Greetings, all! Figured now that I’m starting official waterbird counts at McGulpin, I should briefly introduce myself: I’m Jonah, a 22-yo bird nerd from Maine, and am hoping to bring my love of the sea-watch to bear on a season of inland-sea-watches! Find me on eBird here: https://ebird.org/profile/NjMzOTUy/US-MEor on any morning or evening in person down at McGulpin!
4/3: Got a call from Steve just as I was leaving that the straits had opened up overnight! That they had, but winter was not giving up a fight: a 20-30 mph, sub-freezing wind kept up the whole morning, and by 11 had suppressed waterfowl movement by driving a large ice blockade back into the channel. Several near-whiteout snow flurries came through as well. Still, duck were flying despite the trying conditions.
Long-tails, mallards, goldeneyes, and both red-breasted and common mergansers were moving in decent numbers, with three male redheads as well. Surprisingly, few mergansers were loafing, so many were likely migrants. Decent numbers of gulls, and a handful of local bald eagles rounded out the morning totals.
By the evening count, the wind had lessened some, but ice still covered most of the channel, so very few birds were moving. Large numbers of red-breasted mergs were now loafing. The only notable spectacle of the night was an extremely low flyover of a very dense group of turkey vultures—eighty-five in all!—as I arrived back at the car at 8:40 PM. Likely headed towards a night roost near the Headlands Park.
4/4: Shifting winds overnight had moved out much of the new ice, but the channel remained mostly blocked for the first half of the morning. Consequently, waterfowl movements were limited. In the meantime, huge numbers of gulls were moving in the first few hours, collecting in an aggregation above a breeding colony site in numbers estimated at 1000 birds. Red-breasted mergs aggregated in impressive numbers, with over 50 males feeding and loafing by the time I left at noon.
Passerines, taking advantage of the limited winds, were moving in surprising numbers. The biggest by far were the robins, which could be heard calling throughout the dense cedar forest in the early morning hours, and began making forays in groups of 10-20 towards the UP, before typically deciding to turn around. Eventually, some passerine groups became more emboldened, with several flocks of redpolls, grackles, blackbirds, and robins making the trip. More notably, three starlings, two snow buntings, and an Eastern bluebird flew over, with an additional two starlings, another bluebird, and a pine siskin heard overhead flying parallel to the shore. Corvids were also moving, with both ravens and crows making the trip across the channel.
Noted raptors besides local eagles: 20 turkey vultures crossing and kettling again over the UP.
By evening, temps had dropped a bit, and the East wind had picked up, clearing the channel for more waterfowl flights. A bit more species diversity, but still mostly local movements of mergansers, especially after eagle flyovers. Crows were still moving across.
By far the most interesting spectacle came 20 minutes after sunset, as I spotted a distant flock of at least 600 gulls, strung out in a dense fan. As they moved West, the shape of the fan shifted and bent, recalling the murmurations of a starling flock. Not sure if these were new birds, or a large portion of those that had milled about the colony area earlier today, but I lost sight of the flock way off West above Lake Michigan.
4/5: Another cold one! Light snow through the first half of the count, transitioning to light drizzle, and then big, flaky “Hallmark” snow. Good movement of mergansers, with large numbers loafing as well. Duck diversity was appreciable as well, with a small flock of buffleheads, three redheads, three black ducks, a ring-neck, and a long-tail, in addition to larger flocks of mallard and goldeneye. Movement overall tended West, though most ducks landed within close range and loafed for an hour or two before either continuing on or scattering in response to an eagle flyover.
Single mute swan seen in flight (spotted by Leonard), then swimming East later on. Gull numbers down due to poor visibility, suboptimal flying conditions, and passerines minimal. Notably, crows were still flying across the straits, though all were headed South today, whereas all yesterday’s birds headed North. Locals?
The evening count was very quiet, as low clouds and fog settled over the channel. Some movement of mergansers, a sole mallard and black duck flock, two pairs of goldeneye, and a pair of geese were the only identifiable fliers.
Interestingly, large numbers of gulls were spotted flying West far along the horizon at sunset, for the second day in a row. By this time, visibility was much reduced by fog and low light, so I was only able to pick out ~30 birds against the cloudy backdrop (larger flights later would have been possible, as was the case yesterday).