Birds, like weather, tough to predict
“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on.” – Hal Borland
“New year — a new chapter, new verse, or just the same old story? Ultimately, we write it. The choice is ours.” – Alex Morritt
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The new year has arrived and the transition for the week and the year has been so similar to the passage of recent weeks as to think the new year will be much the same as the old. Temperatures have continued their roller coaster run and the predictions for the actual amounts of snow rain and sunshine have been difficult at best to predict with the usual accuracy.
Birds have followed weather’s act and have also been difficult to predict. Following the Marquette Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 16, a number of birds appeared or reappeared in town that were missed on the count. At a feeding station near the Dead River off Schneider Court an American tree sparrows and red-winged blackbirds had been seen on and off through the fall into December. Neither was seen on the count week. Both species showed up again after the count, with a male red-wing seen feeding there on Dec. 31 and two American tree sparrows appearing on Jan. 1. A Townsend’s solitaire seen just before the count week was seen again after the count week just once. Northern shrikes have also been sporadic, with one on the count and several, one at a time, seen before and since.
Crab apple tree watching is in full season. As December has faded along with the old year, so have the appearances of pine grosbeaks across most of the area. Since the Christmas Bird Count in Marquette there have just been a handful of reported sightings in Marquette, Diorite and points west. On New Year’s Day, 10 were seen in south Marquette in what is arguably crab apple heaven
Bohemian waxwings have also been traveling around the U.P in erratic flocks. One with up to 75 individuals has been seen at least twice in Munising. Another flock of 20 was reported to the east in Isabella in Delta Co. Dec. 31. In Marquette County a flock of around 25 to 30 has been seen a number of times by different observers between Middle Island Point and Presque Isle. Ten were seen on Jan. 1 in Chocolay Township south of Cherry Creek Road too.
Over in Chippewa County, birders have flocked to see a northern hawk owl just south of the Sault. A rare visitor to the Upper Peninsula, their range covers most of the boreal forest to the north in Canada and Alaska. They are found across all of the north shore of Lake Superior, and although there are pockets of boreal forest, sphagnum bogs and forest of tamarack, white and black spruce, they are only seen in the U.P. during winter when a few drift down across the Canadian border and hunt in the open fields south of the Sault and into the conifer forest of Luce, Chippewa and Mackinac Counties.
The open waters of Lake Superior have kept several hundred herring gulls in the Marquette area. During extremely inclement weather some decent numbers of other wandering species of gulls have also “stayed over” until the weather conditions have improved. During one recent storm at least five greater black-backed gulls were found at the mouth of the Dead River and a dozen glaucous gulls were spotted on the Lower Harbor south of the ore dock. With clearing weather, most have left. A single glaucous gull was seen at the mouth of the Dead River on Jan. 1.
Ducks have also been hit and miss. A few common goldeneyes have been found regularly in the open stretches of the Dead River near the mouth the past two weeks. One was seen above the Tourist Park Lake last Monday with the 200+ mallard ducks that have been resting, feeding and swimming the river near a number of residents with feeding stations. At least six black ducks, one American black duck and mallard hybrid and a male wood duck have been there too. On the Marquette CBC a green-winged teal was also seen during the count.
Big flocks of American goldfinches have been regulars at many feeding stations this winter too. At least five or six stations in Marquette alone have seen flocks. The “stations” part is important. When there are multiple feeders, especially tubes with lots of feeding positions, larger flocks of goldfinches, house finches and common redpolls are encouraged to feed because they don’t have to sit in a tree waiting. Some birds will head to the ground and feed on spilled seeds, but most would prefer to feed in perches.
The Marquette CBC did end up with a total of 43 species. It included 698 mallards, 255 chickadees, nine golden-crowned kinglets, six cardinals and fox sparrow. All are good numbers for the Marquette count.
The weather is looking more and more to be of the “El Nino” type for this area — drier and warmer, making outdoor adventures involving skiing and ice adventures more challenging, but easier to be out longer for extended fun. Enjoy!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.