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What’s flying

Signs of summer are all around us

This is an American redstart. (Scot Stewart photo)

“In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes, and every sunset is different.”

— John Steinbeck

June has come to the Upper Peninsula already! Daily temperatures are slowly working their way to some that are closer to normal for this time of year, including some even around 80F! There have been plenty of other signs of the new month. Mosquitoes have made their arrival, but blackflies have overdone it! Most of the trees have filled out, their leaves at nearly full sail and the wild cherry trees are about done blooming.

Several monarch butterflies have floated through the area this past week and batches of Canadian swallowtail butterflies have lined up in muddy spots on gravel roads to “puddle.” Their behavior has them piling up on back roads to lap up salts, minerals, and amino acids and water in the sand that will help them prepare for the breeding season. Males pass on some of these important nutrients to female when they mate to improve reproduction. They can create big crowds resulting in some impressively large casualty areas, like Kate’s Grade in southwestern Marquette County.

Migration has definitely begun wrapping up with few shorebirds in attendance locally, with the possible exception of the Manistique area. One birder checking the area around the Lake Michigan boardwalk there has found a great diversity of water birds there over the past week. Included in his finds have been two Hudsonian godwits, a lesser black-back gull, at least three Franklin’s gulls, sanderlings, killdeer, ruddy turnstones, semipalmated plovers, Whimbrels, least, spotted, white-rumped and semipalmated sandpipers. It has been a pretty good haul there the past week or so.

Franklin’s gulls overwinter on the ocean coasts of South America and spend their summers in the Prairie Provinces of Canada, North Dakota and Montana. They are impressive gulls in adult breeding plumage, with black heads, red bills, and faintly pick undersides. The whimbrels migrate through Lake Michigan in fairly big numbers some year, with a small percentage stopping off on the shore in Delta and Schoolcraft counties. They are headed to the High Arctic of Canada and many parts of Alaska.

Most migrating warblers headed farther north into Boreal Canada and Alaska have moved through the Upper Peninsula. Commonly reported species here for the summer include American redstarts, a few black-throated blue, Nashville, black-throated green, chestnut-sided, magnolia, yellow-rumped, yellow, common yellow-throats. There is a common theme here for many of them, even if yellow is not in their name, they still have some parts that color!

Plenty of youngsters are waddling and flying around the U.P. at the moment. Young mallard families are popping up around the Lower Harbor in Marquette and at smaller lakes and ponds. One family with eight duckling has been paddling around the base of the breakwall this past week. Families tend to shrink as the weeks go on in summer. Eagles, mink, northern pike, and snapping turtles all take their toll on duckling families. A long-term look at math though tells a bigger story. Even if a pair of ducks lives only three or four years, they only need to produce two offspring that outlive them to be successful at maintaining a balanced population. Over the past fifteen years or so the winter mallard population in Marquette has risen from less than 400 to over a 1,000 on the Dead and Chocolay rivers and Lake Superior. They have been most successful in town.

New Canada geese families have also continued to spring up in areas where they have been nesting in the U.P. From Seney National Wildlife Refuge to Marquette families have been often quite large. One congregation of more than 15 young was seen near the ore dock in the Upper Harbor last week, and although only two adults were seen there is a fair chance it was a combination of two families.

European starling young are also flocking around Marquette, often alternating between neighborhood yards and suet feeder. Many have a difficult time identifying them. Adults are generally black with iridescent blue and green feathers and yellow bills. Young have flat grayish-black feathers, grayish bills, and loud, annoyingly raspy calls. Robins pairs are both out foraging in many areas most likely finding food for hungry nestlings. There has been one report with a photo of a leucistic robin in Marquette with multiple splotches of white feathers — not quite an albino, but one with enough alternative plumage that only the yellow bill and some orange breast feathers help enough to identify it as a robin.

American white pelicans continue to stop off in Marquette, with two more landing near Picnic Rocks last week. Most being seen now in the U.P. are probably subadults on summer flights, exploring the U.P. They may have formed pairs and will return to Green Bay after at time exploring. The long-term benefit of these forays is providing these birds with information that may contribute to the expansion of their range in future years if they locate other potential breeding grounds with less competition or simply better nesting sites in the years to come. Changing water levels can quickly change the suitability of some nesting sites. They seek out low-lying islands usually on medium to larger lakes with good sources of fish nearby. Lake Butte des Morts near Oshkosh and Cat Island in Lake Michigan near Green Bay, Wisconsin are the two nearest colonies currently near Marquette.

Singing warblers and others like the red-eyed vireos provide an open invitation to get out and see what’s flying.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is naturalist at the MooseWood Nature Center, a writer and photographer.

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