Plenty to keep us engaged in the woods

Scot Stewart

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” — Albert Einstein


Warm, summery days seem to beg the invitation to come out and become a part of the seemingly glowing green, the warmth radiating from the bare rocks and the fragrances of summer. It is a magical time, with this myriad of sights, sounds, smells and sensations, there is plenty to keep anyone in the woods truly engaged.

Hikers on the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore trail can expect to hear plenty of American redstarts, least flycatchers, ovenbirds and chipmunks. They will see amazing mazes of slime molds on fallen logs, plus pinwheel, honey and Russula mushrooms. In more open areas the heavy sweet aroma of common milkweeds will nearly lift them off their feet. Milkweed patches have been impressive this summer and have supported an incredible number of bees, wasps, flies, and beetles, plus monarchs, sulfur, skippers and other butterflies.

Monarchs have had an amazing run this summer with record numbers being reported by nearly all area observers. Nearly any large patch of flowers will have a monarch cruising over it if one waits just a little bit. At some milkweed patches, the monarch larvae (caterpillars) are numerous. At the pollinator garden in front of the MooseWood Nature Center at Presque Isle Park in Marquette there are at least 30 larvae, with two milkweed plants each hosting six caterpillars!

A piping plover is seen. (Scot Stewart photo)

Birding sights continue to feature plenty of young birds adding weight and adult feathers to prepare for migration trips of the challenges of winter. Birders have begun to gravitate back to Whitefish Point to watch fall migration ramp up. Fortunately, there have been more summer residents with young than shorebirds finding their way back south for the winter. Young of two plovers, killdeer and piping plovers, were found on the shore of the Point facing Whitefish Bay Monday.

Killdeer are more common shorebirds and nest across the Midwest. Piping plovers, endangered in Michigan, are found only along the Great Lakes shoreline and parts of the Atlantic Coast and the Central Plains. According to the organization Partners in Flight, they have an estimated total population of only 8,400. Piping plovers have nested at several sites along Lake Superior between Grand Marais, in Alger County, and Whitefish Point in Chippewa County in recent years. This year it is believed the pair at Whitefish Point hatched out four chicks, but only one has survived.

In addition to the killdeers and piping plovers, a greater yellowlegs, sanderlings, and a Caspian tern were also seen on the beach and tidal pools near the end of the Point and a flock of common terns flew past on Monday. Whitefish Point is one of the best places to see shorebirds up close along the marvelously polished pebbles at the water’s edge and fly-by loons, grebes, ducks and perhaps most sought out, jaegers.

Jaegers are predatory relatives of gulls. They spend the summer months in the Arctic. Parasitic Jaegers winter in the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic off the coast of the southern U.S. and Central America. Pomarine and long-tailed jaegers, long-distance travelers, migrate to southern South America.They often follow the Lake Superior shoreline, but are almost always fly-bys, and are often some distance offshore, making their identification down to species sometimes difficult.

Shorebirds have continued to turn up in other locations where they have been already this summer. In Marquette a single semipalmated sandpiper was found on the beach at the mouth of the Dead River on Sunday. At the mouth of Anna River in Munising, an adult dunlin, still in breeding plumage was found the following day.

Hiking at the McCormick Wilderness off the Peshekee Grade in western Marquette County provides a chance to see a set of birds not seen in many other U.P. locations. Gray jays, spruce grouse and black-backed woodpeckers are boreal species often encountered along the grade and into the tract. They have been more difficult to find the past two years, but boreal chickadees continue to turn up. On Tuesday, a birder found three in the wilderness area. Other highlights included a yellow-bellied sapsucker, broad-winged hawk, pair of golden-crowned kinglets and a bird that seems to be more difficult to find this summer — a hermit thrush.

The McCormick Tract also provides an opportunity to hike an area devoid of almost all other forms of human activity. Wheeled vehicles of all types are prohibited in the wilderness area, so it is a quiet place to see beautiful, clear lakes with lots of beaver activity, stunning rock outcroppings, pine martens, moose and other more difficult to find pieces of the U.P’s natural history. It is a mixed forest fit to contemplate the interconnected relationships of plants, animals, fungi, geology and climate, and do it with few other distractions. There is also very poor-to-no phone service, so the distractions are truly cut to a bare minimum. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there are plenty of places to head this summer and see the wonders of our Upper Peninsula.

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