April 10th Waterbird Count Summary

seeing clearly now… lighthouse on St. Helena is approximately 5 miles from the count site. No heat shimmer or wave action for birds to hide in.

Weather –

-5C and completely still at the beginning of todays count. The temperature rose to above freezing by 8:30 and there was still no wind to speak of. Excellent visibility for the entirety of the count at over 32km on both sides of the straits. No heat shimmer to speak of which helped with some long distance observations. The barometric pressure fell slightly through the count. Light cloud cover to the north west for most of the day. Compared to some of the weather so far for the count, today would be one of the nicer days.

Waterbird Notes –

Todays superb conditions for the count helped with a first detection for the season. A lone pair of WODU were noted between 3-4 miles to the north west of McGulpin Point between St. Helena Island and Gros Cap. The birds were resting on the water and to the side of a large raft of LTDU. The water was so calm and glassy with absolutely no heat shimmer. The bright white “bridle” of the male was quite obvious. They eventually flushed away from a freighter and headed to the south and west of the observation point. 131 LTDU were counted resting in front of Gros Cap in the shipping channel in the 11:00 hour. The flight was highly variable today, in fact pretty slow at dawn then slowly ramping up through the morning.

Snowy Owl perch hunting near the shipping channel

Non- waterbird Notes –

At first light I saw a lone Snowy Owl take off from a perch on the blue ice wall clear across at Point Labarbe. The bird literally glowed pink in the light of dawn. The bird flew steadily for a short distance very low to the ice blocks only to perch again. I would think a Snowy Owl would be hard to keep track of if you were a duck compared to a Bald Eagle. In the noon hour another or possibly the same Snowy Owl was spotted right in front of McGulpin Point on a raft of floating ice on the near side of the shipping channel. The bird flew to a variety of different perches. I like when they perch low behind a block of ice using it like a blind.

A lone Killdeer was heard a couple times during todays count. A large flock of CORE flew in several small circles above the gazebo, organizing before venturing out to cross the straits. I was surprised a few minutes later when they returned. The wind had kicked up a little so it may not have been ideal for their crossing. My forest bird detections are being hindered currently as a suck truck has been running non- stop just a quarter mile from the count site. It is difficult to hear them over the constant noise.

Wildlife-

None

Freighters-

Burns Harbor east bound 7:39 AM. Walter J McCarthy JR west bound 10:18. Anglian Lady towing Ironmanster east bound 10:45. Pere Marquette east bound pushed by Undaunted 10:52. LaFarge Innovation west bound 12:00.

Visitors –

An employee of Enbridge came by towards the end of the count this afternoon. Enbridge is trying to determine if there has been damage to their pipeline. Apparently now a total of 5 structures may have been damaged by vessel activity that is still under investigation. I was told by Joseph Haas on 4/8 and now today by an employee of Enbridge it was possibly a ship dragging anchor through the straits sometime on Sunday that caused the damage. Yesterday afternoon a helicopter made 7-10 passes over the pipeline looking for any sign of an oil sheen or pollutants.

Map showing the location of the power line that has been damaged

Here is a brief timeline of events leading up to today:

Sunday night two of American Transmission Companies Cables that cross Mackinaw Straits about .25 miles from the McGulpin Waterbird Count went offline. ATC who owns the power lines that ruptured notified the Coast Guard the following afternoon. It isn’t clear from reading either the Coast Guard or ATC’s press releases what the actual time of notification was. The fluid being leaked is DF-45 and copy of the safety data sheet may be inspected here. Initially it was reported between 400 – 6,000 gallons may have leaked into the straits from the lines. Since the 4th of April the amount leaked has been consistently reported as 600 gallons by both the Coast Guard and ATC. ATC and the Coast Guard are primarily concerned with the possible impacts to wildlife:

“According to the Unified Command, the greatest threat is to waterfowl or shore birds that may come in contact with the product floating on the surface, but no impacts to fisheries or waterfowl have been detected to date. “

I notified Joseph Haas and Marko Broz on 4/8 that I had noticed yellowish grey tinged rafts of ice on the 6th and 7th which is 2-3 days after this Straits of Mackinac Overflight image above. Note the stained raft of ice. I also related the excessive preening that was documented in a story that came out today on mLIVE which may be viewed here.

If anyone would like to follow this evolving story you may check the United States Coast Guard News here. American Transmission Company has been providing occasional press releases on their site here as well. Both ATC and the Coast Guard is asking anyone who sees impacted wildlife to please call the USDA at 517.336.1928. In addition to this number if you observe oil sheen please call the USCG 24 Hour Hotline at 906.635.3319. McGulpin Point may not be the best place to observe impacted wildlife considering prevailing winds and currents during the spill. On April 5th at 1:14PM the Coast Guard believed that the calculated trajectory of the spilled DF-45 was to the south and southwest of the source. However, by 8:40 PM NOAA had a different calculation for the spill which was to the east and northeast of the utility line.

Total observer hours – 8.0

Next days forecast –

Snow showers likely, mainly before 10am. Cloudy, then gradually becoming mostly sunny, with a high near 41. West wind around 15 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.

Todays tally is posted on eBird here.