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.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sabine's Gull invasion

This year's great Sabine's Gull numbers just got amazing with the past few days being the best yet for the species.  On Monday for the second time this year there were two sighted and on Tuesday there was a single bird seen and with that sighting the single season record was broken with 20, today however, was by far the best yet with no less than 4 juveniles seen.  Three birds were visible at one time late morning and a single bird flew in from Canada a little later to add to the total for the day.  It remains to be seen how long this "invasion" will last but as far as I am concerned it doesn't need to end anytime soon.

In other news the weather has been seemingly very good for the past few days but the waterbirds have been a little disappointing given the conditions.  While total numbers each day are not that bad, and the flight was actually pretty good on Monday, it has been a little bit of a letdown, given that our poor migration weather had finally broken, not to have a larger movement.  The weather (strong western winds with some wintery precip) is suppose to remain similar through Saturday so we will see.

The only slightly unusual duck species to be seen of late were 2 Canvasbacks that flew past on Monday afternoon with a small group of scaup and scoters providing the first sighting of the year for that species.  In dabbler news the number of Gadwalls, American Black Ducks, Mallards, Northern Pintails, and Green-winged Teal continue to hold firm with daily sightings of all species, and in some cases, in good numbers.  Scoter numbers were best on Monday when 30 Surfs, 83 White-wingeds, and 24 Blacks were seen while all three species have been seen each of the past two days but in smaller numbers.  Aythya ducks were present in good numbers on Monday (about 1100 total birds) but there has been fewer than 50 each of the past two days.  Smaller numbers of Buffleheads and Common Goldeneyes continue to pass by of late with the most common waterfowl being Long-tailed Duck and Red-breasted Merganser with average daily totals of 250 and 400 respectively.

Common Loon numbers have yet to drop-off (not that they have been that high to start with) with an average of 35+ for the past three days while Red-throateds just continue to move by in small, but consistent numbers with daily tallies of 4, 2, and 2.  Horned Grebe have dropped off from the large numbers last week with only 2 each of the past three days while Red-neckeds are still moving by with about 45 per day to begin the week.

Beyond all of the Sabine's Gull the clear gull highlight was a non-breeding adult Black-legged Kittiwake that graced the point with its presence for a preciously short time on Wednesday afternoon only 15 minutes prior to the end of the count.  The Thayer's Gull also remained until Monday but has not been seen since then.  The only shorebird noted in the past three days was the season's sixth Wilson's Snipe which was tallied on the morning of the 18th as it flushed from the Jack Pines to the west of the shack.

For notes on recent landbirds and the Common Ground-Dove found today please take a look at the sightings blog.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Broken promises

Thayer's Gull
In an ironic twist of fate the weather man was correct in his predictions for the past few days but Mother Nature simply wasn't listening as favorable weather for migration has been largely free of our feathered friends.  Of course there are always a few birds with an average of about 1500 per day but with the light-strong western and northern winds that have been present since the 14th it seems like a let down more than anything.  The forecast continues to be promising though so hopefully we can get on the right track soon and have a little more to be excited about.

Overall duck diversity is still pretty good with an increase in dabbler numbers over the past few days while the expected divers continue to be seen.  A surge of Gadwalls, American Black Ducks, and Northern Pintails over the past few days has been a welcome sight while decent numbers of American Wigeons, Mallards, and Green-winged Teals have also been noted, 3 late Northern Shovelers were seen on the 16th.  There were decent numbers of Aythya ducks on the 14th but since then they have been in short supply with small numbers of Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and Lesser Scaup joining the flocks of Greater Scaup.  The best duck of late was the third Harlequin Duck of the season which was noted with two Surf Scoters on the 15th while overall scoter numbers have been good with daily high counts of 28 Surfs on the 14th, 320 White-wingeds on the 14th, and 13 Blacks on the 15th.  "Winter" ducks are beginning to increase as well with small numbers of Buffleheads and Common Goldeneyes showing up more frequently in recent days while Long-tailed Duck numbers are steadily increasing as one would expect.

Loon numbers are holding steady with a daily average of more than 50 Commons from the 14th to the 17th while up to 5 Red-throateds continue to be seen daily.  Grebe numbers have also held their own with about 20 Horneds per day lately while Red-neckeds continue to add to the record high count at a rate of nearly 90 each day.  As is customary this time of year shorebirds have been very few and far between with a group of 4 Dunlin on the 15th being the only birds seen other than an occasional Sanderling.  The juvenile Sabine's Gull first noted on the 13th was still being seen regularly each day through the 17th with a second migratory bird noted on the 15th.  The season count now stands at 17, just two short of the all-time season record.  The only large white-headed gull noted beyond the two ubiquitous species was a 1st-winter Thayer's that was found among the the roosting gulls on the point late this afternoon.

It's the season of sparse landbirds so this weekend's low numbers were no surprise but there were a few nice birds noted with a Townsend's Solitaire seen at the edge of the Jack Pines on the morning of the 17th being the best.  Other good birds noted included a Sharp-tailed Grouse that was found along the trail to the point on the 16th, a Short-eared Owl that came across the lake on the morning of the 17th, and a Brown Thrasher frequenting the feeders during the afternoon of the 17th.  Other birds seen of late included a few lingering warblers (mainly Yellow-rumped) and a lone Blue-gray Gnatcatcher while winter finches (including Common Redpoll and Evening Grosbeak) and Snow Bunting numbers continue to increase with each day that passes.  Raptor numbers have been good lately with the increased Buteo migration in recent days totaling about 15 Rough-leggeds and 25 Red-taileds while Bald Eagle, Northern Harrrier, Northern Goshawk, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon have also been seen coming in across the lake or hunting the point.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Biggest day yet

Bald Eagle from St. Paul Island, AK
As expected a weak front moved through pre-dawn and with it being the first break in the "nice" weather in quite some time the birds were moving with it.  The day itself was actually quite nice as the rain stayed away leaving us with cloudy to mostly sunny skies and pretty moderate temperatures given the persistent winds from the NW all day.  There were no major highlights for the day but an early morning Harlequin Duck, a distant Sabine's Gull, and yet another unidentified jaeger topped the list.  Tomorrow is suppose to be similar, though with a greater chance of showers during the count, so we will see what it has to bring.

Overall waterbird numbers were the best of the season and while Aythya ducks were a large part of that total, with 207 Redheads, 6 Ring-necked Ducks, 708 Greater Scaup, 50 Lesser Scaup, 576 unidentified Scaup, and 401 unidentified Aythya ducks, there were also seasonal high counts for a number of other species including White-winged Scoter (389), Black Scoter (23), Bufflehead (15), Common Goldeneye (11), and Red-breasted Merganser (234), of course most of these numbers will be far exceeded later in the season but for now they are the high water marks.  Small numbers of dabblers are also still moving through with the first American Black Duck and Gadwalls in some time seen today along with a moderate flight of 52 Mallards among others.  Loon numbers were not much improved however with 39 Commons and 5 Red-throateds making fly-bys, but grebe numbers were much improved with a good late-season count of 487 Red-neckeds and another nice flight of 50 Horneds to boot.

The shorebird clan made a glorious re-appearance on the point today with a total of TWO: a fly-by Wilson's Snipe early this morning and a single Sanderling on the shore.  The only other notable sighting in the gull realm was a group of 11 Bonaparte's Gulls during the late-morning which was the first such sighting in quite awhile.

Landbirds were less in evidence than waterbirds on this day but a small group of White-winged Crossbills were seen passing over the point for the first sighting of the fall while a small movement of Bald Eagles (at least 8 birds) was noted throughout the day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Early week lull

Rough-legged Hawks
The past few days have all been without any great highlights as the high pressure system is still influencing the weather on Lake Superior.  Each day has seen a different wind selection with west on Sunday, north yesterday, and south today and as one might assume the overall number of birds has decreased each day this week.  The next two days are suppose to see a short series of fronts move into the area so hopefully my next posts will be with better news.

On the duck front yesterday and today were quite poor with Long-tailed Ducks and scoters accounting for most of the birds seen as there numbers continue to increase and hold steady respectively.  Sunday had a larger duck movement which was mostly Aythya ducks which totalled about 900 birds.  All three days have seen small numbers of Black Scoters (with 12 on Monday) and there have been Ring-necked Ducks on two days which are the most uncommon species to be noted recently.  Loon numbers are still low with an average of 22 Commons and 3 Red-throateds while grebe numbers are about as expected with 29 Red-neckeds and 4 Horneds on average each day.  There continues to be no shorebirds or unusual gulls around the point as of late though a light-phase adult non-breeding Parasitic Jaeger made a fairly close pass of the point on Sunday morning.

Sunday and Monday both saw the arrival of another late fall/winter species when a group of 7 Rough-legged Hawks flew in across the lake on Sunday afternoon and a pair of Snow Buntings appeared along the lake shoreline on Monday morning.  Other birds making appearances include a Northern Goshawk all three days, a Black-backed Woodpecker on Sunday, Orange-crowned Warblers on Sunday and Monday, and most other late fall passerines on at least one of the three days.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Loon hat trick

Common Redpoll from St. Paul Island, AK
The past two days have seen similar weather: light-moderate winds with A LOT of sun and warmer than normal temperatures.  Pretty much all that means is that the big high pressure system is still controlling our weather and ruining what should be one of the most productive times of the year at the point.  Thankfully there are enough decent birds on the lake to produce a few nice sightings both yesterday and today but overall migration has stalled considerably.  Tomorrow is forecast for W/NW winds and some clouds so maybe that will be accompanied by a resurgence in bird numbers.

Yesterday and today both saw two "write-ins" appear off the point with yesterday's being a Sabine's Gull and a White-rumped Sandpiper (the first of the fall) and today it was a family group of 5 Tundra Swans and 2 separate Pacific Loons.  The loons flew east about an hour apart and were still retaining their full breeding plumage which made up for the continuing small numbers of Common and Red-throateds this season.  Also seen yesterday was another unidentified jaeger to add to this year's record count.

Basic migrant waterbird numbers were weak both days with yesterday being a shade better than today.  Scoters, Mergansers, and Aythya ducks continue to be most abundant with small numbers of the more common dabblers and a few additional divers mixed in for good measure.  Long-tailed Ducks are still passing through in small numbers while a Hooded Merganser this morning was the second of the season and still a bit on the early side for them.  Grebe numbers were much better yesterday with 112 Red-neckeds and 42 Horneds as compared to 13 Red-neckeds and 11 Horneds today, Common and Red-throated Loon numbers were basically the same with mid-20s for the big species and a couple for their snaky-necked cousin each day.

Shorebirds are in short supply these days but a single American Golden-Plover was seen both days with a few Sanderlings still on the point and a Dunlin joining them today.  A Bonaparte's Gull was noted each day with the much reduced Ring-billed numbers down to about 30-40 around the point each day.

Non-waterbirds have been a bit better these past couple days but again that may simply be due to a few pairs of eyes in the woods during the morning.  Yesterday was mostly forgettable with a Northern Goshawk and White-breasted Nuthatch being the most interesting birds while today saw an increase in Common Redpoll and Evening Grosbeak numbers along with a few new migrants including a late Osprey, an additional White-breasted Nuthatch, and the first Blue-headed Vireo seen this fall.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A point milestone

juvenile Bonaparte's Gull
While one of the original reasons to start the waterbird count at Whitefish Point was to document the loon migration, one of the other main reasons was to document the Red-necked Grebe passage.  On the loon front this year has been very underwhelming with Commons at only half of their longterm average and Red-throateds are at two-thirds of their longterm average, but after today's count of 211 grebes we have passed the previous high count of 16,624 set in 2001 with 16,709 now recorded and another month plus to add to that total.  The old adage "slow and steady wins the race" seems to sum up this year's grebe migration with no one singular day making up a huge portion of the total but instead many good days adding up to make a record-breaking number.

Overall migration was better today than yesterday with Aythya ducks making up a large percentage of the birds seen yet again.  The top three species were similar with Greater Scaup still first with 490 counted while Red-breasted Merganser slid into the two spot with 227 and Redhead was again third with 188.  Dabbling duck numbers (particularly American Wigeon and Mallard) were much lower than yesterday while scoter numbers remained steady (107 White-wingeds, 74 Surfs, and 1 Black) and "other" diving duck numbers were about the same.  Of note were the first 2 Buffleheads of the season that went past soon after sunrise.  Accounting for the overall increase in birds for the day were the Gaviidae and Podicipedidae families with 138 Common and 9 Red-throated Loons seen along with 211 Red-necked and 55 Horned Grebes.

Well on a positive note there were 6 Sanderlings on the point today so I at least wasn't shut out in the shorebird department again, unfortunately that's about all there was in the shorebird, gull, tern, and allies bird realm.

Its amazing what a difference having a few eyes in the woods makes as today's landbird list was much larger albeit with no major highlights.  The most notable species included the season's first Common Redpoll among the hordes of Pine Siskins and a Clay-colored Sparrow among the Chippies.  A few Rusty Blackbirds were noted flying in off the lake early this morning.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A bit more on track

Today's weather was similar to those of late but with the influence of a weak low pressure system that moved into the area early in the afternoon which increased the activity this morning.  Winds were from the south most of the morning with a mid-afternoon shift to the west but even that could not hamper the will of the birds as they must have realized this could be the only good day to move soon.  In a true testament as to how improved the day was, I managed not to bring out the chair at all, that's a first in almost a week.

As one would expect Aythya ducks were the dominate birds on the move with in excess of 1000 birds from that genus seen today.  Greater Scaup were the most common duck with 413 while American Wigeon claimed the number two spot at 206, just ahead of Redhead which rounded out the top three at 191, also seen in numbers exceeding one hundred birds were Mallard (169) and White-winged Scoter (111).  The most interesting duck seen today was a male Wood Duck that flew past with a ball of scaups early in the morning while single Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal this afternoon were the first of their species in quite a while.  Loon and grebe numbers were nearly the same as they have been over the past few days.

For the first time this year I was unable to find a shorebird today though another juvenile Sabine's Gull and a single unidentified jaeger were a nice consolation.  Also seen for the first time in a little while were a few Bonaparte's Gulls that joined the Ring-billeds feeding off the point.

The only non-waterbird of note today was a Black-backed Woodpecker that made a quick appearance on the Merlin pole late this morning, otherwise it was pretty much the same in the woods.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Same old, same old

For the past few days a big ball of high pressure has been sitting around the Great Lakes which has meant a little bit of "Groundhog Day" syndrome for me up here.  Each day I know exactly what to expect, cool and clear mornings with light bird movement and a late morning warm-up into the high 50s/low 60s with almost no birds and lots of sun.  Its a great recipe for a lengthy afternoon nap, unfortunately for me that's a luxury which I am not afforded.  It sounds crazy but I'm really hoping for some clouds and colder temperatures, at least then I wouldn't be so tempted to close my eyes and go someplace a little more exotic.

Duck numbers remained steadily unimpressive with the big pushes typical for this time of year still not happening due to the current weather patterns.  The most common species however have been right on target with scoters (mostly White-winged), scaup (mostly Greater), and Red-breasted Mergansers leading the daily tallies since Sunday.  Smaller numbers of dabbling ducks continue to pass by with Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, and Mallard leading that group and a scattering of other Aythya ducks as well as a few other scoters and the occasional Long-tailed Duck add to the diver numbers.  Loon and grebe numbers have been steady with 20ish Common and a couple Red-throateds seen daily while around 50 or so Red-neckeds have been joined by 10+ Horneds to start the week.

A first of the year showed up on the 4th while a nearly forgotten friend made an appearance this morning. Yesterday was the grand arrival of the fall's Dunlin season when a single bird flew past the point during the afternoon as well as a Sandhill Crane.  Today marked the first jaeger of October when an unidentified bird was noted multiple times during mid-morning.  Few other birds have been around of late with a single American Golden-Plover still hanging around been the most notable.

Landbird numbers have held steady in much the same way as the waterbird numbers with the same grouping of birds still about but with few arrivals or departures.  Of note today was a strong showing by Red-tailed Hawks when at least 15-20 birds used the warmer temperatures to their advantage as they kettled and moved SE along the lake shore during the early afternoon.  Passerines have remained consistent with sparrows and chickadees still being the dominant forest birds while a few other late migrants join them each day.  The most unusual bird for the point seen recently was, drum roll please, a female House Sparrow which was present around the bird feeders yesterday afternoon.  If that doesn't get you out here in a hurry I am at a loss as to what will.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Start of October

October began yesterday with light to moderate NW winds and continued today with strong N winds and a few spits of frozen precipitation from the sky.  The afternoons continue to be fairly nice with sunny skies helping to thaw out frozen extremities after morning temperatures that are hovering just above freezing.  Tomorrow is predicted to be as cold but with less wind which should make for a more enjoyable experience to those braving the point in the morning.

Diversity continues to be pretty good with yesterday and today showcasing a different group each day.  Yesterday was by far the year's best loon showing with 218 Commons (though only 8 Red-throateds) with a slight continuation of the previous day's grebe show.  Today saw many fewer loons (27 Commons and 3 Red-throateds) but more ducks with scoters (151 White-wingeds, 95 Surfs, and 2 Blacks) leading the way.  Both days have continued to see small numbers of dabblers, mainly American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal, with ever increasing numbers of Aythya ducks which are still mostly Greater Scaup but include a smattering of other species/unidentified birds.  Today was the biggest Long-tailed Duck day to date with 16 while Red-breasted Mergansers continue to pass by in small numbers each day.

Shorebirds have been almost non-existent the past couple days with daily counts of 2 and 6 Sanderlings while yesterday also had 2 American Golden-Plovers and a fly-by Wilson's Snipe.  The most notable bird yesterday was a juvenile Sabine's Gull which worked along the point's shoreline from east to west in the early afternoon.

Strong winds continue to hamper birding in the woods but the suite of cold weather birds (minus the finches and a few later migrants) typical for this time of year are building in numbers each day.  Sparrows continue in the largest numbers with an American Tree Sparrow arriving yesterday along with increasing numbers of Fox Sparrows.  Warblers on the other hand are in ever decreasing numbers with only a handful of Yellow-rumpeds and Palms seen of late.  A Northern Goshawk and a Merlin continue to hunt the flocks of larks, longspurs, and pipits on the point each day.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Good way to end the month

Today's weather was nearly as predicted, the winds came out of the W/NW all morning and afternoon long but to our benefit the rain stopped pre-dawn and the sun came out in the afternoon which made the point a much nicer place to be.  Activity was good early this morning and continued steadily through the day with only a moderate drop-off in the afternoon, much different than the precipitous decline in activity that  has been typical of late.  Tomorrow's forecast is for similar conditions to today with a greater chance of rain so we will see if the birds are still going to use the favorable winds to their advantage.

Presumably making their final large push of the season Red-necked Grebes were the most common bird of the day with 914 counted, of note they continued to move past at rates above 100 birds per hour till the end of the count.  A number of other birds also had their best showing to date with Horned Grebe (61), Common Loon (116), Ring-necked Duck (32), Greater and Lesser Scaup (209 and 95 respectively), and Surf Scoter (220) among them.  Duck diversity remained good with 16 total species including 124 Redheads, 1 Black Scoter, and 7 Long-tailed Ducks.  Surprisingly only 6 Red-throated Loons were counted despite the much larger numbers for their larger cousins.

There were very few other waterbirds around the point today but for the first time this season there appeared to be a southward movement of Ring-billed Gulls during the morning and a few Bonaparte's Gulls continued out on the lake.  A single American Golden-Plover along with at least one Sanderling are still hanging on along the beach.

The woods continue to be quite active with sparrows making up a large percentage of the biomass these days but there are still a few late warblers and other migrants.  So far it seems the winter finch forecast is holding true as the number of Pine Siskins continues to build each day.

Peregrine Falcon

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Increased diversity

As has been the case in recent days the weather was mediocre for bird flight and so the past two days have been average with good diversity but only small numbers of individual species.  Yesterday's wind was moderate to strong from the N/NW and today was light turning strong from the S/SW, not anything to hinder migration but nothing to really get it going either.  Tomorrow and Friday are forecast to be strong from the W/NW with sporadic rain which seems like a recipe for a good flight along the lake.

The past two days have had good waterfowl diversity with 18 species of ducks seen (and Canada Goose) including all three scoters and an increased number of scaups of both species.  No species have been present in exceptional numbers but there have been small mixed flocks regularly passing the point into the early afternoon as of late.  Loon numbers have remained in the same pattern with Common Loon counts in the high-20s both days and a combined 11 Red-throateds with most of those coming today.  Horned Grebes have increased in numbers with day counts of 18 and 11 while Red-neckeds remain in the 50-100 per day range.

For the first time in awhile I did not see a jaeger today though yesterday was more "typical" of this year with the continuing juvenile Parasitic and one unidentified bird out on the lake during the morning.  Shorebird numbers were no better with a few American Golden-Plovers around the point both days and a trio of juvenile Sanderlings still patrolling the shoreline.  Yesterday a migrant Greater Yellowlegs made a brief flyover and an unidentified phalarope was seen momentarily as it worked the breakers off shore before disappearing as quickly as it appeared.

A resurgence in raptor numbers the past few days has led to more action on that front lately with Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon all hunting the point at various, and sometimes overlapping, times.  In the prey category sparrows have made their grand arrival with large numbers and good variety present in the woods while a few warblers (mostly Yellow-rumpeds) and thrushes are still hanging on for good measure.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Blondes? Brunettes? Nope, I'll take a Redhead

Today's weather appeared like it would be no better than recent days when I checked the forecast before reluctantly rolling out of a warm bed this morning but like I have learned while trying to predict bird migration in the past, what we presume to happen is often not what does.  All day it was clear and sunny with light S winds but for some reason there were birds.  To be fair they were almost all Redheads or other species associated with the Redhead flocks but at least there was movement.  In the end I tallied 401 Redheads today mostly coming through in flocks of 15-40 birds that sometimes trailed a few hangers on, and sometimes did not.

Small but respectable numbers of other duck species came through as well with the next two highest counts being 76 American Wigeons and 75 Greater Scaup.  All of the regular dabblers appeared at some point or another while the divers were in smaller numbers with very few scoters coming through and a much reduced merganser count.  Loon numbers continue to be low with Red-throated nearly out-pacing Common today but a late surge gave the Great Northern variety a 13 to 9 advantage.  Red-necked Grebes continue in small numbers with 54 seen while a pair of migrant Horned Grebes and a single bird hanging around the point this morning were the only ones noted of that species.

As has become typical of recent days the same light-phase juvenile Parasitic Jaeger cruised the point on several occasions today while two other distant jaegers added to the total of unidentified birds for the year.  Shorebirds were again scarce with a single American Golden-Plover joining a small group of Sanderlings as the only healthy birds left while an injured Baird's Sandpiper was there but who knows for how much longer.

The woods were a bit more alive today with a Black-backed Woodpecker heard from the shack this morning and small numbers of passerines including an improved warbler count with at least 6 species seen.  Most notable was a late Ruby-throated Hummingbird that buzzed the shack this afternoon, if the records I have are correct this would be the latest sighting for the point by one day.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

9/24 and 9/25: They had so much potential

Cold "wall" that came through on 9/24

The past two days have been characterized by very mediocre bird movements and interesting weather.  Yesterday was warm, eventually getting up into the 60s, and humid in the morning when a serious cold front plowed through that dropped the temperature 10-15 degrees and hit me with rain for the last 2-3 hours of the count.  The picture above is the front itself, truthfully I can't ever remember seeing clouds make a 90 degree right angle before.  Today was all about the wind, it blew out of the N and NNW and it blew hard.  The winds this morning were sustaining themselves in the 20-25 MPH range with gusts well over 30 at times.  Despite, or perhaps because of, the winds bird movement was pretty poor except for Canada Geese.

Canada Geese continue to be the most common birds of late with counts of 137 and 480 the past two days while other waterfowl are still showing but in sporadic groups.  Yesterday saw a decent movement of dabblers while today was mostly scoters and mergansers with only a handful of dabbling ducks noted.  While on the loon front numbers continue to be about the same with Commons totaling 87 for the two days and Red-throateds totaling 18.  Red-necked Grebes made a bit of an improvement today with 61 seen which is better than the 10 that were seen on Friday.

Shorebirds are still in short supply with a small flock of Sanderlings providing most of the total though a Baird's Sandpiper has been present for two days now and an American Golden-Plover was seen this afternoon.  As has become the norm up here this year jaegers were noted both days with a continuing light-morph juvenile Parasitic seen both yesterday and today while the light-morph adult that has been hanging around for several days was again noted this afternoon.  An additional unknown jaeger was seen this afternoon bringing the season's total to 61 jaegers!

The conditions have not been conducive to birding the point itself when I have had the opportunity for a couple days so I have seen very little but a few intrepid birders did scout the woods this morning with Rusty Blackbird and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker being the top prizes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

MIZZ-UR-A-BULL weather

adult Lesser Black-backed Gull in the harbor

So today dawned with rain and strong E/SE winds, and it never changed.  Rain showers hit the point on and off all day long and the wind picked up through the day never deviating from the ESE or SE.  Despite that some birds still flew on and with tomorrow's forecast of similar conditions but with winds from the SW and W my hopes are high for what might fly by.

Today's best bird by far was a non-breeding plumaged Laughing Gull that made two quick passes along the lake in front of the shack about 9 and 11 this morning, unfortunately the bird never came in to the point to roost or in shore for a picture.  While this species is a rare, but not entirely unexpected, late spring and summer wanderer to the area a fall bird anywhere inland is exceptionally uncommon and much like the recent southern finds on Lake Michigan it could be due to recent tropical systems from the Gulf of Mexico.  Also quite rare for the point was an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull that was found after the count concluded in the Whitefish Point harbor while looking in vain for the Laughing Gull; add in another juvenile Sabine's Gull and today was quite the gull day for the point.

Overall diversity was good today despite not having a large count of any particular species or group.  The most common species for the day were White-winged Scoter (59), Canada Goose (47), and Northern Pintail (43), the breakdown is notable because for the first time this year the top three does not include Red-necked Grebe.  Duck diversity was good today with handful of dabbler species including the first 2 Wood Ducks of the year, 9 American Black Ducks, and 16 Northern Shovelers while divers consisted mostly of White-winged Scoters and Red-breasted Mergansers with the first 2 Long-tailed Ducks of the season flying the wrong way past the point this morning.  Loons far outnumbered grebes for the day with 23 Common and 17 Red-throateds as compared to 10 Red-neckeds and 4 Horneds.

Jaegers were present once again with at least 4 individuals seen today including 2 Parasitics and 2 unknowns. The parasitics included a light-morph adult bird that is likely the same bird that was seen a couple days ago and a light-morph juvenile that made a number of passes throughout the morning and afternoon.  Shorebirds were almost non-existent with 16 Sanderlings along the shoreline and a group of 6 American Golden-Plovers that set down on the point during one of the rain showers being the only ones seen.

Due to the weather I wasn't able to bird the woods at all today so I have no idea what may or may not be in there right now but the flock of "open land" birds on the point is still present with the Lapland Longspur count up to 13.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Its all about the highlights

Much like yesterday it was a day with a few clear highlights but a lot of time with few to no birds passing by the point. The overall weather pattern for today seemed promising with moderate WNW to NW winds all day but the lack of real fronts seemed to doom the movement of birds on the lake since the number of migrant ducks and loons was much lower than yesterday. The forecast for tomorrow is not a great one (E/ESE winds) but I haven't been too accurate with my predictions lately so who knows.

The top tier birds were once again in the Laridae and Stercorariidae families with a juvenile Sabine's Gull passing by early this afternoon while the curtains still have not fallen on this year's jaeger show as a juvenile Long-tailed, an adult Parasitic, and an unknown bird were all seen before noon today. Also unusual for the point were a trio of Trumpeter/Tundra Swans which flew past late this morning.

Among the other birds seen Canada Goose was once again the most common with 308 while Red-necked Grebe was second with 56 and Common Loon slid into the three spot with 32. Duck numbers were down once again with 29 Greater Scaup, 14 Red-breasted Mergansers, and 12 Common Mergansers accounting for almost all ducks seen. After yesterday's good loon showing today was a different story as only 1 Red-throated Loon was noted. Shorebird diversity remained at a whopping four with a Greater Yellowlegs being the most notable among them.

Raptor and landbird numbers continue to decline with not even a Merlin noted this morning.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Warm, warm, cold

Today's weather was interesting to say the least with both warm and cold fronts passing over the point, warm fronts bringing thunder and lightning to liven up the early morning and a cold front in the afternoon to make sure I didn't get too comfortable out there and start napping. The winds associated started more southerly but were swinging to the west as the day progressed with SW being the most common direction for the day. And is usually the case that meant a pretty good bird day with the total number of birds a bit lower than I anticipated but the highlights were certainly enough to make up for that.

The most unexpected bird title went to a Marbled Godwit that flew into my scope view as I was scanning the point about 8:00 a.m. this morning and landed for a very short time before heading off to who knows where. A close second, and the coolest for me personally, were 2 juvenile Sabine's Gulls which showed up during the first and second hours of the count. The second bird came in along the shoreline and flew across the point into Whitefish Bay.

General waterbird movement was highest in the first couple hours after sunrise with loons and grebes making up a majority of the birds. Overall the most common bird of the day was Canada Goose thanks to several large groups in the afternoon with Red-necked Grebe taking second with 62 birds and Common Loon in third with 56. Red-throated Loons had their best day by far this year with 31 all counted before noon, while ducks were sparse with a few dabblers in the morning and a small scoter movement throughout the day ending with 21 Surfs and 10 White-wingeds. The season's first Cackling Geese were two singles among groups of Canadas this afternoon.

The only other new arrival among the shorebirds present today was a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper while a Black-bellied Plover, 2 American Golden-Plovers, and 18 Sanderlings continued from previous days. A few Common Terns and Bonaparte's Gulls continue around the point and an unidentified jaeger was noted in the haze as one the warm fronts passed through this morning.

Flocks of common passerines were present on the point this morning with Blue Jays, American Robins, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Pine Siskins particularly obvious while a few new migrants were seen including a Bobolink and a few Black-throated Green Warblers.

Monday, September 20, 2010

9/19 and 9/20

Jason gave me yesterday off and among the birds they saw were another Sabine's Gull, 2 unidentified jaegers, and decent selection of dabbler and diving ducks.

Today was a nice day to be on the point but bird numbers were fairly weak. Wind was almost non-existent today and when it did make an appearance it was from the S and SE, this morning's weather could be summed up by three C's: calm, clear, and cool.

Overall movement was pretty slow with the 244 Canada Geese making up a majority of the migrant birds recorded while Common Loon was second with 57 and Red-necked Grebe was third with 39. Duck migration was slow but 11 species were noted with 19 Northern Pintails, 9 Greater Scaup, and 7 Surf Scoters leading the way. Red-throated Loon numbers remained steady with 7 seen while a few Horned Grebes were seen as well.

Once again a light-morph adult Parasitic Jaeger was noted during the waterbird count and another unidentified phalarope was seen too far out onto the lake to tell if it was a Red-necked or Red. Other shorebirds seen today included 4 Black-bellied Plovers, 3 American Golden-Plovers, 1 Lesser Yellowlegs, 12 Sanderlings, and 1 Baird's Sandpiper.

Woodpeckers were unusually common at the point today with a Hairy landing on the shack itself while a Downy, Pileated, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker were noted during the morning and afternoon. The woods had a good number of birds in them but the species breakdown was the same as recent days.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Just another LTJA

Red-necked Phalarope from St. Paul Island, AK

For the third time this season a Long-tailed Jaeger was found, but for the first time it wasn't just me that saw it. A light-morph juvenile flew past the point this morning to the delight of the 5-10 other birders present who got an unexpected treat. Not all that more common at the point were the 2 Red-necked Phalaropes that were working the breakers just off the point for a while early this afternoon. The birds really got going on the moderate W and W/NW winds that held through the day with an early morning shower ending about 8:00 a.m. really seeming to get the birds flying.

Overall movement was similar to last weekend with 2000+ birds counted, the three most common being Red-necked Grebe (892), American Wigeon (384), and Common Tern (307). Overall duck numbers were much increased with dabbler diversity good including 14 Gadwall, 6 American Black Ducks, and 22 Northern Shovelers while divers were led by Greater Scaup that had its best day so far at 191 while Redhead was second at 59. Loon numbers remained almost unchanged with 31 Common and 5 Red-throateds noted while Horned Grebes had their best day at 24. Shorebird numbers continue to be very poor with a handful of Sanderlings being the only ones seen today.

Landbird numbers on the point were good this morning with large numbers of thrushes and sparrows joined by many of the late fall migrants at the beginning of their migration window. Warbler numbers were decent with 9+ species seen including Black-throated Blue and Northern Waterthrush. Falcons put on a good show this morning with 3 Merlins and a Peregrine hunting the exhausted passerines trying to make it safely across the lake.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I may have spoke too soon

Light-phase juvenile Parsitic Jaeger chasing a Ring-billed Gull

Well any day where the wind blows between 15 and 25 MPH from the wrong direction for bird migration would not be looked to for much movement and today was just that case. The wind was from the S all morning and afternoon and picked up with time, the forecast has it coming from the SW to NW for the next few days so hopefully this will just be a fluke poor day in an otherwise good weekend.

The highlight today was a light-morph juvenile Parasitic Jaeger which came in right to the point's shoreline this afternoon providing all out there with amazing views at the bird which was the first light-phase juvenile jaeger we have seen this fall. The overall waterbird tally was fairly low with 55 Red-necked Grebes, 27 Canada Geese, and 21 Common Loons leading the way. Duck numbers were way down from previous days but scoters continue to trickle past with 15 White-winged and 1 Surf observed. Also seen in reduced numbers were Red-throated Loons and Horned Grebes with 2 and 3 respectively. The only shorebird species seen besidesSanderling were a pair of Wilson's Snipes that flew out of the dune grass and headed south this afternoon.

Overall numbers of landbirds on the point seemed to be up from recent days but much of that was likely due to the American Robin, Blue Jay, and Cedar Waxwing flocks which moved in to the area. Small numbers of expected thrushes, warblers, and sparrows continue in the woods as does the flock of Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and American Pipits on the point itself.
Lapland Longspurs

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Season-to-date Jaeger Summary

Pomarine Jaeger from St. Paul Island, AK

Parasitic Jaeger from St. Paul Island, AK

Long-tailed Jaeger from St. Paul Island, AK

I had a request for a summary as of today (Sept. 16th) of this year's jaeger numbers. The highest number of jaegers recorded during any fall waterbird count is 53 in 2000 so the tally of 44 so far this year is well on its way to setting a new mark. The breakdown is

Parasitic: 15
Long-tailed: 2
Unidentified: 27

Also note that there have been at least 1 Pomarine, 1 Parasitic, and a few unidentified Jaegers seen in the afternoon or evening after the count.

The start of a new season


Today signaled the beginning to the high season with poor weather dominating and yet birds still passed by in moderate numbers. The day was nothing but E, ENE, and NE winds (once again the rain passed around the point) but despite that there was still some duck, loon, and grebe movement past the point throughout the day, it was a sight for sore eyes.

The majority of birds on the move today were the 380 Canada Geese which flew by before noon, a distant second were Red-necked Grebes with 49, and third was grabbed by Common Loon with 42. Overall duck numbers were not exceptional but diversity was good with 2 American Black Ducks, 12 Green-winged Teal, and 11 Northern Shovelers leading the dabbler pack while 9 Redheads, 9 Greater Scaup, 12 Surf Scoters, and 9 White-winged Scoters headlined the divers. Other grebe and loon movement was moderate with 12 Horned Grebes noted this morning and 13 Red-throated Loons passing by in the afternoon.

A Ruddy Turnstone and 2 Baird's Sandpipers joined the 28 Sanderlings on the point this morning while an unknown Phalarope flew over the point from south to north, but was lost almost immediately when it dropped into the waves along the lake shore. Another jaeger passed by off the point, an unidentified light-morph adult, and small numbers of Bonaparte's Gulls and Common Terns continued to be seen feeding in the rip current off the point's tip.

No new landbirds were noted today but overall warbler numbers were better with increased numbers of Orange-crowned, Black-and-white, Northern Parula, and Nashvilles while several of each Philadelphia and Red-eyed Vireos were seen. Golden-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, and White-throated Sparrow continue to make up the majority of the passerine flocks that are now being hunted by a juvenile Northern Goshawk as well as the resident Merlin.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An empty lake

Well I think after two days jam packed with moving waterbirds there just aren't that many left around Lake Superior right now. Today was cool, but mostly sunny with light west winds early on turning to north by the afternoon. Once again the rain showers kept mostly to the north shore of the lake sparing me a much less pleasant day at the "office."

On the bird front there were few highlights with the most notable sighting being a group of 5 Surf Scoters flying past early this morning. Small numbers of dabblers and divers continue to pass by with Greater Scaup (14) and Red-breasted Merganser (7) being the most common duck species seen. Overall the most common species seen today were Red-necked Grebe (156), Common Goose (26), and Common Loon (19) while Horned Grebe (18) was the best-of-the-rest. A small number of Red-throated Loons (3) passed by again today.

Shorebird diversity was a bit improved over recent days with 6 species including a Black-bellied Plover, an American Golden-Plover, a Least Sandpiper, and a Baird's Sandpiper. Small numbers of migrant gulls and terns were working the point with 4 Bonaparte's Gulls and 8 Common Terns seen.

The woods continue to have a moderate bird show with the same basic birds present today as yesterday including a few new birds that were headlined by a Pileated Woodpecker, one Bohemian Waxwing, and a Wilson's Warbler.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Another highlight reel day

Harlequin Ducks from St. Paul Island, AK

Yesterday was pretty darn good but today had little to no drop-off in the bird department. The definite highlight was an early Harlequin Duck which flew along the point and took a quick breather in the rip current off the tip before heading on south about 8:30 this morning. Less than an hour later as I watched a juvenile Parasitic Jaeger attempt to grab a struggling warbler making its way across the lake I noticed a bird weaving its way through the wave troughs, it was another Red-necked Phalarope, the bird eventually lost me when it stayed below the wave peaks for too long to predict where it would re-appear. All-in-all not a bad hour to be standing out there.

Total bird numbers were down slightly from yesterday but the species diversity was actually better today thanks to a couple new diving ducks for the season. First-of-seasons (FOS) included a pair of Ring-necked Ducks in the company of several Greater Scaup and a quartet of Black Scoters that flew past a little before noon, add to that 3 separate White-winged Scoters and a single Surf Scoter about 1 p.m. and today constituted my first scoter sweep for the season. While diving duck numbers continue to increase, about 75 birds seen today could be lumped into that designation, dabbler numbers dropped off a bit more with a few teal, wigeons, and pintails adding some variety. On the overall waterbird front Red-necked Grebe continued to show strongly with 1665 counted while Canada Goose was again in second place as the skeins of geese eventually totaled 483 today. Greater Scaup made its way into the top three for the first time with 47. Loon numbers were a bit down from yesterday when just 33 Commons and 3 Red-throateds could be located flying past.

Almost surprisingly given there abundance so far this fall only one jaeger was seen today, the aforementioned Parasitic, and shorebirds were again in short supply with 2 American Golden-Plovers joining the handful of Sanderlings still on the beach.

The woods continue to produce small numbers of birds with my FOS Scarlet Tanager and Fox Sparrows seen this afternoon while Golden-crowned Kinglets and Palm Warblers were the dominant passerines on the point while small numbers of warblers are still joining the mixed-species flocks (including a few Cape Mays, Blackpolls, and Bay-breasteds). The point still has its flock of open land birds which now contains 44 Horned Larks, 5 Lapland Longspurs, and a few American Pipits while a few raptors still make an occasional appearance to dine on the many passerine migrants caught out in the open.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Long-tailed and more

This morning dawned with moderate-strong W winds and just had the feeling like it would be one of those good days. From the beginning Red-necked Grebes were moving in large numbers and smaller numbers of ducks, loons, and Horned Grebes were evident amongst them. The birds that really bring people to the point didn't show up until 9:30 a.m. though, that's when the season's second Long-tailed Jaeger (an adult with broken off tail streamers) kited past the point, some distance away but close enough to still be appreciated. About 30 minutes later a juvenile Sabine's Gull made a short appearance and was then followed by a Red-necked Phalarope which was lost when it flew into the rip current at the point's tip. It took another few hours but eventually a juvenile Parasitic Jaeger came by (an unidentified bird flew past about the same time as the Long-tailed) to give a 2 jaeger species day. Guess it pays to be on that spit of land 8 hours a day every once in a while.

Beyond the highlights there was a good waterbird movement led by Red-necked Grebe which took the day's top spot with 1760 while Canada Goose was second with 242 and American Wigeon was the most common of the ducks with 73. Small numbers of Blue-winged Teal and other dabblers also made an appearance while diving duck numbers remained steady with Greater Scaup, White-winged Scoter, and Common Merganser being the most common from that group. Loons were present in increased numbers with 52 Common and 11 Red-throated seen today while 19 Horned Grebes joined their larger cousins. A young Forster's Tern joined the few Common Terns that were around this afternoon and an American Golden-Plover flew over calling on an otherwise poor shorebird day.

A non-waterbird count Wood Duck was flushed from one of the point's small ponds this afternoon while the woods on the point still held a few birds but were quieter than yesterday. Small flocks of passerines were moving around this afternoon made up mostly of Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers, and White-throated Sparrows but a few others were among them including a Philadelphia and a Red-eyed Vireo, 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Orange-crowned and Cape May Warblers, and a few Lincoln's Sparrows. A first for me on the point was a Ruffed Grouse that was in the underbrush near the Fog horn Pond.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dabblers on the move

No post yesterday as Adam gave me the day off to do some much needed grocery shopping, it seems I picked a good day as it was nothing but south and southeast all morning and waterbird movement was expectedly weak. Of note were 4 more jaegers (2 unidentified and 2 Parasitics) but overall numbers were fairly low, though they still beat a couple days ago.

Today was a different story, there were birds early, and there were birds often. Without a doubt this was a banner day for Blue-winged Teal movement on Lake Superior as we tallied 1488 this morning and afternoon with another 236 unidentified teal seen, Green-winged Teal was much less common with 62 seen this morning. Along with the teal most other expected dabblers were seen this morning including an impressive count for Whitefish Point of 82 Northern Shovelers while other counts included 301 American Wigeons, 3 American Black Ducks, 63 Mallards, and 8 Northern Pintails. Diving ducks continue to be seen in small numbers with 30 Redheads, 32 Greater Scaup, and 16 White-winged Scoters leading the pack.

Other waterbird numbers included 307 Red-necked Grebes, 16 Common Loons, 8 Horned Grebes, and 64 Common Terns. As has become normal so far this fall there were 4 jaegers seen today, all in the final 2 hours of the count, with a single Parasitic and 3 unidentified birds (one that got away may have been a Pomarine). Shorebirds were still present in low numbers with a single Baird's and 2 Buff-breasteds still present on the point's shoreline.

For info on today's passerine/landbird movement take a look at the sightings blog.