Get out and see what summer has in store
“Then followed that beautiful season… Summer… Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light, and the landscape Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
As May begins to wind down, Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer. The landscape of the Upper Peninsula has worked tirelessly to make it look like the season, blowing the mini-icebergs out to the middle of the lake, popped out lots of tree leaves and greened up the grass. And of course, it welcomed out blackflies and more ticks, but true enough, they are part of summer too — right?
This past week has pushed along many the remainders of spring migration. On May 18, a big rush of shorebirds turned out at a small pond in Chocolay Township. It included at least eight lesser yellowlegs, a pair of greater yellowlegs and a pair of least sandpipers. It was the biggest flock there in over two weeks. They were followed by a pair of late killdeer and a pair of semipalmated plovers.
Nearby are agricultural fields with an ample food supply for ducks. Mallards and wood ducks have been seen flying out of the fields, northern shovelers flying over and cranes heard nearby too. The wood ducks and mallards meandered over to the pond when the area around the pond has been quiet. Two northern harriers, hawks flying lover over the land have also been drawn to the area searching for rodents and smaller birds to catch. Amazingly, one harrier 500 yards away briefly flushed the shorebirds at the pond.
There have been plenty of red-winged blackbirds and common grackles around the pond too, as the wet ground have been full of worms. A small population of bobolinks also appeared there building to four males and a female on Sunday. Bobolinks are grassland birds and some of them may end up nesting in fields nearby. The abundant food supply also drew several ring-billed gulls and a Bonaparte’s gull on Saturday. The Bonaparte’s gull was still in winter plumage, have not attained its all black head yet. Add a number of painted turtles and muskrats and it has been a superb place to observe wildlife.
A steady small group of shorebirds was also present at the mouth of the AuTrain last weekend too. The Wilson’s plover that had excited birders from across the state since May 9, disappeared on May 17. It was an outstanding discovery of only the fourth ever reported in the state.
The rarity was of the kind birders truly love. Unless they had visited the Atlantic or Pacific Coast, many birders in the U.P. probably have not seen a Wilson’s plover. There is always a temptation to make a trip to see “lifer,” a bird not seen before to put on a life list, a compilation of bird sightings kept by many birders. The risks are in making a long to trip in vain as birds are unpredictable and may make a momentary stop and quickly disappear at the first sight of a predator or loud noise.
But as the plover was reported day after day, and in an age where sightings reports can be made with cell phones in an instant after being made, it becomes more and more tempting to make that trip.
So, birders came, and day after day there were daily, and sometimes hourly reports of the plover’s presence and usually with specific directions to find it. Unfortunately, little data is kept on the numbers of birders who came, or how much money they spent in the area to see it but with more and more birders out there it is good to know they contribute to the local economy.
Several ponds and wetlands have come alive with the sound of rails, secretive waterbirds. At Presque Isle a sora has been calling from the mitigation area off Island Beach Road.
A Virginia rail was heard and seen at the Sand Point Marsh boardwalk on Sunday.
Several species of flycatchers also made it into the U.P. last weekend with eastern kingbirds and great crested flycatcher getting to Marquette. Eastern wood peewees and alder flycatchers will be right behind them.
Another a pair of great migrants was found in Grand Marais last weekend. Two brants were spotted feeding on the grass near the inner lighthouse by the piping plover monitors. Brant’s are small geese with black heads and necks. They are truly coastal geese, wintering and nesting both ocean coasts. Some do cross parts of Canada including Lakes Erie and Ontario and Hudson’s Bay but brants in the U.P. are rare during both spring and fall migrations.
More shorebirds and a number of warbler species will wrap up spring bird migration in the next week or two. In the meantime, summer residents are settling and getting to raising families. The pair of Canada geese at Presque Isle that hatched out a pair of goslings three weeks ago showed off two large youngsters still in yellow, but just barely.
Find the dreamy summer morning light the next time you can get out early and see what summer has in store for you.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.