Get out and enjoy the winter scene

Get out and enjoy the winter scene

A pair of cedar waxwings graze. (Scot Stewart photo)

“And this that you call solitude is in fact a big crowd.” — Dejan Stojanovic, “The Shape”

While it is in the middle of Marquette, birders here can feel like they are all alone. They often head outside seeking a little solitude, looking for all they can find, or just something unusual or rare to make it a special day — especially in the winter. in a land of white brushed with skeleton trees. It may be a little easier to see some things, but there is definitely not as much to see as in other times of year.

Larger birds are nearly always the easiest to find, and the fields south of Sault Ste. Marie continue to be a good place to look. Checking along a road in the eastern Upper Peninsula a birder may strike gold – a snowy owl or a rough-legged hawk. Both continue to do their winter hunting between Sault Ste. Marie and the Pickford-Rudyard area. On Sunday, 15 snowy owls were counted on the Rudyard-Dafter-Pickford area. Three rough-legged hawks and five bald eagles were also seen in the same area.

Several other raptors have turned up around residences in the Upper Peninsula this past week also. A probable Cooper’s hawk caught a rock pigeon in Manistique yard Saturday and a northern goshawk was seen near a home just north of Kiva in western Alger County the same day.

The biggest show this past week has not been raptors, though, but the frugivores — the fruit eaters. The extremely cold weather last week pushed pine grosbeaks, bohemian and cedar waxwings in to large, relatively secure food sources, the crab apple trees in Marquette. During both Wednesday and Thursday last week some of the largest crowds assembled in the crab apple trees on the southeast corner of the Marquette County Courthouse.

A smaller flock of 52 cedar waxwings visited the trees on Jan. 28, but on Jan. 30, 130 bohemian and 20 cedar waxwings plucked the crab apples from the trees and on Jan. 31, 160 bohemian, and 60 cedar waxwings, plus 23 pine grosbeaks were there through most of the afternoon dropping down into the fruit trees from maples and poplars nearby. As each of the days wound down the birds seemed to feel the need to eat as much as they could, to make it through the frigid nights and appeared tamer, often flying right over the heads of passersby’s and were willing to crowd together more to grab crab apples as the light began to dim. The resulting flocking of birds overhead in the trees with the flights back and forth to nearby trees created an incredible sensation of being in the middle of wildness and in incredibly active large flock of songbirds at the same time.

In the days that followed, large, mixed flocks have moved around the city, appearing at several locations where groups of trees are still filled with fruit. The flocks have been back at the edge of a parking lot, feeding near the PEIF on campus near Fair Avenue and Third Street. They have also broken into smaller flocks to feed in the large number of fruit trees in south Marquette in the area bounded by South Front, Mesnard, Tierney atreets and Pioneer Road. At nearly all locations there has been some kind of mix, often will all three species present. At trees near the PEIF, and on Albion and Altamont Streets, American robins have also been seen, with a trio of males apparently still in the area. Large flocks of waxwings have also been reported in the Manistique area.

A big question arose with birders this past Tuesday following the ice storm on Monday. Would the fruit eaters, especially the waxwings with their smaller bills, be able to get past the ice coating on fruit to get enough to eat? Mixed flocks continued to be found in south Marquette on Tuesday, with all four species in a pair of crab apple trees on Altamont Street nearly the entire day. Young cedar waxwings — individual with no red or yellow on their wings, were seen on numerous occasions hovering at the ends of branches attempting to peck at fruit, but most birds seem to duck in under larger branches where it was possible less ice accumulated on the fruit.

Some area trees seemed to have heavier accumulations of ice and had no signs of birds in them. The National Weather Service has reported this was a most unusual storm for the area, with no one able to remember a similar one here.

The ice storm will create huge problems for barred owls, preventing them from easily diving through snow drifts to catch mice and voles. Birders along woodlot edges could see more of them in the coming weeks as they look for rodents under bird feeders eating spilled seed. One has already been seen north of Ishpeming near Deer Lake.

A few other good sighting have continued — fox, American tree and white-throated sparrows in Marquette, with the latter also being seen in Manistique. A small flock of common redpolls is also visiting a feeder station daily in north Marquette. So, get out and join the crowd watching the great flocks on the winter scene.

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