Western Great Lakes: Spring 2023

Spring 2023: 1 Mar–31 May

William Marengo

Recommended citation:

Marengo, W. 2023. Spring 2023: Western Great Lakes. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-gFg> North American Birds.

Spring produced two new regional records, one first state record plus the usual bevy of rarities. Otherwise the migration was typical. 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.

Sub-regional Compilers

Sunil Gopalan (Wisconsin), Andrew Simon (Michigan), Ethan Urban (Michigan)

Abbreviations: C.P. (County Park), L.P. (Lower Peninsula, MI), N.L. (National Lakeshore), N.W.R. (National Wildlife Refuge), R.A. (Recreation Area), S.G.A. (State Game Area), S.N.A. (Scientific/State Natural Area), S.P. (State Park), S.R. (State Riverway), S.W.A. (State Wildlife Area), Twsp. (Township), U.P. (Upper Peninsula, MI), W.P.A. (Waterfowl Production Area), W.T.P. (Wastewater Treatment Plant).

Waterfowl through Grouse

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks made three appearances in the region beginning in WI with a pair at Norwegian Roads Wetlands, Waukesha Co 17 Apr (Mark Greulich). Another appeared in MI near Ann Arbor, Washtenaw Co 28 Apr (Kimberly Ellis) with the last again from WI at the Sauk City Lagoons, Sauk Co 10–12 May (m.ob.). Migrant geese, Snow, Ross’s and Greater White-fronted, appeared in normal numbers and distribution throughout the region. The region’s first Pink-footed Goose turned up in MI’s Grand Traverse Co 9–11 Apr (Ed Kaminski, m.ob.).  Tundra Swans put in an impressive showing in MI with reports from 69 counties with a high count of 1,188 from Sanilac Co. Otherwise they appeared in normal numbers and distribution in the region. Cinnamon Teal also appeared in good numbers with the first in MI from Shiawassee NWR, Saginaw Co 2–25 Apr (Christoph Benning, m.ob.), the second from WI at Cottonville Court Marsh, Waushara Co 16 Apr–30 May (m.ob.) and lastly MN provided reports from eight counties, the most in over 20 years for the Gopher State.

Eurasian Wigeon had numerous reports with four, four and two respectively from MI, WI and MN. A single Tufted Duck appeared in both MN and WI waters at Park Point Recreation Area, St. Louis Co 12 May (Neil Gilbert, Sue Barton, Peder Svingen) and later at Wisconsin Point, Douglas Co 14 May (Larry and Jan Kraemer). This represents the third record for each state. Harlequin Ducks were well represented in MI and WI with reports from 10 and five counties respectively. Unusual for MI and MN were single inland records: MI’s continued from the winter at Waterworks Park, Washtenaw Co last reported 15 Apr and MN’s at Interstate SP, Chisago Co 4 Mar (Peter Nichols, Dana Sterner). MI showed increased reports of Surf, White-winged and Black scoters while reports from WI and MN were average. Noteworthy was a record high season count of 5,429 Long-tailed Ducks from MI’s Whitefish Point, Chippewa Co.

Spruce Grouse were reported from their normal range in the UP and along the counties bordering Canada in MN. None were reported from WI. Sharp-tailed Grouse maintained their presence in the eastern UP, with the majority of reports from eastern Chippewa Co while in MN had reports from 15 counties in the northwest, north-central and northeast. Encouraging was a report of a lek of seven birds southwest MN at the Mound Spring Prairie SNA, Yellow Medicine Co 4 May (Michael Oetken, John Schladweiler). None were reported from WI. Greater Prairie-Chickens were in their normal areas in northwest MN and in WI’s Portage Co. Gray Partridge were reported from 28 southern and western MN counties, the most in over 10 years.

Grebes through Shorebirds

Casual in MI, a Western Grebe appeared in White City Park, Houghton Co 5–6 May (Brenden Leddy, m.ob.). Just barely regular in MN, a Clark’s Grebe was found amongst the dozens of Westerns on Lake Osakis, Douglas Co 27 May (Wayne Perala). MI provided a White-winged Dove at Whitefish Point on 12–13 Apr (Sue Kurtz, m.ob.). Chuck-will’s-widows were briefly present in WI Dane Co 6 May (Andy Paulios) and in MN Olmstead Co 30 May (Scott Gruwell). Yellow Rails were documented in normal numbers and range with reports from three, eight and five counties in MI, WI and MN respectively. The lone Limpkin report came from MN in Watonwan Co 31 May (Rachel Ann Hillsheim, m.ob) and continued into the summer season. Sandhill Cranes continue to do well in the region with each state generating reports from nearly every county.

Black-necked Stilts continue to increase in the region with MN providing reports from 13 counties, the most ever for spring. This species will go to regular status in MN with the next species review in 2024. Piping Plovers maintained their stronghold in MI with reports from 14 counties. They were unreported in WI. In MN they were present at Morris Pt on Lake of the Woods which is the only known breeding site in the state. Upland Sandpipers were widely distributed in above average numbers in MI and WI while MN had typical numbers in their usual range. Whimbrels were reported in below average numbers from MI yet Pte. Mouillee SGA, Monroe Co provided a season high count of 327. Elsewhere they were in average numbers. Red Knots did well in MI with reports from 12 counties. They were reported from six counties in WI and had two reports from MN. Casual in all three states, Ruffs made appearances in MI at Shiawassee NWR, Saginaw Co 14–30 Apr (Ryan Dziedzic, Mark Sak); in WI Dane Co 19 Apr (Spike Millington), Jefferson Co on 23 Apr (m.ob.) and 11 May (Aaron Stutz), in Racine Co 12 May (m.ob.), and at Powell Marsh SWA, Vilas Co 28–29 May (Matthew Cook, Matt Schuler, Chucky Wensel). Meanwhile in MN, one was recorded at the Albany WTP, Stearns Co 12 May (Phil Chu, m.ob.).

Jaegers through Ibis

Parasitic Jaegers are infrequent spring visitors to the Great Lakes. The region’s only report came from Whitefish Pt., Chippewa Co 11 May. Little Gulls were found in seven MI counties, three WI and one MN county. Noteworthy were two inland reports for this normally coastal species. A Ross’s Gull was discovered at Wisconsin Point, Douglas Co, WI 31 May (Peder Svingen, m.ob.) where it also was observed in MN waters. This is the second state record for WI and the fifth for MN. Laughing Gulls were reported from three MI and five WI counties. Each state has this species as rare-regular. The region’s lone California Gull appeared in MN’s Clay Co 24 Apr (Tim Lamey). Iceland Gulls appeared in 17 MI counties with a noteworthy late date of 27 May. While in WI they were numerous along the Lake Michigan coast and interior to Madison. In MN they were found in their normal areas of the Twin Cities and at locations along Lake Superior’s North Shore. MI documented Lesser Black-backed Gulls in a significant 33 counties with Wayne Co holding high concentrations. In WI they were concentrated along the Lake Michigan coast and near Madison while MN had reports from 15 counties, nearly double the 10 year average and the most in over 20 years.

Two Slaty-backed Gulls appeared in MI: the first in Kent Co 11 Mar (James Markham, m.ob.) and the second at the Muskegon WTP, Muskegon Co 18–27 Mar (Alec Olivier, Morgan Waller, m.ob.). Glaucous Gulls were found mainly along the coasts with scattered interior reports. Sanilac Co continues to be the dominant area in MI for this species. Greater Black-backed Gulls followed a similar distribution with reports along the coasts and only a few scattered interior reports. The region’s lone Least Tern came from MI at Grass Bay Preserve, Cheboygan Co 26 May (Jack and Oliver Kew). A single Arctic Tern was discovered amongst a group of Common Terns at Duluth MN’s Park Point Recreation Area, St. Louis Co 25 May (Peder Svingen). MN recorded the most Red-throated Loons in over 10 years with many inland reports. A noteworthy count of 115 was documented from Duluth’s Park Point Recreation Area, St. Louis Co 3 May. Rare in the region during spring two Pacific Loons were observed. The first at MI’s Whitefish Point, Chippewa Co 2–3 May (m.ob.) and the other from MN at Lake Nakomis, Hennepin Co 22 May continuing into June (m.ob.).

In MI Neotropic Cormorants returned to Lake St. Clair Metropark, Macomb Co 13 Apr where they again nested and continued to summer. They also appeared at the Erie Marsh Preserve, Monroe Co 19 Apr–6 May (Karl Overman, m.ob.). They were also reported in WI from the Chiwaukee Prairie SNA, Kenosha Co 23 Apr (Aaron Holschbach). Snowy Egret reports in MI were average except for an out-of-range individual in Mackinac Co of the UP. WI had reports from six counties while MN doubled their 10 year average with reports from 16 counties. Two Little Blue Herons appeared in MI with the first from Leelenau Co 19–28 Apr (Leonard Graff, m.ob.) followed by another from Pte. Mouillee SGA, Monroe Co 22 Apr–6 May (Bruce Arnold, m.ob). A Tricolored Heron was found at the Lake St. Clair Metropark, Macomb Co 29 May and continued to summer (Mary Trombley, m.ob.). Cattle Egrets were in average numbers with reports from four, six and 12 counties respectively for MI, WI and MN. Black-crowned Night Herons were reported in above average numbers for all states with MN showing a 50% increase in counties reported. This was especially important in MN where the species has suffered significant declines over the decades. Two Glossy Ibises were discovered in WI in Door Co 13 May (Sue Ascher, Mark Korducki) and presumably one of the pair was relocated on the other side of Green Bay in Marinette Co 16–19 May (Ethan Hoag, m.ob.). Meanwhile in MN, three Glossy Ibis were reported as follows: from the Woodstock WMA, Lyon Co 23 Apr (Valerie Klumper, Dianna Hensley), at a wetland straddling both Lyon and Yellow Medicine Cos 29 Apr (Garrett Wee) and in Murray Co 1 May (Kimberly Emerson). White-faced Ibis went unreported in MI and WI had only two reports. But continuing a trend of recent influxes from the past two years, MN reported them from 31 counties which is double the 10 year average.

Hawks through Falcons

Rare-regular in MI individual Black Vultures were sighted in Mason Co, Alpena Co, at the Mackinac Straits Hawk Watch, Emmet Co and at Whitefish Point, Chippewa Co. They are casual in MN where one was spotted at Forestville SP, Fillmore Co 22 May (Todd Mitchell). A Mississippi Kite was documented at MI’s Whitefish Point, Chippewa Co 29 May (Jim Markham, m.ob.) while MN reported two: Wilkin Co, 17 May (Trey Weaver) and the second a day later at Shakopee Lake County Park, Chippewa Co 18 May (Doug Kieser, Howard Towle). Casual for WI, a lone Swainson’s Hawk was found in both Dane and Columbia Cos 13 May (Tyler Beames, m.ob.). Only two were documented in MI while they were numerous in MN where they nest in the western area of the state.  The region boasts three premier hawk monitoring sites: in MI, Mackinac Straits and Whitefish Point and MN’s Hawk Ridge. All three sites reported season raptor totals over the 10 year average. Mackinac Straits had an impressive season total of 79,826 raptors including counts of 167 Northern Harriers, 2,305 Sharp-shinned hawks, 49,255 Broad-winged Hawks, 82 American Kestrels and 50 Merlins, all the most since 2011. Whitefish Point counted 859 Turkey Vultures, the highest since 1979.

The region’s lone Barn Owl report came from a road-kill specimen in MN Houston Co 5 May (Karla Bloem), an area where sightings have been increasing in recent years. Snowy Owls numbers were well below average for the region. Only three Northern Hawk Owls were reported from northern MN. Two Burrowing Owls made appearances in MN: one was located after a chance conversation with a farmer in Brown Co 23 Apr (Brian Smith, m.ob.) and in Fairbault Co 24–26 (Wayne Feder, Kimberly Emerson, m.ob.). Great Gray Owls were only reported from MN in their traditional areas of Aitkin and St. Louis Cos. The region’s lone Boreal Owl report came from MN Lake Co 14 Apr. American Three-toed Woodpeckers were reported from three counties along the MN-Canada border which is typical. Black-backed Woodpeckers were reported from their normal areas in MI’s UP, one report from Oconto Co, WI and in six counties along the MN-Canada border with record high numbers in recent burn areas. Only one Prairie Falcon was reported from Pine Ridge Park, Grant Co 11 Apr (Dan Belgum).

Flycatchers through Thrushes

Individual Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were recorded as follows: In MI Mackinac Co 16–17 May (Greg Chapman, Oliver Kew, Scott Castelein); in WI Green Lake Co 20 May (Mary Guell) and at the Peninsula SP, Door Co 21 May (Sue Ascher, Jayson Giese); in MN Grey Cloud Dunes SNA, Washington Co 28–30 May (Gregory Nelson, m.ob.). MI birders turned up two Fork-tailed Flycatchers. The first was at Ludington SP, Mason Co 11 May (Nolan Kerr, m.ob.) and the second at Pte. Mouillee SGA, Monroe Co 26 May (Adam Byrne). Two distinct Says Phoebes were located in MI at Platte Point, Benzie Co 6 & 9–10 May (David Kane, m.ob.) while another turned up in Crawford Co 30 May (Bob Plohr). WI documented Say’s Phoebes in Bayfield Co 27 Apr (Erik Olson) and Ashland Co 3 May (Nick Anich) while it increased its presence in MN with individuals recorded in five counties. A Vermilion Flycatcher was recorded in Macomb Co 15 May (Brandon Aho, m.ob.).

Casual in MN White-eyed Vireos were found in Lincoln Co 15 May (Dalton Spencer) and in Blue Mounds SP, Rock Co (Adam Dudley, m.ob.). MI had a Bell’s Vireo at Whitefish Point 11 May (m.ob.). Loggerhead Shrikes were accounted for in 10 MI and 20 MN counties, both above average. Away from their normal haunt in MI’s Berrien Co, a single Fish Crow turned up in Muskegon Co. Boreal Chickadees were found in their normal areas in MI’s UP and in northern MN while WI reported individuals from Wisconsin Point, Douglas Co and Bark Point, Bayfield Co. A fortunate birder photographed a Rock Wren in MN’s Grant Co 13 Apr (Paula Perdoni). MN’s sixth Curve-billed Thrasher turned up in Big Stone Co 19–22 Apr (Curt Vacek, m.ob.). Mountain Bluebirds were recorded in all three states as follows: from MI in Sanilac Co 2 Apr (Ryan Trayner), in WI’s Cat Island Causeway, Brown Co 30 Apr (Demetri Lafkas) and in MN Clay Co 28 Apr (Tucker Lutter, m.ob.). Townsend’s Solitaires and Varied Thrushes were reported in their usual low numbers in the region.

Old World Sparrows through Buntings

Eurasian Tree Sparrows continue expanding in the region with reports from eight, 12 and nine counties respectively from MI, WI and MN. MN recorded its 10th Brambling at a residential feeder in Pine Co 23–25 Apr (Charles Huber). Evening Grosbeaks appeared in excellent numbers while Pine Grosbeaks numbers were average or below average in the region. Common Redpoll numbers were also average to below average and, correspondingly, Hoary Redpolls were absent except for a few March records from MN in the Sax-Zim area. Red Crossbills had above average numbers from MI (15 counties) and from WI while MN’s numbers were normal from the northern two-thirds of the state. White-winged Crossbills reports were unexceptional in this non-invasion year.

Casual in MI two Smith’s Longspurs appeared just north of the Indiana state line and lingered over two weeks in Berrien Co 21 Apr 21–7 May (m.ob.). A few Smith’s Longspurs typically occur annually in southern WI. This year they were reported from Sauk Co 16 Apr (Cicero Stewart, m.ob.) and Rock Co 22 Apr (Steve Theissen, m.ob.). In MN they were reported from 10 counties, double the 10 year average, in the southwest and south-central portion of the state. Lark Bunting made two appearances starting with an adult male in residential Duluth, St. Louis Co, MN 21 May (David Grosshuesch, m.ob.) then a female in WI Bayfield Co 22 May (Ben Baldwin). LeConte’s Sparrows had below average reports in MI being reported only from the eastern UP while WI only had a few reports from eight counties. In MN they were widespread in migration coming from 31 counties, an average number. Nelson’s Sparrow reports were low as usual with none from MI, two from WI and four from MN.

Casual in MN, a Worm-eating Warbler lingered in the MN River Valley NWR, Hennepin 1–8 May (Tim Stuck, m.ob.). MN’s long overdue Swainson’s Warbler was discovered at Arden Park, Hennepin Co 29 Apr–2 May (Jeremy Cushman, m.ob.) and was viewed by hundreds. Casual in MN, a Kentucky Warbler stayed at the Wood Lake Nature Center, Hennepin Co 8–15 May (Steve Carlson, m.ob.). Kirtland Warbler reports were slightly above average in MI from 14 counties being concentrated in Iosco and Crawford counties. Yellow-throated Warbler appeared again in MN at the Reno Recreation Area, Houston Co. This is the same location where one has occurred since 2020. Two others also appeared in the state at Pine Bend Bluffs SNA, Dakota Co 22 Apr–17 May (Todd Mitchell, m.ob.) and also at Sucker Lake, Ramsey Co 15 May into summer (Yasushi Nakagawa, m.ob.). MN also logged an individual Prairie Warbler in Ramsey Co 17–19 May (Jennifer Miller, m.ob.). Hermit Warbler put in two short appearances in MN. The first was from Duluth’s Park Point Recreation Area, St. Louis Co 6 May (Peder Svingen) followed by another from Ramsey Co 9 May (Carl Ebeling). These are the third and fourth state records. Continuing the parade of rare warblers, WI logged a Black-throated Gray Warbler at Wind Point, Racine Co 29 Apr (Sue Kulinski, m.ob.). Additionally, a third state record Painted Redstart was discovered at Spring Green Preserve, Sauk Co 23 Apr (Ashley Olah, m.ob.). An unprecedented regional first was a Flame-colored Tanager found in and around Sheridan Park, Milwaukee Co 29 Apr–3 May (Doug Crofton, m.ob). Blue Grosbeaks continued their increasing presence in southern MI with reports from five counties. MN tallied a Lazuli Bunting in Ramsey Co 11 May (Dana Sterner). Lastly, the region’s only Painted Bunting appeared in MN’s Rasmussen Woods, Blue Earth Co 7–9 May (Karl Roe, m.ob.).

Report processed by Eric DeFonso, 14 Jan 2024.

Photos–Western Great Lakes: Spring 2023

Wisconsin provided a regional first with this Flame-colored Tanager. It was originally misidentified on its first day 29 Apr 2023 at Sheridan Park, Milwaukee Co. But further review of photos corrected the identification. Here it is photographed on 2 May. It lingered until 3 May. Photo © Nat Carmichael.

Minnesota’s long overdue Swainson’s Warbler was found and photographed here in a residential park in Edina, Hennepin Co on 29 Apr 2023. It lingered until 2 May allowing hundreds of birders the opportunity to view it. Photo © Jeremy Cushman.

Minnesota’s sixth Curve-billed Thrasher showed up in Big Stone Co just east of the South Dakota border. It was photographed here on the first day of its discovery, 19 Apr 2023 and was last seen on the 22nd. Photo © Curt Vacek.

One of two Fork-tailed Flycatchers that appeared in Michigan, this one at Pte. Mouillee SGA was present one day on 26 May 2023. Photo © Brian Beauchene.

This Tufted Duck provided Minnesota and Wisconsin each with their fourth record. It was first discovered along the Park Point Recreation Area in St. Louis Co on 12 May 2023 when this photo was taken. It was subsequently relocated on 14 May along Wisconsin Point, Douglas Co when it was last seen. Photo © Neil Gilbert.

This Black-throated Gray Warbler appeared one day on 29 Apr 2023 at Wisconsin’s Wind Point in Racine Co. Photo © Susan Kulinski.

Another terrific western find was this Painted Redstart at Wisconsin’s Spring Green Preserve in Sauk Co. It showed up on 23 Apr 2023 and lingered through the 26th when this photo was taken. Photo © Lesley Haven.

This Least Tern, the first in nearly a decade for Michigan, was present for one day, 27 May 2023 at the Grass Bay Preserve in Cheboygan Co. Photo © Jack Kew.

On 2 May 2023 this Vermilion Flycatcher turned up in Michigan’s Macomb Co when this photograph was taken. It lingered through 6 May. Photo © Andrew Simon.

An alert birder noticed this Rock Wren signing on top of a nearby barn while scoping waterfowl in Grant Co, Minnesota on 13 Apr 2023. It stayed for about three minutes and was never seen again. Photo © Paula Perdoni.

A Tricolored Heron appeared on 29 May 2023 at Michigan’s Lake St. Clair Metropark, here photographed on the 31st, and lingered until 2 Jun. Photo © Isaac Polanski.

For one night, 6 May 2023, this Chuck-will’s-widow was present at the Indian Mound Conservation Park in Dane Co, Wisconsin. Photo © Cynthia Bridge.