Category Archives: 2018

Waterbird Count 11/6-11/10, plus season totals.

There was a pretty decent selection of birds for the last week of the count.  Redpolls have been around the area frequently, there have still been a few grebes to count, and the recent duck species are definitely more of the “winter duck” species.  A Great Black-backed Gull was seen on the 8th.

Some noteworthy numbers include 120 Bufflehead on the 9th, and 777 Long-tailed Ducks on the 10th.

The last of the eBird lists… 11/6     11/7     11/8     11/9     11/10

In the Fall of 2018, 29,034 waterbirds were counted, 17,632 of them being ducks/geese.  It is likely that many of the cormorants and gulls that contributed to the count were counted more than once, so in reality the waterbird total would be smaller.

Here are McGulpin Point’s waterbird species totals for fall 2018…

Snow Goose – 1

Canada Goose – 1,725

Goose sp. – 6

Mute Swan – 13

Gadwall – 6

American Wigeon – 79

American Black Duck – 7

Mallard – 105

Blue-winged Teal – 51

Northern Shoveler – 7

Northern Pintail – 20

Green-winged Teal – 35

Teal sp. – 34

Dabbling Duck sp. – 42

Canvasback – 1

Redhead – 2,027

Greater Scaup – 96

Lesser Scaup – 91

Greater/Lesser Scaup – 131

Aythya sp. – 532

Surf Scoter – 4

White-winged Scoter – 759

Black Scoter – 22

Surf/Black Scoter – 61

Scoter sp. – 42

Long-tailed Duck – 5,255

Bufflehead – 340

Common Goldeneye – 173

Hooded Merganser – 9

Common Merganser – 554

Red-breasted Merganser – 1,521

Common/Red-breasted Merganser – 172

Duck sp. – 3,711

Red-throated Loon – 11

Common Loon – 328

Loon sp. – 13

Horned Grebe – 116

Red-necked Grebe – 617

Grebe sp. – 2

Double-crested Cormorant – 6,210

Great Blue Heron – 13

Great Egret – 19

Bonaparte’s Gull – 32

Ring-billed Gull – 1,988

Herring Gull – 500

Great Black-backed Gull – 3

Gull sp. – 107

Caspian Tern – 2

Common Tern – 15

Tern sp. – 4

Sandhill Crane – 1,377

American Golden-Plover – 1

Sanderling – 6

Least Sandpiper – 1

Peep sp. – 10

Spotted Sandpiper – 25

Greater Yellowlegs – 1

Shorebird sp. – 1

Also of note was a total of 682 Monarch Butterflies that were seen migrating south from McGulpin Point.

Although this was a below average season, it was definitely an interesting fall.  I wonder what waterbirds will pass the straits next season!

Owl update: November 05-07

Owl banding at MSRW this fall has come to a close.  Since running the station from September 19 through November 07, we captured a total of 115 northern saw whet owls, 2 barred owls, and 1 long eared owl.

8 of the saw whet owls were already banded at other stations.  These are called foreign re-traps.  Most of the foreign retraps were fairly local, with 2 banded at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, 1 at Cheboygan, and another 2 at Hilliardton Marsh in Ontario.  One saw whet was banded far far away, in the distant lands of Maryland!  That’s crazy-cool.  We’re still waiting to get word on the other two foreign re-trap owls.

It is very exciting when one of our banded birds gets caught elsewhere.  On October 6 I banded an adult female saw whet owl, Miss 1104-43131, and 20 nights later she was captured again at Indiana Dunes State Park.  That’s a straight-line distance of 310 miles!  Although I suspect she took a more leisurely route along the east side of Lake Michigan, stopping often to wait out the weather and catch juicy mice, small birds, and insects.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.  Those 115 saw whet owls consisted of 81 females, 7 males, and 27 owls of unknown sex.  Profoundly higher female to male ratio is common at banding stations.  While the reason for this isn’t definitive, It is widely held that male owls tend to stick to their natal territories, and female owls migrate south.  Interestingly, only about a third of the owls were Hatch Years (hatched this spring), and the rest were adults.

This season’s saw whet owl total is well below our historic average, but documenting declining populations is part of why full-time banding stations are so essential.  The Upper Peninsula was often fraught with inclement weather, possibly causing many birds to take a totally different course altogether; however, I believe the the ratio of young birds to adult birds indicates that it was just a bad reproductive year for saw whet owls populations who generally migrate through the Straits.

I had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful owls and people, which has made fall 2018 a very fun and successful season for me!

Until next time,

Happy Owling!!!


Waterbird Count November 1st-5th.

There still have been a few decent days for Long-tailed Duck movement, the 3rd in particular had a total of 205 of them.  There has now been an increase in the number of Bufflehead on the move; 98 of them were counted on the 4th.  In the past few days Horned and Red-necked Grebes have been resting on the water and can often be pretty close and easy to see.

1 Greater Yellowlegs flew by to the east today, it is getting kind of late in the season for this species to still be around.

Just about every day lately, Snow Buntings are seen from McGulpin Point, on the 1st a nice flock of 37 landed very close to me on the beach.

Here are the recent lists via eBird.






Owl update: October 31 – November 4

The season is coming to a close, with tonight potentially being the last night I open as cold rain and snowfall seem to be on the weather’s agenda until November 10, the official end date for owl banding at Point la Barbe.

I’m not expecting to encounter any saw whet owl travelers tonight.  For the past week of being open, I caught an average of 1-2 birds per night.  Early season, I surmised that many birds were merely delayed due to the frequent storm fronts this fall, but with the lack of late season movement activity, I’m not so sure about that anymore.

It will be with deep reverie that I open and furl the mist-nets for possibly the final time before setting off on my own journey.  I don’t plan to head west to California just yet; first, I will sojourn at the Cape May Bird Observatory, NJ.  After that, I’ll get to see the east coast, then the west coast following a week of driving; the new perspective will be quite something.

Stay tuned for one last blog post in which I summarize our findings, totals for the season, and juicy tidbits about our foreign retraps as well as tidings of the birds I banded here getting caught elsewhere.

Until next time,


Hatch Year female caught the night of October 31

Champion of the “Stink Eye;” saw whet caught the night of November 3

November 3 was a cold one! The ditch water surface froze.

Waterbird count 10/27-10/31

The Long-tailed Ducks are still migrating through the area.  On the 27th there was another impressive day total of 1,178!  Only 6 were counted on the 29th, 57 on the 30th, and 157 on the 31st.  After kind of a low period, species diversity went back up today.  Today 8 Greater Scaup, 1 Black & 22 White-winged Scoters, 4 Common Goldeneye, 47 Red-breasted Mergansers, a Common Loon, 2 Horned & 6 Red-necked Grebes and an adult Great Black-backed Gull were counted; a pretty good mix compared to earlier this week.

96 Sandhill Cranes were counted on the 27th & 89 on the 29th.

Also seen today was this local pair of Bald Eagles, one of which is carrying what appears to be the remains of a dead duck that was floating out in the straits.

Passerines:  Snow Buntings are seen almost daily at McGulpin Point.  On the 29th, the first Common Redpoll of the season landed on the beach.  On the 30th there was a pretty good morning flight of finches, which included (probably many more than): 7 House Finches, 1 Purple Finch, 10 Common Redpolls, 1 Pine Siskin, & 122 American Goldfinches.

Recent lists via eBird can be found below…

10/27      10/29      10/30 (morning)      10/30 (evening)      10/31

Happy Halloween everybody!

Owl update: October 27 – 30

What could be under the handkerchief?

it’s probably an owl

It’s a big, beautiful red-tailed hawk!  Such fluff and prominent markings.

This is a young bird; red-tail eyes can darken to a deep chestnut with age.

Reminds me of that scene in The Titanic but with less romance and more hawk

Recently, Ed and I set up a special trapping set designed to lure and safely net diurnal raptors.  Right now, diurnal raptor trapping isn’t a dedicated operation with MSRW but perhaps it will be someday!  Even still, it’s wonderful to capture and learn more about just a few of these hawks, falcons, and harriers as they pass through.

On the owl banding front, well… things are slowing down.  Nighttime weather has been clear and quite pleasant lately, but I only caught two birds on the 29th and was skunked last night.

Despite the paucity of saw whets, I met face to face with a bird I’ve been waiting for all season.  The White-Toed Saw Whet.

The leucistic toe is something else!  Perhaps it’s a birth mark?  All owls are special but this one was super special.

In honor of Halloween I’ll share this photo of a spooky saw whet owl.

Although… even being dramatically lit by the lantern, it’s not that spooky.  Saw whets are perhaps the least concerning creature to encounter in the heart of the wood at night.  They don’t really hoot, they toot.  In the spring, males will advertise their territory with a flutey toot-toot-toot call, and occasionally will mew (like a cat) and yap at trespassers in agitation.   These owls are a delight to find and hear while I do my springtime spotted owl work.

11 nights left!  I look forward to what the night brings.

Until next time,

– MH

Hawk Count-October 25th-30th-Golden Eagles

One of twenty-one Golden Eagles on the 29th

Raptors have slowed down quite a bit during the period, with the first half of it once again impacted by poor weather.  The 29th was by far the best day for raptors.  Thanks to Steve and Ed for covering on the 27th and 28th.

10-25: A drizzle in the morning gradually turned into rain at 1:00, at which point it rained the rest of the day.  Just 1 Red-shouldered and 1 Rough-legged were tallied.

10-26: Rain throughout the day.

10-27:  A drizzle to light rain all day resulted in just 4 Sharpies, 20 Red-taileds, 2 Rough-leggeds, and a Merlin being tallied.  One “dark morph” Red-tailed was also tallied.

10-28: Forty-six raptors were tallied, the highlights being 2 Harriers, 1 Red-shouldered, and 8 Rough-legged Hawks.

10-29:  A high-quality day with nice numbers of the “later” migrants.  Golden Eagles were moving through most of the day, the best of which was when 3 were seen simultaneously crossing south in different flight paths.  All Goldens crossed with virtually no hesitation, most of which were adults.  At  the end of the day a rather nice total of 21 Golden Eagles were tallied.  Rough-legged Hawks had their first push of the season, with 19 birds, and Red-shouldered Hawks continued in good numbers, with 11 birds.  The accipiter hat trick was completed for the 3rd time this season, the best of which was an immature Northern Goshawk.  Bald Eagles finally made a decent push, with 13 birds.  Surprisingly, this is the largest number seen in a day this month.  An American Kestrel was the first in 9 days.

10-30:  An overcast day, with moderate southeast winds led to a small movement of raptors.  Two Golden Eagles were the best of the 49 raptors tallied, with 5 Red-shoulderedsa Rough-legged, and a “dark morph” Red-tailed nice as well.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

Non-raptors have been rather great lately, with a much more “wintery” feel to them.  The best of the period has been 77 Snow Buntings on the 25th, 112 Sandhill Cranes on the 27th, 566 Sandhill Cranes on the 28th, 166 Sandhill Cranes on the 29th, a Sharp-tailed Grouse on the 28th and 29th, 46 Rusty Blackbirds on the 28th, 18 American Tree Sparrows on the 28th, an American Pipit on the 28th, a Northern Shrike on the 29th and 30th, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet on the 29th, a White-winged Crossbill on the 29th, 722 Long-tailed Ducks on the 30th, a Great Blue Heron on the 30th, a White-crowned Sparrow on the 30th, a Common Redpoll on the 30th, and 645 American Goldfinches on the 30th.

Hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks were flying west over the woods on the 30th

A Northern Shrike has been around the past couple of days

Thursday through Saturday look really good for raptor migration and this period is very likely the “last hurrah” of any sizable migration of raptors for the season.  Friday and Saturday are likely to be the best of the three.  Large numbers (for Pointe LaBarbe) of Red-shouldered Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, and Golden Eagles are likely to pass through this period.  The last remaining big Red-tailed days are likely to be during this period as well, with 400-1,000 birds likely moving through during these three days.  Northern Goshawks should be daily, and their biggest day of the season is likely to occur during this period.  If there are any 20+ Bald Eagle days left this season, they should occur during this periodHundreds of Sandhill Cranes, thousands of finches, and hundreds-thousands of ducks are all likely as well.  Thousands of birds should move through these three days, and it’ll be a great finale to the season.

Grant it, the season goes until November 14th, but after November 3rd hawk migration will be rapidly winding down, and the theme of October will continue into November: bad weather for raptor migration.  Of course, the forecast will change many times between now and the end of the season, but the forecast image below is incredibly ominous.  There should be a few nice days of raptor migration left after November 3rd, but it’ll greatly pale in comparison to October (or earlier).

If the forecast significantly alters for Thursday through Saturday, updates will be posted here.

The most disheartening forecast of the season for Pointe LaBarbe but it will undoubtedly change and not be as bad as is currently predicted…right???  (Image courtesy of

Owl update: October 21 – 26

The night of the 21st was windy and extra no good with a southwest wind.  Not only is the southwest wind non-conducive to owl movement, it exposes my nets particularly well, rendering them less effective.  Regardless, 4 saw whets flew into the nets anyway!  Below is a noble cutie-pie.

Can you feel the autumn ambiance?

The night of the 22nd was a special day for me because it was the eve of my birthday!  Members of MSRW stopped by and we celebrated with weenies and chestnuts roasted over the fire and homemade birthday cake!  I was gifted with a wonderful b-day barred owl card as well as some extra firewood.  Thank you everyone for the occasion.  This night I caught 7 saw whets before being greeted by the beautiful dawn.

Richard Couse, Executive Director, makes up for the lack of candles by holding a faintly smoldering twig over the cake.

On an aside, with this work I play with plenty of owls, which is wholeheartedly enriching in itself, but the other wonderful aspect is watching the night unfold and moon and stars crest over the sky.  I walk several miles a night to check nets and this is a calming activity to reflect on life while listening to Scandinavian folk metal.  It’s getting colder so I watch the frost accumulate over moss and puddles freeze.   Below are photos from the morning of the 24th.

Moonlight over lake

This sunrise deserves to be on a cereal box.

The night of the 23rd was quite productive with 8 brand-spanking-new owls (that is to say they were all unbanded).  The night of the 24th was our last night of clear weather conditions, but even so, following a brief push of 4 owls in the early evening, movement seemed to stop after 1 am.  Perhaps the birds sensed the weather process coming in and so have hunkered down to wait it out.

What a lucky owl to get to model in front of my favorite handkerchief!

It is now the 26th and we’ll be in for some iffy weather the coming days.  I opened the nets for four hours last night, and wasn’t surprised no body was moving in the dense fog.

I am happy to announce we have broken the 100-owl mark.  As of tonight we stand at 100 northern saw whet owls, 2 barred owls, and one long-eared owl.  Stay tuned for a report of our NSWO foreign retraps.  I won’t spoil anything but one bird was banded far far away, so get HYPED.

Historically, these are low numbers for the saw whets.  Some stations in Ontario and Quebec provinces have also reported low owl numbers, with a few stations doing very well.  Interestingly, I’m still seeing some hatch year birds mixed in with adults – I would have expected the youngin’s to be in lower supply given it’s late season and they tend to migrate in advance.  As the season comes to a close, more owls will trickle in and hopefully grant us a better idea of what’s going on.  It could be the adults had a poor reproductive year (there’s been some anecdotal evidence of low small mammal populations, particularly red vole, which are integral to fuel good saw whet breeding effort in the north); or, in the face of ongoing unfavorable weather, owls have re-routed or could still be delayed.

Until next time,



Executive Director, MSRW, Richard Couse

I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself. I am Richard Couse, the new, and first, Executive Director here at the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch. I’m incredibly humbled and honored to have the opportunity to advance MSRW’s mission to conduct scientific studies of hawks and owls and waterfowl migrating through this region of northern Michigan and educating the public about the birds and their migration.

As a lifelong lover of nature, the principles of responsible stewardship, ethical conservation and mindful leadership are tenets that I value highly. I see these tenets strongly reflected in the work MSRW has done in its few short years of operation. And now, there could not be a more exciting time to begin a journey as equally compelling as the journeys of the birds we seek to understand and protect.

A little about me, for years I worked in the field of Human Services advocating for troubled teens, first as a counselor, then as a grant writer and eventually as program coordinator. The one common thread I saw in all my work was that these children had no connection to nature. I worked to develop experiential outdoor programs and learned that nature had the power to heal broken lives.  This gave me a mission and I returned to school to attain my Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies. I focused on conservation biology, writing and photography and my work became about creating meaningful connections to nature through research, stewardship, education, and the arts.

It has been a rewarding career. Beginning in graduate school, I became interested in herpetology and conducted my own research on microhabitat preferences of lizards in the coastal region (Sea of Cortez) of the Sonoran Desert in Mexico. Using radio-telemetry, I also researched the spatial ecology of the Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) defining the differences in the daily movement patterns of male and female Eastern Hognose Snakes on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Over the past two years I have spent time  working with farmers in the Netherlands to alter when they harvest hay to help protect the Bar-tailed Godwit and other field nesting birds, and most recently I have worked with Conservación Panamá, focusing my attention on the Glow-throated Hummingbird (Selasphorus ardens), a Panamanian endangered endemic species with a declining population due to habitat loss. With a goal of creating the first conservation area for this species that is operated solely by native people, this research has far reaching implications for bird conservation and indigenous communities.

Presently, I couldn’t be any more excited than I am right now to be calling Northern Michigan my new home. The Mackinac Straits certainly deserves it’s designation as an IBA (Important Bird Area). There are thousands of birds who use this flyway to return to and from home every year, and it is a wonderful and iconic place to observe this natural phenomenon! On any given day in the spring or fall, one will see Golden Eagles soaring, Peregrine Falcons gliding, and Sharp-shinned Hawks powering their way across the Straits, and to sum it up in one word, it is – Magical.

I am lucky to be joining a dedicated team and an inspiring community. I am excited to get to know the places, meet the people and explore the challenges that can make a true difference and to show that these birds are worth protecting. Your support has been crucial to MSRW’s growth and success, and as we set forward into new era of leadership your support is even more important to us. Please keep us in mind during your year-end giving, either by check to P.O. Box 465, Petoskey, MI 49770 or by clicking

I sincerely welcome you along for what will be a very engaging and fulfilling journey. I look forward to watching the skies with you.

Richard (Rich) Couse

Executive Director, MSRW

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Waterbird Count 10/25 & 10/26

The past two days have been rather slow.  This is however an interesting time of year when even on the unfavorable days Long-tailed Ducks and Rough-legged Hawks are found daily.  30 Long-tailed Ducks were counted yesterday and 91 today.  Whenever these birds think conditions are more to their liking again (probably any day now) there could likely be another day with a count of LTDU’s that resembles the 21st, and hopefully good numbers of other species too!

Here are the recent lists via eBird…