With August comes many bird sightings
“August is the month of the high-sailing hawks. The hen hawk is the most noticeable. He likes the haze and calm of these long, warm days. He is a bird of leisure and seems always at his ease. How beautiful and majestic are his movements!” – John Burroughs
The hen hawk is known today as the red-tailed hawk, a buteo hawk, large, with wide wings and a broad tail. Commonly found soaring over open areas it searches for rabbits, mice, snakes, birds and other prey animals.
They have been seen more and more across the Upper Peninsula this summer, but they will migrate south, with most wintered below the snow line in the central U.S. It is not the only hawk looking for food now though as most hawks, eagles and falcons have fledged their young and are all hunting until fall migration come for them.
A smaller hawk, a sharp-shin, was seen on July 31 studying the birds at a feeding station near the Park Cemetery. An uncommon hawk in the city, it was an exciting find, but it was unable to grab its lunch at the feeders.
Merlins, the smallest falcons in the area, can be heard regularly on Presque Isle, having nested in the big white pines near the band shell. They will be sticking around through late fall, maybe even overwintering, and will be feeding on small birds like warblers, sparrows and thrushes, but occasionally event chasing, sometimes successfully, larger birds like mourning doves. American kestrels have nested in Marquette this summer too but sightings of them have been few since their young have fledged along the Dead River.
Peregrines perch near their nest sites across the Upper Peninsula looking for unwary birds — young ones, migrants newly arrived, tired from long flights and just careless ones, intent on finding their own meal. The nest site at the power plant next to the Dead River is still a popular roosting site for peregrines, now several weeks past the fledging of the young there. Birders have been watching two pairs in Marquette and two more in the Copper Country this summer.
This continued presence of peregrine falcons at the mouth of the Dead River has made it difficult for shorebirds to stop, rest and forage for long. Over the recent stretch of warm, clear and relative still weather, most shorebirds seen along the Lake Superior shoreline seemed to be continuing on without stopping.
Checks of the Lower Harbor breakwall turned up few birds after several flocks were seen at McCarty Cove July 30. One flock of eight sandpipers and a second flock of two were seen. Two Baird’s sandpipers were seen later in the evening on the lower portion of the concrete, and later moved up above as walker numbers on the breakwall diminished.
Grosbeaks have made a splash around Marquette this past week with two different species appearing at some feeders within minutes of each other. On July 31, a quartet of evening grosbeaks arrived at a feeder station. It included an adult pair and two juveniles. They spent more than an hour feeding on black-oil sunflower seeds then headed to large maple trees nearby.
They spent some time on their return gritting in a driveway, collecting sand and small pebbles to aid digestion. The grit works with muscles in the gizzards to help grind up seeds. Then the grosbeaks returned to feed briefly at the feeders. A simultaneous arrival of a robin, mourning dove and a northern flicker at feeders and birdbaths chased the grosbeaks off.
Within minutes, a pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks, an adult female and immature, arrived at the feeders. They spent around fifteen minutes sparring over positions at a circular feeder while eating before leaving. The following day the evening grosbeaks were back at the feeders again, easy to find with their deep rolling calls. The rose-breasted grosbeaks are also easy to find with their single sharp note like sounding like a rusty gate opening.
There are plenty of young birds just about everywhere. At Boston Pond near Calumet and at Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Schoolcraft County there are young loons following their parents and at the MDNR Arnheim Unit 4 wildlife area and Seney there are young trumpeter swans.
Grackles are beginning to bunch up with young and are among the first to leave the area in late summer. Some have been working lawns in residential areas with families of European starlings. Many of these young birds currently being seen have just graduated from being fed by their parents to feeding on their own.
That is true for song sparrows, house finches and even ruby-throated hummingbirds at the feeders and the previously mentioned water birds. For nearly all of these it is a race to learn the skills and grow up fast enough to be ready to survive winter or migrate to warmer regions.
For hummingbirds it is particularly important, getting carbohydrates from nectar and sugar water feeders, but also insects to obtain the protein needed to continue to grow and get their winter plumage. They will find small insects like aphids and scales insects and spiders sitting on branches or if they are adept enough catch them on the wing.
So get out with some kids and see the new kids.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.