See what nature has cooked up for you
“By all these lovely tokens September days are here, With summer’s best of weather And autumn’s best of cheer.” – Helen Hunt Jackson
Weather continues to be the story, not only across the Upper Peninsula, but across the entire country. Fires, forest fire smoke in the upper atmosphere, unseasonable temperatures, hurricanes and flooding will all continue to have effects on wildlife in the U.P. Some will be small, some seasonably normal, some may have huge effects.
To the north of Lake Superior, forest fires continue near Nipigon and other localities north of Thunder Bay. The fires, over 100 in northwest Ontario, have resulted in large amounts of smoke pouring over the U.P., mostly as high level haze.
In the book Polarized Light and Polarization Vision in Animal Sciences, edited by Gabor Horvath, the results of several studies of the effects of smoke in the air and its effects on animals are reported. For animals like insects and birds, the polarization pattern of sky light is important for orientation for flying and navigating. Particles of dust and smoke, water and aerosol molecules in the atmosphere scatter light in certain directions depending on the position of the sun in the sky. Many animals are able to discern the direction of the light to help them with their daily and seasonable movements. Patterns are caused by the scattering of light of smaller amounts of smoke can disorient or confuse animals, causing them to fly shorter distances or misdirecting their flight. When large amounts of smoke from fires are present, they can actually reduce the desire for animals to migrate, putting them in danger of the effects of the fires. The boreal forest where these fires are occurring is the summer home to many wood warblers, thrushes and other current visiting migrants.
It is always difficult to assess the effects of unseasonable temperatures of an entire summer-early fall immediately. While some plant production and populations of aquatic invertebrates may have been impacted by cooler temperatures, little research provides immediate information on its effects on birdlife here this summer. When hawk and waterbird counts conclude this fall some information may be available to provide a look at overall numbers from this area and areas to the north. Currently, migration times seem to be fairly consistent with historical times.
Hurricanes often have interesting effects on Gulf Coast birds. Occasionally they are blown far off course, occasionally, during the hurricane peaks and even after these low pressure systems come ashore as tropical storms or depressions. They sometimes drive birds far enough north to reach the Great Lakes, delivering pelagic, ocean going birds and birds living along the ocean coast far from their homes. Adding to the confusion, the extensive flooding from Hurricane Harvey will definitely displace many birds from the Gulf region sending them in many directions. Birders across most of the eastern U.S. will be looking for these displaced birds.
Birding in the U.P. has again been quiet in the days leading up to Hurricane Harvey. In Marquette sanderlings, least sandpipers, semipalmated plovers and a buff-breasted sandpiper were seen at the mouth of the Dead River or the Lower Harbor breakwall. The cooler, wetter days have provided slightly better diversity. Also, the increasing absence of peregrine falcons at the Presque Isle power station has also made it easier for sandpipers and plovers to linger at the mouth of the Dead River to rest, preen and feed, and for birders to see them.
One notable bird seen in Chocolay Township recently was a long-eared owl. A birder driving on a forest road watched it as it took off from a tree and flew along the road a short way before disappearing. Long-eared owls are occasionally seen in the U.P., mostly during migration. Whitefish Point is one of the best places to see them, especially in spring, but in late summer they do appear to follow the Lake Superior shoreline through the Marquette area.
In Baraga a red knot, semipalmated plovers, Baird’s sandpipers and sanderlings were seen on August 27. At Whitefish Point waterbird migration has slowed, but two good species, Hudsonian godwit and a stilt sandpiper were seen on August 29. A counter there also observed good numbers of warblers and red crossbill and their first American pipits of the year.
Small mixed flocks of warblers are still moving through the area often in the company of red-breasted nuthatches, a species that did seem to have a particularly good year in the Lake Superior region. They have been regular visitors at some feeders in Marquette recently.
A few birds are still being heard singing around the central U.P. Cardinals and mourning doves were both heard August 28 in Marquette. Robins and thrushes are beginning to gravitate toward mountain ash trees in the area too. Fruits are nearly ripe, now bright orange and as these species either get ready to leave or are migrating through, the fruits provide a good carbohydrate load for them. Rose-breasted grosbeaks are still being seen at feeders, also fattening up for impending departures.
With a long weekend ahead, it is a great time to get out and see what Nature has cooked up to go with your bar-be-que, so get out and see what’s cooking!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.