Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch Newsletter
September 17, 2020
Raptors and Monarchs and Waterbirds, Oh My!
It’s that time of year again! As the trees change colors and the temperature begins to drop, migratory birds are underway on their fall journeys. Fall research is well underway, too, with Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch hawk and waterbird counts ongoing since August 20.
MSRW is lucky to have engaged veteran hawk counter Calvin Brennan from Grayling, MI. He worked for seven autumn seasons at the Southeast Michigan Hawk Watch where he coached Josh Haas, MSRW board member and author of the identification DVD series Hawks on the Wing. Calvin observes from Point LaBarbe, St. Ignace, on the north side of Boulevard Rd, an area where raptors can be seen before soaring over the Straits at the narrowest point.
Conditions in early September have brought good migratory activity so far. September 10 marked the first big push of Broad-winged Hawks, with 311 counted on that day alone. Brennan noted a kettle of over 150 Broad-Winged Hawks riding a thermal updraft together. There has also been a strong push of Bald Eagles, with 516 counted in total so far, and Sharp-shinned Hawks, totaling 420 to date. We expect to see Red-Tailed Hawk numbers increase in frequency later this season.
Early Fall is also an exciting time to watch the Monarch butterfly migration. Calvin keeps a formal count of these migrating insects passing the count site alongside the birds, and in the opening weeks of the count, he has already surpassed 6,000 Monarchs.
The waterbird count continues, too. Early September conditions have not been favorable, but changing winds in future weeks may bring in larger numbers of waterbirds. Ben Stalheim, our waterbird counter, has noted new species starting to pass through for the season including Mute swan, Wood duck, and Red-breasted Merganser. To date, the waterbird survey has counted 1,689 Double-crested cormorant, 1,065 Ring-billed gull, 643 Red-necked grebe, and 369 Common loon.
In the second half of September, we begin banding owls migrating through the Straits. Tiny Saw-whet owls, with a call like the back-up beeper on a heavy machine, are a common but little-seen and not well understood species that migrate at night. In our next issue we will feature updates on fall owl surveys and banding projects.
If you’re missing your trips to the watch site during this socially distanced season, watch for blog updates from our hawk counter, Calvin, and our waterbird counter, Ben. These can be found at the MSRW website linked here. Also, check out the website BirdCast linked here. BirdCast generates real-time migration forecasts across the continental US using weather radar technology, and is a fun way to check in on migrations from the comfort of your own home. You can also check out the complete hawk count data here, which connects to Hawk Count, the database where the Hawk Migration Association of America tallies information from hawk count sites around the country.
Have you ever ordered anything from Amazon? Did you know you can support us while you’re there? AmazonSmile is an easy and automatic way for you to support Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch while doing your everyday shopping. Follow this link to select MSRW as your AmazonSmile charitable organization, and a percentage of the purchase price of any product marked “eligible for AmazonSmile donation” will go toward us.
The mission of the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch is to conduct research in the Straits of Mackinac area on migrating birds of prey, to support their conservation, and to inform and inspire people about them. MSRW is a non-profit organization that depends on your donation! The group appreciates support from more than 350 individual and business contributors, and from area organizations, including the Mackinac Area Visitors Bureau and Petoskey Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation. To learn more or to donate, visit www.mackinacraptorwatch.org.