Author Archives: Ed Pike

A day at the Hawk Watch, Mackinaw City

My husband Jim and I were able to visit the Hawk Watch on Sunday April 5 and want to give you an armchair experience.  The day was mostly sunny, 42 degrees, with a light westerly breeze – just enough that we finally wised up and moved our lawn chairs to the EAST side of our car.   We had parked about 30 yards past the other two cars there and waved and shouted hello to the data-gatherers.

Shortly after our late-morning arrival, a kettle of hawks formed overhead.  The birds seemed to appear out of nowhere and gather in a big spiral.  We managed to spot about three dozen of the 1,315 Red-tailed Hawks counted by Kevin Georg that day.  So far, he has tallied 11,304 of these birds!  A highlight for us that morning was a leucistic (near-albino) Red-tail.  At first I thought it was a gull, but a closer look revealed its identity.  Steve Baker took a nice snapshot of it. 

Steve also made up this diagram of the identifying characteristics of soaring Red-tails.  Look for the shape, particularly the bulging ‘muscular’ wings. The long primary feathers, those that sometimes spread apart and look like fingers, are longer in the middle area of the wing, creating a gentle outward curve.  Plus, watch for the patagial marks, a dark color on the front of the wing.

Today just west of Pellston we saw a Red-tailed Hawk hunting in the woods.  Watch your area for these and for other inspiring avian sights as the birds migrate and begin their nesting cycles.  Remember that it’s easy to click on the MSRW Data tab, which takes you right to the table where Kevin posts the daily numbers.  You will discover when the first Black Vulture of the season was seen and can check on your other favorite raptors.  Stay safe and healthy this month. (submitted by Kathy Bricker)   

First big day at the Hawk Watch, Friday, March 27

Friday morning started out foggy with light easterly winds. Around 11 am the fog started to break up with some sun peaking out. Some Red-tails and Red-shouldereds started showing up, but the fog remained over the straits, not allowing them to cross. After 12 pm the fog lifted more, with easterly winds, although it remained foggy over the straits. The fog slowly settled down over the straits and the raptors started flying over the fog bank. The flight ended around 4 pm with the raptors settling down in the trees waiting for the next day of good weather to cross.

Totals for the day were: 13 Turkey Vultures, 11 Bald Eagles, 5 N. Harrier, 4 Sharp shinned, 1 N. Goshawk, 22 Red-shouldered, 453 Red-tailed, 55 Rough-legged, 10 Golden Eagles, and 1 Merlin; giving a total of 575 migrants. A great day at the Hawk Watch.

Great day at the Hawk Watch

Today with winds finally out of the northwest at 10 to 15 mph we thought it would be a good day for Golden Eagles. It was cold with the northwest to west winds; the skies cleared shortly after 11 am and temps were in the high 20’s F. Shortly after noon some Goldens started moving toward the straits, mostly 1 or 2 at a time. Between 2:30 and 3:30 there was a push of Golden Eagles, at one time there were 5 Goldens in view at once; with a total for the hour period of 30.

For the day the totals were 6 Bald Eagles, 4 Red-tailed Hawks, 1 Rough-legged Hawk (dark morph), and 38 Golden Eagles. Made for a great day of hawk watching. Four visitors stopped by in the afternoon and all saw Golden Eagles.

Spring 2020 Hawk Watch begins

Spring 2020 Hawk Watch begins

March 5, the first day of the count held heavy cloud cover and scattered snow showers with no Raptors in sight.

March 6 started out cloudy and became clear by noon. Winds were moderate out of the north; a day for strong flyers. A couple of Bald Eagles headed north and Golden Eagles trickled through. A total of 7 Golden Eagles passed overhead by 4 pm. All the Eagles were rather high and heading directly into the wind.

A good start to the Hawk Watch.

Monarch Butterfly tagging

This fall (2019) MSRW is conducting preliminary research, tagging Monarch Butterflies migrating through the Mackinac Straits.  Bert Ebbers (MSRW Board member) is heading the project and purchased the equipment and tags. Bert is investigating the habitat used by Monarchs on Point LaBarbe.  As well as learning the techniques utilized in capturing and tagging Monarchs, and the data to be collected.  This project will lead to the determination of the habitat use, migration period and movement of Monarchs through the Straits.

August 31, the first day of the project, was a good Monarch migration day at Point LaBarbe – we tagged 52 monarchs.  This was a group effort, 5 people with nets (Bert, Steve Baker, Ed Pike, Jack Kirby, John and Mary Fix), 2 people (Bert and Ed Pike) tagging.  At least a 1000 got away untouched.  Monarchs were crossing the Straits or getting ready to cross, so mostly flying fast with migration on their minds.  Only a few stopped to feed on flowers which allowed easier capture.

Sept. 1 was an even better day; the experience from the previous day allowed more Monarchs to be captured and tagged.  Large numbers of Monarchs were in migration across Point LaBarbe.  A total of 73 were tagged over a 3.5 hour period in the morning.  The first half of the morning was with Bert conducting the capture and tagging alone, with help from 3 others (Ed Pike, John and Mary Fix) later in the morning.

We are planning to continue the tagging effort on several more weekends, depending on the weather and numbers of Monarchs migrating.

Releasing Monach after weighing
Monarch with tag
Monarch tags and data sheet
Placing tag on Monarch

Banding Am. Kestrel nestlings

Nesting season is well underway and the Am. Kestrels are, in a few cases, still sitting on eggs; while most are busy feeding young. Some nest boxes that were active in 2018 are empty, some that were empty in 2018 now have nests. Sadly a few reports have come in that, the Am. Kestrels appeared at the nest boxes this spring, but for unknown reasons left the area.

Some Little Traverse Conservancy nest boxes are again occupied with 3 nests totaling 14 nestlings banded so far.

Jim and Kathy Bricker have 2 nest boxes out in Cheboygan County which are occupied, one with 4 eggs and the other with 4 young which were banded on June 19.

For the third season, I am again working with Arnie Pokorzynski. Arnie is checking nest boxes he has placed in the Alpena County area over a number of years. Arnie thinks he has about 40 nest boxes scattered around the county. On June 20, I met Arnie and we returned to 7 nest boxes Arnie had found with young and banded 30 nestlings.

That makes a total of 48 nestlings and one adult female banded so far. Hopefully this next week we will be banding more nestlings.

1 unhatched egg and 4- 4 day old nestlings
Arnie getting nestlings from box


3 – 15 day old Am. Kestrel nestlings

Late Raptor migration

Although the official Raptor count ended June 5; with the poor migration conditions for the last several days of the count I decided to conduct some further counts. On June 6 the weather cooperated for a good late migration and 599 raptors were counted. Mostly Broad-winged Hawks with a few Turkey Vultures and Red-tails. Bald Eagles were also moving north, mostly immatures and a few that appeared to be adults with a total of 78 counted.

On June 7 there were more raptors moving north with 225 counted. June 8 I could not get there till early afternoon and counted 45 in one hour, however they were not crossing the Straits. After 2 more days of bad weather I counted again on June11 ending the day with 121 raptors. These counts are posted on Hawk Count along with the full season count.

These later additions to the count give a total of 65,561 Raptors counted for the spring of 2019.

We are making plans for the fall count at Point LaBarbe from August 20 till Nov. 10, 2019. Hope to see you at the fall count. Ed Pike

Spring migration trickles along

Spring migration has been trickling along.  On March 17 we had a good day with 40 Bald Eagles and 28 Golden Eagles and a few other Hawks for a total of 74 for the day.  Other days there have been just a few Raptors migrating.  On March 19 the first Turkey Vulture appeared.  Daily numbers can be seen at Hawkcount.org.

On March 24 the first Am. Robins, Common Grackles and Redwinged Blackbirds were seen at the Hawk Watch Site and the first E. Meadowlark landed in a tree and sang for the hawk watchers.

Hopefully this next week, with the predicted sunny weather more Raptors will be migrating.

Another quiet day at the Hawk Watch

A couple more days with mostly sunny skies and moderate winds. However the raptors have not made it this far north and the skies are mostly empty. A couple of local Bald Eagles make an appearance during the day and then move back to the south. Maybe there will be some migration in front of the storm system moving in on Saturday night.

2019 Hawk Count begins

The spring 2019 Hawk Count officially began March 5. With partly sunny skies we had hoped for a few raptors, especially a Golden Eagle or 2 and some Red-tails. It seems migration is somewhat behind this year. With 1 to 2 feet of snow on the ground and daytime temperatures in the teens and nights around zero there seems to be little interest in migration yet.

Hopefully with sunny skies and slightly warmer temps some Raptors will be thinking about migration on Friday and Saturday