What’s flying: Enjoy the beauty of summer, nature

A yellow-bellied flycatcher perches on a tree branch. (Scot Stewart)

“Summer is the annual permission slip to be lazy. To do nothing and have it count for something. To lie in the grass and count the stars. To sit on a branch and study the clouds.” — Regina Brett

Summer is the time most people find at least a few moments to squeeze in a picnic, a trip to the beach, a barbecue, and sometimes even a whole vacation to relax and take it easy for at least a few moments. It is a time to take stock of what is here for the summer and what is changing.

Summer is winding down apparently for some birds. Several least sandpipers have been found along the Lake Superior shoreline in Marquette and Munising. In the Chicago area birders use July 1 as the date to judge if Arctic nesting birds, like sandpipers and plovers, seen there are still trying to make their way north, or are done for the season and are headed back to their winter range. Two days after seeing the least sandpipers in the area, 9 to 10 were found in Chicago — on July 1 — and a single least and one pectoral sandpiper were even seen two days before. So “fall” migration may be underway!

Several areas in the U.P. have some great birding for those looking for great diversity and some special birds. The Carp River-Morgan Falls Trail of County Road 553 starting at the ski hill is one of them. The trail offers great views of deep valleys, often on both sides of the trail, just north of the Carp River. The mixed forest contains both quaking and bigtooth aspen, hemlocks, yellow birch, sugar and red maples, and with the rains this spring the understory is filled with ferns, wildflowers like clintonia and lots of mushrooms. Fungi are growing on the ground and on the sides of dead wood. At one site, a dead tree fallen and carved out by a pileated woodpecker, provided a slightly different look at their work.

The birds reflect the forest diversity, with winter wrens, black-throated green warblers, American redstarts, eastern wood pewees, veeries and a scarlet tanager been among the more vocal birds heard there recently. A redstart nest found nest the trail appeared to have fallen victim to a recent storm, with the bottom of it caught in a branch below the top half. Sadly, the female was still attempting to bring food to its now missing young.

Scot Stewart

Another great area for bird diversity is one with a wide range of plant communities. Located on County Road 438 around 5 miles west of County Road 557 and 5 miles south of Gwinn, Ross’s Grade (south of 438) and Kate’s Grade (north of 438) cuts across the county road and slices through a wide range of different landscapes. There are a number of “GEMs,” grouse enhanced management sites along County Road 438 just east of the grades, with walking trails for hikers in the spring, summer and winter, and for hunters in fall.

These areas provide great habitats for birds like ruffed grouse, indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, sandhill cranes, common ravens, veeries and broad-winged hawks, species preferring mixed forests of conifer and broad-leaved trees. Some of these openings extend to the grades too.

Along the grades there are lots of wetlands, pools, creeks and wet areas and their important edges, home to plenty of warblers, like golden-winged, Nashville, American redstarts, northern parula, pine, ovenbirds, northern waterthrushes and common yellowthroats. These are still very vocal, but there are more nesting there in smaller numbers. Yellow-bellied flycatchers, blue-headed and red-eyed vireos, are songsters in the upper canopy. Hermit thrushes and white-throated and swamp sparrows sing below them.

Farther off the grades are some communities of eastern tamarack, black spruces and true sphagnum bogs — a more boreal habitat. A few black-backed woodpeckers can be heard working under the bark of dying and newly dead trees, drumming and calling. Some purple finches and evening grosbeaks can be found working through the treetops of these and other trees looking for seeds and then in the roadway “gritting.” These birds pick up grit, small pebbles and large grains of sand to use in their gizzards to help digest seeds. A single female evening grosbeak was seen with a family of six purple finches last Monday right at the intersection of the grades and 438 gritting. They spent an extended time, perhaps 20 minutes, collecting the digestive aid before being frightened off by a passing car.

Lots of wetlands do come with challenges in the U.P. — biting insects. No-see-ums, mosquitoes and blackflies continue there but are less of a nuisance as the day progresses and heat increases. A few ticks are also present in the grass alongside the road. But other insects are also present — like the gorgeous elderberry longhorn beetle, 1 1/2 inches long, iridescent blue with a gold band across its thorax (middle), it is striking! Roses there are still blooming, and joe-pie-weed and turtlehead, two tall wildflowers, blooming soon.

Taking time to look at all that nature, in its amazing variety, provides even the casual observer an incredible view. It really does not allow the curious much chance to be lazy. Unless you simply want to feel the sun on your skin, smell the aroma of summer and feel the freedom of being immersed in the beauty, and in some ways, the simplicity of nature.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.