The 17.5 Mile Journey

With spring upon us, migration is in full swing. Reports of new arriving birds every day bring hope that the breeding season is just around the corner. For some, it’s already started. When it comes to Raptor Migration, traps for good viewing are mostly determined by geographic funnels or specific ridge paths the birds take year after year. One of these geographic funnel points is Whitefish Pt. in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Lillian on the Hawk Deck with Mom by Josh Haas

A short, 6 hour drive from home and we make the trek to Whitefish Pt. each spring to enjoy the splendor. Counting in the fall for the Detroit River Hawkwatch, this yearly weekend is my way of getting my Hawkwatch fix after being away from it for months. This would be the first year for baby Lillian and also her first real trip. She was an angel and even found herself on the deck one day, although she was asleep! The weekend was oddly warm in the UP and completely void of clouds, which makes Hawk-watching tough. Many birds are almost stratospheric and stream by undetected but for the ones at lower altitudes, making the 17.5-mile journey across to Canada from the point is no easy feat. While many migrating songbirds will cross huge spans of water, Raptors don’t prefer it. As long as the winds are right and the birds have some guts, they’ll go for it. For some, however, this takes some time.

Juvenile, Red-Shouldered Hawk by Josh Haas

While watching the movement of Raptors, it’s especially important to look for distinguishing characteristics in individuals to keep track of them. Many of the birds (especially juveniles) will start the trip across only to turn around and return to the point. This can go on all day, which begs the question: “How do counters keep from counting these birds multiple times?” Every Hawkwatch has a counting protocol specific to the site. The protocol takes into account such activities to keep the data consistent from year to year. For Whitefish Pt., one example of protocol is with Buteos (ex. Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, etc.) They are tallied at the end of the day as the greatest number seen in a given hour. For more information on possible Hawkwatch sites near you, check out

Dark Morph, Red-tailed Hawk by Josh Haas

Josh Haas

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2 Responses to “The 17.5 Mile Journey”

  1. melissa says:

    Have you seen any banded raptors?

  2. Josh Haas says:

    From time to time, banded Raptors do pass by count sites. At Whitefish Pt. each spring, they band migrant Raptors there as well.