What’s flying: Plenty of reasons to go enjoy the seasons

An adult bald eagle looks on. (Scot Stewart photo)

“The eagle has no fear of adversity. We need to be like the eagle and have a fearless spirit of a conqueror.” – Joyce Meyer

Despite the history of bald eagles along Lake Superior’s shoreline around Marquette, including several nesting sites, bald eagles are not regularly seen there. Watching herring and ring-billed gulls on Ripley Rock, the Lower Harbor breakwall, Picnic Rocks and the mouth of the Dead River can offer some insights to the presence of eagles. The simultaneous rise of all the birds from a large flock from the rocks, concrete or sand often means a predator of some type has flushed the gulls. Usually the gulls leave a few at a time to start feeding or to head to night-time roosting sites.

When no people, dogs and other land threats are present, a look to the skies is warranted to see what might be causing the possible confusion. Peregrines and the extremely rare winter-visiting gyrfalcons may make occasional diving strikes at a single variable gull, but bald eagles are often the local cause for aerial trouble gulls encounter. In the past few weeks, many adult and juvenile herring and ring-billed gulls have gathered to roost on the last third of the concrete portion and the last half of the rock portion of the second part of the breakwater.

On one recent afternoon the flock lifted off the structure circled and most returned to land on the breakwall. The second time they circled and landed both on the concrete and rocks but also in the water nearby. The first flush did not readily reveal a source of trouble, but after the second flush, an adult bald eagle was seen circling high above the waters between the ore dock and Mattson Park.

The activity ramped up though last Monday as an adult eagle was able to make a kill near the breakwall. The prey, an immature gull, was carried to the beach on the lighthouse peninsula. Shortly after landing, the eagle was disturbed by a very surprised beach walker who accidently stumbled up the bird, almost literally, causing the bird to lift off with the gull in its talons.

Luckily for individuals walking in the area, the eagle flew only about 30 feet and landed on a large rock just south of the beach. It apparently was very hungry, as it definitely did not wish to fly far and risk losing the large prey but remained on the rock for nearly half an hour until the largest portion of the flesh and entrails were consumed. With a number of viewers watching and photographing it from less than 50 feet away it seemed pretty fearless, knowing a stretch of water separated it from them.

For birders continuing on down the breakwall, there were a few other species of birds also present on and around the concrete. There were plenty more gulls, and more than two dozen mallards, all females with young. On the lower level on concrete on the harbor side of the wall near water level a single Baird’s sandpiper and a couple semipalmated sandpipers gleaned flying ants that had washed up on the concrete. There were several great days last week for ant colonies as the new kings and queens emerged from openings in ground colonies clouding the air and creating feeding frenzies for gulls, warblers and cedar waxwing, often catching the small insects in the air.

The numbers and species were a good reflection of the findings at other sites were shorebirds are being seen — low numbers and a limited diversity. Even at Whitefish Point the numbers have been low, with most species coming in singles or pairs, and occasionally greater single digits.

This past week also saw some significant waves of warblers and thrushes move through the central Upper Peninsula. On Sept. 3, 19 species of warblers were found foraging through the treetops at Presque Isle Park in north Marquette. In many places, warblers have lingered in their pursuit of the aforementioned flying ants. Usually warblers move fairly quickly from tree to tree looking for spiders, caterpillars and other insects only staying in larger trees for any length of time. Some warblers were found in smaller trees recently, acting like flycatchers, zooming off high perches to catch smaller insects in the air before returning to perches. Other birds also got into the act with the most unlikely flycatcher a red-breasted nuthatch. Following the warblers in some areas has been a big wave of Swainson’s thrushes.

One other interesting bird story this past week occurred at a large Marquette grocery store when a common nighthawk managed to find its way inside. In some of the larger cities, it is not unusual to find house sparrows inside big stores with garden centers where there are large doors that open to areas where potted plants are displayed. The birds often find their way to seed or other foods in the store and can sometimes find ways to move in and out on their own. Nighthawks though, are insect eaters and this one probably entered the store accidently. It was in the store at least three days. The store tried to keep its main door open to aid the bird in getting out. The seasons are now really showing some changes. Those changes especially in the weather have created lots of reasons for humans to get out too!

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