Step outside and see summer’s beauty

A red-breasted nuthatch looks on. (Scot Stewart photo)

“If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” – Vincent Van Gogh

The beauty in everyday life is astounding. This summer has offered a number of stunning extras to the Upper Peninsula landscape due perhaps to weather conditions here, and maybe elsewhere too, to support not only the high number of monarch butterflies and their larvae present this summer, but a high number of other butterflies, insects like rose chafer beetles, soldier and flower flies, bumble bees and all the flowers they enjoy. A walk through any great garden of native plants will reveal lots of pollinators attending to plenty of great flowers.

Favorable temperatures for insects during peak blooming of tree flowers, at least in some areas, have produced a bounty of fruits for some trees used by birds in the area. Many flowers have shown a great span of blooming times due to the relative distances of the plants from Lake Superior. Small differences in daily temperatures and even the amount of shade on plants can affect their blooming times. These small differences can create a longer period for pollinators to reach plants for nectar and provide better conditions for some plants on days when temperatures are optimum for bees, wasps flies, moths and butterflies.

It also can create differences in the amount of fruit produced, following pollination, for trees of the same species in a relatively small area like Marquette or any other county bordering a Great Lake. This summer has seen good crops of both serviceberry (also known as Juneberry and Amelanchier) and pin cherry, two trees used heavily by cedar waxwings, robins, thrushes and other species during the summer. As they area late nesters, this substantial food supply could help the waxwings produce more successful nests of offspring.

The offspring of a number of locals are currently providing lots of entertainment for many nature lovers. Young northern flickers, chickadees, white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches are learning how to find food with the help of their parents across the Marquette area. Some ruby-throated hummingbirds in area are also being observed.

Shorebirds have continued to provide some good viewing too. Willets continue to appear along the shore of Lake Superior. Another one was seen at the mouth of the AuTrain River on July 20. This is the third report of willets in the central U.P in recent weeks as these birds begin their routes back to the Gulf Coast

Birders in the Upper Peninsula have noticed a number of changes to the birds now showing up more frequently in recent years. Birds like northern cardinals, red-bellied woodpeckers and mourning doves are /usually discussed when the changes in ranges are discussed for birds in the Upper Peninsula. A bird less frequency seen in the U.P. but seemingly becoming more common is the green heron. These secretive birds are most often solitary in their habits and with marking helping them blend in well with their environment. They often hide along the water’s edge to hunt, but are most quiet, solitary birds and not frequently seen.

They are seen occasionally in late summer in pairs or small family groups. Two have been seen at the west end of the Tourist Park crisscrossing the Dead River, where they have been seen occasionally during summer months for the last six or seven years. A pair was seen flying over a residential area in Harvey Tuesday. The Chocolay River near Main Street was one of the first places in the Marquette they were reported around 20 years ago.

Green herons are most common in the southern portion of the Lower Peninsula but have been reported in all counties in the state. Their official summer range, as covered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, extends across the northwestern Pacific region, a small part of Nevada-Arizona and the eastern U.S. except the north central and northeastern U.P. and northern Minnesota. There is confirmed breeding evidence in the U.P. from Gogebic, Marquette and Menominee counties, but there is still much work to be done to determine the extent of their activities in the U.P.

They do prefer deciduous shrubbery along wetland edges where they primarily hunt small fish, but also eat insects and other arthropods, mice, snails, small snakes, lizards and amphibians. This habitat preference makes the edges of the Dead River, the Chocolay and other local waterways good spots to see them here. Wetlands lined with cedar and other conifers are usually avoided.

Birders have also been checking on the boreal birds (rarities in Michigan and a real attraction for out-of-area birders visiting here). Gray jays, black-backed woodpeckers, spruce grouse, crossbills and boreal chickadees are special birds found in just a few areas, often described as boreal habitats, with black spruce, tamarack and often close to sphagnum bogs.

Some areas along the Peshekee Grade, Kate’s Grade, parts of the Cyr Swamp south of Gwinn, all in Marquette County, the Rice Lake area in Keweenaw County, and boggy areas west of Whitefish Point in Chippewa County and Alger County are good spots to look for these birds. The Peshekee Grade has been the most visited this summer but has only yielded a few boreal chickadees so far.

Next week brings August as summer rushes on. Step outside and enjoy summer’s beauty, there is a lot to see.

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