Talons Over Mackinac
Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch Newsletter
Issue #9 - December 10, 2021
2021 Research Wrap-Up
Hawk Count
The Hawk Count this fall was extended to November 30 for the second fall, rewarding us with a total of 17,311 raptors counted, the second highest count since 2018.  We were based at Point La Barbe near St. Ignace, where contractor Calvin Brennan worked every day, and volunteers joined him on most days.  In the four years since we started the fall count, 2021 brought the highest numbers of Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk and Peregrine Falcon.  Weather patterns affect raptor migration and probably caused the lower than usual number of Broad-winged Hawks migrating through here this fall.  A highlight of the count was a Swainson’s Hawk seen on September 18.  For non-raptor observations: during the middle of November for several days, flocks of small finches, mostly Common Redpolls, were flying south across the Straits with a high count on November 21 of 2,460.  For in-depth daily reports and links to season totals, see our fall hawkwatch profile on HMANA’s HawkCount raptor migration database.
Immature Red-tailed Hawk
Photo credit: Bruce Seeger
­Informing and Inspiring - Guests Galore

This fall, besides helping to spot hawks, the volunteer assistant hawk counters greeted more guests than ever before at the hawk watch.  Nearly every good day, four to ten people came to view the birds.  These visitors overwhelmingly appreciate and praise the experience and the welcome they receive, while others value the benefits of this work for conservation. 

  • Sheryl Kittrell of Juno Beach: “I really enjoyed being out there one day in October. It was an awesome experience!” 
  • Susan Gosse of Petoskey: “Thanks to all those dedicated folks for helping these beautiful creatures!.” 
  • Joanne Cromley of Afton: “This is so utterly exciting!  We are a small community but when individuals stand up and take action to improve it, it is worth shouting from the rooftops.” 
Guests learn to stay behind the official counter, Calvin Brennan, who is manning the scope
­More Informing and Inspiring - MSRW Hailed by Birding Tour Group Leader

Jim McGrath, of Nature Discovery near Lansing, brought a group of birders to the hawk watch late this fall.  He explains the significance of the Straits migration in his November 2021 issue of Nature Discovery's newsletter, The Wild Times

Jim extolls the outreach and friendship of MSRW volunteers: “Visitors are encouraged to stop any day to enjoy the aerial show. Volunteer observers greet then help them spot and identify the species as they pass. They answer questions and converse with ease about specific behaviors, movement patterns, owl netting, monarch tagging, and pretty much anything else related to ‘natural Michigan’. Visitors are handed a clipboard on which to add their name, address and email. That way your presence is officially documented on the counter’s daily report. It is submitted to a much larger database compiled by the Hawk Migration Association of North America ( Data from more than 200 hawk-watch sites in North America, sixteen of them in Michigan, are available on the site for free access to scientists and citizens alike.”

Ed Pike describes the work of MSRW to Jim McGrath, Gregg Landick, Carolyn Malmstrom, and Will Gold
Still MORE Informing and Inspiring - MSRW On Television News

Your organization was in the news again!  Channel 9 and 10 News filmed a section for their program called The Four, available for your viewing pleasure on their website here.

Ed Pike explains the nuances of fall raptor migration to Monika Zachara and photojournalist Greg Miller of Channel 9 and 10 News
­Waterbird Count

Similar to last fall, more Redhead ducks were recorded than any other species, with 9,236.  On October 31 a record number of 311 Common Loons were recorded from McGulpin Point near Mackinaw City.  The total Common Loon count was 1,187. 

One day, waterbird counter Ty Sharrow found a dead Double-crested Cormorant washed up on shore. A few internet contacts led him to the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council’s avian botulism monitoring program, where he volunteered to survey for avian botulism at Trails End Bay and McGulpin Point. See Ty's blog post for the full story of this deadly and pervasive disease and how citizens can help the Watershed Council monitor our shorelines.

Over the years, MSRW has learned that our waterbird counts likely provide very low estimates of the use of the Straits of Mackinac region.  Waterbirds stop to rest or feed at many places in northern Lakes Michigan and Huron, often not passing within sight of land.  We can only count those that we see that fly directly through the Straits, and during the daytime.

Redheads in the Straits of Mackinac, Photo by Jim Bricker
Ty Sharrow also spied many raptors, including this dark-morph Rough-legged Hawk
­Owl Research

This fall, 407 Northern Saw-whet Owls were caught and researched, the third highest total behind the irruption years of 2016 and 2020.  Although the varied number and placements of nets from 2014 to now means that the 2021 total cannot be directly compared to previous totals, “some studies have shown that the year following an irruptive event has higher than average numbers.” – MSRW 2021 Fall Owl Banding Report by Jess Gwinn and Michael Gordon

An amazing 26 of these owls were previously banded, from locales of Point La Barbe (fall 2020); Cheboygan State Park (April 2019); several from Whitefish Point Bird Observatory; Cedar Grove, WI; Hawk Ridge, MN; Muncie IL; Tofte MN; West Lafayette, IN; Muncie, IN; Silver Islet, ONT; Thunder Bay, ONT; and Hilliardton, ONT.

A raptor, but not an owl, this Sharp-shinned Hawk was captured near sunset and processed and released by MSRW Owl Banders Michael Gordon and Jess Gwinn
Saw-whet Owls are the most common migrant owls, Photo by Arthur Sanchez
Red-tailed Hawk Project Update
Nine of the 11 Red-tailed Hawks fitted with backpack transmitters have now reported data on some of their whereabouts since April. The birds named Kirby and Jack both nested this summer in Hudson plain habitat in northern Ontario.  This habitat is unexpected for these raptors which generally prefer large trees.  A few months of data are still backlogged because of slow data transmission rates from their backpack transmitters, so it’s still a secret where and when these and the other hawks traveled south and where they all are now.

We still hope to hear from the final two hawks, Traveler and Red.  It’s likely there are issues with their transmitters or batteries, such that they cannot send data.  Regardless, the northbound information from these two birds is still useful and will help researcher Nick Alioto as he analyses RTHA migration movements as part of his graduate thesis at Michigan State University.

RTHA "Jack" and his breeding and travel map
RTHA "Kirby" and his breeding and travel map
Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders from Today’s Contractors

As we bid waterbird counter Ty Sharrow adieu, as he heads off to Arkansas State University, MSRW realizes more than ever the importance of our contractor positions to help develop future leaders in biology and conservation.  Ty will start his Masters degree program soon, studying the effects of American Kestrel and Barn Owl presence on pest populations in agricultural fields. 

Several past MSRW contractors also have continued avian work.  This September, Adam (Bradley) Richardson, waterbird counter for MSRW in spring 2018, shared his ongoing raptor research in the western mountains of Montana at Duck Creek Pass, Bridger Bowl, and elsewhere.  He and the raptors we all care for are featured in the Fall 2021 issue of Outside Bozeman, available on their website.

Watch our Seasonal Contractors webpage for updates on past contractors with their current jobs or interests.

Adam Richardson in Outside Bozeman as he takes weather measurements

Farewell to Outgoing Board Members

Two MSRW co-founders are rotating off the Board of Directors this month due to term limits.  We thank Kathy Bricker for her past service as Mackinaw Raptor Fest Chair, Fundraising Committee Chair, Talons Over Mackinac editor, and for reaching hundreds of people through presentations of her Raving About Raptors program around Michigan.  

We thank Dave Mayberry for his leadership in developing and staffing the MSRW booth at many community events such as the Tawas Birding Festival.  Dave also spearheaded hawk count site signage, including the current kiosk, and merchandise development.  To inquire about buying available t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, etc., please write

Kathy Bricker speaks to Audubon Society of Kalamazoo
Dave Mayberry demonstrates a bird banding net to guests

Talons Over Mackinac Archives


In response to your requests, we have assembled Issues 1 through 8 of the Talons all in one place.  You may view any of them at any time, starting from our inaugural issue from August 24, 2020 to now, along with some other on-line announcements, at our MSRW Newsletter Archive.   

#1 August 24, 2020

#2 September 1, 2020

#3 September 17, 2020

#4 November 21, 2020

#5 March 5, 2021

#6 April 5, 2021

#7 June 26, 2021

#8 September 30, 2021

Honorary Gifts

The following people sent donations to MSRW that honor a friend or remember a loved one. You can do this by noting the recognition on your check, or emailing a note to

  • In Memory of Donald (Roy) MacFarland, from Alice MacFarland
  • In Memory of Stanley P. and Muriel McRae, from Bruce and Patricia McRae 
  • In Memory of Ron Wallin, from John and Tory Willoughby
  • In Memory of James Russell, from Dave Mayberry
  • In Honor of Jack and Bev Kirby, from Neil Kirby

Watch for new tributes on our Tributes webpage

Jamie Russell was honored this fall with a plaque on the Mackinaw City MSRW kiosk that he built
Welcome to our new Raptor Partners!

MSRW is thrilled to welcome back for 2022 the renewed Raptor Partners of Straits Area Audubon Society ( and Audubon Society of Kalamazoo ( Both of these Audubon groups serve their communities through hosting natural history programs, field trips and related activities.  

SAAS began giving small grants for raptor research in the Straits in 2006.  

ASK began its donations in April 2014.  

Thanks to both of these great groups for the work you do!

In addition to organizations, many businesses have also joined or renewed as MSRW Raptor Partners.  Keep up with them all at

Happy Holidays to you and yours!
Opportunity to Help Hawks This Holiday Season


MSRW is 100% supported by individual and organization members, with some foundation grants.  You may have received the November appeal, our biggest fundraising effort of the year.  In all, 27 volunteers came together to enable this outreach to ~800 people.  We give special thanks to them and to everyone who has renewed your support.  It’s not too late.  Click here to make an easy credit card donation for hawks and owls.

Volunteers at mailing party, from left: Gretchen Dorian, Jim Bricker, Dale Giddings, Nancy Demeuse, Russ Edmonds, Laurie Dykehouse, Scott Davis, Cathy Freebairn, Susan Affholter, Ed Pike.  Mailing helpers missing from photo: Joann Leal, Kathy Bricker, Linda Orlow
Have you ever ordered anything from Amazon?  Did you know you can support MSRW while you’re there?  AmazonSmile is an easy and automatic way for you to support Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch while doing your everyday shopping. Follow this link to select MSRW as your AmazonSmile charitable organization, and a percentage of the purchase price of any product marked “eligible for AmazonSmile donation” will go toward us.
The mission of the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch is to conduct research in the Straits of Mackinac area on migrating birds of prey, to support their conservation, and to inform and inspire people about them. 

MSRW is a non-profit organization that depends on your donation!  The group appreciates support from more than 350 individual and business contributors, and from area organizations, including the Mackinac Area Visitors Bureau and Petoskey Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation.

To learn more or to donate, visit our newly updated website at:  We appreciate support from Petoskey Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation that enabled this website transformation.
Copyright © 2021 Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch, All rights reserved.

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