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What’s flying

Birds herald all that is spring in the UP

A Canada jay is shown. (Scot Stewart photo)

“Be like the bird who, pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing she hath wings.” — Victor Hugo

Birds, they are a ‘flying. They seem to be holding up their part in ringing in March and all that is spring. Temperatures soared in the clutch of strong south winds in the Upper Peninsula this week and the snow quietly began slipping out the back door. 

Gyrfalcons have been making occasional birding headlines in March as they have all winter in the U.P.

These are the largest of the falcons, and spend most of their lives in Alaska, the Yukon Territory and northern portions of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in northern Canada.

During the first week of January a gray morph, or color phase, was seen hunting in a number of parts of Marquette. 

Scot Stewart

Since then, there have been sightings of gyrfalcons near the Garden Peninsula and Munising.

Smaller falcons have also returned to the area. A peregrine has been seen frequently near South Beach in Marquette on and around parts of the Shiras Steam Plant. Peregrines have nested in Marquette in recent years since 2011 but had chosen nesting boxes on the city’s power plants. With the dismantling of the Presque Isle Plant and the decommissioning of the Shiras Plant, these sites may be replaced.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources have placed a new nesting box in the downtown area to assist at least one pair in nesting here.

Peregrines hunt a variety of birds, including rock pigeons, some ducks, blue jays and some shorebirds. American kestrels, the smallest Michigan falcons, have also been seen at multiple sites in the Upper Peninsula this week too.

Sandhill cranes are drifting into the Upper Peninsula in Menominee County. Their prehistoric bugling is a most welcome sound, especially on a foggy morning in a wetland or sphagnum bog.

It conjures up the feeling of being back in the Jurassic, listening to pterodactyls swooping over a field of brontosaurus dinosaurs?

Red-winged blackbirds, killdeer and eastern meadowlarks are right behind the cranes. They have made it as far north to Delta and Dickinson County and Whitefish Point in Chippewa County on Tuesday. The warm weather and rain will melt more snow, and open lands will definitely encourage more birds foraging on the ground, like cranes and blackbirds, to continue pressing northward, hoping to be the first to reach prime summer territories.

Ducks and geese are trickling into open water in the central U.P. Canada geese and trumpeter were back to the Dead River at the beginning of the week and the geese were heard flying through town on Tuesday. Hooded mergansers and a northern pintail were also seen in town this week too.

Because of the increased interest in viewing waterfowl in some residential areas along the Dead River, birders are being encouraged to view them from public trails along the river at the Tourist Park and on the BLP trails on the north side of the river.

A pair of trumpeter swans was also seen this week on the Chocolay River along the Iron Ore Heritage Trail or the Chocolay Marina and on the Dead River near the County Road 510 bridges. 

With swan numbers increasing, they are being seen at many places in the U.P. during the year, including the Arnheim Sloughs in Baraga County, Trout Lake near Limestone in Alger County, the Manistique River and Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Schoolcraft County. Seney is probably one of the best places to see them. During the spring and summer there can be 60 to 90 swans at the refuge, including a half dozen breeding pairs.

Around Marquette, bald eagles continue to make a statement about their presence.

They continue to grace the Lake Superior shoreline, gliding along the shore in search of food, and have even made some surprising stops. Last Saturday morning one was observed in a poplar tree right next to the Cinder Pond ramp at Mattson Park in Marquette.

Bald eagle migration is also in full swing. Birders looking for migrant raptors counted 54 eagles from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain last Sunday, noting most seemed northbound for Canada.

In the next few weeks eagle migration will also be on view at Whitefish Point, where a wide variety of migrants will be seen streaming north, and from Brockway Mountain in Keweenaw County. 

In Chippewa County it looks like snowy owls may be on their way north again. In a small area south of Sault Ste. Marie, 11 were seen recently and in the Rudyard area nine more were reported.

These are some of the highest numbers all winter and may indicate some movement northward of birds that have been more dispersed to the south this winter.

Large flocks of snow buntings — one of 50 and another of 70 have also been seen this week in the open areas south of the Soo.

Birders continue to make the trip out to the Huron Bay (or Peshekee) Grade in search of boreal species like Canada jays, black-backed woodpeckers and boreal chickadees. There are a couple spots, especially near the McCormick Wilderness trailhead that have had good chances to see at least one of them.

Because of the high probability of seeing them, downstate birders have streamed up to the U.P. to see them and join the March north!

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

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