April 5th Waterbird Count Summary

Weather –

Light 1- 5kph winds out of the NW this morning at 6:45AM. It was -9C with excellent visibility. Stratus clouds made for an incredible sunrise over the bridge. By 11:30 the wind started to pick up and the wave action out of the NW brought ice to the shore ice and the ice wall of McGulpin Point. The barometric pressure dropped steadily throughout the days count.

Waterbird Notes –

I was surprised to see the waterbird activity was noticeably decreased today, considering this is the first calm morning since the spring snow storms that came through during the last 2 days. It has been my experience so far that at least RBME are active in their courtship displays near McGulpin Point on calm, ice free days like this. It was interesting to note that, despite a concerted effort and the help of multiple qualified waterbird counters, we were only able to add COGO and COME to the count today. There seemed to be lots of loafing going on this morning, especially the RBME. Both the RBME and COGO spent 30 minutes or more preening in front of McGulpin Point, then rested for more than an hour. This was during the usually busy morning hours after dawn when the merganser are either courting or foraging. We have had our share of bad weather and the straits are a bottleneck, intensifying the magnitude of wind, precipitation, wave action… all weather seems to increase in intensity when it reaches the straits. Possibly the birds where taking the opportunity to relax in the calm of the morning.

Non- waterbird Notes –

The forest birds and raptors that live near the straits were also not very active today. The stand out exception to this was AMCR flying in large flocks from north to south across the straits. 64 individuals were counted in groups ranging from 30- 5. 51 came across in two groups ( 30 and 21 ) at 8:00 AM close to the bridge.

A DOWO took a moment to drum on a resonant tree. Near the parking lot at the end of the count a Slate- colored Junco was spotted, the first of this years count. The lone adult female Northern Harrier was seen flying in the midst of gulls who were all flying low over the ice that was grinding against the shore ice late in the afternoon. She stood out immediately from the gulls as her effort seemed less labored and she flew slightly lower than they did in the stiff 30kph winds. This is now the 3rd time this resident bird has been detected in the afternoon, always on the same flight path. She also only comes across when the ice happens to be grinding against the shore ice. Too, she seems to be flying amongst AMCR or now gull sp. Is she robbing other birds of their food or is she too looking for food amongst the ice?

Wildlife-

Ed Pike helped me ID some coyote tracks that came up from the shore ice and right by the west side of the gazebo. Going forward I will note wildlife detections as well.

Freighters-

The Erie Trader was eastbound at 7:00 and Arnold Freight at 14:00 heading westbound.

Visitors –

Leonard Graf joined me for about 30 minutes this morning. Unfortunately there wasn’t much going on today. I look forward to getting more opportunities to bird with him during the upcoming festival, which is going to be fun! I was also joined by Jim Zervos who is volunteering as well during the festival. Ed Pike came by at the end of the count and helped me ID tracks.

I also had a chance to visit with Captain Marko Broz of the Coast Guard. I greatly appreciated the information he shared with me regarding what to do if someone falls in the straits off of the ice. I have noticed recently open water between the wall of blue ice and the shore ice. That open water is now covered in snow and I am hoping I can make it through this seasons count without having to call 911 or the Coast Guard. One issue about taking a swim here is obviously the cold water, but the other issue is the current in the straits when there is wind and it wouldn’t take much to get pushed back under the ice when it is windy. The other issue is the blue ice that seems to be the focal point of the photo opportunities happens to be anything but stable. I am watching the wall either grow or slowly tumble off in blocks into the straits. In my estimation it is anything but stable and wouldn’t take much weight to send the right block careening off the north side of the wall into the straits. Captain Broz mentioned there is the additional issue of ending up on a raft of ice that is drifting. He told me without hesitation to not go in after anyone and to call 911 or the Coast Guard immediately. Rescue in these conditions would most likely be by helicopter. He told me a boat isn’t of much use when ice is involved with regards to retrieving someone.

In addition to these visitors I was able to interact with the public today. A woman and her daughter visited with me a bit and I got to show my first visitors RBME through the spotting scope. Another woman was visiting with her daughter and we spotted a non- adult Bald Eagle coming right overhead along the shoreline near McGulpin.

I also wanted to give an update on the road situation. Getting down the hill to the parking lot is no issue. Getting back out is. Today a family was stuck down in the parking lot for over 2 hours. The sound of tires burning on light gravel and thick ice sounded as if a mountain lion was roaring at McGulpin. This went on for about 1.5 hours and no doubt the waterbirds moved off as a result of all the noise. The incident then repeated itself over and over with more folks coming down and getting stuck. Even the truck that finally got the family out had to get stuck to perform their rescue. This helped me on the commute home as the berm was gone when I left. I walked up around 13:00 and put the road closed sign back up as I felt it was best to stop people up the road before coming down to get stuck as I had a feeling it would just keep happening over and over again. Someone could probably go into business selling chains down here after storms like they do on the trans- sierra highways in winter.

Back to the update though. If anyone plans on visiting over Raptor Fest weekend here is your best option. Park up at the McGulpin Point Lighthouse parking lot. From the parking lot walk east into the yard beyond the entryway to the light house. Just past the north east corner of the lighthouse at the edge of the yard you will see a sign for the Chi-Sin Trail. You will see my tracks post holing through the snow down to the shoreline ( approximately 500 meters of hiking). Once you reach the shoreline look west and you will see the waterbird counter at the gazebo. The reason why I think this is the best approach is that it is easier to stay upright in the unconsolidated snow ( although it was starting to set up when I left) than walking down the icy road. The road is in a freeze and thaw cycle that involves water seeping down to the parking lot by late afternoon. This freezes at night and turns into a hockey rink by the morning. The trail I am recommending is mostly in the forest and as such the snow isn’t freezing and thawing yet. It also happens to be a more gentle slope down to the shoreline than the truck and passenger car stopper the road now is.

Total observer hours – 8.0

Next days forecast –

Snow showers likely, mainly after 8am. Patchy blowing snow after 1pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 30. Blustery, with a northwest wind 5 to 15 mph increasing to 15 to 25 mph in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 35 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%. New snow accumulation of around an inch possible.

Todays tally is posted on eBird here.