As opportunities permit, I have been monitoring the passage of waterbirds and other migrants along Lake Michigan again this fall. Although I have been only able to cover about an hour each day, I have counted on 19 days since September 12. All watches have occurred at Hoffmaster State Park.
During the last few days, overall numbers and diversity have increased substantially. So far this season, I have recorded 10 Red-throated Loons, 72 Common Loons, and 87 Horned Grebes. Totaling 403 individuals, Bonaparte's Gulls have been passing regularly, but the count of 241 from October 14 remains the peak. Common Terns, last seen on October 15, numbered 32. A northbound jaeger seen on September 22 could not be conclusively identified.
Long-tailed Ducks were first noted on October 15, and October 28 was the first day that I saw more than 100. Other diving ducks have also dramatically increased - counts of 239 Red-breasted Mergansers and 53 Bufflehead on October 29 were quite higher than previous days. As for scoters, I have seen 23 Surf, 63 White-winged, and 13 Black so far. The most numerous dabbling duck has been Gadwall.
A southbound Red Phalarope on October 29 was a nice treat, but more surprising was an American Woodcock flying east toward the dunes at 10:49 a.m. on the same day. Similarly, both in the spring and fall, large numbers of eastbound passerines regularly appear from far over Lake Michigan. In the past couple days, dozens of American Pipits and Snow Buntings (first seen October 24) have arriving from the west.
Due to their small sizes, these birds can be difficult to detect, but the gauntlet of gulls and a resident Merlin have been more discerning. After struggling miles over the lake, many passerines are seized within a stone's throw of the shoreline. The latest victim was a Golden-crowned Kinglet effortlessly captured by the Merlin on October 29. However, these attacks are not always successful, and one of the Red Bats I saw arriving over the lake repeatedly dodged and ultimately eluded the determined raptor.
- Brian Johnson
- Brian Johnson