Talons Over Mackinac
Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch's Newsletter
Issue #10 - May 26, 2022
Saying Goodbye to Kathy Bricker
Depending on how closely you follow our website, you may or may not know that as of the first of the year I moved from MSRW’s Board to become its part-time Executive Director.  After a career of working in the non-profit conservation world, it seemed like a great opportunity for me to contribute to a growing and important conservation effort here at home.

At the time, although I understood that one of our founding Board members – Kathy Bricker – was stepping off the Board; I didn’t truly appreciate the energy and passion she brought to the effort.  Nor did I understand how hard it would be to fill her shoes.  I do now.  As most of you probably know, Kathy passed away in March of this year.
Kathy Bricker presenting MSRW's Wind Under Wings award,
Raptor Fest 2017
Kathy’s devotion to conservation has left a lasting legacy on northern Michigan, and we’re thankful that she brought her passion to MSRW.  Kathy’s Raving about Raptors presentation has been seen by hundreds, and has literally put the Straits area migration on the map.  Her ability to engage people in MSRW’s mission has resulted in a ten-fold increase in the MSRW budget over the years.  And her ‘baby’ – the Raptor Fest - brought birders, scientists, and raptor experts from all over the country to celebrate the spring migration, and share in their knowledge and enthusiasm for these wonderful birds.  All of us are incredibly grateful to have been a part of Kathy’s tenure at MSRW and will do our best to follow in her footsteps.
To honor her legacy, the Board has created a fund devoted to one of Kathy’s passions. The Kathy Bricker Scholarship Fund is a dedicated fund intended to support students of all ages who are studying, working with, or engaging in scholarly activities associated with migrating birds and Raptors in Northern Michigan.  If you would like to make a gift honoring Kathy’s legacy, please click on the Donate Button below. 

to the Kathy Bricker Scholarship Fund
Gifts of any amount are appreciated, and will be used to support the next generation of Northern Michigan’s best and brightest conservationists!
This year is shaping up to be a big year for MSRW with lots of exciting work going on (see below).  And with your help, the Board and I will do our best to honor Kathy’s legacy and continue to grow the efforts of the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch.  As always, thanks for everything you do.  It matters!
- Scott Davis
Thanks to your generous support, MSRW was again able to support a full complement of inventory work, banding and migration research in the Straits this spring.  Calvin Brennan returned this year as our hawk counter in Mackinaw City and Gracie Sangmeister is counting at Fort Holmes on the Island (thanks to a generous gift from the Mackinaw Island Community Foundation).  Evan Buck was at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park banding owls, and Oliver Kew was our waterbird counter, alternating between McGulpin Point and Graham Point.  Finally, Nick Alioto spent the spring banding hawks in Mackinaw City, and was able to deploy the 14 new transmitters purchased with the support of our members.  You can read about all of the experience our amazing counters have, on our website here.  We will provide a more comprehensive review of all their work in the summer issue, but for now here a just a few interesting tidbits.
Owl Banding at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park
As many of you know, we’ve relocated our owl banding operations from the Cheboygan State Park to the Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park just outside of Mackinaw City.  Evan Buck drove up from Tennessee this spring to be our owl bander; and over the course of the 55-nights of the spring banding season, captured 113 northern saw-whet owls, two barred owls, and two long-eared owls.  Along with date, time and weather data, each owl is sexed and aged before being banded and promptly released.  Numbers were down a little this year, but that is likely due to the slow arrival of spring.  MSRW will also be banding owls this fall at Point LaBarbe.  Check the website for scheduled opportunities to come out and see these beautiful little owls close up.

­Spring Hawk Counts

Calvin Brennan has counted for MSRW for several years now, and we are glad to have him back this spring!  Calvin also noted the slow arrival of spring (or in his words – the lack of suitable migration weather) as impacting counts this year.  Overall, numbers were down but the impacts were especially notable in the red-tails and to a lesser extent, the broad-wing numbers. Red-tail numbers were about half of average and broad-wings about two thirds.

Highlights of the season so far were the 64 Golden Eagles counted on March 20th, the several Black Vultures in the mid-April to early May time frame, and the Swainson's Hawk seen on May 12th.  259 red-shouldered hawks were also seen this spring – a record for the Straits.  Non-raptor highlights included Orchard Oriole on May 12th, American White Pelican on May 15th, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on May 19th. Also notable were the sightings of multiple Northern Mockingbirds and Red-headed Woodpeckers during May.

Swainson's Hawk
Gracie Sangmeister, from Pennsylvania, is the second spring hawk counter we've had on Mackinac Island, stationed at Fort Holmes.  We are excited to get another spring’s worth information on the raptors who migrate north by “island hopping” up the east side of the Straits.   Her counts are shown side-by-side with Calvin’s, for your comparison.
Counts as of May 20

Raptor Name
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Northern Goshawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Totals To Date
Mackinaw    Mackinac
City              Island
3                  0
4747           1789
78               24
541             335
103             71
1700           721
11               20
1                 3
259             143
18101         3153
7664           1901
206             157
1                  0
210              87
51               40
39                21
14                6     
33729          8471
­Waterbird Count

The waterbird count was conducted this year by Oliver Kew, who hails from right here in Michigan, between March 20th and May 15th.   He divided his time evenly between our Mackinaw City and St. Ignace count sites.  This year, we saw more Long-tailed Ducks than any other species, which is a change from our normal front-runner, the Redheads.  Oliver tallied a total of 71,448 birds, across 164 species (both waterbirds and non-waterbirds) over the season, which is about 11,000 fewer birds than last spring.   Stay tuned for more details from his full season summary in our next issue.

­Mapping RTHA Migrations with Nick Alioto
Nick Alioto, a graduate student at Michigan State, has had another busy spring, thanks to the generosity of many of you.  Nick is fitting solar powered transmitters on red-tailed hawks in the hopes of unraveling some of the mystery around their annual migrations.  The transmitters work off of cell towers and will transmit data for as long as 3 years.  
Last year, Nick deployed 11 transmitters, and this year added another 14. The data he is collecting is fascinating and is starting to fill in many of the blanks around where these birds nest, overwinter and the routes they take to go back and forth.  We’ll provide a much more comprehensive review of this year’s work in the fall edition of Talons – so stay tuned.  In the meantime, you can follow Nick's and all of the contractors’ blogs on our website.

This spring, in addition to red-tailed hawks, Nick has had everything from golden eagles, to perigrine falcons, to northern harriers, to cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks swing by the blind. 
As of this writing he had caught and banded just under 200 raptors of various species.  Thanks to everyone that contributed to the funding for the transmitters and those of you that were able to take advantage of a “Blind Date with Nick”.
Did you Know?

Did you know that great horned owls are about the only predator (other than man) that red-tailed  hawks have to worry about?   Earlier this spring, Nick got a “mortality” signal from one of the hawks he had placed a transmitter on last year.  If a bird doesn’t move for three days, the transmitters send out a signal alerting Nick that the bird may have died.  This particular bird had nested in Ontario, wintered in Michigan and had just crossed back into St. Ignace on its way back north when Nick got the signal.  An advantage of the transmitters which use cell towers (as opposed to satellites) is that they give off fairly accurate location information.  When Nick got the signal he and Evan Buck (the owl bander) crossed the bridge to look for the bird and found it near Castle Rock.  The carcass was still in the tree, essentially held together by the backpack, and all the signs pointed to a great horned owl. 
Fortunately, Nick was able to retrieve and re-deploy the undamaged transmitter to another red-tailed hawk.  But it was an interesting reminder of the challenges that even fierce predators like red-taileds face during their annual migrations.
Raptor Naturalist

An important component of MSRW’s work involves engaging and educating the public about raptors, their conservation and the importance of the Straits area as a migratory corridor. Unfortunately, although the Counters know their raptors, they are often too occupied with the task at hand to interact much with a curious public.  This has always seemed like a missed opportunity, as the migrations through the Straits provide a perfect venue for educating the public.
Well this year, thanks to a generous donation from the Americana Foundation, MSRW was able to contract local educator extrodinaire – Sarah Reding – to help us put together an educational module for use at the hawk counting sites. 
Materials include aids for identification, anatomical models, migratory calendars and even some extra pairs of binoculars to help people get started on their hawk watching journey. 

Coupled with the occassional appearance of a live hawk, it proved to be a huge success, and looks to be something we can continue to build on over time.  Thanks again to the Americana Foundation!
New Logo and Informational Brochures

Thanks to Duane Utech, MSRW now has a new promotional brochure for use at the hawk watch site and other educational venues, as well as new business cards and letterhead to show off the new suite of logos (see below) we approved this past winter.  Duane comes to us with a long and successful career in Marketing (among other things) and was able to pull the project together and push it across the finish line in record time.  Look for the brochure this spring and fall!
Write-up in the Mackinaw News
Sandy Planisek, editor of the Mackinaw News, spent an afternoon in the blind with Nick Alioto and Ed Pike, and wrote a nice article about her experience.  If you are not a regular reader of Sandy’s e-newspaper, you ought to consider signing up.  It is one of the most interesting reads around!  Send an email to ( and ask to be added to the subscriber list.

See pages 14-17 of the latest edition for her write-up on raptor banding that we republished for you on our website.

Bookshelf: reviews of interesting books from volunteers and staff
The recently published, The Hawk’s Way: Encounters with Fierce Beauty by Sy Montgomery is a small book about a vegetarian’s fascination with the sky hunters we know as raptors.  The author is interested in falconry and the bonds between humans and raptors and their respective needs to hunt prey. The book explores the strong hunting imperatives of these “dinosaurs with feathers”, and the uneasy relationships between falconers and their birds.  The narrative introduces the reader to the basics of falconry and the fierce personalities of the birds with which the author has worked under the tutelage of the experienced falconer, Nancy Cowan. The book, somewhat ironically, looks at the “wildness” of hawks who are captive partners. However, it is a well-told story with excellent photographs of raptors, and a recommended read for those with an interest in falconry and the nature of hawks (by Catherine Freebairn, MSRW Board).
We want to thank everyone who has so generously contributed to the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch so far this year – both big and small.  Without your support, the work described in this newsletter simply would not happen.   Your gifts make a difference.  Your gifts matter.  We know there are lots of places where your support could go, and we are so grateful and honored that MSRW is one of your choices.  We will continue to do everything we can to earn your support.  Thank you. 

A special thanks to the following for their support this spring:
  1. Americana Foundation: a special thanks to Gary Rentrop and the Americana Foundation for their support of the Raptor Naturalist Program.
  2. Citizens National Bank & Steve Baker: a special thanks to both for a generous gift from CNB in honor of Steve’s retirement from their Board.
  3. All the sponsors of this year’s transmitters including: Jim & Kathy Bricker, Russ Schipper (2), Peggy Campbell, Andrew Sturgess, Carolyn Rourke, William Scharf, Ian & Sally Bund, and the Straits Area Audubon Society.
  4. All of our supporters who came together to sponsor the People’s Choice Bird
    Susan & Pat Affholter, Lisa Bartlett, Richard Bentley, Lynn & Jim Evans, Karen Fennema, Susan & Patrick Gates, Steve Graham, Jan Heminger, Cynthia Hudson, Gayle Kirby, Dick & Jody LaBarre, Mary MacDowell, Mark Martin, John & Mary Merrill, Peter Motzenbecker, Lyn Petty, John Shreves, Paul Sloan, Marissa Swadling, and Albert & Nancy Washburne.
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 Kathy Bricker: from Steve Baker
  • In Memory of Kathy Bricker: from Arthur Curtis
  • In Memory of Kathy Bricker: from Catherine Freebairn
  • In Memory of Kathy Bricker: from Jack and Bev Kirby
  • In Memory of Kathy Bricker: from Joann Leal
  • In Memory of Kathy Bricker: from Emily Love
  • In Memory of Kathy Bricker: from Patty O'Donnell and JoAnn Papenfuss
  • In Memory of Kathy Bricker: from Deborah Rohe
  • In Memory of Kathy Bricker: from Thunder Bay Audubon Society
  • In Memory of Graham Goodall: from Jack and Bev Kirby
  • In Honor of Kathy Bricker: from Anne & Kieran Fleming
  • In Honor of Kathy Bricker: from Esther Summers

Watch for new tributes on our Tributes webpage

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 © 2022 Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch, All rights reserved.

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