2017 ends with plenty of action at feeders

A snowy owl looks on. (Scot Stewart photo)

“Every tomorrow is an outcome of what I do today, and the beauty of it all is that today is happening all the time.” – Craig D. Lounsbrough

“Each age has deemed the new-born year the fittest time for festal cheer.” – Walter Scott

It went really fast, didn’t it? 2017 seems like a blur, filled with so much business every day. The news every day just kept coming to fill any small perceived gaps that appeared. Luckily there is nature! The end of the year seems a bit like it’s beginning, with a bushel of snowy owls. The very beginning of the year found more than half a dozen south of the Soo in Chippewa County. This winter a number of them are being found in Marquette. Three or four were found during the Christmas Bird Count two weeks ago. As two were seen in the same neighborhood at different times, it was not certain if it was the same birds. Sixteen were also counted at Whitefish Point this fall.

Snowy owls provided some amazing interactions too. A pair were seen tussling on the beach at Whitefish Point and another got into a confrontation with a bald eagle at the mouth of the AuTrain River over a merganser it was trying to eat. The owl did fend off the eagle to keep its meal.

Early January 2017 also saw large flocks of bohemian waxwings in the Upper Peninsula. Four to five hundred waxwings were seen feeding in the crab apples. Large flocks disappeared as food supplies dwindled.

Spring migration at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory provided plenty of excitement with its day to day observations, and its rarities. Dunlins appeared in good numbers this fall, as they did in Marquette too. Pacific loon loons made appearances there in both spring and fall and also in Munising in fall.

Other spring surprises included a Townsend’s solitaire, Eurasian tree sparrows, a really late slaty-backed gull, a western Swainson’s hawk, lots of rarer (for the area) white-rumped sandpipers, a white-winged dove and its second ever golden-crowned sparrow. Three other extremely exciting observations for the Whitefish Point area were a neotropical cormorant, a first for Michigan shiny cowbird and the second ever for Michigan, garganey at the mouth of the Tahquamenon River. The shiny cowbird range extends from southern Florida, through the Caribbean to South America. The garganey is a Eurasian species. The Point is continuing to prove it is one the best in the central U.S. for birding

The fall migration at Whitefish Point also brought some wonderful rarities to the area. The Point’s first tropical kingbird showed up as did a Say’s phoebe, vermillion flycatcher, Pacific loon, and its third loggerhead shrike. In the end over 109,000 birds were counted this fall at the Point during their count hours through the fall, with more than 34.000 long-tailed ducks and 13,000 red-necked grebes tallied.

Presque Isle Park in Marquette had plenty to see this year too. The old Shiras Pool next to MooseWood Nature Center has attracted a number of interesting species. A most unusual diving duck, a surf scoter appeared there this fall. It stayed more than a week and was joins for a time by a ring-necked duck. A male surf scoter hung out in the Lower Harbor in Marquette for a period in June too. Elsewhere at Presque Isle (and around other parts of Marquette too) a huge number of Harris’s sparrows were found during the October. More than a dozen of these central U.S. sparrows were found altogether in town. At Sunset Point fall migration had large flocks of red-necked grebes and a few jaegers were observed too.

Fall also revealed a true U.P. rarity, a hepatic tanager in Ahmeek, Keweenaw County. It appeared at a feeding station at a residence there and stayed more than a week. Normally a resident of New Mexico and Arizona and point south, it would have been most amazing at any time of year.

It was a notable year for pioneers too. Wild turkeys continue to be seen more in the central U.P., perhaps with more help from humans. The Chocolay Township population on Mangum and Greenfield Roads continues to prosper and a new group has popped up in north Marquette, with observations appearing between Co. Rd 550 and Presque Isle Park! The latter may have been released birds. A chukar, a Eurasian game bird was seen this fall in Sands Township early this fall. It too may be a released or escaped bird.

Northern cardinals and red-bellied woodpeckers also seem to be continuing to make inroads in the expansion northward. A number of Marquette residents had regular cardinal visits at their feeders for the first time this year. The AuTrain CBC recoded four of the woodpeckers for the first time ever this year. Marquette and Manistique have had many reports this year too.

2017 looks to go out with plenty of action at feeders. Earlier this winter large numbers of common redpolls and pine grosbeaks were seen moving into the Upper Great Lakes. The redpolls are in the area in small flocks, many still feeding in the upper reaches of birches, but large flocks of pine siskins are draining feeders. There still are plenty of great opportunities to finish out the year and begin 2018 with some great birds!

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