Category Archives: Hawk Count 2020

Huge migration of Red-tails and some other recent highlights

We were all perhaps thinking that there was a bit of a lag in the Red-tail migration this fall. Well, yesterday’s flight certainly set that in motion in a grand fashion. I suspect some recent days of northwest winds brought many of these birds to the eastern UP so even on the blustery east winds, the hawks were poised to make their way over Point LaBarbe. Many of the birds were low and close, always a bonus, especially for the handful of appreciative visitors at the watch. Supplemented by good Sharpie and TV numbers as well, I tallied 839 Red-tails and almost 1,300 raptors in all for the day. At least two, I believe, dark-morph Red-tails were present; difficult to determine because the birds were doing some back and forth movement. The photos below were provided by Oliver Kew, a young birder from Commerce, Michigan.

Also in the last week or so, we have recorded our first Golden Eagle, and our first few Goshawks and Rough-legged Hawks of the season. Many more to come I’m sure.

Peak flights of Sharpies, Kestrels and Harriers.

Over the last week or so, several species of our more common raptors have been migrating in considerable numbers. Sharp-shinned Hawks have been the most dominant of those species, topping out at 470 on September 26th. In the same general time span, we have recorded days of 49, 41 and 39 (twice) American Kestrels. Just yesterday, 22 Northern Harriers came by the watch, the most in one day so far this fall.

As mentioned in another recent blog, we have been seeing kestrels take snakes as prey. This has happened three times within sight of the watch this fall. According to what I have read, small reptiles, including snakes and lizards, are not an uncommon prey item for this species. Continuing in the taking of prey vein, yesterday we witnessed a Peregrine Falcon capturing a Blue Jay in mid air, only to be harassed and robbed of its prey by another Peregrine!

Here are the overall numbers for all species for the season. I might also mention that we have tallied over 9 thousand Monarch butterflies as well!
Black Vulture 1
Turkey Vulture 1652
Osprey 45
Swallow-tailed Kite 1
Bald Eagle 821
Northern Harrier 101
Sharp-shinned Hawk 2471
Cooper’s Hawk 6
Red-shouldered Hawk 5
Broad-winged Hawk 957
Red-tailed Hawk 50
American Kestrel 364
Merlin 65
Peregrine Falcon 25

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.


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.


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).

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)