Author Archives: Calvin Brennan

Another rarity visits the hawk watch

On this Friday past, as Steve Baker and I were enjoying another day at Point LaBarbe, I was scanning to the northwest not finding much during a bit of lull in the days flight. Suddenly, a very excited Steve bolts up out of his chair and exclaims “Swallow-tailed Kite!” There to the northeast and not much over the treetops was the named bird. While Steve frantically tried to find his camera in his car, I tracked the bird as it flew towards Green Island, and it looked like it might cross over the water. It eventually doubled back, working its way initially along the shoreline to the east before heading more inland. The last view of it was as it soared on a thermal and drifted to the northeast. I might add that Steve did manage to find his camera and was able to get a couple of shots.

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Some highlights of the last few days.

In between bouts of strong wind and rain this week, there have been some very good bird sightings at the watch. On Monday past a Say’s Phoebe, a vagrant from the West, spent a couple of hours in the vicinity of the watch area. As far as a I can tell looking at eBird records, this is the first sighting for Mackinac County. Photo by Steve Baker. This shot, even though silhouetted, shows the basic shape of the bird; longer tailed and longer winged than Eastern Phoebe, a more elegant bird overall.

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Yesterday, among some high-flying TVs migrating out over the strait, was a Black Vulture. This species, thought of as a southern bird or sub-tropical even, seems to be showing up with increasing frequency in more northern areas. This was on the heals of a very large Turkey Vulture (246) movement the day previous on very strong SW winds.

Sharpies galore and small falcon foraging behavior

Yesterday’s break in the weather brought the first good Sharp-shinned Hawk push of the year to date. Once the sun came out in the late morning, there wasn’t a time all day when Sharpies weren’t in view zipping by the watch, four, five, six at a time. The tally for the day was 362 with the overall count for all species topping 500.

A number of times this fall I have observed Merlins and Kestrels capturing Monarchs on the wing. In most cases, they release the butterfly right away, instinctively realizing their mistake. I suspect there are those times when it takes that first bite to learn that Monarchs aren’t a suitable food source. Most extraordinary was yesterday watching a female Kestrel dispatch a Red-bellied Snake that was probably in the 8-10 inch range; a hardy meal for such a small raptor.

First good Broad-wing push

After some rainy weather recently, we finally saw some favorable conditions for raptor migration today. With light and somewhat variable winds and partly sunny skies, most of the birds were riding high on thermals. As a result, most if not all of the hawks showed little hesitation in crossing over the Straits. Several times today, decent-sized Broad-wing kettles were noted including one of about 50 birds and another in excess of 150! I look forward seeing more of this action in coming days. The tally of BWs for the day was 311.

Here is a quick run down on the season’s totals to date:
Turkey Vulture 285
Osprey 25
Bald Eagle 503
Northern Harrier 60
Sharp-shinned Hawk 395
Cooper’s Hawk 2
Broad-winged Hawk 436
Red-tailed Hawk 16
American Kestrel 62
Merlin 41
Peregrine Falcon 5

Total 1830

Tremendous monarch day and Western Kingbird

With last Saturday’s movement of Monarchs, we thought we had perhaps reached the peak. But yesterday’s spectacle surpassed that event considerably. A tremendous lift off was seen at mid day with many dozens and then hundreds rising out of the trees and low shrubbery. I tallied 1829 for the day, a conservative number certainly. And if Steve had remembered to bring his camera, we might have had some photos! I believe the season total is some wheres around 4500.

Amid a pretty decent raptor flight yesterday on strong NW winds, a Western Kingbird made its way along the lake shore, westward into the wind. According to Steve Baker, this semi-rare vagrant from the west has been seen at Point LaBarbe a couple of times before.

The raptor migration on the strong winds was mainly TVs, Sharpies and Bald Eagles. These three species account for about 900 of the 1300 birds tallied for the season thus far.

Introduction to hawk counter

My name is Calvin Brennan and I am this Fall’s hawk counter at Point LaBarbe. I currently live in Grayling, MI but spend much of my time spring and fall following the bird migration. I have counted hawks at a number of locations including Whitefish Point, Brockway Mountain, Detroit River; all those in Michigan and Kiptopeke in Virginia.

Over the coming days as it gets busier at the watch, I’ll post more of what’s happening. So far, the flights of birds and the weather have been a mixed bag but we have had a couple of good days recently. The largest numbers have been Bald Eagle (378 so far) and Sharp-shinned Hawk (297).