Migration Updates

This page provides information on the progression of bird migration in Michigan’s EUP in 2016: where, when and how birds are found on and near the North Huron Birding trail.  Birders visiting the area can greatly increase their success in the field with this information.  Whenever special weather circumstances influence bird migration in this area (sometimes in a spectacular way) I will provide details on exactly what is going on.

5-25-2016  Last night mixed species flocks of migrant songbirds which breed to the north of Michigan finally arrived to the north shore of Lake Huron, along with more local breeders.  Most of the birds probably reached breeding grounds inland as the south winds pushed them and warm temperatures (and no rain) gave them no reason to stop along the shoreline.  Almost all other birds arriving before this point were breeding birds here.  At my location on the north shore I found Bay-breasted warbler, Philadelphia vireo (both which breed north of Michigan in Ontario), and many other local warblers.  I did not find Orange-crowned warbler, which breeds to the far north in Ontario,  but it may come through tomorrow.  Tonight there are expected rain showers over northern Lake Huron and good conditions for migration so tomorrow could be very good for migrant flocks along the shoreline.  Yesterday the south winds during the day pushed a large flock of Whimbrels along the shoreline toward DeTour Village, and a breeding plumage Hudsonian Godwit was with the group – both very rare finds here.

5-19-2016  The last 5 days have not been favorable for songbird migration.  South winds at night and temperatures above 43 Degrees F are the conditions that are favorable.  Even without those conditions some songbirds have made it to the area, but overall numbers are low.  A good number of male warblers (representing most species that breed in this area) are on territory and singing continuously in the morning, but for most warbler species the females have not arrived in any numbers worth fighting for. The bulk of the songbirds have yet to arrive.  The large flocks that roam the North Huron Lake shore and peninsulas, and feed on abundant midges, should arrive soon with a shift to the right conditions predicted for Friday night.  So Saturday could see a big change, if the forecast comes true – mostly clear, with a low around 45.  Southwest wind around 5 mph.  Yesterday had calm winds and Red-breasted Mergansers were everywhere along the open rocky shorelines along northern Lake Huron.

5-13-2016  The night of the 11th had south winds and temperatures in the 50s – ideal conditions for songbird migration, yet there clearly are not a lot of migrant songbirds around the north shore of Lake Huron.  There are male warblers of a good variety of species, which will always arrive on the nesting grounds as early as possible, but the larger waves of migrant songbirds have yet to arrive.  I looked at the reports for Magee Marsh in Ohio, and they confirmed what is happening so far this year – the large waves of songbirds are even south of Ohio at this point.

5-9-2016  The night of the 6th thunderstorms veered off to Canada instead of hitting northern Lake Huron (as predicted)- the weather forecasters don’t get it right sometimes.  But many new species of warblers arrived- again, male birds, which are the first to arrive on territory:  Magnolia, Nashville, American Redstart, Yellow, Northern Waterthrush.  Many more Black-throated Green Warblers have arrived, as well as Palm, Northern Parula,  Black and White, Black-throated Blue, and Ovenbird.  Blue-headed Vireos have arrived as well.  All of these species are common during the nesting season, in the cool forests near the north shore of Lake Huron, other than Northern Waterthrush (in very wet forests with standing water – further inland) and Black-throated Blue Warbler (in dry hardwood or dry mixed forests further inland).  Ovenbird is not as common near the shoreline but regular in mixed forests along the shoreline.  There is a normal progression to the arrival dates of the Neotropical warblers and other Neotropical songbirds.  The next wave of south winds should bring in Blackburnian warblers, Cape May, Chestnut-sided, Wilson’s warblers, Scarlet Tanagers.  Later in May Canada Warblers will arrive, as well as Mourning, Tennessee, Golden-winged, Kirtland’s, Common Yellow-throat.  Orange-crowned warblers typically can be found in the mixed species flocks along the north Lake Huron shoreline between May 10-20.  Blackpoll and Bay-breasted can typically be found in the mixed species flocks between May 20-30.  Indigo Bunting typically arrive after May 24th.  A cold weather period, with north winds, during the second half of May, can delay the arrival sequence and when the south winds come, there would be very many species, and females, arriving all at once.  This happened in early June a few years ago.  Mornings during that early June time were spectacular with songbird activity.

5-6-2016  The north shore of Lake Huron is excellent for warbler migration in spring, and now is the time that things start – mid to late May is the prime time.  Over 20 species of colorful Neotropical warblers are poised to arrive.  Neotropical birds spent their winter in the biogegraphical region that includes southern Mexico, Central and South America, and the West Indies, and they migrate north in the spring to nest in North America.  With calmer winds (not south winds) last night a few new warbler species arrived:  I heard Black-throated Green, Northern Parula, and Black and White this morning – male birds, which are the first to arrive on territory.  We have not had south winds for over 2 weeks and many male warblers are itching to arrive on territory.  But the wind shift the birds have been waiting for has happened. We have had south winds most of today and they will continue tonight, and the south winds will go right up the state all the way from Ohio.  That means warblers, which migrate at night in mixed species flocks, will be migrating north.  Only a limited number of species will migrate this early in May, but some may run into thunderstorms over Lake Huron, because a storm system is moving toward northern Lake Huron and will arrive during the nighttime hours.  Under these circumstances the birds crossing Lake Huron that are near the storms will land on the first piece of shoreline they see – it could be a peninsula tip or anywhere along  the shoreline.  Tomorrow morning is a GOOD time to be out looking along the north shoreline for warbler flocks.  And the winds will shift to north after the storm passes so the birds will not move inland soon.  If these conditions were to happen between May 15 – 25 (no south winds for 2 weeks and thunderstorms were over the lake at night) there would be many thousands of warblers of over 20 species all along the shoreline, but especially on peninsulas.  The DeTour Campground location on the north Huron Birding Trail would be spectacular.

5-2-2016  Some calmer winds last night and during the day today provided the opportunity for some birds to move north. In the morning it was very apparent that Red-Breasted Mergansers were moving on the calm waters of northern Lake Huron – I found many of them.  They rarely go into protected coves, bays, or creeks, but like rocky, exposed shorelines.  A few individuals of earlier migrating warblers species have arrived (Ovenbird, Cape May detected), but the bulk of warbler migration to the north shore of Lake Huron (and points inland) is coming during this month (May).  Midges have begun to hatch.  Here is some information included in the book on that:  “Midges (a small non-biting insect) are a key food resource to migrating songbirds in the spring. The midges hatch from the bottom of Lake Huron, and rise to the surface to form huge clouds along the northern shoreline and on the peninsulas, especially as the southerly winds that drive songbird migration push them to the northern shore. Once airborne, midges survive only a few days for reproduction; but they hatch often, so they are a consistent food source.”  Here on my peninsula flocks of Yellow-rumped warblers were feeding on midges at eye level in the cold morning a day ago.  In the forests near the north shore some birds are well into their nesting cycle, including  all woodpeckers (Pileated, Downy, Hairy, Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker), all owls (Great Horned, Barred, Eastern Screech, Saw-Whet), Pine Siskin, Sand Hill Crane.  Some smaller birds are waiting until nighttime temperatures are consistently warm enough to allow egg laying (Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler,  Pine Warbler, Winter Wren, Purple Finch), so the males sing and defend a territory, but nest building has not begun yet.  Red-winged Black-birds have been here since mid-March, but typically wait until marsh development to build nests.

4-30-2016  Still no real south winds have come (9 days), so on some of the light east/northeast wind days some birds have migrated anyway.  Most notably, many more Yellow-rumped warblers – large flocks.  And the females have arrived. Before 2 days ago hardly any females Y-rumps were around. The result when they arrive – fighting between males and chasing of females.  This is the pattern for every warbler species.   The males arrive first, and when the females arrive “all hell breaks lose”.  The male Y-rumps are so aggressive (with relatively few other warbler species around) that a few early arriving individuals (males) of other species are afraid to sing as they rest and feed in the Y-rump territories along the north shore of Lake Huron, after crossing the lake.  But many more warbler species will arrive and the Y-rump males can’t fight them all.  A lot more Ruby-crowned kinglets have arrived as well, but their singing is tolerated by the Y-rump males, probably because they often flock together with them during migration.  Many hawks are paired up and close to their nest sites:  Red-tailed (near forests/ forest edges), Kestrel (visible in the agricultural fields of Pickford/Rudyard), and Merlin (near the North shore of Lake Huron).  When you hike into a Merlin territory they are very vocal; I did so yesterday along the southern shore of Lake Superior near Crisp point. Merlins nest along the south shore of Lake Superior as well, which concentrates a lot of songbirds (just like the Lake Huron shoreline) during migration – a good place for a songbird (eating) specialist.  Today (in the evening) I noticed many calling Commons Loons at my location between Cedarville and DeTour Village, along the north shore of Lake Huron.  They are also moving northward without favorable winds.

4-27-2016  An extended period of weather not favorable to migration has limited migration the last several days.  During rainy and/or windy weather birds are quiet and stay in sheltered areas.  But as soon as the wind dies and the sun is out birds are out in the open.  That is when numerous male Yellow-rumped warblers can be heard singing in the forests around the North Huron Birding Trail and some some Pine warblers in the areas with large pines.  Also Winter wrens are very vocal in the mornings. Sandhill Cranes have begun to nest: yesterday a female laid her eggs on top of a muskrat den alongside the Trail.  Hermit thrushes are busy digging for insects on the forest floor, but are not singing yet.  Many more will arrive. A few Broad-winged hawks are on territory around the Trail.  Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are very vocal and active in the hardwood and mixed forests.  Flocks of Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets are roaming the forests near the north shore of Lake Huron.  White-throated sparrows have arrived in small numbers. The next good shift in the winds to the south will bring a lot of migrants, after such an extended period of non-favorable winds.

4-21-2016  2 of the last 3 days have had some south winds, which brought in more migrant birds. Along the North Huron Birding Trail on M-134 just past Trout Creek, about 1 mile west of M-48 is a wetland right at roadside, with a pull-off.  There is good shorebird habitat here this year.  5 Lesser Yellowlegs were there yesterday.  This is a spot worth scanning in the upcoming days and weeks for shorebirds.  Here on a peninsula on the north shore of Lake Huron we had a clear night and cold morning the other day.  Numerous flocks of Golden-crowned kinglets, mixed with Slate Juncos, visited our seed feeder table.  A Harris’s Sparrow stayed with the flock. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers’ distinctive tapping cadence can be heard in the hardwood and mixed forests all along the Trail. Ruffed Grouse males are on their drumming logs.  I have a friend near Goetzville who lives very near the route of the North Huron Birding Trail, in a location about 11 miles north of Lake Huron. He has had multiple Screech Owls calling the past few nights in his large woodlot.  It is worth searching the suitable potential nesting cavities in that woodlot during the day because, at this beginning stage of the nesting cycle, one or both of the owls are much more likely to be visible during the day at the cavity entrance.  Some Red-shouldered hawks and Broad-winged hawks are calling in the mornings.  Within the next few weeks, as they arrive on territory and begin there nesting cycles, Broad-winged hawks can often be seen roadside perched very visibly along M-134 (and other roads with forest at roadside) as they hunt the ditches.  A good place to hear Red-shouldered hawks is the Cranberry Lake flooding area.  To enter the area turn north on a 2 track road off of M-134 which is about 0.2 miles west of the entrance road to DeTour State campground.  There is a network of 2 track roads going through public hardwood forest – many Red-shouldered hawks breed in this area.

4-18-2016  5 days of south winds and warmer temperatures have brought many migrants to their nesting areas on or near the north Huron Birding Trail.  Some individuals nest further north and are resting along the north shore of Lake Huron.  New arrivals:  Eastern Phoebe, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Bluebird, Song sparrow, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, many Golden-crowned and a few Ruby-crowned kinglets, Winter wren, Brown creeper, Belted kingfisher,  a few Osprey, a few Broad-winged Hawks.  Some warblers (those that winter within the U.S.) have arrived:  Yellow-rumped, Pine, and Palm.

Northern Lake Huron marshes are completely thawed and have some Pied-billed grebes patrolling the waters, snipe calling from the drier sections, and some American bitterns have arrived as well.

A week ago nighttime temperatures were near 12 degrees F, and forests covered with snow at least 8 inches deep.  Yesterday flies were on the beaches. This dramatic turnaround is the most dramatic I have ever witnessed, and the birds (and animals) reacted to it with much increased activity.  A period like this is a great opportunity to view birds and wildlife.

Today I drove by 5 Snowy owls (including 3 pure white males) on Centerline Road in Rudyard.

Bufflehead ducks came in and were everywhere along the north shore for a day and quickly moved on toward the northerly nesting areas.

Rafts of Red head ducks and Ring-necked ducks at the Mackinaw Bridge by St. Ignace.

4-15-2016   I checked the forecast in the early morning and saw it was good enough for going to Whitefish Point ( as detailed in yesterday’s post), 8 am – 3 pm.  The winds were not always strong, so the majority of the birds were higher up, but there were plenty of low birds during periods when the winds were stronger.  There were only a few lulls in activity but most of the time there was a consistent flow of birds.  Here are some of the details for the day from http://www.hawkcount.org

Raptor total for the day:1180    “Incredible day with over 800 Sharp-shinneds, over 100 Harriers, 82 Rough-legs, and three colors of Red-tails (light, rufous, and a leucistic)”

Sandhill Cranes: 2042

On my way to Whitefish Point there were 3 Snowy Owls in one location – in Rudyard, near the the corner of Centerline Road and M-48 (the more northerly M-48 which goes directly into Rudyard).

4-14-2016  I am often asked, “What are the best days to visit Whitefish point for spectacular hawk migration?”  Here it is. Mid to late April is best. Winds must be out of the south (or SE or SW) and they must be out of the south throughout Michigan, and at least 10 miles per hour, all the way down to Ohio.  If those winds are stronger around Whitefish Point (20+ mph), then it will be spectacular.  Near the point the stronger winds coming off of the water will force many hawks to fly low, at tree-top level or between the trees.  And under the conditions described above there will be many hawks  (many 100s), and a good variety.  The best time is 8am – 3pm.  These conditions often result from a large storm system in the general area of Arkansas/ Missouri/ Oklahoma/ Kansas, whose counterclockwise spin drives southerly winds throughout Michigan.  To see a map of the storm systems in the U.S. go here:  http://www.intellicast.com/Local/WxMap.aspx

You can use the following link to get weather conditions near the point:  http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lon=-85.0217510507492&lat=46.75279442526474#.VxAZVzbmrcs

Scroll down a little bit on that link and there is a map which you can reduce or enlarge.  You can use that map to navigate to any point in Michigan and click there.  A detailed forecast will come up.  This way you can see if the conditions described above are forecast throughout Michigan.  Even if the night before predicts conditions should be as described above, ALWAYS CHECK THE MORNING THAT YOU GO TO MAKE SURE, that is, if you really want to time it for a spectacular experience.

4-13-2016  After many days of cold and snow the winds are finally out of the southeast and temperatures are warmer.  Migration along the north shore of lake Huron was very evident this morning: Canadian Geese and numerous ducks (Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Bufflehead, Ring-necked Ducks) very visible, many groups of Robins, Grackles.  The next 4 days the winds are forecast to be out of the south and temperatures warmer.  A lot of migration will take place and it is a very good time to get out and visit the North Huron Birding Trail stops, especially the waterfront spots.  The inland marshes and forests are not ready yet, so do not bother.  Whitefish Point will be a good place to visit – go near the point.  Tomorrow and the next day there should pass good numbers of Red-tailed Hawks, Rough-legged hawks, Northern harriers, some Sharp-shinned hawks, Kestrels, Merlins, and Bald Eagles.


We did NOT sign up for this…

…but we can deal with it.

4-9-2016    Snow, north winds and cold temperatures have halted migration of all birds for a few days.   That is how migration is – it happens in waves.  But an extended period of south winds and warmer temperatures is coming next week, which will surely prompt a lot of birds to fly north.  A very few land birds which have a harder time dealing with the colder temperatures have arrived, such as a few Woodcocks – not many at all.  If we had a warmer stretch with south winds in early April many more would have arrived.  I found one Woodcock today in an expected spot – the north side of M-134 where the terrain slopes upward from the road.  Here the snow melted with the more direct exposure to the bright sun the last 2 days.  Many Robins were feeding for worms in these areas, but Robins feed by sight.  Woodcocks feed for worms by probing their long beak into the soil and sensing the movement of worms.  They stab and pull.  The image below is from last year.   There was a warm stretch in early April which prompted the arrival of many Woodcocks, and then the snow arrived.  Many Woodcocks could be found in the same sloping areas, which were the only areas free of snow.

4-5-2016      The colder temperatures and snow have greatly limited land bird migration but many species have arrived from the south: Robin, Slate Junco, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird are easily found along the near shoreline of northern Lake Huron.  Some Pine Siskins (which have come in, remained and wandered around all winter) have begun to claim territories.  Northbound groups of Snow Bunting and Common Redpolls can be seen on roadsides, as well as a few Tree Sparrows.   Diving ducks have had an easy time migrating along the north shore of lake Huron because of the plentiful ice-free water.  Today the slight south winds and calmer water on the open unprotected water (unprotected by islands, bays or coves) means they are moving along the unprotected shoreline areas (and they are – many seen this morning), especially because of the colder nights lately, which froze protected coves and some bays – places where they would be found, especially on days with more waves and wind.  Common Merganser, Common Goldeneye, and Hooded Merganser have been around for a while, as they came in during the early March warm period.  Bufflehead and Ring-necked ducks have arrived but their numbers will increase.   All of these species are easily found on the north shore of Lake Huron along M-134 a few miles west of DeTour, as well as in DeTour in the channel between DeTour and Drummond Island.  Long-tailed ducks are also abundant in that channel.  Many eagles have migrated through the EUP but a few can be found.  A cooler day like today, with plenty of sunshine and slight south winds, provides thermals and a little northward push for migrating bigger birds like Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, Canadian Geese, and Sandhill cranes.  All of them have been flying northward the last few days, under the same conditions.