Tuesday, March 29, 2011

We've moved!

Hi everyone.  The WPBO blogs have moved!  All of the blogs are now part of the main WPBO webite, which you can find, as always, at wpbo.org.  The 2011 season is already underway, with hawks and owls on the move.  So check it out!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Another one bites the dust

In total there were 96,350 individual birds of 78 species this year which ranks as one of the five highest counts in total birds and the highest count of species seen during a single count year.

This season was marked by some very interesting days and exceptional numbers of species which are typically seen in much small numbers along with several periods of extreme inactivity due to the weather.  The most exceptional waterbird species seen this year included Pacific Loon, American Coot, American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Red-necked and Red Phalaropes, Laughing and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and Ancient Murrelet among many other “good” species that are annual or close to it.  Among those species Laughing Gull and American Coot are both new to the fall waterbird count while the Lesser Black-backed Gull and American Avocets were the second records and the Marbled Godwit was the third for the fall count.  In the end 19(!!!) species or groups of species were recorded in record numbers which is the most for any single year in the count’s 22-year history.

Overall numbers were spread across several different families of birds this year unlike some years when a single species or group accounts for a huge percentage of the total.  Thanks to an exceptional year for grebes and terns this year had the highest non-waterfowl total in the history of the count with 31,871 birds recorded that were not geese, swans, or ducks.  Among the waterfowl seen this year it was an overall poor year for geese which were nearly 1,000 birds below normal though it was the best year ever for swans with nearly triple the previous high count.  This year 19 Tundra and 11 Trumpeter/Tundra Swans were seen for a total of 30 which bests the previous high mark of 12 but quite the margin.  Ducks held their own with dabblers, scoters, and “winter” ducks (Long-tailed, Common Goldeneye, and Bufflehead) seen in well above to nearly record numbers while the Aythya species and mergansers were seen in well-below average numbers.  All totaled the number of ducks seen, 60,491, was about 5,000 above average.

Among the many reasons for beginning the waterbird count were loons and Red-necked Grebes which both had significant years in their own right.  On the loon front was the overall poor year which seems to be a continuation of the downward trend in their numbers over recent years.  The Common Loon total of 2468 is the 6th lowest for the fall count and nearly 700 short of the long-term average while Red-throated Loon numbers were closer to average with a total of 258, about 35 short of the long-term average.  Grebe numbers however were the polar opposite with a record count of Red-necked Grebes, nearly 2000 higher than the previous high count, and the second highest number of Horned Grebes seen in a fall season.  The count of 18,577 Red-necked Grebes provides a unlikely record as this year did not see any major push of grebes like are seen in most years with the highest daily count of 2219 on August 19th.  However, as the old saying goes “slow and steady wins the race,” the birds just kept coming all season long with counts of more than 1000 on five days and counts of over 450 on an additional seven days.

Shorebirds, gulls, jaegers, and terns often seem like the forgotten parts of the waterbird count though they account for a majority of the total species most years.  This year was no exception with those groups accounting for 39 species including record counts of 7 species.  Shorebirds in general were not particularly common this year with the total seen right at the long-term average though there were three species seen in record numbers including American Avocet, Baird’s Sandpiper, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper along with the unusual species already mentioned.  Gulls were seen in just above average diversity with an impressive total of small gulls including record numbers of Sabine’s and Laughing Gulls along with near record numbers of Black-legged Kittiwakes and a record-tying number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  While “white-winged” gulls were basically absent this fall there were decent numbers of Thayer’s and Great Black-backed Gulls which added a little diversity to the normal Ring-billed and Herring group at the point.  Jaegers also staged an impressive movement into the region this fall with record numbers of Parasitic and Long-taileds along with a record number of unidentified jaegers.  Last, but not least, are the terns which were noted in record numbers as well this fall with the vast majority of that accounted for by the 3060 Common Terns which is a record high count for that species.

Overall it was quite the year for watching birds at the point and there were some excellent rewards to those who were willing to wait for them.  Among those who deserve recognition for their contribution to this fall’s count are the two people who were willing to give me days off, Jason Bojczyk and Adam Byrne, and to everyone else that spent many hours or only a few minutes out there to help me count birds or pass the time I want to say thank you.  I know I had a good time this fall, though depending on the day you spent at the point that may surprise you, and I hope that everyone else came away with a good feeling from this season.

The Top Ten List

Long-tailed Duck (20,104)
Red-necked Grebe (18,577)
Red-breasted Merganser (9114)
Greater Scaup (4419)
Canada Goose (3993)
White-winged Scoter (3726)
unidentified Scaup (3230)
Common Tern (3060)
Common Goldeneye (2909)
Herring Gull (2828)

New Record Highs for the Fall Count

Tundra Swan (19)
Tundra/Trumpeter Swan (11)
Blue-winged Teal (2506)
Northern Shoveler (184)
Redhead (1477)
Red-necked Grebe (18,577)
American Coot (1)
American Avocet (8)
Baird's Sandpiper (277)
Buff-breasted Sandpiper (31)
Sabine's Gull (30)
Laughing Gull (1)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (1)
Common Tern (3060)
Parasitic Jaeger (26)
Long-tailed Jaeger (4)
unidentified Jaeger (41)
Ancient Murrelet (1)
unidentified Alcid (1)

As a side note for any one interested I managed to see 212 species (there were an additional 5-10 species seen this fall which I didn't get) at the point this year along with a few other species seen in the area but not the point proper.  It was a pretty good year for diversity especially when you consider there wasn't anyone scouring the woods most days.

Scott Schuette
2010 Fall waterbird counter

last week

Well the season ended on the 15th as usual, the final week was fairly mundane with the highlights being a Harlequin Duck on the 12th, continuing small numbers of Black Scoters, a pair of Sanderlings that were still sticking it out as of November 17th, a small group of Dunlin on the 14th and 15th, a flock of 5(!!!) Black-legged Kittiwakes on the 11th, a Sabine's and Lesser Black-backed Gull also on the 11th, and a Thayer's Gull on the 10th.  Otherwise it was just the regulars making their way past in small numbers.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Another alcid

Today was really quiet and the next few days should be similar but what it lacked in overall numbers and diversity it made up for in quality.  The best was clearly an Ancient Murrelet that flew by going east just after noon today providing the second alcid sighting of the Fall.  Taking a second position on the rarity list for the day was the season's 4th Black-legged Kittiwake that floated in the air for a little while this morning before heading out onto the big part of the lake.  It was pretty quiet otherwise with only 100 or so birds seen and most of them were Long-tailed Ducks.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Yeah, I think they call this WINTER

A day off and fingers that are not frozen has given me a chance to report on a few of the birds that have graced the point lately.  While the overall numbers have been very good for this time of year that is mostly due to a surge of birds on the 5th which accounted for 5578 of the 6628 total birds seen since November 3rd.  Of course just seeing more than 100 birds in day is something to be thankful for in November so there's no complaining here (ok, well at least not right now).  The weather, well that is a totally different story and I reserve the right to complain any day where the temperature never tops 25 degrees and the windchill fluctuates between -5 and 0, like it did on the 5th.  The forecast for the upcoming week is for better weather (did I actually hear 50! degrees on the news this evening?) and sun, of course that will also lead to poor bird movement but at this point I'm fine with just being comfortable.

What I term "Winter Ducks" typically involve those species that I don't think of arriving in any numbers where I grew up (just north of St. Louis, MO) until the weather turns cold and are often those species most likely to remain through the winter while many other species move south once the lakes and rivers begin to freeze.  So it is no surprise that they are now the most common species each day by a large margin and should remain so through the final week plus of the season.  On the 5th there was a very strong movement of these species, the largest single day of the year in fact, which was comprised mainly of Long-tailed Ducks (3948), Bufflehead (568), Red-breasted Merganser (498), and Common Goldeneye (451) which were accompanied by the first flight of Hooded Mergansers this year with 11 being noted in the first two hours after sunrise.  The other days this week have seen much smaller, but steady, numbers with daily averages of 145 Long-tailed Ducks, 14 Buffleheads, 62 Common Goldeneyes, and 90 Red-breasted Mergansers.

In other waterbird news dabbling ducks and Aythya ducks have been virtually non-existent lately with very small numbers of Mallards and American Black Ducks still seen most days and up to a few dozen scaup seen daily though normally its only 5-15.  Scoter numbers have also fallen off drastically with White-wingeds averaging about 12 per day while a single Surf was seen on the 4th and a few Blacks were noted on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th.  The loon numbers remain about the same with the average daily count for Common and Red-throateds being 15 and 1 respectively while grebe numbers have dropped to 12 for Red-necked and 2 for Horned.

Shorebirds still show up on occasion this time of year with a single Dunlin on the 5th and two Sanderlings on the 6th being the arrivals in recent days.  Gulls have continued in moderate diversity with single Black-legged Kittiwakes noted on the 3rd and 6th, both individuals were young birds, and the first Bonaparte's Gull in some time was found on the 3rd riding the waves on the point.  Among the large white-headed gull clan there was a juvenile Thayer's Gull on the 6th and two Great Black-backed Gulls, a 1st winter bird on the 3rd and an adult on the 6th.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lake or ocean?

juvenile Thayer's Gull
The past few days have seen a myriad of different conditions from chilly (27 degrees) to warm (45 degrees), calm to windy, and sunny to drizzle.  Of course the lake still seems to be re-adjusting after last week's storm with the current shape of the point more like a pear rather than the previous scythe shape and it seems there are also still a few avian gems left out there on that huge expanse of water.

The clear highlight and the most frustrating bird of the Fall was seen on Sunday afternoon while I was at home enjoying the couch and a football game when an unknown alcid was spotted twice just offshore as it flew short distances through the waves never to be seen again.  Prevailing thought from those who saw it is that this bird was probably a DOVEKIE but unfortunately the observers could not pin it down for long enough to put a confirmed label on the bird.  Sometimes they just get away.

The overall waterfowl make-up has been similar each day though the actual numbers has fluctuated quite a lot.  The most unusual species were both noted yesterday morning when the Fall's first flock of Snow Geese (8 birds) passed just to the west of the point and another 2 Tundra/Trumpeter Swans were noted flying north across the lake.  Once again Long-tailed Duck has been the most common species with daily counts of 559, 1620, and 164 while Common Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser held onto the next two spots.  Smaller numbers of Mallard, White-winged (and a few Black) Scoter, Bufflehead, and scaup have also been noted daily along with a scattering of other species in ones and twos each day.

A few loons are still trickling through each day with average daily numbers of Common and Red-throated dropping to 10 and 1 respecitvely while grebe numbers have fallen to similar levels with 11 and 2 being the average numbers for Red-neckeds and Horneds over the past three days.

Shorebirds are still mostly non-existent but a Red Phalarope flying down the beach before momentarily dropping into the waves at the point's tip today was a clear highlight.  The only other species to be noted lately were two continuing Sanderlings seen yesterday.  On the gull front the diversity and numbers continue to improve (usually not a good sign for those who enjoy warmth) with different Thayer's Gulls appearing the past two days and a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull that continues around the point since late last week.  Also making another appearance on the point was a juvenile Sabine's Gull which showed up shortly after the phalarope around noon, this is the first sighting since October 22nd.

Other birds seen lately have included a good movement of 14 Rough-legged Hawks on the 2nd, the continuing Spotted Towhee through the evening of the 1st, and a much increased number of finches (including Pine Grosbeak and White-winged Crossbill) with large flocks redpolls arriving on the 1st that had at least 1 Hoary among them.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Winter is a coming

Long-tailed Duck at St. Paul Island, AK
Today was downright cold with a chilly north wind off the lake and persistent rain/drizzle throughout the morning into the early afternoon making for less than pleasant conditions.  Yesterday was a little more mild with western winds and partly cloudy skies, I mean the temperature actually reached higher than 40 degrees as opposed to today's high of 35 at the point.  But with nasty weather often comes the birds and so while my fingers and toes have loudly voiced their displeasure with the working conditions of late the counting itself has been good.

As the duck diversity begins to drop (along with the thermometer and my core body temperature) this time of year it also signals the arrival of the largest daily duck flights which can make for a more entertaining day of counting.  While the largest daily totals are yet to come, at least we hope, the past two days have seen large movements led by Long-tailed Duck (only 115 yesterday but 2712 today), Red-breasted Merganser (1408 yesterday and 1164 today), and Common Goldeneye (389 yesterday and 739 today).  Each day has also seen decent flights of Bufflehead (253 and 104) while all three scoters have been seen each day but not in overwhelming numbers, though the counts of Black Scoters (32 and 11) have been pretty good.  A few dabblers, mainly Mallard, American Black Ducks, and Green-winged Teal, are still being seen daily while a few scaup have also made their way past the point.  The waterfowl highlights over the past two days have been 2 Hooded Mergansers and 1 Canvasback yesterday and a flock of 10 Tundra Swans (likely birds that have been present at the Tahquamenon River mouth over recent days) today.

Loons are still flying past in the same numbers that they have all season with Common Loon counts of 28 and 48 over the past two days with just 1 or 2 Red-throateds also seen each day.  The grebe numbers also continue to hold steady with another little burst of Red-neckeds mixed into the duck flight, the daily counts of 130 and 74 are the best in almost two weeks.  Horned Grebes are still around but in much smaller numbers with 11 on today's count.  No unusual gulls have been noted over the past two days and shorebirds continue to be quite scarce with a Dunlin yesterday and two Sanderlings today, both sightings came in the final half hour of the count.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A little bit windy

flock of American Avocets on the 28th
Well that was quite a storm!  The highest wind I personally dealt with while counting was about 55 MPH though I heard that there were speeds of 63 MPH recorded at the point so either those were during the night or I am a poor judge of wind speed, either way it was strong.  With that said the power is still out at the point and I am currently in Paradise as tonight's temps were just gonna be a little too cold to stay in the house with no heat.  Because I haven't been able to post for quite some time now I'm not going to go over everything that has happened since the 23rd but I'll just give some highlights from each day.

October 24th:

My day off, there was a decent Long-tailed Duck flight, another Harlequin Duck, 6 more Trumpeter/Tundra Swans, and a good count of 161 Green-winged Teal to top it off.

October 25th:

A good duck flight despite the poor wind conditions with a solid 500+ Red-breasted Mergansers and the best scoter numbers in awhile with 17 Surfs, 175 White-wingeds, and 23 Blacks.  Very little else was willing to fly into the wind though.

October 26th:

A pretty poor day overall but what can you expect with 30-45 MPH winds out of the SE (i.e. the direction the birds were trying to fly).  A few Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, and Red-breasted Mergansers still managed to fly south and the first Great Black-backed Gull of the season was an adult bird that flew west with the winds during the afternoon.

October 27th:

A pretty unique day overall, winds from the SSW/SW sustained at more than 30 MPH with gusts into the 50s and perhaps 60s along with the usual rain, etc...  The best birds were an American Coot (only a handful of previous records from the point) and a Franklin's Gull which were both present for only a limited time during the morning and afternoon respectively.  Also of note were the first Killdeer and Lesser Yellowlegs since mid-September along with 42 Blue-winged Teal which had not been seen in any numbers since early-mid September.  Other gulls seen among the Herrings and Ring-billeds which were sheltering on the point throughout the day included a juvenile Thayer's and 2 different juvenile Great Black-backed Gulls.  The only ducks willing to fly in any numbers were Long-taileds with 573 recorded but only about 100 other ducks seen in total.

October 28th:

Today was a bit more tame than the 27th both on the bird and weather fronts.  The clear highlight of the day was a flock of 8 American Avocets which flew by late morning, briefly setting down on the point before heading on south along the shoreline.  This represents only the 2nd or 3rd point record and highest total ever recorded here.  Other birds were similar to recent days with a good count of 22 Black Scoters, a new daily high count of 106 Buffleheads, a mini-resurgence in Common Loon and Red-necked Grebe numbers after a very poor showing the past few days to 38 and 35 respectively, and another (or continuing?) juvenile Great Black-backed Gull roosting on the point.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

10/22 and 10/23

juvenile Northern Goshawk
Today was almost pleasant on the point with mild temps (32-50 degrees), no precipitation, and lighter wind although its direction (ENE/E/ESE) left something to be desired while yesterday was unexpectedly unpleasant with rain for nearly 4 hours during the late morning and early afternoon to go with moderate SW wind and temperatures that never reached 40 degrees.

The waterfowl highlights of the past two days both came today with a family of 4 Tundra Swans that made a close fly-over of the shack late this morning and a Harlequin Duck which passed by with a flock of White-winged Scoters during the last hour of the count.  The first Long-tailed Duck push of the season continued yesterday with 2906 counted while the number dropped off considerably today into the 600-700 range.  A few Mallards and American Black Ducks continue to pass each day with small numbers of Northern Pintail and Green-winged Teal also noted while the Aythya numbers continue to be low with about 100 total birds yesterday including 15 Redheads and only 12 total birds today.  Scoter numbers are holding firm in the low-moderate range with 4 Blacks seen yesterday but none located during today's count.  Rounding out the ducks currently being seen are consistent numbers of Buffleheads and Common Goldeneyes with daily averages around 25 and 60 respectively and moderate numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers with daily counts of 371 and 302 over the past two days.  Loon and grebe numbers are almost mirror images of each other with Common Loon and Red-necked Grebe both averaging about 30 per day while just a couple Red-throated Loons and Horneds Grebes are being seen daily. 

The Sabine's Gull show continued yesterday with a bird that hung out around the point for much of the day and a second bird which was seen intermittently to the west of the point as it would feed on the lake before moving back towards the west and out of sight, however with a the change in weather overnight there were no Sabine's seen today after 10 consecutive days of sightings dating back to the 13th.  For the first time in almost a week there were sandpipers on the point yesterday and today with a pair of Sanderlings among the roosting gulls at the tip.

Meat-eating birds continued to make their share of appearances over the past two days with a few Rough-leggeds Hawks and a single Short-eared Owl noted flying in off the lake while small numbers of Bald Eagles, Northern Goshawks, Red-tailed Hawks, and Merlins are seen on the point.  Overall bird numbers remain low on the point though an increase in Pine Siskins and a recently arrived Northern Shrike were noted today along with continuing Brown Thrasher, Indigo Bunting, and Evening Grosbeaks.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Long-tailed season begins

juvenile Sabine's Gull
Today's weather has taken the top spot in the "I wish I was somewhere else" category with temperatures that fluctuated between 30 and 35 degrees all day with wind gusting up to 35 MPH and just as icing on the cake we had rain, freezing rain, sleet, dry snow, and wet snow come through in waves throughout the day, FUN!!!

Overall waterbird movement was good, however about 75% of that was Long-tailed Ducks which had their first good movement day with 1498 recorded.  A few dabblers were again seen with small numbers of Gadwall, American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Pintail, and Green-winged Teal noted along with a pair of Canada Geese that flew in during the morning.  Other diving ducks seen included the highest counts yet of Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye with 72 and 66 respectively, a similar number of scoters to recent days with 7 Surfs, 28 White-wingeds, and 9 Blacks, a small increase in Aythya ducks over recent days, and another decent merganser day.  Loon numbers held firm with 26 Common and 1 Red-throated seen while Red-necked Grebes were down a bit to 22 with no Horneds observed for the first time in quite awhile.

The Sabine's Gull show continues (though only for a few privileged individuals it seems) with a single bird noted in the early morning and then up to 2 birds that were seen at the point's tip for most of the afternoon from 12:30 until the count ended around 4.  The birds this afternoon were actually the most cooperative yet with most of their time spent within 100 yards of the point.