Western Great Lakes: Spring 2021

Spring 2021: 1 Mar–31 May 

William Marengo

Sub-regional Compilers
Sunil Gopalan (Wisconsin), Andrew Simon (Michigan), Ethan Urban (Michigan) 

Recommended citation:

Marengo, W. 2021. Spring 2021: Western Great Lakes. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-brT> North American Birds.

Spring was a “Jekyll-and-Hyde” season. While waterfowl and shorebirds impressed, migrant passerines disappointed. The region had mild weather with steady northerly winds through the first half of May. This resulted in no fallout-inducing storms, to the disappointment of all. The most noteworthy species reported was a region first Arctic Loon from Lake Superior in northwestern Wisconsin. A Wilson’s Plover from Duluth, MN also added to the excitement. Note that many of the casual and accidental species have yet to be reviewed by the state’s records committees. This report will be updated accordingly as the committees review the records.

Abbreviations: CP (County Park), LP (Lower Peninsula, MI), RA (Recreation Area), SGA (State Game Area), SNA (Scientific Natural Area), SR (State Riverway), SWA (State Wildlife Area), UP (Upper Peninsula, MI), WTP (Wastewater Treatment Plant).

Waterfowl through Grouse

Throughout the region, waterfowl arrived slightly early and progressed with respectable numbers. Snow, Ross’s and Greater-white Fronted geese arrived the first week of March in west-central MN and in WI. Multiple reports of 10,000-plus Snow Geese came from MN’s renowned North Ottawa Impoundment, Grant Co with the third highest count ever recorded for MN at 21,870 on 7 Mar (Brian Bielfelt). In MI a Ross’s Goose lingered until 16 May at Lake Erie Metropark, Wayne Co (Jerry Jourdan, m.ob.). Greater-white Fronted Geese received dozens of reports in MN of over 1,000 individuals, topping out at season’s high count of 12,000 in Correll, Big Stone Co 13 Mar (Frank Fabbro, David House). Also lingering late in MI, an individual Cackling Goose stayed until 18 May at Lake Erie Metropark, Wayne Co (Paul Cypher, m.ob.).

Ducks also showed respectable numbers for the region with a handful of rarities. In WI eight regular species of ducks either matched or exceeded the number of counties reported over the past 10 years. WI produced the only Black-bellied Whistling Ducks for the region in four counties. This is higher than the one or two counties in the prior few years. The first was observed at Sheridan Park, Milwaukee Co 4 May (Katie Fisher) with a high count of four observed at Great River State Park Trail, Trempealeau, 30–31 May (Lisa Reid, Doug Stratton). Individual Cinnamon Teals appeared as follows: in MN at Everglade State WMA, Stevens Co 5 Apr (Rebecca Engdahl, Rob Freeman), Marsh Lake, Big Stone Co 5–10 Apr (Alex Sundvall, m.ob.), Lac Qui Parle Co 17 Apr (David Orr), Getchell Lake, Stearns Co 24–25 Apr (Bob Ellenbecker, m.ob.) and near Sangl State WMA, Jackson Co 25–26 Apr (Frank Fabbro, m.ob.). Eight Cinnamon Teal were reported in WI with the first at Lower Wisconsin SR, Sauk Co 4–26 Apr (Michael Herriot, m.ob.), and the latest coming from Peshtigo Harbor SWA, Marinette Co 2 May (Dale Leitzke), plus one at Nine Springs Natural Area, Dane Co 2 May (Nicole Nietlisbach). In MI one appeared at Martinique Island, Ottawa Co 20–24 Apr (Dave Herdegen, m.ob.). A count of 1,164 Northern Shovelers from Salt Lake, Lac Qui Parle Co 16 Apr set the highest spring total for MN (Richard Clearman).

WI reported Eurasian Wigeon from Kewaunee Co 23 Mar (Brian Reinke), from Lake Wisconsin, Columbia Co 3–7 Apr (m.ob.), and at Long Bridge, Bayfield, Ashland Co 10 Apr (Tim Oksiuta). MI added four Eurasian Wigeon reports where this species is casual: Ludington SP, Mason Co 5 Apr (Randy Dougherty), Wexford Co Apr 10–25 (Joseph Lipar, m.ob.), Grand Haven SGA, Ottawa Co 3–8 May (Cindy Dorbez, Eric Gustafson, Meg Sanders, Frank Shoyer, Emily Tronga, m.ob.) and Bay Co 26–30 Apr (Paul Revard). A MN record spring high count of 550 was set for American Wigeon at Blue Lake, Houston Co 28 Mar (Rebecca Engdahl, Rob Freeman). Continuing a pattern of large numbers, MN had multiple reports of 1,000 Northern Pintails from the North Ottawa Impoundment, Grant Co 27 Mar–5 Apr. This is only the fourth time the state has recorded numbers at this level for spring. MN recorded its third highest spring count of Greater Scaup in Duluth, St. Louis Co Apr 27 (Peder Svingen). MI recorded its highest Lesser Scaup total with 10,500 at Pointe Mouillee SGA, Monroe Co 10 Apr (Adam Byrne).

An overwintering King Eider was last seen in MI at Silver Beach, Berrien Co 4 Mar. Harlequin Ducks lingered until 31 May in MN at Duluth, St. Louis Co, and Two Harbors, Lake Co, and at WI Sheboygan Harbor, Sheboygan Co. In WI a Harlequin Duck was found at Frazier Point, Fond du Lac Co 3 Mar (Dave and Kerry Sehloff), well away from the Lake Michigan coast. Away from the Great Lakes, Surf Scoters were recorded in MN from the Armstrong Wetlands, Steele Co 11–15 May (Nick Rosen, Liz Harper), in WI at the Ferryville Overlook, Crawford Co 8 May (Dan Jackson), and in MI at the Waterloo RA 2 Apr (Ben Yeasting). White-winged Scoters appeared in MN from South Lindstrom Lake, Chisago Co Apr 18 (Erik Collins, Kimberly Emerson, John Hockema), and in WI around Lake Waubesa, Dane Co 5–19 Mar (m.ob.). Black Scoter was seen on Lake Monona, Dane Co 25–26 Apr (m.ob.). Long-tailed Ducks were reported in MN from Lake Byllesby, Dakota and Goodhue Cos 22–29 Mar (Paul E. Jantscher, m.ob.), from the International Falls WTP, Koochiching Co May 28 (Dedrick Benz, Andrew Nyhus), in WI from Buffalo City, Buffalo Co 4 Mar (Scott Mehus), and throughout the interior of MI’s Lower Peninsula. Noteworthy in MI was a Barrow’s Goldeneye in Ottawa Co 1 Mar (Dave Herdegen). Ruddy Ducks added a final significant total with a MN second highest spring count of 1,463 at Timm Lake, Yellow Medicine Co (Garrett Wee).

Sharp-tailed Grouse were reported from 22 MN counties, the most in more than 10 years, with an unusual report from the extreme southwest part of the state at Pipestone 10 Apr (Daniel Guerin). Gray Partridge in MN were reported from 25 counties, also the most reported in more than 10 years. Spruce Grouse were reported from their usual areas in north-central and northeast MN, in Forest Co in northwestern WI, and in the usual areas in MI’s Upper Peninsula. Greater Prairie Chickens were in their usual areas in northwest MN and in four central WI counties.

Grebes through Loons

Red-necked Grebes were reported from 70 MN counties, the most in more than 10 years. While common in MN and WI, Eurasian Collared-doves continue to be scarce in MI except for their presence in Berrien Co. A Black Rail heard and seen at Rice Lake, Lino Lakes, Anoka Co 29–31 May (Ann and Amanda Hertzel, m.ob.), would be the third for MN If accepted by the MN records committee. One of the two super highlights of the season was the region’s first Limpkin, discovered at Paul Hugo Farms WMA, Washington Co on 30 May (Ezra and Isaac Hosch). This is the most northerly report of a Limpkin on record. See the forthcoming summer report for updates as this bird continues to be sighted through the summer.

Shorebird migration in the region was described as “exceptional.” Shorebirds were widespread, in high numbers, appeared earlier than normal and included many rarities. Both MN and WI had 20 regular species of shorebirds that either matched or exceeded the number of counties reported over the past 10 years. Still listed as casual in MN, Black-necked Stilts continued their increasing trend in the state with 11 individuals in 10 counties, including a record early report from High Island Lake, Sibley Co 10 Apr (Bob Williams, m.ob.). Casual in MI as well, Black-necked Stilts tell a similar tale of increasing frequency, and were recorded in three counties. MN Avocets were widespread with reports from 49 counties, the most in more than 30 years, while in MI they were recorded from six counties, along with a state record high count of 113 individuals at the Erie Marsh Preserve, Monroe Co 27 Apr (Bruce Arnold). A region high count of 1,600 Black-bellied Plovers was documented at the Fish Point SWA, Tuscola Co, MI (Monica Essenmacher). An interesting observation is that American Golden-Plovers occur with greater numbers in the western part of the region, while in the eastern part of the region, Black-bellied Plovers hold this distinction. MI recorded its first-ever March record of American Golden Plover at Pointe Mouillee, Monroe Co (Brian Beauchene). Away from their expected locations along the Great Lakes shoreline, Piping Plovers were documented from four inland MN locations: Lake Byllesby, Dakota and Goodhue counties 24–25 April (Dave Bartkey, m.ob.), Bird Island WTP, Renville Co 1 May (Doug Kieser, m.ob.), Armstrong Wetlands Restoration, Steele Co 15 May (Liz Harper), and Marsh Lake, Big Stone Co 16 May (Joel Claus).

The region’s most significant shorebird rarity and MN’s fourth state record, all from the same general location, a Wilson’s Plover graced Duluth’s Park Point, St. Louis Co 14–16 May (Ted Keyel, m.ob.). Also away from the Great Lakes shoreline, Whimbrels made appearances inland, with seven reports from MN including a state record high count of 96 near Madelia, Watonwan Co 25 May (Adilyn and Andrew Krenz, m.ob.), one from WI, and three from MI. Record early Hudsonian Godwits appeared in MN at Yellow Medicine Co 3 Apr, and Lyon Co 4 Apr (both by Garrett Wee). Also in MN, Marbled Godwits tied record early arrivals: south in Lac Qui Parle Co 7 Apr (Doug Pierzina), and north in Polk Co 7 Apr (Sandy Aubol). Ruddy Turnstones reported record early arrivals south in MN from Curtis Lake, Yellow Medicine Co 27 Apr (Douglas Mayo) and north in MN from the impressive North Ottawa Impoundment, Grant 1 May (Charlene Nelson). They were also documented with the second highest MN spring total of 60 at Curtis Lake, Yellow Medicine Co 24 May (William Marengo).

Casual in MN, Red Knots generated four reports: Clarkfield WTP, Yellow Medicine Co 1 May (Susan Barnes Elliott, Liz Harper), Pennington Co 22 May (Alex Burchard, Brad Abendroth), Knife River, Lake Co 27 May (Mark Junghans, m.ob.), and Duluth, St. Louis Co 31 May (Frank Nicoletti). Two Ruffs appeared in WI with one at the Horicon NWR, Dodge Co 27 Apr (David Schrab, Jay Watson) and the second in Walworth Co 2 May (m.ob.). MI reported a Ruff at Whitefish Point, Chippewa Co 21–23 May (Alec Olivier, m.ob.), providing a first county and third UP record. A Pectoral Sandpiper from Freeborn Co 12 March (Paul Jantscher) was an early record for MN. From Jan-Jun, Baird’s Sandpipers are a review species in MI; one was documented at Pointe Mouillee SGA, Monroe Co 10–11 Apr (Adam Byrne, m.ob.). Western Sandpipers put in two appearances in the region: three individuals were observed at WI’s Cat Island Causeway, Brown Co 9 May (Tom Prestby, Paul Chilke, Jay Watson), and a one-day wonder appeared at MI’s Erie Marsh Preserve, Monroe Co 28 Apr (Geoff Malsoh, m.ob.). A record-early MI Solitary Sandpiper was recorded from West Leroy, Calhoun Co 31 March (Dale Kennedy). While MI’s Willet numbers were average this year, a surprising 150 individuals were found at Pointe Mouillee, Monroe Co 27 Apr (Aneil Shah). Completing the shorebird round-up, phalaropes were reported as follows: above average numbers of Wilson’s Phalaropes were reported in MN, with 79 counties being the most in more than 10 years; in MI, where it is a scarce but regular migrant, they were found in no fewer than 25 counties, with a record high total of 24 individuals from the Sturgeon River Slough, Baraga Co 17 May (Skye Haas, Gary Palmer). Red-necked Phalaropes appeared in 34 MN counties, the most in more than 10 years. Lastly, a single Red Phalarope, only the fourth spring record for MN, was discovered at the Browerville WTP, Todd Co 27 May (Ben Fritchman, m.ob.).

Parasitic Jaegers appeared on schedule and in their usual places this year, first appearing at MN’s Duluth’s Park Point, St. Louis Co 15 May; at Wisconsin Point, Douglas Co 19 May; and MI’s Whitefish Point 30 May. A high count of five was recorded at Wisconsin Point on 30 May (Nick Anich, Ian Davies). A few Little Gulls usually are found along the Great Lakes shoreline during the spring, with this year providing at least five records. Noteworthy was one inland record found in Kalamazoo Co 12 Apr (Todd Alfes, m.ob.). The region’s other noteworthy gull sightings all came from WI, beginning with Laughing Gulls reported from the McKinley and Veterans Park Breakwall, Milwaukee Co 3 May (Brad Bumgardner, Nicholas Sly), then again in Ozaukee Co 20 May (Jim Frank, Thomas Wood). Casual in WI, Mew Gull was reported at Harvey-Wangsness wetland, Columbia Co 3 Apr (Neil Gilbert, Sam Jolly). If accepted, this would be WI’s first record since 2008. Also casual, California Gull was recorded from Wisconsin Point’s Allouez Bay, Douglas Co 22 Mar (Michael Hendrickson, Robbye Johnson, Peder Svingen). Another casual species, Slaty-backed Gull was reported from Ashland Co 26 Mar (Tim Oksiuta). The region’s sixth Royal Tern put in an appearance for MI at Grand Haven, Ottawa Co 24 May (Jim Markham, m.ob.). It remained for a full day, allowing many individuals to see it—as compared to the state’s first record, which appeared for five minutes and was only seen by two individuals! Away from the Great Lakes, Red-throated Loons were found in MN at Little Rock Lake, Benton Co 23–28 May (Herb Dingmann, m.ob.) and Lake Byllesby, Dakota and Goodhue Cos 28–30 Apr (Andy Forbes, m.ob.), and in MI at Laingsburg, Shiawassee 8 Apr (Nate Kauffman) and at the Muskegon Wastewater System, Muskegon Co 29 May (James Fyfe, Steve Minard). The region’s first documented Arctic Loon was an incredible inland record from Herbster, Bayfield Co 31 May (Betsy Bartelt, Ryan Brady, Tim Oksiuta, m.ob.).

Herons through Falcons

For the third consecutive year, what is presumed to be the same individual Neotropic Cormorant appeared in MN at Richfield Lake, Richfield, Hennepin Co 24 Apr (Bruce Fall, m.ob.) and continued throughout the summer. In MI the state’s seventh and eighth record Neotropic Cormorants were seen as follows: a fly-by in Monroe Co 28 Apr (Adam Byrne, Scott Terry) and in Lake St. Clair Metropark, Macomb Co 8 May (Brendon Kick, m.ob.) that continued into the summer and paired with a second individual. This constitutes the state’s first breeding record. An American White Pelican was reported record-early in MI at Pointe Mouillee SGA, Monroe Co 13 Mar (m.ob.). A Little Blue Heron was in Muskegon Co, MI 14-30 Apr (Jim and Tracy Zervos, m.ob.). Two Tri-colored Herons appeared in MI at Nayanquing Point SWA, Bay Co 17–29 Apr (Joe Sopsich, m.ob.) and in WI in Door Co 22 May (Deb Ford, m.ob.). A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron appeared in Washtenaw Co, MI 31 May (Bruce Moorman, m.ob.). Glossy Ibis appeared in WI at the Horicon Marsh SWA, Dodge Co 10 May (Jim Frank) and in MN at the Armstrong Wetlands Restoration, Steele Co 14 May (Paul E. Jantscher), as well as at Lake Maria, Stearns 14 May (Jim Hughes, m.ob.). Surpassing both states, MI had at least nine reports of Glossy Ibis from eight Lower Peninsula counties. White-faced Ibis were reported in much higher numbers than average, with MN reports from 23 counties, the most ever reported in the spring season. MI had reports from at least seven counties, and reports of White-faced Ibis came from five WI counties.

Hawks provided little of note for the region. A single Black Vulture appeared in WI in Brown Co 8–9 May (Tom Prestby, Jay Watson). Black Vultures are being found with increasing frequency in MI, with this year tallying reports from five counties—including one taking up residence in Oakland Co at the Detroit Zoo for the second year in a row. Mississippi Kites, casual in MI and MN, put in single observer fly-bys in MN at Garvin Park, Lyon Co 22 May (Nolan Meyer) and in MI at Chelsea, Washtenaw 23 May (Russell Ryan). Casual in WI, a single Swainson’s Hawk was observed at the Crex Sand Prairie SNA, Burnett Co 28 May (Steve Collins, Russ Ruffing). In MI, Swainsons are rare but regular at the state’s hawk watch sites. They were reported this spring from Mackinaw Straits, Saugatuck Dunes SP, and Port Crescent hawk watches. In general, raptor migration counts from the region’s main hawk watch sites were mixed. Duluth’s West Skyline Hawk Count had it lowest total count of raptors per observer-hour ever. In MI Whitefish Point reported 14,192 raptors for the spring, which nearly matches the 10-year average of 14,076, while the Mackinaw City totals at 67,919 were well above the 10-year average of 46,378.

Only three noteworthy owl reports came from the region, the first being a deceased Barn Owl found in Price Co, WI 20 Apr (Derek Johnson); WI’s 15th state record of a Burrowing Owl at the Cat Island Causeway, Brown Co 24–25 Apr (Demetri Lafkas, Tom Prestby, m.ob.); and a rare spring record of a Great Gray Owl well south of its normal range, from Washington Co, MN 4–23 Apr (m.ob.). MN’s over-wintering Lewis’s Woodpecker lingered until 30 Apr in Lake Alexander, Morrison Co. American Three-toed Woodpeckers were reported at two locations, from MN’s Lake of the Woods and St. Louis Cos. Black-backed Woodpeckers were found in their usual areas in north-central and northeast MN, as well as MI’s Upper Peninsula. Barely regular in MN, a Prairie Falcon flew by the Bethany Hawk Watch, Blue Earth Co 16 Apr.

Flycatchers through Pipits

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers appeared in Aitkin Co, MN 7–11 May (m.ob.), and Grand Marais, Alger Co 2–13 May (Sherry Stiles, m.ob.). Barely regular in MN, a Say’s Phoebe made four appearances: Rothsay WMA, Wilkin Co 30 Apr (Paul L. Johnson); Big Stone NWR, Lac Qui Parle Co 2 May (Trey and Beth Weaver); Ortonville, Big Stone Co 8–12 May (m.ob.); and at the Felton Prairie area, Clay Co 24 May (m.ob.). Loggerhead Shrikes had an average showing in MI and WI with four and two reports respectively. MN, however, had widespread reports from 26 counties, the most recorded in more than 10 years. A White-eyed Vireo, still casual in MN, appeared at Spring Lake Park, Dakota Co 6 May (Brad Abendroth, m.ob.). Mainly a western species and casual in MI, a Bell’s Vireo returned for the third straight year to the same wood lot in Benton Harbor, Berrien Co (m.ob.).

A single Black-billed Magpie flew by Whitefish Point, Chippewa Co 3 Apr (Richard Couse, Darrell Lawson) for Michigan’s 13th state record. In MI Fish Crows are isolated to the extreme southeast in the town of Three Oaks, Berrien Co. As many as 10 were observed here 2 Apr (Michael Bowen, Ross Green), when typically only two to five are present. Boreal Chickadees were reported from their usual areas in north-central and northeast MN, as well as from their typical haunt in Marquette Co, MI. The only WI report was of a single individual at Wisconsin Point, Douglas Co. Tufted Titmouse wandered away from its normal southeast MN range and appeared at the Morton Outcrops SNA, Renville Co 29 Mar (Kyle TePoel), Sherburne NWR, Sherburne Co 23 May (Jocelyn Kuo, Molly Misfeldt, Michael W. Sack) and Watonwan Co 24 May (Andrew Krenz). Carolina Wrens were reported from 11 MN counties, the most in more than 10 years. Reflecting the decline from the severe winter weather, Eastern Bluebirds were reported in 10%–15% fewer counties than the 10-year average. MN’s hardy Mountain Bluebird was last seen at Lake Como, Ramsey Co 6 Mar (Neil Skoog) after a complete winter stay. Varied Thrush lingered late in the region from Wright Co, MN 4 Mar (Rob Freeman, Rebecca Engdahl), and in Kent Co, MI 24 Mar. Uncommon this far south in MN, a Bohemian Waxwing was spotted at Swan Lake CP, McLeod Co 7 Mar (Brennan Roy). Eurasian Tree Sparrows are being reported in MI with increasing frequency. One noteworthy sighting was a record early arrival at Whitefish Point, Chippewa Co 23 Mar. In MN they were reported from five counties, the most in more than 10 years.

Finches through Dickcissel

A Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch made a brief appearance at a residential feeder in Kasota, LeSueur Co, MN 10 Mar (Pat Shortall). MI set a record daily high count of 1,878 Purple Finches from Whitefish Point, Chippewa 1 May. For the first time ever, there were no spring records of Chestnut-collared Longspurs in MN. This species is essentially extirpated from the region now that they no longer occur in their traditional nesting area. Smith’s Longspurs were reported from five southwest MN counties from 6 Apr–13 May. Casual in WI, a single Smith’s Longspur was reported from Dane Co Apr 10–12 (m.ob.). A Golden-crowned Sparrow appeared in WI’s Chippewa Co 30 Apr–1 May (Pamela Hoyland, Janet Swartz-Myrman), and in Charlevoix Co, MI 29 Apr (Suzanne Muma). WI also reported three Spotted Towhees with the first ones at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, Dane Co 1 Mar–19 Apr (Cynthia Carlson), at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, Ozaukee Co 1 Mar (Jim Frank), and lastly from Greenfield Park, Milwaukee Co 4 Mar–28 Apr (Brian Kozak). A handful of Harris’s Sparrows occur in MI every spring, and this year was typical, with two reports from residential feeders in Grand Rapids, Kent Co 14 May (m.ob.) and Manistee, Manistee Co 6 May (Brian Allen). A mist netted Yellow-breasted Chat from Itasca SP, Clearwater Co 16 May provided MN’s only report this season, where it is regular but rare. Western Meadowlark is a rare-regular visitor in spring to MI and appeared in five counties, with two of the birds continuing into the summer.

In what many consider the poorest showing of migration in recent memory, only a few notable warbler reports came from this spring. Still casual in MN but approaching regular status, Yellow-throated Warblers were reported as follows: Frontenac SP, Goodhue Co 3–19 May (Tayt A. Eide, m.ob.); Reno, Houston Co 3–23 May (m.ob.), where this is most likely a returning bird from last year; Reservoir Woods Park, Ramsey Co 6–8 May (Bob Dunlap, m.ob.); Carlos Avery WMA, Chisago 16 May (Bob Dunlap); and Lake Mille Lacs, Crow Wing Co 18 May (John Hockema, Kimberly Emerson). A single Black-throated Gray Warbler was found in WI at Lake Park, Milwaukee Co 19 May (m.ob.). Casual in MI, a Western Tanager put in a one-day appearance at a feeder in Montcalm Co 30 Apr (Alexander Sabol). This species is rare but regular in MN and WI, where there were a more typical four and three sightings respectively. A review species in MI, Blue Grosbeaks were reported from three counties. This species is expected to be removed from the state review list in 2022. Painted Bunting is casual in MN, where one appeared at the Carleton College Cowling Arboretum, Rice Co 22 May (Tina Gandy, m.ob.). Rare but regular in MI they put in three appearances at Iosco Co 11–12 May (m.ob.), Cheboygan Co 17–18 May, and Grand Marais, Alger Co 23 May (Scott Hickman).

Report processed by Randi Minetor, 16 Sep 2021.

Photos–Western Great Lakes: Spring 2021

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