Today is the start of the season's first Upper Peninsula's Audubon Christmas Bird Counts. They often begin before sunrise as birders hoping to include as many of the area's birds in the count as possible will be out trying to locate a few local owls by sound in the predawn darkness and if lucky enough, no winds.
And as the day lightens up, hopes for light winds will continue, and even for a bit of winter sun. Counts are currently underway today in Marquette, Little Bay de Noc, Iron River, Sault Ste. Marie and Houghton, and tomorrow in AuTrain. Check app.audubon.org/cbcapp/findCircles.jsp? state=US-MI&start=3 for later counts.
Each CBC count is based on a circle with a 7.5-mile diameter. Marquette's is centered at Old City Hall. It does lose a fair amount of area to Lake Superior, but includes a good deal of Superior's shoreline and a variety of habitat from Negaunee Township to Harlow Lake, and south past Co. Rd. 480. In its early years all the counters met and traveled together to locations around Marquette. That often produced many usual sightings.
An American robin. (Scot Stewart photo)
And while there were some large groups of counters in the 1970s and 1980s, it wasn't until around 1992 that a more methodical approach was taken to counting the birds in the circle more effectively and efficiently. It is now divided into four quarters with a different team covering each part. The species count for birds went from averages around 30 to highs more commonly in the mid 40s and even 50 or more.
Sightings around Marquette this past week included a possible record number of eight great black-backed gulls and three glaucous gulls at the mouth of the Dead River on Dec. 12. Robins, bohemian waxwings and pine grosbeaks continue in apple and crab apple trees. Evening grosbeaks also seem more numerous across the entire U.P. than they have in some time and goldfinch, chickadee and even starling numbers are good too. In the Lower Harbor a canvasback and two greater scaup seemed to have replaced a male lesser scaup that had been there earlier. A northern shrike is another possibility with one hunting near feeders on Sherman Street and more recently on West Ridge Street. Birders will try to beat the top count of 51 species recorded in 2006. In the previous 62 years of the count nearly 120 separate species have been found, plus several hybrids and birds only identified to group, not species.
The Keweenaw Bay CBC on Dec. 14 will be remembered as one of the best in Michigan this year because of one pair of birds found on the Bay itself. Two Ross's gulls were found near the head of the Bay about 200 yards off shore. They are small, 11.5-12-inch, dove-like gulls with pinkish bellies. Single Ross's gulls have appeared in Colorado and Nebraska in November and December and have attracted birders from many parts of North America as the gulls usually remain close to the Arctic Circle throughout the year. If one or both stick around, birders from many areas may try to get to Baraga County to add Ross's gull to their birding experience.
For birders at home on count days in the various circles, they can also participate. They should download the following: www.upbirders.org/cbc_mqt_feeder_tally_10.pdf. It comes with additional instructions. Counting, the highest number of each species seen at one time should be the count number for that species. In Marquette contact Melinda Stamp at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or data. It should be a good week.
Editor's note: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.