Category Archives: Waterbirds

Waterbird Count updates.

Numbers of ducks especially Scoters and Mergansers are on the rise.  Today in particular with the strong northwest wind, 1040 ducks were counted.  Of those, 418 were Red-breasted Mergansers, 97 Redhead, 106 White-winged Scoters, 1 for sure Black Scoter, & 39 Surf/Black Scoters.  Other recent highlights include a Bonaparte’s Gull on 10/11, a Long-tailed Duck on 10/12, an American Black Duck on the 12th & 16th, and a flock of 19 Northern Pintail on the 16th.

Today & yesterday there was a Red-necked Grebe that just sat on the water all day within fairly close distance to the beach.  Northern Harriers have been crossing the strait more frequently in the past week, 5 were counted today.  A noteworthy passerine observation was a Snow Bunting that flew across the strait today.

Based on the current weather predictions, Saturday and Sunday look like they will probably be the best days for birds on the move for the rest of this week.

Below are the recent lists via eBird…





Update on the waterbird count.

As we have now entered October some species have become more common now and others seem to have tapered off.  White-winged Scoters are now found almost daily and Horned Grebes are now pretty regular.  Scaup numbers have also gone up recently.  As far as passerines go, American Pipits now roam the beach daily and will often come in close for great looks.

October 2nd was the best raptor day of the season from the McGulpin side with over 700 individual raptors counted including a light morph Rough-legged Hawk.  On the same day the Sandhill Crane total was 1005 from McGulpin.

Some pictures from the past few weeks…

Turkey Vultures in flight in late September.

A morning rainbow on 9/26

Common Tern on 9/29

One of several American Pipits that have been seen lately.

Complete eBird lists are below.













Waterbird Count – September 30, 2018 – Late Report

Hi Everyone,

I filled in for Kyle last Sunday, but due to some website issues, I have not been able to type up this report until now.

It was an interesting day.  The weather was very dull and dreary and rainy in the morning, as will be evident in the photographs.  The rain died down after a few hours, but the clouds never let up.  For much of the day, the front edge of a front was traveling through the straits parallel to it.  Around 2PM it produced this between McGulpin Point and St. Helena Island.


It only lasted for about thirty second and then quickly dissolved, but was still pretty interesting.

Birdwise, the day was generally marked with slow periods punctuated with a few minutes of activity.  Overall, it was a good day for diversity.  Highlights include an early morning Pine Siskin that I heard fly in off the lake.  I wasn’t able to locate it for a few minutes, but eventually it flew out of the woods and landed in a nearby bush for a few minutes.

Red-throated Loons outnumbered Common Loons.  This happens from time to time, but is not really a common occurrence.  Here is a pair that flew by midday.

Red-throated Loons

There were a few Horned and a couple of Red-necked Grebes hanging out off the beach for much of the day.

Red-necked Grebe with food

Red-necked Grebe

Horned Grebe

There was also a Surf Scoter swimming off of the beach for about twenty minutes.  All three species of Scoter were recorded, which is pretty unusual.

Surf Scoter

The highest count of the day was 199 Canada Geese that threw by either south or west.

The songbird activity was slow.  This was probably partially due to the weather and partially due to the changeover in species composition.  Warblers are leaving the area, but soon we should be seeing more Pine Siskins, Snow Buntings, American Pipits, and Horned Larks.  I’ll leave you with a photo of a Palm Warbler that was still hanging around.

Palm Warbler

2018 Waterbird Count Season Totals Season Total

Snow/ Ross’s Goose – 1
Canada Goose – 1135
goose sp. – 28
Trumpeter Swan – 5
Mute Swan – 3
Wood Duck – 8
Gadwall – 0
American Wigeon – 2
American Black Duck – 14
Mallard – 139
Blue-winged Teal – 2
Northern Shoveler – 10
Northern Pintail – 17
Green-winged Teal – 4
Redhead – 90
Ring-necked Duck – 12
Greater/ Lesser Scaup – 95
Athya sp. – 117
Black Scoter – 2
Surf Scoter – 2
White-winged Scoter – 1089
scoter sp. – 25
Long-tailed Duck – 8295
Bufflehead – 84
Common Goldeneye – 288
Hooded Merganser – 4
Common Merganser – 1094
Red-breasted Merganser – 7837
merganser sp. – 297
duck sp. – 2318
Red-throated Loon – 2
Common Loon – 1156
loon sp. – 30
Horned Grebe – 222
Red-necked Grebe – 23
American White Pelican – 4
Double-crested Cormorant – 1628
Great Blue Heron – 19
Great Egret – 38
White-faced Ibis – 2
Bonaparte’s Gull – 157
Ring-billed Gull – 130
Herring Gull – 182
gull sp. – 3416
Caspian Tern – 8
Common Tern – 130
tern sp. – 3

Total waterbirds – 30,167

enter Notable sightings:

May 3rd: Before dawn the sky was filled with COLO (334). Had I not been in place before official sunrise I would have missed nearly 100 birds. Before anyone steals the thunder out of migration in the straits, I understand more loon are seen in an hour at Whitefish Point. Either way after sitting patiently through the last of the winter weather I enjoyed the spectacle thoroughly. 161 COLO flew through between 6:18 – 6:22AM. Another 117 flew through between 6:24 – 7:23AM. The straits were literally filled with COLO! HOGR (35) are increasing in numbers daily and again defying many peoples assumptions. These birds were all staged in close to McGulpin Point. Arriving well before dawn and walking as quietly as possible to the gazebo made it such that the birds stayed close to be counted and observed.

May 5th: (246) COLO continued through the straits today in a westerly direction. Today’s flight was different than Thursdays in that the birds were predominantly a steady trickle throughout the day versus the first hour after dawn. The busiest hours were 6:00AM (42), 7:00AM (69) and 8:00AM (56). (33) HOGR were the high count of loafing birds in the 9:00AM hour. (2) TRUS crossed high and moving north. It has been a long time since I had seen any swans.

May 5th: Big surprise for the day was (2) WFIB winging their way south. I noted them as two black birds off over the north side of the straits coming almost directly at me. They seemed like crows at a distance, but their flight style and spacing was definitively un – crow like. As they got to the middle of the straits they swung a little west of me and a long down curved bill came into view. I knew it was an ibis instantly as they are quite common back home in the west. The two birds ended up flying just to the west of me less than .25 mile. I could make out the glossy sheen on the feathers and very long bright red legs dragging behind them. I was surprised to see it was a rarity here in MI and was happy I payed attention to every detail as without the leg color it may have been hard to make the call between a GLIB and a WFIB.

May 7th: A nice surprise to the end of the count was AWPE (4) spotted about mid – channel winging north low over the water to the Pt. Labarbe vicinity.

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 buy Depakote india 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.