Golden Day! Raptor Banding Update Mackinaw City

One of the most exciting things about banding birds during migration is that you never know what you are going to catch. Sure, you have an idea of what birds are around, and when you can expect to see individual birds during the migration season as there are definite trends for when a species can be expected to show up and when you can expect them to be gone. That being said, there is always that element of surprise, and that is one of the many things I love about migration work. You may be thinking, “hmmm Nick must have a surprise for us,” well let me tell you I have a huge surprise to share with you all shortly. Now let’s go over a quick recap from the past week.

Since my last post, we have added 22 new birds to the season total and managed to add two new first of the season species. It was a wonderful week even though we lost today and yesterday due to this rain system that moved in. Something I also forgot to mention in my earlier posts is that I am not the only trapper that is contributing to the raptor banding project this spring. The other bander is Jeff Dykehouse, a local legend in Northern Michigan, or so I hear! Anyways, he sets up on most days when the weather is good. He is not too far from me, so it’s interesting to see what he catches on days when we are both set-ups. To this point, he has managed to capture four birds, which include 2 Red-tailed Hawks and 2 Broad-winged hawks (BWHA). We were super excited when we heard he caught some broad-wings the other day as this was a new species to add to our species list, putting us at 10. It is also interesting that he caught two on the same day. Where I was set-up, I also saw many broad-wings, but they were not interested. Maybe where Jeff set-up is a better broad-wing site, and the birds prefer that area more. None the less it was fascinating. I will try and get some photos of these birds from Jeff to share with you all and to explain some good field marks.

The species I managed to capture over the past week included more Sharp-shins, Red-tails, and another American Kestrel. One species was new and very exciting, but I’m sure most of you already know what it is based on the title of this blog plus all the pictures that are previously inserted in this post. Guess the surprise is ruined… but it was a GOLDEN EAGLE!! This eagle was seriously amazing and surprising. It was captured on the 28th, which was cloudy and cold, and I figured it wouldn’t be an excellent day for migration. Initially, I was right, but then the winds changed, and the clouds started to break up, which allowed the raptors to pop up and test the winds to see if they were suitable enough to help them get ahead of the rain. During this time, I caught 6 Sharp-shinned hawks in a matter of an hour, and it felt like it was going to be a big day. After this, I had Red-tails, and Broad-wings flying around and even had some red-tails make passes, but some had “commitment issues” and would not come down. Then it was strange, a few red-tails were calling from above, and birds were starting to leave the vicinity of where I was rather quickly. The next thing I know, a golden eagle had come in out of nowhere and crash-landed in the station. Then before I knew it, I had captured it! What a rush, and it all happened so fast!

This was a second-year Golden Eagle, meaning it hatched in 2019, which we determined based on its plumage characteristics. Mainly that all of its flight feathers were uniform and that it had an extensive white patch in the tail and on the wings. All these signs point to a young golden. It is also worth noting that this bird was mighty and it took three people to band and obtain all the data from this eagle. I am still in shock that this happened, I always knew there was a chance at catching eagles, but it is still quite uncommon. It was an incredible experience to get to look into the eyes of a wild Golden Eagle. Hopefully, this will not be my last eagle in my trapping career as I am quite young, but if I never handle another one, I will always feel extremely lucky and fortunate to have caught this bird. I hope you all enjoy the pictures even though they do not give justice to how beautiful these birds are in hand. Let me tell you; I was up close and personal with this eagle. Also, just holding this eagle showed me how powerful these apex predators genuinely are.

After today the forecast looks good to get back out in the field and who knows what we may catch this week. Until my next post, stay safe and expect the unexpected because you just never know, and as always stay classy.

Nick Alioto

Spring 2020 Raptor Trapping Totals:

5   NOHA (Northern Harrier)

5   MERL (Merlin)

3  AMKE (American Kestrel)

1   NOGO (Northern Goshawk)

1   COHA (Cooper’s Hawk)

41 SSHA (Sharp-shinned Hawk)

35 RTHA (Red-Tailed Hawk)

2   RSHA (Red-shouldered Hawk)

2   BWHA (Broad-winged Hawk)

1   RLHA (Rough-Legged Hawk)

1   GOEA (Golden Eagle)

Total Birds: 97

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