Shorebirds abound over coming weeks

A brown thrasher sits in front of a flower bed. (Scot Stewart photo)

“Relax or run — August offers a frustrating dilemma as it harbors the last few weeks of true summer, but as September peeks around the corner, August seems to say go and get ready to get back into those old routines. I will have to put my feet up and think about it for a while.”

– Anonymous

Many in the Upper Peninsula think the area is still due at least four or five weeks of warm summer days and September will just have to wait. But for Nature, the signs continue to keep up with the times. Last week’s rain and wind suggested October, not September. Along the roadway edges, the goldenrod buds grow daily, bringing their yellow glow soon. Cicadas call through their busy summer days. Several of these nearly two-inch long, stubby insects living along the bike path on Lakeshore Blvd. near East Crescent Street, are regulars, and dependable to hear in the warmth of the day with their long buzzy sounds.

Young birds continue to put on shows across the U.P. There is nothing like a few relaxing hours picking berries as an array of wildlife sing, feed, trot or fly past, to make for a memorable day in the woods. A family of spruce grouse made an appearance last Friday near a couple of blueberry pickers and later the pair of birders was treated to a family of osprey on a small lake near K.I. Sawyer. Few birders get an opportunity to see a spruce grouse in the U.P., they are birds most often found in jack pine-red pine-spruce stands in just a few isolated areas, so to see an entire family is a great treat few get to witness.

A one feeding station on the east side of Marquette had a great diversity of birds and birds with families present the past week. Sunflower feeders hosted house and American goldfinches, black-capped chickadee, a common grackle, rose-breasted and evening grosbeak families. The best part of the latter is having both species at the feeders at the same time and adult males visiting with the young. Males are not often with the young in late summer. Small insects attacking a basswood tree in the area drew an interesting flock of Nashville and Cape May warblers, who did stop to take a bath after working through the sticky leaves. A Baltimore oriole worked through the tree too. Several ruby-throated hummingbirds were also bouncing through the basswood looking for insects but also checking flower buds to see if they were opening.

Scot Stewart

Basswood trees produce beautiful smelling white flower clusters in August. The flowers are full of nectar and attract lots of pollinators like butterflies and bees, as well as the hummingbirds. People often collect and dry the flowers to make a sweet tea.

The same feeding station also drew hairy and downy woodpeckers, white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches, chipping and song sparrow families, a brown thrasher family and a house wren. Robins have been through also using the bird bath and checking the ripening mountain ash berries, so it would appear the landscaping for birds and the bird bath have added great extra attractions for the birds.

Elsewhere in Marquette, peregrine and merlin families continue to hunt on the north end of town, a late family of phoebes, young yellow-bellied sapsuckers, rose-breasted grosbeaks were seen along the Dead River and a mourning dove was heard singing on the east side too.

A birder in Manistique was delighted to finally find a juvenile red-headed woodpecker in an area where he had seen two adults frequently this summer. He has suspected they had nested there but finally got his proof last week when a juvenile bird was seen with one of the adults.

Red-headed woodpeckers have become rare nesters in the Upper Peninsula in the past two decades so a single nesting pair raises a high level of excitement here.

Fall migration has been difficult to follow lately, except at Whitefish Point in Chippewa County. A birder there recently posted a report illustrating the diversity, if not the volume of species of waterbirds currently southbound. Large numbers (298) of red-necked grebes were seen during a three-hour watch at the point Aug. 5 and a smaller number of least sandpipers (35) was also noted. The rest, a horned grebe, three semipalmated plovers, spotted, semipalmated, pectoral, white-rumped sandpipers, a black tern, a pair of Bonaparte’s gulls, and three common loons were also recorded in the day’s totals.

There are no recent reports from birders checking the Lower Harbor breakwall in Marquette, but there have been some shorebirds there after most low pressure systems or rains have passed through the area. With the regular patrols of the city’s falcons, it has been difficult for resting sandpipers and plovers to stop or feed anywhere else along the Lake Superior shore.

The next month will be a great time to see that great diversity of shorebirds in the area and Whitefish Point is one of the best places to see it.

Soon there will be a waterbird counter there daily to monitor bird movements and provide some help birders looking for rarities or just trying to identify distant birds on the wing. So, make a trip down there — you won’t be disappointed.

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