What’s flying: Summer arrives not a minute too late
“Each day the sun shone, the birds lingered, though the trees were turning, purely out of habit, and their rose and yellow and rust looked strange and beautiful above the brilliant green grass.”
– Elizabeth Enright
Summer, glorious summer. It finally arrived, and not a minute too late! Will the birds actually linger though — probably not. Just the same. there is great weather to begin seeing more of them off. The arrival of the latest wave of warm, summer weather is not far from seasonable averages, but certainly welcome to Upper Peninsula residents.
A good vagrant in transit was found at the neck of Presque Isle on Sept. 9. In a small flock of sparrows, a lark sparrow was found. Normally found to the south in southern Wisconsin and farther west, single lark sparrows occasionally turn up in the Upper Peninsula during spring and fall migrations. These pale sparrows are characterized by sharp chestnut-colored steaks on the top and sides of their head, and black spots at the base of their beaks and one on their chests. On way to help identify them is that while foraging on the ground they walk unlike other sparows, rather than hop.
Also in the small flock seen around the community garden and MooseWood Nature Center was a pair of savannah sparrows and an early juvenile white-crowned sparrow. Most white-crowned sparrows are Arctic or northern Rocky Mountain residents, but many migrate through the Upper Peninsula in spring and fall between their northern range and most of the southern U.S. This one is early.
An even better sighting came the day before, Sept. 8, on the Stonington Peninsula, northeast of Hunter’s Point, in Delta County. Birders there were watching, counting and marveling over a flight of broad-winged hawks. More that 2,000 broad-wings were counted as they poured southward. They have one of the most concentrated routes south, eventually following the eastern edge of Mexico on their fall trip. According to Hawk Watch International, more than 2 million broad-wings fly along a narrow pathway to the southern two thirds of Central America and northern South America.
The huge surprise though, was an anhinga, seen flying overhead to briefly join some of the hawks before disappearing. Anhingas are also called water turkeys, due to their appearance as they swim underwater hunting fish. They have long, spear-like bills and jab fish, impaling them, before rising back to the water’s surface to eat them. Like cormorants, their feathers lack the oil needed to waterproof them, allowing them to dive more easily. However, them must take time after fishing to dry their feathers to fly efficiently, usually by perching and spreading their wings in the sun.
Songbirds are also on the move. The number of blue jays in the central U.P. has definitely increased in the past two weeks, becoming very visible in the Marquette and the Peshekee Grade areas. At Presque Isle palm and myrtle warblers were also seen last Saturday and a Connecticut Warbler was spotted there several days before. Most of the migrant warblers are working though spruces and other trees where they are foraging for insects.
At Whitefish Point duck, common loon and red-necked grebe and duck migration has been picking up the past week. Greater scaup, redhead and blue-winged teals all are coming through in double digit numbers daily as of Sept. 12. Shorebird numbers are dropping, but both American golden and black-bellied plovers are currently being seen at the point. They are later migrators and will be seen from time to time through mid-October. Peregrines are again being seen perched in the nesting box at the power plant at Presque Isle in Marquette perhaps chasing shorebirds at the Dead River mouth, but with the clear, calm weather this past week, many migrants will continue on without stopping.
Smoke remains a big part of U.P. skies as forest fires continue in northwestern Ontario. Eleven new fires were reported in that area Sept.11-12, and the risk of new fires there remains high. The Ontario winter finch report should be released soon with two local factors sure to be influence what northern visitors come here in large numbers. Mountain ash fruits continue to look promising, but if western Marquette County is any indication, poor spruce cone crops will definitely limit crossbills. Two red crossbills were seen at Whitefish Point Sept.12, but most will probably move quickly through the area this winter.
Thrush migration is beginning too, although numbers are still low. A Swainson’s thrush was spotted on the east side of Marquette and after an absence of several weeks, a robin was seen in the same area near well fruited mountain ash trees. Some lingering species seen in the same area include brown thrashers and rose-breasted grosbeaks, feeding alongside American goldfinches, purple finches, house finches and chickadees. Large numbers of pine siskins are also being seen at some area feeders.
Turkey vultures have also been very visible in west Marquette, Ishpeming and Champion. They have been seen close to U.S. 41. They will be heading out of the area around the end of the month. In western Marquette County, there are some spectacular colors beginning to appear along the Peshekee Grade as the fall season shifts into high gear, so birders should head out too.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.