Waterbird Watch Update 1 – March 27.
The first Watch was held at Harrington Beach State Park on March 6. A wonderful viewing blind was constructed on the bank along Quarry Pond path just south of the Point and is now the focal point for the Watch. Until this week when temperatures took a downturn and winds were chilly, most of the observations occurred from outside the blind, but it is certainly nice to have a place to sit away from the wind that affords excellent views of Lake Michigan. Seth Cutright has had some moderately busy days along with some slow ones. This spring is so unusual that it is difficult to say exactly where we are in spring migration. There was a nice movement of Common Loons yesterday when about 50 were counted. Twenty-seven waterfowl species have been identified. As expected, the three most abundant species have been Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, and Red-breasted Merganser. Green-winged Teal is the leader among the dabbling duck species. All three scoters have been observed with almost 200 White-winged Scoters tallied. Please see the accompanying table for results for the first 14 Watches, and please continue to check back for periodic updates.
The Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory located at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve in northeastern Ozaukee County has obtained sufficient funding to launch a new project this week aimed at quantifying the chronology and volume of migrating waterbirds along the western shore of Lake Michigan. This spring (March-May) Watch will record migrating geese, ducks, loons, grebes, cormorants, pelicans, wading birds, and shorebirds at Harrington Beach State Park (HBSP) in northeastern Ozaukee County. This location is considered by many to be among the very top locations along this shoreline to observe near-shore migrants. Other bird species presence will be noted as time allows. A temporary/semi-permanent blind is being constructed at the sitting bench on the bank just south of the Point at HBSP.
Waterbirds tend to migrate directly and rarely linger like some raptors and many songbirds. Off course, there are exceptions, including shorebirds, some waterfowl species, gulls, and some loons and grebes. And these along with some reverse migrants on some days present a challenge to the counter. Regardless, most waterbirds tend to migrate from south to north in spring and the opposite direction in the fall. Interpreting the waterbird data, like all bird counts or censuses, must be done in the long term. Visibility is the prime concern during waterbird counts, but some of the most inclement days can have some of the highest numbers of migrating waterbirds, but if it is foggy, the ability to detect the passing migrants is impossible.
The Watch will be coordinated this spring by someone familiar to many, Seth Cutright. He will be entering data into eBird, and he'll probably blog about his experiences. Visitors are welcome to the Watch site, especially those with sharp eyes and those bringing homemade cookies, AND hot chocolate when the weather is raw. Park your vehicle with a park admission sticker attached in the lower parking lot and walk south on the blacktop path toward Quarry Pond and the Point. I'll let Seth communicate with you about how he can be reached via email or cell phone to determine if he is likely to be present on a particular day. I'm unsure what cell phone coverage is like at the Point. A new bird checklist for HBSP is being prepared, and we hope to have copies available at the Watch soon.
We plan to conduct a fall Watch as well, and hopefully funding can be obtained to continue these spring and fall counts for many decades.
Also this late-winter/early spring, Bill Mueller, through the Observatory and with funding from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, is coordinating aerial waterbird surveys along the western shore of Lake Michigan.
Noel Cutright, Ozaukee County
Founder - WGLBBO