News - 2005 thru 2009
2005 SURVEY’S and BIRDS
In 2005 we made three trips to Manitou, one each in late May, mid- August and late September. The late May trip was especially interesting since we’d never been to the island during that late May period that is near the peak of spring migration.
Three people headed for Manitou on the 26th of May and returned on the 30th. The three observers were: Joe Kaplan, Zach Gayk and Louie Dombroski
They recorded seven new species: Snowy Egret, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Brown Thrasher, Pine Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler
There was still a large number of migrating raptors over the island during their stay: they saw up to 260 Broad-winged Hawks, 32 Red-tailed Hawks, and 10 Rough-legged Hawks kettling over the island. 2 Golden Eagles were seen as well as 3 different Swainson’s Hawks. The Snowy Egret was certainly the most exciting bird spotted. That was only the 4th sighting for a Snowy in the Keweenaw area. There were many groups of late migrating Canada Goose flying overhead. During several visits in early May in other years large numbers of Northern Flickers have been seen on Manitou. It was interesting to note that our three observers only found a single Northern Flicker during the 3 ½ day stay.
Four people headed for Manitou Island on the 20th and returned on the 23rd. The observers were: Zach Gayk, Louie Dombroski, Skye Haas and Joseph Youngman. We recorded four new species for the island : Piping Plover, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Bonaparte’s Gull.
On the 20th and 21st Joe Kaplan and Keren Tischler arrived on Manitou for a short visit. They recorded : Gray-cheeked Thrush and Forster’s Tern. They observed a large migration of waterbirds past the east end of the island
2006 SURVEY’S and BIRDS
April / May
We had big plans for this spring trip. We had the most observers, we were gonna spend by far the longest time on the island to try and really get a feel for the magnitude of the raptor migration. We had applied for a grant to pay for a full season hawk watcher for Brockway Mtn on the mainland Keweenaw. We’d hoped to get a daily comparison of raptor numbers and movements at the two Keweenaw sites. But the grant didn’t come through and as usual the weather messed with our plans.
We did have observers on both ends of Manitou from April 23rd thru the 10th of May.
We only got full days of observation from the 23rd through the 8th, so we had 16 straight days of observation. During much of this period we had skilled waterbird observers in place at the east end and we had hawk watchers at both ends for the whole period. We also began to do a somewhat more standardized count of passerine numbers at the east end. We were divided into three shifts and each shift was supposed to spend one week on the island. That plan went well until nasty weather made us cut the last shift short.
The first shift crew was Zach Gayk, Marj and Ray Krumm and myself, Joseph Youngman. For part of our shift we were joined by Aaron Peterson, a freelance journalist from Marquette. The day we arrived – the 22nd the sky over the island was filled with raptors but we spent our half day getting supplies ashore, cutting the winter blow-downs off the trail, etc. On the 23rd it was rather foggy and there wasn’t much raptor action but on the 24th the east end people recorded over 1300 raptors in the air at 10:12AM! We never had that high a count again all through the rest of the trip. During that first shift we had a Snowy Owl, a Long-eared Owl, a Smith’s Longspur and a Harlequin Duck. A Great Gray Owl was heard but not seen in the middle of one night.
On the afternoon of the 29th the second shift came ashore and we headed to the mainland. The second shift was : Greg Cleary, Mike Schiewe and Raven ( a woman who uses only one name), Brian Johnson and Stewart Bentley. They covered things from the 30th of April through the 6th of May. Special birds they recorded were : Upland Sandpiper and a California Gull. The also heard a Great Gray Owl one night – again no sighting.
The ill-fated third shift came ashore on the 6th and took over observations on the 7th. That crew consisted of : Joe Kaplan, Louie Dombroski, Jake Musser, Skye Haas and Max Henschell. They only had good weather on the 7th and 8th. Lots of rain on the 9th cut observation hours to only two and a serious approaching storm led to a decision to pull everyone off on the 10th. Actually it was almost everyone – it’s a long story but Joe Kaplan stayed on alone at Manitou’s east tip until he was retrieved on the15th. This crew spotted : Great Black-back Gull, Snowy Owl, and Sedge Wren.
During those 18 days we recorded 122 species. As mentioned the highest “at once” count of raptors was 1366. The total number of raptors seen leaving Manitou’s west tip heading back to the Keweenaw was only 1694. Not quite as many as we’d expected. We had hoped that west end count would provide the “cleanest” raptor counts for the island. At the west end the birds movements are simple and direct – they either come from or go to the Keweenaw. Counts of raptors taken at the east end are quite problematic. There are constant kettles of raptors visible near the east end and many birds come right out to the east point and head this way and that. But if you get a count of 355 Broadwings at 10:05 and then a count of 655 at Noon, how many of those Noon birds were also recorded at 10:05? You have no way of knowing. We had hoped that a west end observer who stayed alert would be able to record all raptors coming and going from Manitou but as the weeks wore on it became obvious that significant numbers were coming in from the Keweenaw so high overhead that we just weren’t seeing them. The large movements of raptors seen at the west end were always heading back toward the Keweenaw. Our highest west end count of raptors in-bound from the Keweenaw was 112. For out-bound raptors heading back to the Keweenaw we had five days over 100 and one day of 670. So it became quite clear that we were missing the birds coming in from the west. I think its safe to assume that they were still too high as they passed our post, while the birds returning to the Keweenaw couldn’t get as high in Manitou’s smaller thermals and were therefore more visible as they passed our post. So the west end still provides the best count of raptors at Manitou but the idea that a west end count could keep total watch on raptors moving between Manitou and the Keweenaw proved to be false. As in other years our east end observers did see a modest number of raptors leaving Manitou’s east tip and heading E or ENE across Lake Superior. If raptors are crossing Lake Superior at that point the likely locations where they’d be coming ashore on the Canadian shore would be Michipicoten Island and / or the Pukaskwa coast. In May of 2007 we expect to have observers at Manitou’s east tip and at Michpicoten’s west tip to try and confirm the cross lake migration.
The twice heard but never seen Great Gray Owl during the spring trip was a tantalizing indication that the bird could be breeding on the island so when a chance came for a short trip to the island in early June, Zach Gayk and Joseph Youngman made the trip. Of course we neither saw nor heard any Great Gray Owls in spite of special efforts. We did find a pair of Barn Swallows acting like they might nest on the lighthouse structures and Chimney Swifts were hanging around the light stations chimney. The good bird was a Say’s Phoebe spotted in the yard by Zach.
The last trip of 2006 was a combined work / birding trip paid for by the Keweenaw Land Trust. The land trust is the owner of the historic light station and is responsible for maintaining it. In return for a few hours of labor we got a free ride to Manitou and recorded a lot of waterbird migration past the east tip. Included in that migration were a couple Jaeger species. New and interesting birds spotted inland included a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in the yard and a American Three-toed Woodpecker in the woods.
The main purpose of our 2007 work at Manitou was to see if we could find clear evidence of raptors crossing eastward across Lake Superior to Michipicoten Island. Every spring that we’ve had observers at Manitou’s east tip we’d seen a small number of raptors, mostly Sharpshins, seeming to leave Manitou heading east northeast across Lake Superior. Many seemed to turn back to Manitou but some kept going out of sight. If they really had crossed Lake Superior their flight direction would quite possibly have taken them to Michipicoten Island. So this spring it was decided to have observers on the east tip of Manitou and the west tip of Michipicoten for one week during the peak of spring raptor migration.
Getting to the extreme western tip of Michipicoten looked like a truly daunting journey but lucky for us a small outfit named Hawk Air flew customers to a cabin for fishing at Michi Lake quite near Michipicoten’s west tip. It was a little more costly than our normal expense of boating to Manitou, but a enthusiastic member of the Copper Country Audubon Club generously paid that cost for two observers. Those lucky two were myself, Joseph Youngman and Zach Gayk. Greg Cleary was interested in helping out and paid his own way to give us a third observer.
We certainly needed observers at Manitou and Skye Haas and Ryne Rutherford filled those shoes. Their main task was to watch for and count raptors leaving Manitou heading east, but they also monitored the waterbird migration passing NW past Manitou’s east end and added to our knowledge of that movement. They checked out Perch Lake, looking for rails, but still we’ve never found rails at Manitou. They also conducted standardized daily counts of passerines along the main trail. For the last half of the week Joe Kaplan came out to add a third observer to the Manitou crew.
So from May 12th through the 19th we had people in place on both sides of the lake. Did we find any lake crossing raptors? We saw only one possible crosser. On the 17th I saw a single raptor, probably a Sharpshin, coming in to the SW tip of Manitou from about 200 yards out. It’s quite possible that it was a bird from Michipicoten that went out to the SW and returned. But it’s certainly possible that it flew across from Manitou, we just don’t know. We had hoped to see raptors ½ mile or more out to the west and watch them come in but we didn’t. We certainly can’t say we’ve strengthened the case for Sharpshins crossing from Manitou to the NE shore of Lake Superior but I don’t feel that our lack of incoming birds actually disproves it either. It’s quite possible that birds crossing from west to east would be pushed somewhat north of Michipicoten by south winds during their 80 mile crossing and come ashore along the empty stretch of shoreline north of Michipicoten.
We had expected that we might see a significant waterbird migration passing Michipicoten’s west tip on their way northward. Indeed we saw more waterbirds passing northwest past Michipicoten than our counterparts saw passing Manitou’s east tip.
The numbers of raptors and waterbirds seen at the two islands make an interesting contrast.
Waterbirds Michipicoten 1602 Manitou 315
Raptors Michipicoten 14 Manitou 1400
Total Species Michipicoten 104 Manitou 136
There were 20% more observation hours at Michipicoten.
While we certainly didn’t expect anything like the numbers we see at Manitou, the scarcity of raptors at Michipicoten was striking. The habitat seemed perfect for Bald Eagles yet we saw only two during our entire week. Inland, we had one territorial Broad-winged Hawk and one territorial Sharp-shinned Hawk and we saw two accipiters near the west tip. We saw about four or five Merlins – hard to tell just how many, they were seen everyday hunting along the shore, especially at the west tip. There were two Peregrine Falcons seen hunting from the west tip as well.
The Manitou observers added two new species for the Manitou list: American Bittern and Bank Swallow. Michipicoten Island has had very little bird study done and we more than doubled its species list. We turned in all our Michipicoten data to the park officials at Lake Superior Provincial Park which manages Michipicoten Island.
For a few photos from Michipicoten - see the 2007 page in the Photos section of this website.
Three observers arrived in the morning of May 29th. I was able to get dropped off at the west end and begin our raptor counts by 10:10. By the end of that day I had recorded a total of 1,012 westbound raptors, including 41 Bald Eagles, 483 Broadwings and 358 Redtails. This late in the season of course, most of the birds were immatures. We stayed through the afternoon of the 3rd of June and saw a total of 1,950 westbound raptors during that time. Our daily raptor numbers can be found on the HawkCount website. The island had tons of passerines as well as the hundreds of raptors. Zach Gayk recorded 60 Yellow-bellied Flycatchers along the rocky shore near the west end in one hour long walk. Most mornings the west end had gangs of small passerines that would cross westward to the Keweenaw. Modest numbers of shorebirds were seen. New species recorded included White-rumped Sandpiper, Field Sparrow and Hudsonian Godwit. The main observers were Zach Gayk, Hannah Rooks and myself, Joseph Youngman. Joe Kaplan was working with a crew of Keweenaw Land Trust volunteers at the lighthouse for most of the same time period and he added most of the new species seen. We made a strenuous effort to record owls in the interior of the island but didn't hear any. It was probably just too late in the season.
In July, Zach Gayk and Mike Scheiwe planned to do a week of breeding bird work but their trip was canceled due to illness.
In early October, Keweenaw Land Trust made a trip to work on their lighthouse and Max Henschell went along and recorded some bird data, mainly on migrating waterbirds. He did record one new species for the island, Lesser Golden Plover.
This year we made two trips to Manitou - one in mid-May and one in early October. A one week trip was made to Isle Royale as well, in late September.
On May 15th, Ryne Rutherford, Alec Lindsay, Ken Mettie Jr. and Joseph Youngman headed for Manitou. Joe Kaplan and Chris Williams came along - largely to work on the K.L.T. owned lighthouse at the east end. Ken covered the waterbird count at the east end. Ryne, myself and Alec Lindsay took turns covering Fadner Point - the west tip. We monitored migrating raptors, passerines and waterbirds there. The raptor movement was fairly typical - good days and boring days. The daily counts for westbound raptors were : 28, 4, 437, 2, and 15. A few Golden Eagles were the rarest raptors this year. The passerines were again moving through Manitou from east to west and some mornings there were hundreds of passerines leaving the west tip going toward the Keweenaw. A single Marbled Godwit was seen first at the west end. That was a new species for Manitou. The east end had a singing Wood Thrush(one day only), a flyby Caspian Tern, a fly by Pacific / Arctic Loon, a Yellow-throated Warbler and a Prairie Warbler. Those were all new species for Manitou.
In October, Greg Cleary and Joseph Youngman spent four days on Manitou - checking on differences in the waterbird passage at the east and west ends. Most days the east end had vastly higher numbers of waterbirds passing by. The numbers were quite modest. But on the 6th - 3,422 ducks, loons and grebes passed the east end and 990 passed the west end. All waterbirds are moving southeast after they pass Manitou Island. The birds seen at the east end are moving along and around Manitou's north shore and those passing the west end are cutting southeast between Manitou and the mainland Keweenaw. Most of the waterbirds seen at the east end are clearing coming from the west - the north shore of the Keweenw peninsula. However, over the years we've noticed that some birds there seem to be coming over the horizon from the north, northwest. There seems to be a merging of two flows of waterbirds off Manitou's east tip - One- The large flow from the Keweenaw (previously documented by the late Laurence Binford) Two - a flow coming from across Lake Superior - apparently from the north or northwest.
Besides the waterbird count - Greg Cleary added two new Manitou species - a Carolina Wren and a White-breasted Nuthatch. The Wren was the first for the Keweenaw area and the nuthatch might not sound like a big bird, but since 2002 we've NEVER had one. White-breasted's are quite rare in Keweenaw county.
In September I made a one week trip to Isle Royale under the auspices of the Manitou Island Survey. My purpose was to look for waterbirds moving southward through the gap between Isle Royale's NE tip - Blake Point - and Passage Island. I did find them, though not in really large numbers. The weather was nice and warm - which is bad if you are hoping to see migrating waterbirds in the fall. I had only 1.5 hours of NW wind in six days of watch. But every day I did see loons, grebes and ducks moving south or south, southeast through that gap. Many were clearly coming from the west and turning south at the gap and many were just coming south the whole time they were in view. Over near Thunder Bay in Ontario, the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory has been monitoring spring and fall migrants for over a decade. Practically all of the fall waterbirds they see come south across Thunder Bay and then turn after they pass the cape and are last seen heading generally east. I assume that those are a portion of the waterbirds I saw - and the others were birds that would have been up in Black Bay and flew south to the gap I watched at Blake Point. There is no way of knowing for certain but I believe the birds we see "coming over the horizon" at Manitou - would be these birds that recently exited Thunder and Black Bay's on the Canadian side and flew through the gap between Passage Island and Isle Royale and crossed the big lake to meet and merge with the flow of Keweenaw waterbirds. As mentioned earlier the numbers seen were not large - my biggest days had only 321 and 295 and the six day total was only 852. But considering the poor winds, I feel those were significant numbers. Further, more extensive waterbird counts at Blake in the future could confirm or contradict my conclusion.