Summer overflowing with goodness now
“Life, now, was unfolding before me, constantly and visibly, like the flowers of summer that drop fanlike petals on eternal soil.”
— Roman Payne, Rooftop Soliloquy
2019 continues to be full of quirks, surprises and unusual occurrences. It has brought wildly exciting vagrant birds to the area, altered the timing of nearly everything from blooming dates to arrival, nesting and fledgling times for birds, flooding river edges and woods creating entirely new regimens of insects.
Sometimes birders look to diversify their outdoor experience using the tools in their hands — binoculars, There are several options for them using the same skills too — butterflies (and a few day flying moths) and dragonflies and damselflies. Both opportunities come of course during the warm weather months, when there usually are more birds, but during the middle of summer as many birds have turned to incubating and feeding young, their appearance have become more fleeting, leaving longer intervals of time to look around at all summer is offering.
For dragonfly and damselfly watchers, water is the key to seeing larger numbers and greater diversity. It seems like each pond, creek and lake, regardless of its size, has its own set of dragonflies and the smaller damselflies. Smaller bodies of water often host skimmer and other short bodied dragonflies like white-faces and corporals. Larger ponds and lakes generally have more species and more interactions as crowded shorelines bring the dragonflies in contact more often. Wetmore Pond has been good lately with a few crimson-ringed whitefaces being seen there with their deep red thoraxes (midsections). Echo Lake farther north on Co. Rd. 550 has also been good with Halloween pennants spotted there. Early cool mornings, good birding times are also good for insects as they begin to warm up and become more active.
Newly emerging individuals may be found dangling from rushes and reeds early in the morning near the edge of water as they climb out of the water, often after an entire year plodding around on the bottom of a muddy pond, split their skin — their exoskeleton down their back, and climb out. As their new skin dries and hardens, they, like newly emerged butterflies pump fluids into the veins of the wings to stretch them out. Within a few hours they have gone through a remarkable transformation and are flying over the waters they were crawling in on the often dark bottom.
Butterflies and moths have also been great this summer. There have been lots of Canadian and eastern tiger swallowtails and the monarch number have been good too. The slow growth of milkweed though has resulted in fewer monarch caterpillars so far in some locales. Moths are also late this year, but they have joined the hordes of May beetles — June bugs, recently at lights near wooded areas. Several polyphemus moths appeared at lights in south Marquette and Sands this past week and luna moths have been seen too.
Birding does continue to be good. One house wren pair has been very vocal on the east side of Marquette as they found a newly placed nest box and promptly began nest building. This past week, common loons’ second go-around at nesting, at least at Seney National Wildlife Refuge has finally paid off and young birds are following their parents around the pools as they fish. A new set of robins have fledged in the Marquette area and young can also be seen following parents around as they hunt for worms and other invertebrates.
Some of these young birds though create a new challenge for those trying to bird by sound in the thick foliage. The call notes of many young birds are a little more than a set of squeaky notes, making them extremely difficult to identify by sound along.
Adult birds closing in on having fledged young have less time to sing. Because of time restraints and lessening concerns on defending territories or attracting a late season mate some birds singing shortened phrases of their usual songs. It also pushes birders to seek out the artist to confirm identity. Some birds though continue to sing full songs. Northern cardinals, mourning doves with their short coos, indigo buntings and the vireos — red-eyed and blue-headed, have all been heard continuing full songs. Late nesting American goldfinches have been very vocal as well but may nest really late this summer as they await the maturing of thistle seeds for their downy fluff materials used in nest building and seeds for food.
Several unusual birds have been seen in the U.P. A whibrel was seen in Silver City in Ontonagon County on Saturday. This long-billed shorebird should be in Alaska and northern Canada right now. Birders do usually believe migrating shorebirds seen after July 1 are southbound, so this bird may have lost its mate and started its trek back to South America. A solitary sandpiper was seen at the AuTrain river mouth possibly with a similar situation. Early migrators may also be birds that have suffered from injuries or illnesses that never made it to the Arctic. A tufted titmouse, a usually seen in Southern Wisconsin and Lower Michigan was seen near Mohawk this past week and a yellow-headed blackbird was found in Lake Linden. Summer is overflowing with goodness so go see for yourself!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.