Aug 29 – Sep 2

Here is the link to all of my data again, just in case: https://dunkadoo.org/explore/mackinac-straits-raptor-watch/waterbirds-fall-2020

Aug 29: This was a windy, blistery day that made it pretty difficult to spot many birds. From Graham point, most of the day involves directly looking into the sun which can also limit visibility and distort shapes. However, because it was such a clear day, monarch butterflies were out in force. I counted 148 of them throughout the day. Foraging in the trees, flying over the lake, they were simply everywhere. I also found my first white-winged scoter of the year. A solo bird flying with a group of horned grebes. Strange, I know. Nonetheless, more of these beautiful birds are sure to pass through soon. Other birds of note were a few common goldeneyes, red-breasted and common mergansers, 8 horned grebes, 7 red-necked grebes, 18 common loons, and a pair of sanderling. The sanderling were both juvenile birds, and these “wave-chasers” walked right up to me as I haphazardly tried to photograph them.

Aug 30: This day felt like migration. There was a steady push of red-necked grebes and common loons throughout the day. I counted 161 grebes and 44 loons. I believe this is the first day that double-crested cormorants did not win for total tallies as well. Red-necked grebes most often circle around very offshore, but today they came extremely close and gave me excellent looks. The raft of juvenile common mergansers (23 of them) was also present, and lazily drifted feet from shore for most of the afternoon. There were some special treats mixed in as well. A pair of juvenile bonaparte’s gulls flew south past the point, and on my walk up the road to the restroom, I picked up some great songbirds. A continuing carolina wren was singing, calling, and perched atop a bush for great looks. Additionally, a red crossbill sat on top of a nearby evergreen happily calling away. Overall a fun day for all birds.

Aug 31: Another slow day, with a mix of red-necked grebes, common loons, blue-winged teals, horned grebes, and common mergansers. Not in high numbers, and steadily trickled out very early in the day. Also almost no monarch’s were moving through. A disappointment, as I have come to appreciate their company and vibrant colors. There was one new species that finally flew past. A single red-throated loon flew south early in the morning. These are the most abundant loon species where I live on the west coast, and watching them migrate through the straits as well is spectacular. To tell these from common loons in flight, you have to watch the angle of the wings in the upstroke. Red-throated loons have a slight angle that creates a “leaned-back” look, while common loons and their bulkier bodies fly with more or less vertical wing shape. The bill of the red-throated loon is often pointed up, but most of the loons I see are miles away, and this field mark is all but useless.

Sep 1: A new month! September could not have begun any better in terms of migrating waterbirds. Red-necked grebes were plentiful (97), but it was the massive flock of bonaparte’s gulls (71) that made the day. These small gulls moved together in unison to cross the bridge, but left behind a juvenile who fed just offshore for most of the day. That was a special treat. There was a large group of double-crested cormorants, herring gulls, and ring-billed gulls foraging just offshore as well. This attracted some other species such horned grebes, common loons, common mergansers, and mallards to join. The day was calm as could be on the water, and easily the best visibility I have had. Yet I still didn’t even see these two shadowy figures flying over until they were directly above. My first sandhill cranes of the season passed over, silent, and on a mission. I have studied sandhill cranes on their wintering grounds in California, so seeing them again up here is something special.

Sep 2: Nothing exceptional from today, but getting some excellent time working on species ID and talking with local people. A few common goldeneyes past the point, and red-necked grebes, common loons, and blue-winged teal also made appearances. However, the highlight of the day went to watching a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk hunting for songbirds. Although I never saw a capture, seeing the dispersion of birds and rapid maneuvering of the accipiter was incredible.