Winter is a great time to see wildlife

Winter is a great time to see wildlife

An American robin perches. (Scot Stewart photo)

“‘Hear! hear!’ screamed the jay from a neighboring tree, where I had heard a tittering for some time, ‘winter has a concentrated and nutty kernel, if you know where to look for it.'” – Henry David Thoreau

If you are a bird, the key to surviving in the Upper Peninsula during the winter is being able to find food. This winter has been topsy-turvy for many species, like chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays and even lingering white-throated and American tree sparrows. Light snows and a long series of warn spells have reopened patches of bare ground, low grasses and herbaceous plants and other spots revealing food sources for birds here this winter. With the addition of bird feeders and hundreds of trees still holding onto plenty of crab apples. Mountain ash fruits and apples, birds have found plenty to keep them going.

The results have been apparent in the appearance of a number of birds usually gone by the end of autumn, still being seen around the area. A feeding station along the Dead River has been one of the best places to see lingering American tree sparrows this fall. The number grew from one in mid-December to four on Saturday. A really late red-winged blackbird was seen there Dec. 31. Sparrows has lingered elsewhere in Marquette this winter as well. A white-throated sparrow was found in south Marquette a week ago and at a large feeding station near the Park Cemetery white-throated and fox sparrows have continued since fall.

Birders on the AuTrain River found some other great birds, spotting a northern pintail, a dabbler duck occasionally found in the area in winter. Also seen on the river were nineteen trumpeter swans. The Dead River above the Tourist Park lake has been the best place for ducks in Marquette. Over 400 mallards have been wintering there with several pairs of black ducks and an occasional wood duck.

Sightings of bohemian waxwing and pine grosbeak flocks have also seen an uptick the past week around Munising and Marquette. In Munising a flock of 25 pine grosbeaks and a northern shrike were seen on the west side of town on Saturday. A flock of 45 bohemian waxwings were found on the western side of town on January and it blossomed to at least 90 on Tuesday.

The most surprising location for flocks of both species this winter in Marquette has been in rows of crab apple trees busy store parking lots in Marquette Township. Trees near the edge of Brickyard Road have seen flocks of both in the past two weeks. Bohemian waxwings were seen there on Dec. 29, and pine grosbeaks were found there on Sunday. More reliable sightings though of both species have come in south Marquette in crab apple and mountain ash trees there. The pine grosbeaks seem to have broken from a flock of around 11 to smaller groups of just two or three and have been seen in many different trees on Mesnard and Craig Streets

Lately they have been joined by one or possibly two flocks of bohemian waxwings, as the numbers have ranged from 24 to 36. The neighborhood has provided some good birding with a northern cardinal found there last Sunday as well as a bald eagle flyover on Tuesday and a trio of American robins last Friday. The robins were foraging along a small creek in a gully on the south side of Bothwell Middle School. There was a considerable amount of open ground around the open water before the recent snow storm providing areas for the robins to look for invertebrates and seeds.

To the east in Chippewa County, owls are again making new headlines. Birders traveling through the corridors between Sault Ste. Marie and the Rudyard-Pickford area have found up to 26 snowy owls, but most are finding five or six on any given day out in the open. Many continue to be older whiter individuals. Rough-legged hawks, mostly light phase, and northern goshawks have also turned up on many day lists for travelers checking the local open areas. The last report of the northern hawk owl was Saturday, but a great gray owl is now being seen about ten miles to the south. A flock of around 20 snow buntings and a rare, late flock of 25 lapland longspurs is also being seen in Chippewa Co. Northern shrikes have been found singly on most days too. These sightings have continued to encourage birders from both downstate and Ohio to make trips to the area for the chance to see these arctic visitors in a concentrated area.

The snow depths will continue to cause bird numbers to fluctuate between feeders and wilder areas as some bird species seem to be able to find plenty of food from natural sources when the temperatures are up and the snow on the ground is low. Best days for feeder sightings continue to be the days just prior to and during storms. With snow depths still low, the ease in moving through the woods on skis and snowshoes, even boots, continues to be easy. So, stormy or calm, it is a great time to see wildlife, you just have to know where to look for it!

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