Waterbird migration routes studied across lake
Do waterbirds have specific migration “routes” across Lake Superior? Yes, it seems they do. Various people have been working to document those routes over the last few decades. There appear to be narrow bands across Lake Superior, where, during the right season, hundreds and even thousands of waterbirds pass by in a single day. On October 6 in 2009, more than 3,000 waterbirds were seen passing by Manitou Island’s eastern tip, heading southeast.
In general, waterbirds (loons, grebes and ducks) will be moving north in the spring and south in the fall. But many species that nest in Manitoba and northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, and spend the winter along the Georgia and Florida coastlines, will be moving on more of a northwest and southeast migration route. The place with the largest movement of waterbirds in both spring and fall seems to be Whitefish Point in the eastern Upper Peninsula where the Bird Observatory there has been documenting migration since the late 1980s. Here in the Keweenaw, the late Laurence Binford discovered and documented a large migration moving eastward along the north shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Across the lake, north of Isle Royale, a group has been monitoring migration in and out of Thunder Bay each year. The Manitou Island Bird Survey has done significant work piecing together the exact routes that waterbirds take during their migrations. Besides Manitou Island itself, the survey has been to Porphyry Island, Outer Island of the Apostles, Michipicoten Island, Battle Island and Isle Royale, to gather data on migrating waterbirds.
It seems these birds are using islands and the tips of peninsulas as navigational points as they move generally north and south. At Manitou in fall, birders first noticed birds coming from the west––that made sense because Binford had seen the major movement of birds eastward along the peninsula. So the flow of birds we saw going eastward were pretty clearly the same movement.
But at Manitou, birders also saw birds that seemed to be coming from the north-northwest. The two flows of birds seemed to merge to the east of Manitou, and all birds seemed to continue toward the southeast. It seems likely these birds would pass by Whitefish Point in a few hours, but no one knows for sure. Where were those birds from the north-northwest coming from? Isle Royale? The people at Thunder Cape Bird Observatory on Thunder Bay say their fall waterbirds are last seen flying eastward. With a little map study, it seems those Thunder Cape birds must fly east to the gap between Isle Royale and Passage Island and then turn south-southeast and cross the big lake to their next navigation point––Manitou Island. In a fall trip to Blake Point at Isle Royale’s northeast tip in 2009, I saw hundreds of birds moving south-southeast toward Manitou, and many seemed to be coming from Thunder Cape.
This year, the Manitou Island Bird Survey will be sending people out to Isle Royale’s northeast end for more waterbird surveys in both spring and fall. Copper Country Audubon members and board have allocated $2,000.00 to hire a paid counter for two weeks each in the spring and fall. That counter will be at Blake Point on Isle Royale. A volunteer will be across the water gap at Passage Island for one week in spring and fall. From previous surveys, the society’s members are quite sure Blake Point is the place to see the largest migration, but the far northeast end of Passage Island also needs to be checked.
Binford recorded data from 1986 through 1999, but he never spent a whole migration season documenting the birds. The fall waterbird migration season stretches from late July into December––quite a span of time. Whitefish Point has conducted three-month waterbird counts, from mid-August to mid-November. In the fall of 2014, a project is planned with a paid counter documenting the Keweenaw fall waterbird migration during the same three months as Whitefish Point. This project will be similar to the Keweenaw Raptor Survey where a paid counter will cover the entire migration season. The exact site hasn’t been selected yet, but it will be along the Keweenaw shoreline near Copper Harbor. This project will continue the work begun by Binford and provide a direct comparison to the number of birds seen at Whitefish Point. The project will be funded by Copper Country Audubon and donations to the Manitou Island Bird Survey.
May also marks the Keweenaw Migratory Bird Festival in Copper Harbor. In early May, raptor migration spurs the Brockway Mountain Hawk Watch, and warblers also are arriving. May 11 is International Migratory Bird Day, and to honor the celebration, the Northwoods Wildlife Center will present a program on birds of prey, and a dinner and photography show is planned. Throughout May, warblers, songbirds and waterbirds are active, and the month caps off with a bird survey presentation May 25 and a field trip May 26 to the Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary.
A trail map and schedule is available with more information at www.copperharborbirding.org/festival.html
Charter boat captain gets ready for summer on the lake
Nobody in Marquette is looking forward to spring and open water on Lake Superior more than Captain John Tomczyk of Daybreak Charters. Since 2009, Tomczyk and his wife Jamie have operated the Marquette-based charter fishing business. With more than twenty years of Great Lakes fishing experience, Tomczyk, a graduate of NMU’s Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management program, is a seasoned charter boat captain.
He started out working as a mate with a local charter company in 2002. In 2005, Tomczyk successfully acquired his 100-ton Master Captain’s license from the United States Coast Guard. He also has a Michigan Inland Waters Guide license from the Michigan DNR.
John and Jamie both grew up in Livonia (Michigan) but did not meet until they came to Marquette to attend Northern Michigan University. John focused on conservation and Outdoor Recreation while Jamie completed a degree in psychology. The pair married in 2007, and since 2009, have developed a business catering to people looking forward to fishing Lakes Michigan and Superior. Fishing is their livelihood, but both Tomczyks are Marquette and U.P. boosters of the first degree.
“We love to take people out on a charter or sightseeing cruise, but even more, we like to show off all the Marquette area and U.P. have to offer,” says John.
Their charter boat is a 27-foot Tiara Pursuit named Relentless. The boat has twin V-8 inboard engines and a 10-foot beam allowing customers to travel in comfort and safety. Relentless has an enclosed cabin that comfortably seats five, so they can get out of the weather if conditions are less than desirable.
“She was built in Michigan and designed for fishing the open waters of the Great Lakes,” says John. “I really wouldn’t want to take people out on Lake Superior in anything that isn’t as seaworthy as Relentless.”
Jamie proudly added the craft has a full-sized bathroom and fresh water sink to help make trips out on the big lakes comfortable for everyone. A cabin refrigerator can keep drinks and snacks cool. For the catch of the day, Daybreak Charters has a 180-quart cooler that will keep fish on ice for the entire trip.
“I absolutely love what I do, and look forward to every day on the water. I believe in that adage, ‘A bad day on the water is better than the best day on land.’ I love to help people enjoy the Great Lakes, whether they are on a sightseeing tour or fishing. Our business is often one of firsts. For many people, I am the first person to take them out on Lake Superior or Lake Michigan. I may be the first person to take them out fishing, and for some, I am the captain when they catch their first big fish,” says John.
“I promise our customers I will use all of my knowledge, skills and equipment to ensure they have a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure with Daybreak Charters,” says John. To insure this, the Tomczyks charge by the trip, not by the person. They do not mix charter customer groups, so a customer arranges his or her own charter with people they select. This generally guarantees a successful voyage for a group with shared goals and interests. Trips range from two to ten hours depending on what the customer wants to do, and a group of five, or six if children are included, is optimum.
“We give each customer our full attention,” says John. “We want to make sure that they have a good time, so we work with them to develop a trip that will be what they want.”
Although a day on the water with customers may be six or eight hours, Jamie and John put in more time. “In reality, the fishing is about twenty percent of the job. We spend about two hours before each charter getting the equipment ready and once we return to the dock, we clean the boat, refuel, get ready for the next charter and perform maintenance on any gear that needs repair. If customers catch fish, which we hope they do, we also clean and package the fish.”
Relentless is docked at Marquette’s Lower Harbor Marina in slip 32. The visibility and traffic in Mattson Lower Harbor Park generates customers for the charter service.
“The visibility of Lower Harbor, and the fish cleaning station, help our business,” says John.
The Marquette Convention and Visitors Bureau also has helped the pair publicize their fishing and tour business. Their client list includes people from Canada, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, Iowa, California and everywhere in between. About seventy-five percent of their customers come for a fishing charter, but many are staying in the Marquette area or visiting in the U.P. before or after their charter. Repeat customers and recommendations from former customers are the company’s best advertising.
Daybreak Charters operates seven days a week, weather permitting, from mid-May through October. The weather and conditions on Lake Superior dictate the charter season more than anything else. About sixty percent of their customers come from outside of the U.P. Many of these customers are attracted to the area by the reputation of Stannard Rock and the huge lake trout that inhabit the remote reef forty-four miles due north of Marquette. Stannard Rock is the ultimate Lake Superior fishing adventure. The Michigan state record lake trout weighing sixty-one pounds, eight ounces was caught in that area in 1997. During the summer of 2012, two customers of Daybreak Charters landed a thirty-four-pound and thirty-five-pound lake trout. The fish took the No. 2 and No. 3 spots for the largest fish recorded in Michigan’s Master Angler book for 2012.
Tomczyk says lake trout and coho salmon are available in Lake Superior year-round, as well as brown trout and steelhead. Spring and fall fishing offer the biggest variety of fish with the late summer and fall being the best for near-shore fishing in the Marquette area. Michigan DNR regulations limit each charter customer to five fish per licensed person. Only one lake trout over thirty-four inches can be kept per person.
He quotes fish biologists who say the lake trout in Lake Superior grow an average of one pound each year of their lives.
“Stannard Rock Lake Trout in excess of thirty pounds are at least thirty years old, if not older. That is why I recommend that customers who catch one of those once-in-a-lifetime fish consider releasing it back into the waters of Lake Superior. This is not a requirement on my charters, but I like to encourage catch and release as much as I can. If an angler wants to keep a fish to be mounted by a taxidermist, I have no problem with that. The fish that are the best to eat are the small ones anyway, and we can usually catch plenty of those out there for the grill. Stannard Rock and Lake Superior offer such unique opportunities that the fishing pressure in the area has increased. I want to assure that future generations can enjoy all that Lake Superior has to offer, so I do all I can to protect it.”
For a change of pace, the pair moves Relentless to Manistique during July, so they can offer charter customers an opportunity to fish for king salmon and steelhead in Lake Michigan. This season often is booked even before the boat is in the water. In fact, their business has grown and customers are booking charters earlier each year, many times up to a year in advance. To ensure the best selection of dates, especially if you want a specific week or weekend, it is best to book as early as possible. Although John and Jamie can’t control the weather, they can suggest options in case the weather prohibits traveling far from shore.
“We are lucky that the Marquette area shoreline has deep water close to shore and also offers some shelter from bad weather. Customers can adjust their trip to stay in a protected area and still catch fish,” says John. Daybreak Charters also makes every effort to reschedule trips that are cancelled due to the weather.
The Michigan DNR has partnered with certified Michigan charter boat operators to allow a new program called “Catch and Cook.” This program certifies the captain to package the catch within four hours of returning to the dock and send it with the customer to a local restaurant for preparation. At this time, Daybreak Charters and the Portside Inn in Marquette have completed the required paperwork to qualify for this program.
“We are working with several other local restaurants to complete the certification process. We wanted to partner with restaurants that feature local fish on their menus, so we know that they will cook and serve the fish in a way that will provide the best dining experience for our customers,” says Jamie.
Catch and Cook works well for customers who travel in order to fish or do not have fish preparation facilities available to them in Marquette. They also work with Thill’s Fish House if customers want fish smoked or frozen for transport home. If customers are unable to take fish home with them, the Tomczyks make sure that any fish that has been caught does not go to waste.
Daybreak Charters is focused on fishing, but John and Jamie both enjoy offering a wide variety of sightseeing cruises. During these tours they can share beautiful and historic places located on Lake Superior. Tours are offered along the shore from Big Bay to Shot Point. Sights include the Granite Island Lighthouse, the local Marquette harbor, Granot Loma and the Huron Mountains. The views of these spectacular sights from Lake Superior can be arranged to last anywhere from two to eight hours. These trips make a nice corporate trip, family gathering, bachelor or bachelorette party, anniversary or birthday gift or to commemorate any other special event. Prices range from $200.00 to $700.00 depending on the duration of the trip.
Daybreak Charters is community-minded. Each year it hosts a trip for the Wounded Warriors in Action organization. As a way to honor the service of local veterans, the Tomczyks take them on a fishing trip at no cost.
“Thanking our vets is something that is very close to my heart and taking them fishing and showing them a good time is the least I can do,” says John.
They also have provided trips as prizes or fundraisers for community organizations like the Pigs N Heat charity hockey game in Marquette. John and Jamie also are active members of the South Shore Fishing Association.
Tomczyk wants his customers to enjoy the sights of the Great Lakes and find big fish, but he also has an eye toward safety. In addition to his captain’s license, he is certified as a first responder with CPR and first aid training. He is also certified as a wilderness first responder trained in wilderness search and rescue and first aid.
He is very proud of the fact the Relentless features state-of-the-art navigation and safety equipment. Two GPS chart plotters keep the boat on course while two SONAR units keep the boat on the fish. The RADAR system is interfaced with the dual chart plotters to assure the captain can see any dangers, especially in raining or foggy weather. The boat is equipped with a marine VHF radio to keep the vessel in contact with other vessels, and an auto-pilot system also helps Tomczyk stay on course.
The U.S. Coast Guard requires safety equipment on each commercial vessel, and charter boats are no exception. This gear is inspected every year by the Coast Guard. They require an automatic engine compartment fire suppression system, handheld fire extinguishers, life jackets outfitted with battery operated strobe lights, emergency medical kits, back-up portable GPS and VHF radios, flares, ring buoys, satellite phone and a E.P.I.R.B. (emergency position indicating radio beacon).
During the winter months, the Tomczyks operate Daybreak Plowing, which offers snow removal services. John loves to bow hunt for deer, and makes an annual trip to Canada in search of whitetails. Their family also includes two Siberian huskies, Timber and Koda, and an Alaskan malamute, Stormy. Jamie also is currently serving as president of the Marquette West Rotary Club.
Tomczyk credits his father with instilling in him a love of the outdoors, hunting and fishing. His philosophy about Daybreak Charters is borrowed from his father who said, “Achieving success is a great feeling, but helping others achieve success is the best feeling in the world.” His goal in life is to develop skills and a love of fishing in his customers, and to “Do everything I can to make sure you step off of our boat with a big smile and many great memories for the future.”
Information about Daybreak Charters is available at its website, www.daybreak fish.com or by contacting John and Jamie at 250-1052.