Shorter days reveal the end of summer is near

Shorter days reveal the end of summer is near

A Baird’s sandpiper sees his reflection. (Scot Stewart photo)

“To say it was a beautiful day would not begin to explain it. It was that day when the end of summer intersects perfectly with the start of fall.” – Ann Patchett

The end of summer will come on a day when no one realizes it. It will be followed by a cool day, maybe a day filled with rain. The certainty won’t come until there are no more warm, humid days, just cool crisp ones with a few warm afternoons and more cool days. Then the realization will come that summer has slipped away, gone south of the equator for another nine months. For the Upper Peninsula, it brings the opportunity to realize how wonderful summer has been. How glorious those hot days were, for now it is the time to look for frost on crimson leaves, for golden pathways through the woods.

Sure, there are still monarchs queuing up on the shore of Lake Michigan, waiting for a favorable wind to begin the lake crossing on their way to Mexico. Roadsides are filled with the last of the goldenrod blooms and the start of blooming asters. Witch hazel flowers are still a month and a half away, but Labor Day looms and for many the thoughts of summer’s end are growing larger.

With 13 hours and 22 minutes of daylight today the signs of shorter days are definitely evident. It is this stimulus that will drive birds and other animals to begin taking the actions necessary for them to prepare for winter, whether is adding stored energy to their bodies to migrate or prepare for hibernation or begin storing food they will need as cold temperatures and snows approach and reduce the food available in the coming months.

Hummingbirds have drawn a lot of interest recently. Concerns always begin to rise as birders this time of year as they wonder about keeping feeders up. The amount of daylight, not food availability will determine their departure dates. As the hummingbirds leave, they will be replaced for short periods of time by migrants following from summer homes farther north. As mentioned previously, ruby-throated hummingbirds have been seen in Marquette several times into November, so it doesn’t hurt to keep feeders up until things begin to freeze.

There are plenty of hummingbirds, especially young birds, still around. There have also been plenty of stories of interesting behavior — chasing each other and other animals, like moths. A pair were seen this past week circling a post in a yard, with no apparent goal. Many of the interactions between young hummingbirds will probably prepare them with the skills they will need to feed efficiently and avoid predators, just as wolf pups and bear cubs rough house as they build muscles and athletic skills.

A Recent Sunday saw some interesting raptors around the central U.P. A flock of red-tails and broad-winged hawks was seen flying off Lake Superior near Shelter Bay and a smaller group was seen circling over Marquette earlier the same day. Smaller numbers of raptors are seen daily at Whitefish Point in Chippewa County too, with northern harriers, sharp-shinned hawks, bald eagles and broad-wings being the ones most frequently seen.

The numbers of shorebirds are also increasing both at Whitefish Point and in Marquette. Black-bellied and semipalmated plovers, killdeers, whimbrels, marbled godwits, sanderlings, greater yellowlegs, semipalmated and Baird’s sandpipers have been seen at Whitefish. In Marquette the best place for shorebirds continues to be the Lower Harbor breakwall. Semipalmated, solitary and spotted sandpipers have been regulars. Up to five Baird’s sandpipers were seen there on Sunday.

Common nighthawks have put on a spectacular show recently as well. Insect eaters related to whip-poor-wills, they feed on the wing and are mostly nocturnal. They are much more visible though during migration. Small groups have been seen in the past two weeks, but things really ramped up last on Saturday. On a recent Saturday, more than 700 were counted flying along the Lake Michigan coastline during a mid-day watch. Later in the afternoon and early evening more than 1,000 were counted in the Escanaba. They are on their way to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean for the winter.

Just a reminder for those wondering about what is currently coming through the Upper Peninsula, the daily tally of migrants seen at Whitefish Point, https://dunkadoo.org/explore/whitefish-point-bird-observatory/waterbirds-fall-2018, posted live during the day, provide a great look at how the fall migration patterns are progressing. It is also a great opportunity to help plan a trip there. Days with northerly winds will definitely bring a larger number of individuals.

Another great place to visit is Seney National Wildlife Refuge on M-77 south of Seney in Schoolcraft County. Currently there are nearly 200 trumpeter swans on the refuge pools, including the families with the remnants of this year’s young. Only 14 cygnets have survived through late summer, but little is known why this year’s total is so low. Plenty of sandhill cranes and ducks are there as well, and with a number of pools drawn down, there have been some really good days to see shorebirds there too. The nation’s oldest known loon, aged 31 this summer, is also there. It’s a big weekend for birders and the birds, so enjoy your time together, cooler days are coming.

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