U.P. habitats provide many great surprises

“Spring flew swiftly by, and summer came; and if the village had been beautiful at first, it was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its richness. The great trees, which had looked shrunken and bare in the earlier months, had now burst into strong life and health; and stretching forth their green arms over the thirsty ground, converted open and naked spots into choice nooks, where was a deep and pleasant shade from which to look upon the wide prospect, steeped in sunshine, which lay stretched out beyond. The earth had donned her mantle of brightest green; and shed her richest perfumes abroad. It was the prime and vigour of the year; all things were glad and flourishing.” – Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

Summer ventured into its first 10 days with a fitting array of flowers, wilting heat, branch shearing winds, seedling pounding showers – just as it should. It continued its erratic path, bringing more than 2 inches of rain to many Upper Peninsula locations, truly greening up a land anxious again to have its thirst quenched.

Rocky areas north of Marquette are showing some promise for a good blueberry crop, good news for birds and bears, as well as people. Some of the first ripe berries have already appeared near the Wetmore Bog. The rains also brought many worms to the soil’s surface, providing additional food for robins and ring-belled gulls alike.

Last week it was noted here the amazing variety of biological communities found in the “north woods” – northern mixed forest of the U.P. Last week’s column looked at sandy outwash plains, leftovers from the Ice Age. Two wetlands areas also produce great habitats for U.P. birds. In the first, dense dark stands of black spruce occasionally surround northern sphagnum bogs. Bogs are also natural areas shaped by retreating glaciers. Hollows, like the area around the Wetmore Bog north of Marquette filled with water and developed a floating edge of plant life. One of the key plants in these floating mats is sphagnum moss. Decomposing moss releases tannic acid and creates highly acidic conditions limiting the type of plants able to grow there.

Black spruces and tamarack trees champion these locales creating boreal conditions favored by a number of species of warblers like Cape May and bay-breasted, Lincoln sparrows, yellow-bellied flycatchers, black-backed woodpeckers, spruce grouse and boreal chickadees. Several areas along the Peshekee Grade generally north of the entrance to the McCormick Tract Wilderness Area in western Marquette County are well known among birders for many of these boreal species.

The Cyr Swamp in southwestern Marquette County south of Gwinn is a slightly different type of wetland with some boggy areas mixed with areas of willow, alder and standing black waters lined with blue-flag-irises and filled in early summer months with lots of mosquitoes. Where Marquette County meets Dickinson County is the site of three converging areas. There communities of sphagnum bog and the western edge of the Cyr meet upland area of poplar, birch and maple, edges between them essentially double the variety of plants and their seeds, flowers, leaves, bark and all the animals they host providing a much larger array of food for wildlife. Recent rains have kept mosquito breeding pools well filled and illustrated with the huge welcoming committee currently present there to take blood donations.

Kates Grade and County Road 438 inscribe an “X” through a great area along the county border. This area contains several Michigan DNR wildlife areas called GEMs – Grouse Enhancement Management sites – zones managed for ruffed grouse by encouraging young forests with plenty of aspen. Ruffed grouse currently are being seen along roads in the area with good sized broods – sometimes eight or more fledged young.

The variety of habitats is reflected in the other birds currently being found in the area. Five different veerys were heard singing in a small area during the morning hours of June 25 and hermit thrushes were also common. Nashville, Cape May, black-throated green, blackburnian, black and white warblers, American redstarts, ovenbirds and northern waterthrushes were heard and seen there reflecting the wide diversity of habitats. Also seen and heard was a golden-winged warbler, a more elusive warbler found in areas with willows and standing water. While found sporadically across most of the U.P. and the northern Lower Peninsula only five confirmed and 22 probable nesting sites were found in the U.P. in the most recent Breeding Birds Atlas census. The most greatest activity was found in this area of the U.P. Other birds currently being seen there reflecting the array of habitats include indigo bunting, scarlet tanager, yellow-bellied flycatcher, purple finch, sedge and winter wren. Wandering the back roads of the U.P. can yield great surprises, so get out your maps and find a habitat that suits you.

Editor’s note: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.