(Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch)
In late August, the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch (MSRW) launched the first two components of its fall bird migration research. The Waterbird Count to learn about ducks, loons, and grebes began at McGulpin Point in Mackinaw City. The Hawk Count to study migrating day-time raptors started at Pointe LaBarbe west of St. Ignace. On September 20, owl research will begin, also near St. Ignace.
“Anyone watching or feeding birds will have noticed a marked change in their behavior the past couple weeks,” explains Susan Affholter, MSRW board member. With the breeding season over, birds that leave northern Michigan in order to secure enough food during the winter are gathering for or beginning their flights south.
“Waterbirds generally migrate earlier than others,” Affholter explains. “For four years, MSRW has conducted waterbird counts to learn more about the types, numbers, and timing of waterbirds flying through the Straits of Mackinac.” MSRW gives the resulting data to decision-makers and anyone interested in learning the importance of the Straits as a migration corridor for ducks.
The fall 2018 count runs every day of the week from dawn to mid-afternoon by Kyle Wiktor from Illinois. In previous falls, professional counters have observed up to 44,000 waterbirds of 43 species, ranging from the common Canada Geese to the rare Black-legged Kittiwake.
Between now and November 10, MSRW invites the public to visit the Waterbird Count on the west edge of Mackinac City below McGulpin Point Lighthouse. Between daybreak and 2 pm, people may observe the migrating birds and talk with migration experts who are conducting the count. Binoculars are useful, since most birds are at a distance.
“We also welcome visitors to the Hawk Watch near St. Ignace,” said volunteer Bev Kirby. The first partial fall hawk count occurred in 2017, when 8,700 raptors of 15 species were tallied by Kirby and other volunteers. This fall, funding from individual donations has allowed MSRW to hire contract biologist Jason Bojczyk of Ann Arbor, Michigan. He will work at Pointe LaBarbe until November 14. Mrs. Kirby continues: “Of particular interest to science and birders was the high number of Rough-legged Hawks seen coming south in the fall of 2017. This large and dramatic species nests in the high Arctic. I always regarded it as a winter visitor. Seeing so many in the fall has made us re-consider what we thought we knew about its migration patterns.”
The Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch conducts scientific studies of hawks, owls, and waterbirds migrating through this region of northern Michigan, educates the public about them, and aids in conserving and protecting the resting and feeding stop-over habitat for birds of prey in the Straits of Mackinac region. To learn more, visit the MSRW Facebook, Instagram pages, or www.mackinacraptorwatch.org for migration blogs, past press releases, event dates, donation and volunteer options, and Mackinac Raptor Fest photos. Email [email protected] for information about the fall owl research visitation options.
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