Sep 16-18

The last few days have been pretty exciting at the waterbird count. I must admit, that the raptor watch probably has the waterbirds beat with exciting species, however. The last few days, Calvin has located a black vulture, say’s phoebe, and swallow-tailed kite. All very rare birds for the Straits area, and all birds that I didn’t see during my waterbird count. That being said, there has been some exciting stuff coming through.

You may have started to hear croaking, gargling, or whatever sound it is you hear as sandhill cranes fly over. These magnificent birds have started to migrate south in large groups the last few days. Although I don’t actually get to hear them very often, I see the large groups jostling for position high over the bridge. Sandhill cranes hold a special place in my heart. I spent the last 6 months monitoring, mapping, and studying their winter populations and habitat in the Central Valley of California. I fell in love with these ancient birds, and seeing them leave the breeding grounds here is something special.

More on waterbirds:

Loons have been persistent the last few days. It hasn’t mattered whether the wind is strong, weak, favorable, or unfavorable. They have been steadily passing by in large numbers. The last 2 days have each seen over 30 common loons, and today I spotted 4 red-throated loons, the most I have had in a day.

New species have also been added to the season’s total. A pair of blue-winged teal were accompanied by a season-first green-winged teal 2 days ago. Additionally, pied-billed grebes flew past for the first time. This is a species that is incredibly common in the area, and I have seen dozens at Pt. Labarbe alone. Yet, they prefer reedy, shallow water, and don’t often prefer to use the deeper channels that I monitor. American black ducks were seen today loafing on the beach. Thankful for the calm winds as this allows the ducks to use the exposed sandy beach to rest. A few new species of shorebirds have also been seen. Both American golden plover and black-bellied plover have flown past. One American golden even stopped on the beach for a second. Shorebirds have been extremely uncommon due to the rocky substrates, but they have flown past every now and then. Seeing these striking plovers definitely was the highlight of the last few days.

Red-necked grebes have generally began to dwindle in numbers, but yesterday there was 54 that flew south from Mcgulpin Point. This is about 1/3 of the daily record for the season, but still a great number overall. Red-breasted mergansers have also become regulars flying south and sitting on the water. At Graham Point it is a daily occurence to have all 3 species of merganser sitting on the water in the bay to the West. Lastly, when things slow down in the afternoons, I have been really enjoying conducting my own little raptor watch. There are sharp-shinned hawks, american kestrels, turkey vultures, and bald eagles almost nonstop overhead.

As for songbirds: The trio of red-headed woodpeckers first found by Steve Baker have moved down the road and are currently right next to my site at Graham Point. I have also seen large numbers of northern parula, nashville warbler, american redstart, and red-eyed vireo the last few days. A blue-headed vireo, yellow-billed cuckoo, and swainson’s thrush have also all been mixed in recently.

I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, and enjoying this migration season.

-Benjamin