March 29th Waterbird Count Summary

smooth sailing on the straits this morning and you might spy a Peregrine Falcon hunting along the bridge

Weather –

The ice has left the straits yet again. The morning started off just below freezing and cloudy. It was completely still which the waterbirds appreciated. By noon though the wind had kicked up to 12- 38kph and this made it feel as if it was much colder than in the morning. Visibility was good all day and the barometric pressure was steady.

Waterbird Notes –

Waterbirds made use of the ice free straits in large numbers and there was plenty of diversity! Going forward I will make every effort to arrive at first light as there are plenty of waterbirds waiting for me now when I arrive a little before dawn. This is advantageous as well as I may count the large rafts of Common and Red-breasted Merganser quickly while they are doing their courtship displays. This then allows me to move on to picking out the loner birds and oddities at a distance. The first Greater Scaup of the season was detected in this fashion. 38 Redhead rested in their own separate raft almost to where the shipping channel is. Good numbers of White- winged Scoters today and some came directly by McGulpin Point for really good views. The numbers of Long- tailed Duck continue to increase. They appear to be not as fond of the shore habitat, but prefer to spend time out near the shore of St. Helena Island. Common Goldeneye were on the move throughout the morning hours, their wings whistling in the wind. Red- breasted Merganser continue to increase in numbers with a morning count of 368 birds ( as accurate a count as possible). A Ring- billed Gull came by today and maybe they will begin to frequent the south shore of the straits more as more ice continues to go out.

Non- waterbird Notes –

I am very excited to share todays non- waterbird flight info! The calm morning was advantageous conditions for large flights of passerines. Common Redpoll went by in several different flocks between 7:30-9:30AM totaling 153 individuals. Pine Siskin went by in numbers, but only 52. The Common Redpoll actually crossed the straits after getting organized where the Pine Siskin seemed to swirl around above the gazebo before heading west along the shoreline. 23 Red- winged Blackbird looked as if they might make the crossing, but after venturing only 50 meters offshore they turned and went east along the shoreline. The usual cast of forest birds were detected behind the gazebo.

Raptors were active in the straits today as well. The resident Adult Bald Eagle was active escorting a non adult Bald off the rafts of ice it was perched on. The entire encounter seemed to be much less aggressive than some of the other encounters I have observed between it an the other adult eagles in the area. Later in the day the rafts of ice began to move through the straits and it was quite obvious the resident Bald Eagles use a perch hunting tactic while floating freely in any direction the ice happens to move. At the end of the days count a S2 bird, the adult and a non- adult Bald Eagle were all floating on separate rafts of ice at different but well spaced perches throughout the straits near McGulpin Point. This is one of the reasons I love all birdwatching as I am always learning and observing behaviors I have never seen before.

In addition to the eagle activity a resident Peregrine Falcon was observed hunting the actual structure of the Mackinac Bridge. It was a long distance ID through the spotting scope for me, however I knew instantly I was dealing with a falcon by its tail on view and flight style. The falcon was first detected flying about even with the bottom of the bridge, but I was amazed at its flight path which wound through the cables, around the abutments and near the tops of the bridge. Observing a falcon in the act of hunting gets the blood pumping. Will it be successful? No doubt the chase is exciting enough! The bird was obviously using the element of surprise by rounding any corner in the structure of the bridge to surprise prey perching or resting on it. Once the bird perched near the top of one of the abutments it was quite obvious by the size and coloration of the breast I was no longer dealing with a Merlin or Kestrel. A memorable way to add my Michigan Peregrine.

Ed Pike wasn’t visiting for more than 10 minutes when he put me on a beautiful light adult Rough-legged Hawk flying fairly low just to the west of the gazebo. It was memorable to be standing beside my mentor in Michigan and observe a bird that breeds in the Arctic.

Waterbird activity is just beginning to pick up with birds being most active between first light and noon. However, the day doesn’t get boring as the decrease in waterbird activity after noon allows for some memorable and exciting non- waterbird observations.

Visitors –

I was kind of caught off guard when I turned around and a news crew from channel 6 was coming out of the forest behind the gazebo. Aaron Parseghian and Matt Myers braved the icy luge course of an approach to come visit the waterbird count. I thought for sure they must have missed the hawk count location, but they were intent on seeing what was going on at the straits first. I have a little bit of background working with the media and public speaking but I was certainly not in any way prepared for this ambush! If I would have known I was going to be on the evening news I would have worn my best “ puffy” clothes. I did my best to share what I have learned about how important Mackinaw Straits are to migrating birds and how fortunate I am to be here observing migration. If in the end the interview comes across well and puts MSRW in a positive light it was a success. More importantly if the importance of this special place to migratory birds is shared with viewers and peaks their viewers interest I will be pleased.  You may check out the story here.  Please note that Steve Bakers feeders and the Black-capped Chickadees of McGulpin Point are now famous!

In addition to the news crew I was able to visit with Michelle Moore from Grayling, MI. She brought me up to speed on the freighters, the locks and some of the history of shipping in the lakes region. I actually learned quite a bit on the subject and got a glimpse into the boat “nerd” world! I encouraged her to return to our upcoming raptor festival and I hope she does.

Total observer hours – 8.0

Next days forecast –

A 20 percent chance of snow after 3pm. Increasing clouds, with a high near 35. West wind 5 to 15 mph.

Canada Goose – 11
Mallard – 12
Redhead – 53
Ring- necked Duck – 8
Greater Scaup – 1
White- winged Scoter – 14
Long- tailed Duck – 8
Common Goldeneye – 30
Common Merganser – 21
Red- breasted Merganser – 368
Ring-billed – 1
Herring Gull – 2
gull sp. – 80

Bald Eagle – 1 S2 1 Adult 1 Non- Adult
Rough- legged Hawk – 1 LA
Sandhill Crane – 8
Killdeer – 1
Mourning Dove – 1
Pileated Woodpecker – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 1
Blue Jay – 1
American Crow – 11
Black- capped Chickadee – 4
Red- breasted Nuthatch – 1
Golden- crowned Kinglet – 1
Northern Cardinal – 1
Red- winged Blackbird – 25
Common Redpoll – 153
Pine Siskin – 52

Also- we are live over on Dunkadoo! If you happen to be interested in following migration in the straits in real time from work, home or while on the move ( you can even receive text updates) head on over to Dunkadoo by way of this link! The birds hope to see you there.

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