Category Archives: Waterbirds

Waterbird Count – 17 September

Today I once again provided Aspen with a much deserved day off.  It was rather interesting in terms of weather.  It seems that at least three different fronts came through with each changing the wind direction slightly.  The first change was the most exciting as it brought a small flurry of Common Loons flying in front of it.  Of course, the sudden changes in the wind and wave activity that can take place on the great lakes is probably one of the reasons that you rarely see this:

Freighter with piles of dirt.

I can’t imagine that would be much fun if the seas really get big, but hopefully they were not going far…

Anyway, other than the major shifts in wind, today was unseasonably warm.  This  may explain why many of the birds flying by today had their bills open.

Herring Gull

Common Loons

Birds often do this on warm days, so I assume it helps them thermoregulate.

Despite the frequent changes in the direction of the wind, it primarily had a strong southern component to it all day long, which meant that it was overall a pretty slow day at the count.  Loons, all Common, and raptors moved through in decent numbers prior to the first shift in the wind.  The most exciting bird of the day came through early when a distant but unmistakable jaeger flew south along the bridge.  Unfortunately, it was far too distant to determine species with any certainty.  Three species of falcon migrated south today also, including Merlin, American Kestrel, and Peregrine Falcon.  Unfortunately, once the wind changed, the flight shut down entirely.  This happened about halfway through the day, so the last four hours were pretty dull.  Here are a few photos from the first few hours followed by the daily totals.

American Crow enjoying the beach

An American Kestrel that came through in the first hour.

The same kestel as above

A small flock of Common Mergansers were floating offshore for bit today.

First cycle Herring Gull

In the fall, we also keep track of Monarch Butterflies that we see flying south across the straits.

Bright, male Northern Harrier.

A Tufted Titmouse that came in looking for food.

Canada Goose 108

Mallard 1

Long-tailed Duck 2

Common Goldeneye 1

Common Merganser 7

merganser sp. 5

Common Loon 22

loon sp. 1

Horned Grebe 3

Red-necked Grebe 4

Double-crested Cormorant 99

Osprey 3

Northern Harrier 1

Sharp-shinned Hawk 4

Bald Eagle 4

jaeger sp. 1

Ring-billed Gull 11

Herring Gull 19

gull sp. 8

Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1

Belted Kingfisher 1

Downy Woodpecker 1

American Kestrel 3

Merlin 1

Peregrine Falcon 1

Red-eyed Vireo 1

Blue Jay 33

American Crow 8

Black-capped Chickadee 8

Tufted Titmouse 3

Red-breasted Nuthatch 1

American Pipit 7

Monarch Butterfly 5

Waterbird Count, August 21 & 22

Pretty quiet couple of days with hazy weather for the waterbird count. Visibility was between 1-2 miles all day on the 21st, and we saw little of note besides high numbers of Herring Gulls loafing an foraging throughout the day. A pair of Blue-winged Teal and a group of Hooded Mergansers were foraging near the count site throughout the day, but no ducks seem to be moving yet. The 22nd brought rain and wind with an accompanying cold front, so things may start picking up tomorrow. More Red-necked Grebes moving today than the past couple of days, but with the poor visibility that was most of the excitement for the day.

August 21

Blue-winged Teal – 4

Hooded Merganser – 15

duck sp – 2

Common Loon – 2

Red-necked Grebe – 86

Double-crested Cormorant – 52

Great Blue Heron – 2

Ring-billed Gull – 13

Herring Gull – 393

gull sp – 7



Other species of note:

Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1

Bald Eagle – 2

Belted Kingfisher – 1

Merlin – 1

Monarch Butterfly – 2


August 22

Hooded Merganser – 14

Common Loon – 4

Red-necked Grebe – 132

Double-crested Cormorant – 49

Ring-billed Gull – 1

Herring Gull – 28


Other species of note:

Bald Eagle – 1

Monarch Butterfly – 1

First Waterbird Count of the Fall – 20 August

Hi folks! My name is Aspen, and I’m honored to be the waterbird counter for MSRW’s fall season.


The season started out with a pretty slow day today, and beautiful clear weather. Ed Pike and I counted from McGulpin Point starting at sunrise, and primarily had Double-crested Cormorants and Red-necked Grebes moving through the straits and foraging. Not too many birds seem to be migrating yet.


Hooded Merganser – 2

duck sp – 2

Common Loon – 2

Red-necked Grebe – 67

Double-crested Cormorant – 144

Great Egret – 1

Ring-billed Gull – 1

Herring Gull – 52

gull sp – 2

Caspian Tern – 1



Other species:

Spotted Sandpiper – 1

Bald Eagle – 1

Merlin – 2

Monarch Butterfly – 3

Waterbird Count, May 16

The final day of the waterbird migration season, and unfortunately it was not one to go out with a bang. The weather was relatively cold and overcast throughout the day, with moderate winds and episodes of rain in the afternoon. Today marked the first day since April 7th to have a daily count to not include a Common Loon, and the first one since April 16th to have no White-winged Scoters. If that isn’t a sign that migration is drawing to a close I don’t know what is. Although a pair of both Buffleheads and Peregrine Falcons were seen resting near McGulpin Point and moving south across the bridge respectively. Comparisons between last years season totals yielded some surprising consistencies as well as dramatic differences- for full details, refer to the soon-to-be-completed report. It has been a pleasure and honor to be the waterbird counter for the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch, as it has allowed me the opportunity to not only incorporate my hobby into work, but meet many people with similar interests and aspirations. I’d like to thank Ed Pike for providing me the opportunity of a lifetime, as well as to the Bakers, Lawsons, Kirbys, Brickers, Grafs, and Jason Newton for sharing with me the splendor of Michigan’s wilderness and its animals. From here, I will be returning to California to work in the Sierra Nevadas for the Institute for Bird Population’s Southwestern Willow Flycatcher study. Working as a waterbird counter in Mackinac City ranks as one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I hope future waterbird counts will be even more successful.

Long-tailed Duck – 152
Bufflehead – 2
Common Goldeneye – 1
Common Merganser – 21
Red-breasted Merganser – 239
Double-crested Cormorant – 53
duck sp. – 1
Common Tern – 3

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 3
Turkey Vulture – 2
Bald Eagle – 1
Killdeer – 3
Peregrine Falcon – 2

Waterbird Count, May 15

The weather had calmed and cleared from the previous day, revealing ducks far and wide over the glass-like water. However, by the final hours, the wind began to pick up, and birds at further distances became harder to pick out from the rising waves. The count for today came dangerously close to yielding a list without a White-winged Scoter or Common Loon, with only lone individuals for each species seen loafing at the beginning and end of the count respectively. As the spring begins to draw to a close, the birds continue to show the signs of starting off strong for the breeding season; yet another family of Canada Geese visited the shores of McGulpin Point. Tomorrow marks the final day of waterbird counting before my return to California, and I hope the final day can bring one last surprise.

Canada Goose – 16
Greater/Lesser Scaup – 1
White-winged Scoter – 1
Long-tailed Duck – 1914
Common Goldeneye – 1
Common Merganser – 11
Red-breasted Merganser – 265
Common Loon – 1
Double-crested Cormorant – 66
duck sp. – 5
Caspian Tern – 1
Common Tern – 5

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 14
Bald Eagle – 2
Red-shouldered Hawk – 1
Buteo sp. – 18
Killdeer – 1

Waterbird Count, May 14

Unlike the last few days, the straits were experiencing moderate winds, creating waves just high enough to hide the birds in excess of one mile away. Another trend breaker for today was the fact that even though there was only a small number of loons seen today, they were all seen in the morning rather than the afternoon. Despite the increase in wind speed, that did not deter the insects from infesting the air at McGulpin Point- in fact, the winds seemed to make the situation only worse.

Canada Goose – 4
White-winged Scoter – 6
Long-tailed Duck – 481
Common Goldeneye – 2
Common Merganser – 9
Red-breasted Merganser – 254
Common Loon – 6
Double-crested Cormorant – 59
duck sp. – 5
Caspian Tern – 1
Common Tern – 3

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 4
Osprey – 1
Bald Eagle – 1

Waterbird Count, May 13

The Global Big Day for 2017 has finally arrived, and the members of the Mackinaw Straits Raptor Watch have all chipped in to document as many species as possible for this “ornithological holiday”.  The waterbird count had some impressive contributions for the cumulative list today, including over two thousand Long-tailed Ducks, and more than a dozen Common Goldeneyes moving west- a respectable number for May.  The loons today also seemed to make a comeback from a lone individual to several pairs out on the lake.  Though there were no species of particular interest or rarity, the total counts were still high, and any data is good data- especially when there are other people also contributing elsewhere.  Adding to the high waterbird counts was the substantial increase in flying insect activity around the lake.  The air was so thick with midges it felt as if I was walking in rain, and the insects consistently tried to find their way into my eyes, nose and mouth.  I myself have been in many environments where local biting and flying insects are labeled as a major hindrance, but nothing I’ve experienced before can even begin to compare to today.

Canada Goose – 6
Greater/Lesser Scaup – 1
White-winged Scoter – 5
Long-tailed Duck – 2250
Common Merganser – 15
Red-breasted Merganser – 375
Common Loon – 7
Double-crested Cormorant – 75
duck sp. – 5
Common Tern – 9

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 6
Bald Eagle – 2
Buteo sp. – 2
Merlin – 1

Waterbird Count, May 12 (Evening Census)

With the fading light the winds began to fall further than earlier today, but the heat shimmer had grown far more intense.  Though the common species were still out in force, this marks the first evening census to include species that were not documented earlier the same day, or even recently.  With a single Common Goldeneye and half a dozen Redheads, the sunset has brought out birds the sunrise could not.  Unfortunately the same could not be said about the insects, as they seemed to be out in greater numbers than earlier today.  There were plenty of visitors enjoying the sunset on the lake shore, though very few actually approached me to inquire what I was doing.

Redhead – 6
Long-tailed Duck – 1079
Common Goldeneye – 1
Common Merganser – 5
Red-breasted Merganser – 245
Double-crested Cormorant – 39
duck sp. – 8
Common Tern – 3

Other Species:
Killdeer – 1

Waterbird Count, May 12

With moderate cloud cover throughout the day and gentle winds from the east, the stage was set for a good day of counting at McGulpin Point.  The low heat shimmer also provided the opportunity to pick out most of the Long-tailed Ducks loafing throughout the survey area.  I was beginning to doubt that the Long-tailed Duck numbers would ever begin to compare to last years, but after today it seems the trend has gained momentum.  With over two thousand individual Long-tailed Ducks tallied, today marks the first time of this season that the Long-tailed Duck numbers have exceeded one thousand.  On the other hand, today could have been the first day with no Common Loons if it were not for a single individual moving west in the seventh hour.  Raptor activity also gained some notoriety today when a group of Blue Jays were seen harassing a Peregrine Falcon.  The insects are also making an impact at McGulpin Point; the spider webs that decorate the gazebo and cedar trees are now completely full of flying insects.

Canada Goose – 8
Mallard – 1
White-winged Scoter – 12
Long-tailed Duck – 2032
Common Merganser – 5
Red-breasted Merganser – 365
Common Loon – 1
Double-crested Cormorant – 50
duck sp. – 5
Common Tern – 3

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1
Turkey Vulture – 8
Osprey – 1
Accipiter sp. – 1
Bald Eagle – 4
Broad-winged Hawk – 20
Buteo sp. – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 1

KODAK Digital Still Camera

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Adult Canada Geese with gosling pair

Waterbird Count, May 11 (Evening Census)

With the cloud cover receded from the previous days, spotting birds in the west was far more difficult.  However, even the setting sun was not enough to hide some nice additions to the evening census:  Common Terns, Great Blue Heron, and Mallard.  The mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks and cormorants were still omnipresent as they have been in the day, in addition to White-winged Scoters passing through.  As the evening censuses continue to accrue more species to the lists, I’m hopeful it may soon yield a species yet to be documented in the morning counts.

Mallard – 1
White-winged Scoter – 4
Long-tailed Duck – 262
Common Merganser – 5
Red-breasted Merganser – 162
Double-crested Cormorant – 19
duck sp. – 10
Common Tern – 2

Other Species:
Great Blue Heron – 1