Full songs becoming harder to come by

A song sparrow perches. (Scot Stewart photo)

“In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes tend to be anonymous. In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero: the teacher, the nurse the mother, the honest cop, the hard worker at lonely underpaid, unglamorous, unpublicized jobs.”

— Daniel J. Boorstin

August days no longer ring out with the morning symphony of bird songs. There are many partial songs of young birds trying to learn all they can, and call notes of birds announcing their location to family members and competitors for the same lunches, but full songs are becoming harder to come by each day. Males are no longer looking for mates for the summer, nor trying to protect territories for their families. Frankly, many are just tuckered out from a summer of protecting and feeding offspring, and for some two sets. Now most birds are simply trying to put on some extra weight, stored energy for a big flight south or get ready for the big chill of winter ahead.

There are a few songsters still belting out the tunes though. A few American goldfinches, late nesters are still maintaining their territories. Even now as some males begin to lose the edge on that bright yellow and black outfit, they sing on from near the top of a tree in their home territory.

Another species can a still be heard in many neighborhoods, though, that has just tried to live up to its name: Song sparrow. Not a particularly splashy looking bird, with brown, tan and buffy stripes across their backs, spots, three large and many small across their neck and chests, they were among the first birds heard singing last spring, back when there was still snow on the ground in some areas. They are still singing now, and at least around Marquette, can be found every mile or so along the major streets and roads. Their song is an intricate roll of notes and very melodic. Just a pleasure to hear. They are the true unsung heroes of the summer (spring and fall too) scene in the Upper Peninsula.

This has been a banner year for ruby-throated humming in the U.P. They have continued to commandeer feeders and flower plots alike. But they have had some competition that has confused a few observers. A group of moths, called sphinx moths, have also been hovering over flowers at a number of sites recently feeding on nectar too. One group, clearwing moths, can have green bodies and appear to resemble “baby” hummingbirds, as they are only and inch and a half long, about half the size of a ruby-throated hummingbird. As their name indicates, their wings are clear, except for the outer borders for some species.

There is another group of sphinx moths that include the very common white-lined sphinx and the atlas sphinx, both found in Marquette and the surrounding area. The former is brown with white and stripes on its abdomen and pink stripes on its underwings. Their wings can stretch from two to three inches, more closely the six of hummingbirds. Atlas moths are nearly all brown and a little smaller.

They most commonly feed closer to dusk but can be out in the middle of the day when they can be seen interacting with hummingbirds, usually losing the competition battle and being driven away by aggressive birds. The added variety of visitors makes hummingbird watching even more interesting. One of the moths’ favorite flowers is the wild sweet William, the flowers are now blooming on Pioneer Road just past the city composting area. On Tuesday a white-lined sphinx was chased off the patch by an interesting buffy-sided hummingbird feeding there.

Another interesting sight in the central U.P. has been a golden eagle seen in a hayfield in northern Delta County east of Carney. Golden eagles are more commonly seen west of the Mississippi in summer but do migrate through the state in both spring and fall. Larger and stronger than bald eagles, they can feed on larger prey, even medium sized mammals.

They are sometimes confused with immature bald eagles that lack white tail and head feathers but can be distinguished by the golden red feathers on the back of their heads (their nape), and occasionally by their location. Birds hunting over water are much more likely to be bald eagles. Golden eagles are more likely to be hunting actively over fields and hillsides. This bird has been seen mostly on the ground or on hay bales, indicating it may have an injury or health problem. On Tuesday it was seen 25 feet up a tree.

Another unusual sighting has been a group of evening grosbeaks including young at feeders in Diorite in western Marquette County. Unusual throughout the year around the U.P., young are only rarely seen so this site, one of the best in the area anytime for evening grosbeaks, continues to be a great spot to see these birds.

It continues to be a great time to see bird families at feeders, hunting in yards and in trees. They are out there and are really fun to watch, so enjoy!

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