Category Archives: Waterbirds

April 25th Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

Trace amount of rain in the area overnight. Even though the temperature was 2.8C it seemed cold as wind was blowing out of the north west at 19kph. The sunrise was awesome and it lit up the birds well for the first few hours before it clouded up. The barometer rose slightly through the count. 21 cm of snow still remain from the last storm at McGulpin Point.

Waterbird Notes –

Slow day for waterbirds in the straits. Fortunately Leonard Graf was on deck to help with detections. Leonard helped me hone my GRSC (2) / LESC (10) skills. He also picked up a HOGR (1) and RNGR (1) at nearly 3 miles. We both enjoyed the light this morning on the (20) COLO.

I did want to provide an update on how this years count has been going. For most of the beginning of the count waterbirds were unable to use the area in front of McGulpin Point due to ice. Another issue was poor weather conditions to count in, both visibility being and issue and an inability to keep blowing snow off the binoculars and spotting scope. The first 3 weeks of the count shouldn’t be considered an accurate approximation of birds using the straits as it was less than ideal for a host of reasons to even detect them. Fortunately for me I am just now feeling comfortable with a routine of capturing the migrants in the tablet and scanning properly to pick up as many birds as is possible.  As of today 18,794 birds have been counted of 73 species. Not all of the birds counted are waterbirds as I am counting everything that flies or calls. Since migration is hardly underway I would imagine it will be easy to exceed 20,000 birds during this seasons count. I am keeping busy and on task attempting to capture as much information as is possible about waterbird migration. The days literally fly by when there are plenty of birds to count! I have a routine of spiffing out my tally at the end of the day, transferring the information to eBird and putting up a blog post. After that very little daylight is left to cook up some food and set up camp.

Non- waterbird Notes –

A lone adult male NOHA (1) was spotted early in the morning setting off across the straits near McGulpin Rock. A cold and windy day quieted things down in the forest behind the gazebo.

Wildlife-

RESQ.

Freighters-

Spencer F. Baird west bound 9:50, Pere Marquette west bound 10:49, Manitowoc west bound 12:38 and RTC 100 east bound at 12:41.

Visitors –

Leonard Graf lent his expertise in spotting and identifying distant waterbirds for 3 hours of the count today. I greatly appreciate his skills and knowledge as new species continue to pour through the straits. Bev and Jack Kirby came down to say hello and brought some snacks. Joe of DEQ and Caroline who is The Great Lakes Policy Specialist for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians visited during the end of the count. It was interesting to learn about the tribes perspective of the straits.

“The LTBB are people of the water. The Odawa people originated from the water and will return to the water. The plants, wildlife, and aquatic life that are dependent on clean water are used for cultural, ceremonial, medicinal uses, and for food.”

They see the area and its waters as sacred. Having had a brief glimpse of migration through the straits I believe their understanding of this special place is the most fitting.

Update on the road situation. The parking lot has melted out nicely, but care should be taken not to park in a soupy spot. In the afternoon the road down becomes a creek with snowmelt running down it and the parking lot becomes a quagmire. Clearance no longer is an issue and I would imagine most vehicles could make it in and out as long as care is taken in assessing were to park.

Total observer hours – 8.0

Next days forecast –

Sunny, with a high near 47. West wind 5 to 10 mph.

Todays tally is posted on eBird here.

Total Species: 35

Total Count : 940

April 24th Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

No wind again this morning and a temperature of 1.7C. The barometer fell slightly. Visibility was excellent but the heat shimmer did appear around 10:30AM. Light cirrus clouds helped provide a blank canvas to spot loons and other waterbirds on.

Waterbird Notes –

The first NSHO (5) of this springs count were spotted flying high and nearly 2 miles away moving west. NOPI (9) were following a similar flight path a few hours later. (2) SUSC were seen very close to McGulpin Point and it was hard to miss their distinctive bill. (30) COLO passed through the straits during the count. (6) HOGR and (2) RNGR were seen flying together low over the water at dawn. Nice to have a side by side comparison to help with estimating the size disparity between the two species. (2) BOGU were spotted for the first time this season flying in the cove to the east of McGulpin.

Non- waterbird Notes –

The resident Merlin greeted me first thing this morning at McGulpin. I appreciate it reminding me whose territory I am in. A resident Osprey was spotted low over the water coming south to McGulpin, another first detection for the season. (2) NOHA crossed the straits, one early and the other just a little before noon. (1) RLHA took the eastern option in the afternoon. No new detections in the forest behind the gazebo, but they are certainly busy with bird life.

Wildlife-

RESQ

Freighters-

Calumet west bound 7:17, Edwin H Gott west bound 12:05.

Visitors –

Ed Pike

Total observer hours – 8.0

Next days forecast –

Partly sunny, with a high near 46. North wind around 10 mph.

Todays tally is posted on eBird here.

Total Species: 44

Total Count : 1261

April 23rd Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

Calm and a temp of -1C at the start of the count. A light haze hung in the straits. By the afternoon it had warmed to 8.9C and a light wind blew out of the north east. Heat shimmer started around 10:30AM. By the end of the count a little after 2:00PM the winds had picked up to 11kph out of the north east and the temperature was 11.1C. Barometric pressure fell steadily through the count.

Waterbird Notes –

BWTE (2) were a welcome addition to todays flight. LTDU (404) continue to be in the shipping channel and St. Helena vicinity during most of the afternoon. WWSC ( 111) were actively moving through the straits as well. The first CATE (1) was heard, then spotted flying west directly over the gazebo.

Loon migration is in full swing! (30) COLO, (3) RTLO and (2) loon sp. The busiest time of the count was 8:30AM to 10:30AM when 27 individuals moved west through the straits. Scanning for loons is quickly becoming an obsession. Loon make quick work of motoring through the straits, sometimes high over the supports of the bridge. It is also important to consider that of the 35 individuals spotted today, possibly and equal number is moving by above McGulpin on the south side of the straits. These loon wouldn’t be visible from the gazebo. I have spent a couple afternoons watching raptors from Darrow’s and watched 1-3 loons fly from out of a kettle of raptors. These loon were all COLO and flying south of the straits high over land.

Non- waterbird Notes –

Raptors were active crossing the straits at 12:40PM. BWHA (2) were seen flying higher than the TUVU across the straits, from my vantage point higher than the towers on the bridge. When raptors are taking the eastern crossing it pays to look above the TUVU. RTHA (3) and RLHA (1) both crossed the straits near McGulpin Point. (71) SACR were seen migrating today both at dawn and in the afternoon. The resident Merlin were active, calling from perches behind the gazebo throughout the day. A TUTI tried to visit the feeder without being noticed, but the distinctive crown gave it away as I scanned for loons.

Wildlife-

RESQ.

Freighters-

Calumet east bound 7:17, American Spirit west bound 9:16, Philip R. Clarke 11:12.

Visitors –

Tony USDA and a reporter from the St. Ignace News.

Total observer hours – 8.0

Next days forecast –

Partly cloudy. Slight chance of rain. High near 50F. North west winds 10 to 15mph.

Todays tally is posted on eBird here.

Total Species: 43

Total Count : 1563

April 22nd Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

Clear, still and cold this morning with a temp of -2.2C. Lots of ice has come back to McGulpin Point which made it unusable to waterbirds. An evening count was made and the temps had climbed to 13.3 C.

Waterbird Notes –

Slow day for waterbirds. LTDU led the count with 410 individuals out in their favorite location along the west side of the shipping channel. CANG continue to be on the move with 149 individuals. COME are steadily increasing in the straits at 58 individuals.

Non- waterbird Notes –

At dawn above the gazebo the resident Merlin was seen nearly taking a passerine above the gazebo. It took several swipes at the bird, but the prey managed to elude this formidable hunter. The forest behind the gazebo is starting to come alive with residents and migrants. A WITU was seen ambling up the road out of the lower parking lot at McGulpin.

Wildlife-

RESQ.

Freighters-

Edgar B. Speer west bound 8:07 and Federal Beaufort west bound at 12:00.

Visitors –

None

Total observer hours – 8.25 ( split count 6:20AM – 12:30 and 5:50PM- 8:00PM)

Next days forecast –

Sunny to partly cloudy. High near 50F. Winds E at 5-10mph.

Todays tally is posted on eBird here.

Total Species: 40

Total Count : 1073

April 21st Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

The straits were completely still this morning which made for an intense reddish sunrise. Temperatures were just below freezing. By 7:30AM it was above freezing. Barometer held steady during the days count. Except for an occasional gust the winds were negligible. The heat shimmer was noticeable by 10:30. By the end of the count it was 7.8C which is a virtual heat wave for the “winter” waterbird count!

Waterbird Notes –

Solid flight today with good diversity. The first RTLO attempted to slip through undetected, but the loon tracking system did not fail. These two birds were migrating together through the straits at 8:52AM along the northern shoreline. The birds drooping neck and smaller size were noticeable against the backdrop of the forest. The lack of long dragging feet was obvious as well. The birds took a slightly different flight path than many of the COLO who tend to fly high and over land a little. MUSW made their first appearance of the season, 3 individuals flying together from the west to east close to the gazebo. DCCO are steadily increasing in numbers in the straits with 109 individuals being counted today. A new migrant made its first appearance of the count and luckily close to 250 meters from the gazebo. A lone HOGR spent the better part of the afternoon at McGulpin to later be joined by another.

Non- waterbird Notes –

The forest behind the gazebo is coming alive! The first TRES, EAPH, SOSP, NOFL all made their presence known. The EAPH came in close to perch in front of the gazebo and Kathy Bricker thinks the bird was eying the gazebo for a potential nest site. A TRES was seen coming down to the water near the shore ice to skim a drink or insect. SOSP was heard up the hill yesterday near the lighthouse parking lot belting out its distinctive song. This bird was heard again this morning first thing in the dark while I hand ground my coffee. The bird eventually found its way down the hill to the gazebo and came continually closer to the gazebo.

Wildlife-

RESQ, but the little trouble maker is keeping its distance which is preferred.

Freighters-

Federal Mackinac west bound at 9:49AM. This boat helped bump the LTDU for the approximate total.

Visitors –

Kathy and Jim Bricker, Diane Morand and Sue Ormand.  For road and approach updates read  April 19th’s post here.

Total observer hours – 8.0

Next days forecast –

Sunny, with a high near 53. Calm wind becoming east around 5 mph in the afternoon.

Todays tally is posted on eBird here.

Total Species: 43

Total Count : 1776

April 20th Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

Clear and cold start to todays count with a temperature of -5C. By 8:30AM the temperature climbed above freezing. The wind picked up around 12:30 to 19kph out of the north west and the heat shimmer became noticeable. The shore ice is beginning to melt fast and large blocks of undercut ice fell into the lake. On shore the snow from the last storm is condensing fast. Rock hard in the morning and slushy by the afternoon.

Waterbird Notes –

Todays flight marks a steady increase of COLO at 26 individuals. A split count captured todays movement as 17 birds were picked up in the morning between 7:00- 9:00AM. An additional 8 more were detected between 6:00-6:30PM. Going forward I will do my best to get back to the count in the evening when the weather is suitable.

Non- waterbird Notes –

Many of the diurnal raptors that hadn’t crossed the straits yesterday were still roosting in the McGulpin Point area at dawn. Primarily TUVU, which the resident crows seemed to take exception to. A lone SSHA made a crossing of the straits at 11:56. One of the fringe benefits of being the “winter” waterbird counter is seeing the smaller raptors who fly low make short work of the crossing. Much more confident than a timid RTHA who keeps circling back or TUVU who arrive in the evening when it is too late to cross. A PIWO returned to give its wildman call. The bird was very close to the gazebo pounding heavily on a tree. A late season PIGR was heard nearly in the same tree it was spotted in earlier in March.

Wildlife-

RESQ

Freighters-

RTC 100 west bound at 6:45PM.

Visitors –

Lynn Fraze

Total observer hours – 8.0 ( split count 6:30AM – 1:00PM and 6:00PM – 7:30)

Next days forecast –

Mostly sunny, with a high near 49. Calm wind becoming west around 5 mph in the afternoon.

Todays tally is posted on eBird here.

Total Species: 35

Total Count : 1033

April 19th Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

-.6 C with 28kph winds out of the north at the start of todays count. By 9:30 the temperature climbed to just above freezing. The barometer rose slightly through the count. 2 ft waves were slapping into the shore ice and the heat shimmer was noticeable.

Waterbird Notes –

A lone COLO was seen rounding McGulpin Point a little after sunrise. This would be the first good look I have gotten of one since the beginning of the count. COLO continued to trickle through during the count today with no apparent rhyme or reason to their movements.

Non- waterbird Notes –

Solid raptor flight today for McGulpin Point. A lone MERL led the flight at 8:21AM. The falcon was locked into a trough between the waves headed north. It was a memorable migrant to see crossing the straits with such little effort. Shortly after the TUVU started to cross in very large flocks. In total 157 individuals crossed during the count today. 4 RTHA made there way west to the gazebo before beginning their crossing of the straits. TUVU were still stacking up at the end of the second half of the count in the evening.

Wildlife-

None

Freighters-

Virginiaborg east bound at 6:46. Ironmaster west bound at 7:00. Philip R Clarke east bound at 7:37. Roger Blough westbound at 5:20PM.

Visitors –

Jim Bricker, Matt, USCG

Total observer hours – 8.0 ( split shift 6:30AM – noon, 4:00PM – 6:30PM)

Next days forecast –

Sunny, with a high near 43. West wind 5 to 10 mph.

Todays tally is posted on eBird here.

Update on the road and conditions at the point. Thankfully the road down was plowed after this last storm. It shouldn’t be any trouble for vehicles with 4 wheel drive or all wheel drive. Parking is limited at 2-3 vehicles as the entire lot wasn’t plowed. By the afternoon the lot is quite muddy which could be problematic if you happen to park in a soupy spot. Two patches of ice remain on the road and can be slippery both on foot and in a car. A trail to the gazebo has been walked in nicely. Currently your best bet for an approach to the waterbird count is to park at the McGulpin Point Lighthouse ( if you don’t have a solid vehicle for snow and ice) and walk down the road to the parking lot. Care should still be exercised as there are a couple icy spots. Bring winter footwear though as the walk to the gazebo still has over a foot of snow. This is either rock hard in the morning or slushy by afternoon.

The shore ice is rapidly melting away. I still have a significant ice wall blocking about 20 % of my far western view.

April 18th Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

35cm of snow has fallen at McGulpin Point since the last count on April 14th. In places the drifts are even deeper. Just before dawn winds were out of the north at 12-19kph. Temperatures started off at -1.1C but climbed to above freezing by 9:30. Significant cloud cover for most of the day, but by 2:00PM the winds kicked up a little more to 20-28kph out of the NE and the straits cleared out quickly. The barometer climbed steadily through the count. Despite the cloud cover visibility was excellent with heat shimmer not becoming an issue until the last hour of the count. Light wave action at 1 foot.

Waterbird Notes –

Slow flight today despite it being the first decent day after a 3 day snowstorm impacted the area. RBME led the flight with LTDU nearly edging them out. COME are slowly increasing in numbers. Leonard Graf spotted the first two COLO of the day around 8:00AM. One was heading west and the other was returning south. I spotted another COLO at 9:16 on a similar flight path as the first one headed to the west over Gros Cap.

Non- waterbird Notes –

Raptors were on the move despite a late start. The firs TUVU tried to slip by headed west along the shoreline over the gazebo. They continued to trickle through, but the big numbers started to cross between noon and 2:00PM. One flock of 6 and another of 16. A RTHA was spotted returning from the west and headed back east over the gazebo looking for the proper place to cross. SACR were spotted over the northern side of the straits over Gros Cap. 2 resident SACR are making regular commutes south across the straits late in the count now.  Slow day for the forest birds as they recover from the storm.

Wildlife-

RESQ appears to have eaten all of the suet. He now feels comfortable barking orders and it seems McGulpin Point may have a “problem squirrel “. Like they say in Alaska, a fed squirrel is a dead squirrel. This situation will be monitored and I may need to borrow some pepper spray from the Bricker’s if this squirrel becomes more aggressive. About 7 White-tailed Deer were spotted above the lighthouse when I was leaving. I noticed tracks behind the gazebo too.

Freighters-

Stewart J. Cort westbound at 9:24. This ship helped me get all the LTDU detections as well as bump some WWSC. A tug General was out in the straits at 9:30 and was still there when I finished the count today. I was told by the Coast Guard this was part of the crew inspecting every one of the 5 lines that crosses the straits.

Visitors –

Leonard Graf joined me in the morning for 1.5 hours. He helped add some COLO to the count today. The Coast Guard was down again today and worker from a natural gas company. Evidently there is some excavating that will be going on just up the beach from me in the near future.

Total observer hours – 8.0

Next days forecast –

Sunny, with a high near 38. Northwest wind around 15 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph.

Todays tally is posted on eBird here.

I am no longer able to insert photos into the days blog posts so images will not be a part of the daily blog posts going forward.

April 16th Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

Periods of snow showers. Low around 28. Northwest wind around 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. Total nighttime snow accumulation of around an inch possible.

Total observer hours – 0.0

Next days forecast –

Snow showers likely before 3pm, then a slight chance of rain and snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 36. Northwest wind around 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.