The last few days have been relatively slow. A few new species have started to trickle in such as mute swan, wood duck, and red-breasted merganser. However, I haven’t seen the large numbers of common loon and red-necked grebe that I was becoming accustomed to. Conditions have not been all that favorable recently, so it is possible that a stern NW wind will bring in some large flocks of waterbirds. There has been quite a few large groups of canada geese flying south. It is easy to forget that these common park birds are still migratory in the Northern part of their range. Many of these flocks are taking their time moving south though, and are enjoying the near endless supply of golf course grass and neighborhood apples.
It has been interesting noticing some differences between my two survey locations. For instance, my sight in the UP consistently has common goldeneyes, wood ducks, and horned grebes. Whereas Mcgulpin point rarely sees these species, but gets much larger numbers of loons, grebes, mergansers, gulls, and cormorants. The distance between these two sites is not very far, but they are yielding noticeable different data.
Today I completed my 22nd waterbird survey, which is my favorite number, so here is a summary of the season thus far:
Double-crested cormorant: 1,689 – There has been lots of cormorants, but it should be taken with a grain of salt, as when I first began surveying I wasn’t 100% familiar with their habits. I now have noticed the direction of flight that migrants take, and take better caution in recording this species.
Ring-billed gull: 1,065: — These are easily the most abundant gulls on the water. Again, these birds are tough to determine when they are moving locally or migrating. I notice that early in the morning the biggest push of south-bound gulls happens, and that is where the large portion of this total comes from.
Canada goose: 659 – The large chunk of this total has happened in the last few days. Large flocks of about 25-30 consistently fly south over Mackinac Island. There is a healthy group that loafs near Graham Point, but these are still happily eating the local’s apples.
Red-necked grebe: 643 – These grebes are regular each day, but they are inconsistent in their numbers. Some days I will observe over 150 individuals, whereas others I only find 5. It can be difficult to not double-count this species, as they have a tendency to do circles and retrace their flight paths. It becomes important to note where they left, or whether they settled down onto the water. Red-necked grebes might be my favorite species that has shown up so far.
Common loon: 369 – Common loons have been the other “regular” species on the counts. The difficult part is finding them when scanning. These loons tend to fly extremely high and distant over the point, so without conscience scanning in the clouds, most birds would go unnoticed. Luckily, a few do wander next to shore and offer some incredible views.
Herring gull: 369 – Herring gulls are the second most common species of gull. They are numerous in large groups feeding on the surface of the lake, and I see large movements flying south in the early morning. The difficulty with this species is the same as with ring-billed, because they are not all migrating. Learning the habits of herring gulls is still a work in process.
Common merganser: 189 – Common mergansers are often sitting on the water or beaches near my survey sites. I see some fly past close to shore, but very few have flown by out over the water.
Bonaparte’s gull: 74 – This number is so high because of the one massive flock of nearly 70 birds that all flew south together. There has been one individual seen on a couple days, but most of these all came at once.
Mallard: 70 – Mallards are consistently sitting on the water near both sites. Sometimes flying from ponds that are located in yards and heading south. This is another species that is difficult to not recount, but there has been multiple small flocks that are seen flying high above the water and bridge.
Duck species: 69 – The inevitability of not identifying a waterbird is painful. However, most of the duck species that are left unidentified occur early in the morning when viewing conditions are poor, and the birds are flying on the near opposing side of the strait.
Common goldeneye: 32 – Nearly every goldeneye has been seen at Graham Point, and most spend the day offshore diving for food. Goldeneyes have been flying high over the bridge on occasion, but they often come in to land on the Northeast side of the bridge where the water is often calmer.
Blue-winged teal: 27 – Although I haven’t seen a teal in multiple days, there has been groups and pairs that fly past. I don’t ever see this species sitting on the water, and aside from one close pass, they often fly out in the middle of the strait.
Horned Grebe: 25 – I love horned grebes! I have seen a good mix of flying and loafing birds at both sites. This species is really hard to find on the water when the waves are anything more than a foot. However, when there is clear views, these birds bob, dip, and dive for food out in the middle of the strait. Their awkward profiles in flight are dead giveaways, and so can be confidently identified from very far distances.
Caspian tern: 9 – All of the caspian terns flew past calling on the same foggy morning. Mixed with a couple common terns, this large group fed on the water for a while then moved South down Lake Michigan.
Red-breasted merganser: 9 – I have not seen any red-breasted mergansers sitting on the water or beaches like common mergansers. They do fly past in pairs of small groups very rarely. This species is a common migrant through the straits, so it should be soon when these numbers begin to pick up.
Hooded merganser: 6 – Hooded mergansers (1 or 2) have fed nearshore the last few days at Graham Point. They often drift in from the calm bay and dive constantly when they are in view. Most of what I have seen have been juveniles.
Red-throated loon: 3 – These loons aren’t common, but are regular in migration here. I have been fortunate to have these 3 fly past relatively close. They quickly can be seen as smaller than the common loon, and flight pattern, wing shape, and bill angle is all different.
Mute swan: 2 – A pair of 2 birds flew North up towards St Ignace early one morning. These are the only swans that I have seen.
Common tern: 2 – 2 individuals seen in that large group of caspian terns. These lagged behind a little, but were obviously associating with the other terns.
Wood duck: 2 – A female has been feeding of Graham Point my last 2 surveys. She will sit on the beach near me, but my lackluster photography skills fail to capture her beauty.
Parasitic jaeger: 1 – This lone juvenile was flying East past the green buoys between Mackinac Island and the LP. A strikingly different flight, shape, and pattern to the tail feathers helped me key in on this stercorarid.
Other birds of note: I have seen spotted sandpiper, semipalmated sandpiper, least sandpiper, sanderling, sharp-shinned hawk, merlin, peregrine falcon, red-tailed hawk, bald eagle, turkey vulture, sandhill crane, red crossbill, carolina wren, olive-sided flycatcher, red-headed woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, white-throated sparrows, and lots of warblers.