this season.

Waterbird Notes –

Todays flight was off to a good start with the first (2) BLSC spotted flying low over the shipping channel to come to loaf near St. Helena. (79) LTDU were on the move from west to east early in the morning as well. (40) COTE made there way through the straits as well from east to west at 7:18AM. Unfortunately what started off as a good flight came to a screeching halt when a barge carrying marine construction equipment moved to within .25 mile of McGulpin Point. This barge has been approaching .25 mile closer daily now for the last few days. The noise associated with the work from cranes, tugs, outboard motors is deafening at times and waterbirds left the area in droves. In short order about (5) RBME were the only birds left in the vicinity of the count location. I spent the next 5.5 hours counting distant COLO (92) and WWSC (l24). See below for other impacts to this years count regarding the chaotic response to this springs near miss with environmental disaster in the straits.

Non- waterbird Notes –

EABL (1) has returned after nearly a month hiatus.


RESQ was happy to have some crackers this morning. A BLSQ was spotted moving through the forest westbound. (3) White- tailed deer made there way down to the waterfront while things were still quiet this morning. They waded out a little way into the lake just to the west of the gazebo.


John G. Munson west bound at 9:08AM and American Integrity east bound at 11:52.

Visitors –

Lynn stopped by to take some photos of the ongoing assessment of the damage to several structures under the straits. On that note it would be advised to visit between the times of dawn to 8:30AM if your plans include observing waterbirds in the straits. Currently on a daily basis a barge with marine construction equipment is slowly inching its way closer towards the shore near McGulpin Point at about .25 mile a day. As noted above the general noise level at times is deafening and as a result very few birds ( 5 – 10 RBME) remain in the immediate vicinity to rest or forage. It seems this particular barge, tug and smaller outboard boat make there way into the area by 8:30AM. I am not sure if they plan on being out this weekend like they did this past weekend.

Total observer hours – 8.0

Todays tally is posted on eBird here.

This will be the last detailed blog post for the season as I must prepare for my departure which I am looking forward to.

This count season has been difficult and left me concerned about the future of the straits as a migratory pathway for waterbirds. Since April 1st of this year’s count I have watched and read about the impacts of an anchor strike on every major structure in the straits. I have been approached by USCG, USDA, DEQ, documentary filmmakers, news crews, reporters and employees of every company who sustained damage during this event on a regular basis. Most of the information disseminated to me in the field has been misleading at best. I do appreciate the concerted effort of Joe Haas of DEQ making regular visits to keep me informed about the process and what to look for. He exceeded all my expectations in handling my report of excessive preening by RBME and discolored rafts of ice. I stand by that observation as I have not observed this kind of behavior before or since the recent spill; it’s important to note that it only takes a dime sized spot of oil to kill a bird in cold water. I have had to listen to pumps running nearly 24 hours a day for 3 weeks strait and now when I thought I was through the worst of it the next disturbance has arrived in the form of barges full of marine construction equipment. It seems I am having to live through the ongoing “response theater” on a daily basis for the remaining 6 weeks of the count. I have been watching this type of theater unfold for far too long.

Until all of this had happened I had no idea that I was counting from a location so close to where a potential environmental disaster nearly occurred. As I have watched the marine construction barge moving closer on a daily basis I am concerned about the natural gas smell I reported on April 11th and subsequent headache that evening. I hope that I have not been exposed to any dangerous chemicals while attempting this year’s count.

I have a long history with oil spills having grown up in Alaska. I was a junior in high school when the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred. At the time I wasn’t engaged with the long term impacts to my home state and its wildlife. A few years later I began working for the company that ended up responding to the spill in Prudhoe Bay. I worked on a variety of “clean ups”: diesel fuel truck spills, benzene removal, fin fan cleaning and shut downs. Most of the time we merely moved contaminants around or hid them. We rarely “cleaned” anything. My last job up there was pouring carboline paint ( a subsidiary of RPM) and the thinner into 50 gallon drums and sealing them shut. My coworker and I then kicked the drums down into unmarked and unlined pits where the chemical is probably seeping into the tundra to this day. VECO finally was caught up in its own bribery scandal and was later acquired by Colorado-based CH2M Hill.

I was fortunate enough to return to Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Americas ONLY Arctic Refuge ) where I trapped and banded shorebirds for Manomet. It was special to see what the north slope looks like without all of the resource extraction and chemical spills. Seeing a shorebird nest in the tundra with a full clutch is worth more to me than all the riches in the world; the nest may belong to a bird that has traveled all the way from Argentina. That summer I rode my bicycle up to do this job and when I returned to Fairbanks I continued on up to Prudhoe along the Dalton Highway. Once in Prudhoe I had to go on a paid bus tour to actually dip in the Arctic Ocean before returning back to Reno on my trusty bicycle. Seeing a tiny little Red-necked Phalarope delicately spinning in a pond for insects below a gas flare is imagery straight out of the Blade Runner movie. I had to question my motive for riding back up there after my less than savory work in college. I did learn some interesting facts from the disgruntled ex-BP employee who led the tour though.

I had no idea over 25 years later I would be sitting next to another potential Exxon Valdez during this year’s waterbird count. If I wanted to experience that again I could go work in Prudhoe and kick chemicals in 50 gallon drums into unmarked and unlined pits. I do think it is more than coincidence that I ended up in Mackinaw City during this critical event. As such I have a perspective that may differ from the residents of the immediate area. There really isn’t any need to rely on the validity of my claims of this years events as it has all been extensively studied by industry experts and a German biologist. The entire event this spring can be summarized in this Smithsonian article from 2016: Why We Pretend to Clean Up Oil Spills.

So it is with the thoughts of these experts that I ask you my fellow bird lovers this question: what use is counting and studying birds if you aren’t willing to speak up for them when their lives and habitat are in danger? At the very least if and when the birds of Mackinaw Straits are impacted I hope some of you will urge that they be killed not cleaned.

2018 Spring Owl Banding Update

Good afternoon raptor enthusiasts! Welcome back to another quick update for the spring owl banding blog.

Last night (May 5) was mostly clear with little to no wind. The spring peepers, wood frogs and leopard frogs were out in force as they have been for a good week now.

We caught 5 new saw-whets bringing our spring total up to 169!

For the second night in a row we caught a new species! This time it was a barred owl!

This barred owl had a mass of 616 grams which is much larger than both the saw-whet and long-eared owl. The barred owl is in the Strix genus which also includes the smaller spotted owl that resides in the western United States and the great gray owl which mainly resides in Canada, but may, on rare occasion, find its way into the northern United States. The barred owl can be found through out most of the eastern United States and parts of Canada. Their call is the recognizable “who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” hoot. While we were taking this one out of the net a second barred owl was making that call not far off in the treeline. The main predatory threat to the barred owl is the great-horned owl and most times will not be present in areas where great-horned owls are. We know that there is a pair of great-horned owls near our cabin so it was kind of surprising to find barred owls in the area. However, it was still very exciting to capture and band a species that we have yet to see this spring. Now here’s to hoping there is a great-horned owl in the nets tonight! (not very likely at all, but hey we can dream right?!)

That’s all for now, but be sure to check back often for more updates!



Northern saw-whet owls: 169

Long-eared owls: 1

Barred owls: 1

Sharp-shinned hawks: 2

2018 Spring Owl Banding Update

Good afternoon everyone and welcome back to another update for the 2018 spring owl banding blog! Pleasant weather continues here in the straits (with the occasional rain shower or thunderstorm) and the saw-whets continue to migrate.

MAY 2: 9 saw-whets, cloudy most of the night with no rain

MAY 3: 4 saw-whets, we had to close around 12:30 due to rain showers moving into the area which continued for the rest of the night and into the morning.

MAY 4: 2 saw-whets and….drum roll please…..1 LONG EARED OWL!!! Yes that’s right we captured and banded our first (and hopefully not our last) long-eared owl around 1AM.

This long-eared owl is a second year (SY) female and she weighed 280 grams. For comparison an average female saw-whet weighs between 90 and 95 grams. The long-eared owl is in the genus Asio along with the short-eared owl. Long-eared owls are strictly nocturnal and hunt for small mammals in open grassland areas. They look similar to the much larger great-horned owl with their prominent ear tufts which is how both get their namesake. However, the tufts are not ears at all, but simply erect feathers that can mimic small twigs when the owl is attempting to camouflage itself.

We have also been hearing a barred owl calling in the distance for the last few nights as well as the pair of great-horned owls that continue to hoot back and forth to each other on occasion.

In addition to catching owls we also been paying attention to the emergence of the local amphibians. for the week or so we have been hearing a chorus of spring peepers, wood frogs, leopard frogs and the occasional bull frog. As we walk the trail between net locations we have also discovered a few blue spotted salamanders making their way across the path.

The world is completely different between dusk and dawn and its very exciting to experience the sights and the sounds of the “night life” here in Cheboygan State Park.

Thanks for checking in and be sure to stop back often for more updates!



Northern saw-whet owls: 164

Long-eared owls: 1

Sharp-shinned hawks: 2


Yesterday around 5:30  I heard a lot of noise from the baseball field as the robins and  other birds feeding  in the  field took off at first thought  the local merlin but seeing this falcon it was not the merlin it was large red-tailed size flying fast low over the field, heavy streaks on its side and medium gray,  with no peregrine helmut just smallish streaks on its face and then it was gone flying west thru the trees.