Hello Again!

Many of you might already know where to see live updates and exact totals on species throughout the season. But just in case, you can use this link to view all of the birds broken down by year, day, hour, whatever floats your boat: https://dunkadoo.org/explore/mackinac-straits-raptor-watch/waterbirds-fall-2020.                

A posing great egret. Photo by Ben Stalheim

It is great to have finished some waterbird surveys so that I can start to give a more detailed breakdown of what I am seeing. As of today, I have completed 9 surveys, 5 at Mcgulpin, and 4 at Graham point. On August 25th, I experienced the first big push of migrating waterbirds. Throughout the early dawn hours, large flocks of common loons were flying hundreds of feet over the bridge. They were flying so distantly that I could not even see the flocks through my binoculars. Luckily, my spotting scope was able to pick out these large groups and I observed 139 loons moving south. Additionally, there were large flocks of red-necked grebes. These were almost entirely concentrated to the west side of the bridge, and much closer to Pt. Labarbe than me. However, it was a joy to see these “goofy” fliers moving in such large numbers. In total, I counted 157 grebes on the day.

August 26th was a beautiful morning. Complete silence on the water, no wind, waves, nothing. Then within a matter of minutes, my serenity was broken by the cracking sound of thunder, only to be outperformed by a dizzying array of lightning strikes. The thunderstorm remained distant for a better part of the day, but roughly halfway through my count, it arrived. Rain, wind, fog, lightning, the works. So I had to pack things in. Before I left I did manage to find a season’s first wilson’s warbler, northern parula, red-eyed vireo, black-and-white warbler, and northern cardinal.

August 27th started brilliantly! Early in the morning, a juvenile parasitic jaeger flew past and afforded me great looks. Jaeger’s are fascinating birds and have been labeled the “raptors of the sea” by those who love metaphors. Most common out on the open ocean, they are vicious predators and will harass nearly anything. I spent the rest of the day scanning for any others that may have been pushed down by yesterday’s storm. No luck with more rarities, but I did find decent numbers of horned grebes (5), red-necked grebes (4), and the first common goldeneyes of the year.

August 28th was like the last few surveys, with it starting off extremely active and quickly falling off. When I first arrived, there was a thick wall of fog blocking my ability to see anything on the water. However, I could hear caspian terns calling, and when the fog cleared, 9 caspian and 2 common terns flew south past Mcgulpin. As a seabird biologist, Laridae (the family of gulls and terns) is a favorite. Although I have much to learn, I absolutely love watching these species’ behaviors. So having these terns follow up yesterday’s jaeger (not a larid, but closely related) was a special treat. For most of the day, there was a raft of 21 common mergansers swimming or sitting right next to me. These birds have been around each survey so far, but not quite in that high of numbers. Red-necked grebes were also flying by at steady rates for most of the day. Although there were only a few common loons that passed by, they have me scanning way off into the horizon, which helped me pick out quite a few bald eagles that were soaring on thermals this afternoon. Overall a good day for waterbirds!

So what are the totals so far?

Well, I have seen 64 species of bird while at my count sites. The most numerous have been double-crested cormorants, ring-billed gulls, herring gulls, red-necked grebes, and common loons. Also, monarch butterflies have started to migrate in incredible numbers (~150 per day), so get out there and look for these amazing animals.

What can we expect for the blog this season?

I will be posting about 3x a week, and hopefully highlighting things outside of just the birds that I am seeing. I am working on some lessons, quizzes, identification aids, and other fun tidbits to accompany the weekly breakdowns.

Thanks everyone!

Benjamin Stalheim