What’s flying

Smell the roses before they’re covered?in snow

A pair of trumpeter swans look on. (Scot Stewart photo)

“The serene philosophy of the pink rose is steadying. Its fragrant, delicate petals open fully and are ready to fall, without regret or disillusion, after only a day in the sun. It is so every summer. One can almost hear their pink, fragrant murmur as they settle down upon the grass: ‘Summer, summer, it will always be summer.”

— Rachel Peden

No doubt about it — it is summer in the Upper Peninsula. There have been thunderstorms. There have been temperatures climbing close to 90 degrees. The roses are finally blooming in many areas just this week. Their heavy, sweet aroma filled the air along the Marshland Drive at Seney National Wildlife Refuge this week mixing with the morning fragrances of common and swamp milkweed. The beautiful blue flowers of marsh skullcap livened up the edge of the pools at the refuge, but they may have been overlooked by many captivated by the activity of insects, reptiles, birds and mammals

Birding can be a bit chancy, especially at this time of year. A pair of birders took the Marshland Loop early last Saturday and were able to catch a single male loon, a family of ring-billed ducks and plenty of trumpeter swans. They made a send trip around taking the Fishing Loop and were immediately able to find an American white pelican on F Pool. It caught a fairly large fish and put on an entertaining show snapping its bill up multiple times evidently trying to align the fish properly to swallow it.

Across the road in E Pool a male loon cruised with a young chick exchanging calls with its mate across the pool. Suddenly the chick dove as a bald eagle circled overhead briefly then disappeared. The female arrived to join the male a bit later but arrived through a series of underwater dives and resurfaces until it got within fifty feet of chick.

Scot Stewart

A few minutes later a Caspian tern swung around and dove into E Pool trying for a fish. It missed, popped out of the water and continued on a curving course over the large pool. The large, red-billed terns have been regulars at the refuge this summer but their smaller relatives, the common terns have been far less visible.

Shortly after the tern left, the bald eagle reappeared, this time on a different mission. It had spotted an osprey catch a six inch fish and was heading back to its nest, when the eagle began to chase it. The two engaged in a series of dips, with the osprey doing its very best to elude the attacker, but finally lost the fish, having it grabbed away by the eagle. It brings to mind Ben Franklin’s reluctance to make the eagle the national symbol due to its “character” as he described in a letter to his daughter.

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk (osprey); and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.”

Whatever the case is for its character, the eagle and the osprey both put on an unbelievable show. Both species have several nests on the refuge and can be seen fairly regularly during visits.

Wood ducks have young nearly as large as the adults in some clutches, but most ring-necked ducks have much smaller young. Three broods were seen on the second trip around the refuge, with six, eight and nine young in the families seen. The young seem light as leaves, fluttering across the water when scolded by their mother.

There are still plenty of songsters providing a chorus in the morning hours, even on warmer mornings. Several Wilson’s snipes were still winnowing, song, white-throated and swamp sparrows, red-eyed vireos, pine and yellow-rumped warblers were heard and on July 13 a yellow rail was heard calling between G and J Pools. While soras and Virginia rails are fairly common across the U.P., with both seen even at local wetlands like the mitigation pools at the Bog Walk at Presque Isle Park in Marquette, yellow rails have become extremely rare at Seney, after years of nest there regularly. The second time around was magical.

Many birds are busy preparing for or feeding second clutches. Northern cardinals are being seen with young as they are regularly singing, indicating they are again nesting. Eastern phoebes are also very prominent in the morning chorus. Cedar waxwings and American goldfinches, both late to start nesting, are just now getting ready to start.

The goldfinches are usually tied to the blooming of thistles with the downy seeds used both for food and nest lining. Insects are also tied to these flowers. Hummingbird moths are beginning to hover around thistles and dogbane as they are daytime feeders of nectar, joining orange, white and black Baltimore checkerspot butterflies and white admirals.

Go smell the roses, listen to the loons and enjoy watching the long necked swans. It is beautiful out there.

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