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What’s Flying: True spring getting off to a great start

“We lose our souls if we lose the experience of the forest, the butterflies, the song of the birds, if we can’t see the stars at night.” — Thomas Berry

True spring got off to a great start in parts of the Upper Peninsula when considered with an experienced understanding of U.P. spring. There was a hard rain, temperatures were normal to above normal, there were no huge snowstorms, and there were flocks of robins. Last week there was a flock of robins, 70 were counted, enjoying the solitude of the academic mall at Northern Michigan University. The opening between the buildings blocked out the north wind, contained a number of crab apple trees still full of fruit and a large lawn devoid of snow, melted in the shelter of the heat absorbing buildings. The robins will be seeking out open areas of grass as the snow melts and the ground thaws to hunt worms and other invertebrates.

Nesting boxes are set for peregrine falcons in Marquette this spring. The Marquette Board of Light and Power will keep their box up atop the inactive Shiras Steam Plant on Lake Street again this summer. The box has hosted successful nesting pairs since 2011. With some great cooperation, the MDNR has been able to place a new nesting box atop the Landmark Inn downtown. A box had been located on one of the smokestacks on the Presque Isle Power Plant, but it was decommissioned last year, leaving just one in the city. The new box will add a second back to the area.

It was a surprise to see both power plants hosting nesting successful pairs for eight years, due to their proximity, but apparently there was a sufficient food supply to sustain two growing families. Last year there appeared to have been only one family and because the two boxes now are so close together, there will probably be one again this year because the two are so close together and two pairs would literally be within sight of each other. The new box has been put in place this year so the peregrines will know it is present for future years. The Shiras Steam Plant will be dismantled in the near future leaving only the Landmark Inn site available after this year.

The lower reaches of the Dead River near the mouth in north Marquette have been one of the best areas to see newly arriving waterfowl the past two weeks. Recent arrivals have included a pair of greater white-fronted geese, a canvasback duck, a northern shoveler, hooded mergansers, a ring-necked duck and a number of Canada geese. Red-winged blackbirds and common grackles have also been arriving there. There are still plenty of mallards and a pair of wood ducks being seen regularly upstream. A couple other interesting ducks also continue to be seen on the Dead River, mallard X American black duck hybrids. The ducks are darker, similar to black ducks, but have streaks if iridescent green on the sides of their heads, resulting from a male mallard and female black duck mating.

While not common, some duck species hybridize. Some other combinations with mallards are wigeon, northern shovelers, green wing teals, pintails and wood ducks. Green wing teals and wigeons and common goldeneye and hooded merganser are two other combinations. Scientists have found around 400 different hybrid duck combinations.

In Delta County, larger numbers of diving ducks are being seen on Lake Michigan. Nearly 200 great scaup were seen at Saunders (Wilderness) Pin in Gladstone. Lesser scaup, hooded and red-breasted mergansers, ring-necked ducks and redheads were also noted. https://ebird.org/ continues to be a great place to follow migration and with the arrival of spring staff at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory this week their website will also display their observations, www.wpbo.org.

Mourning doves may be one of the bigger surprises in the Marquette area. A least two nests are known to be home to new hatchlings in the area. One nest in view of a window in Harvey had two eggs, the first hatching on Saturday.

The second nest on the east side of Marquette is located in a thick spruce trees. Dove nests are usually notoriously bad examples of architectural wonders and have been known to go tumbling in even mildly windy storms, so the spruces have not been disturbed there to check on a nest and the progress of young.

One of the greatest joys for some birders this week was the return of song sparrows. Two of them appeared in the ridge shrubbery above Mattson Park in the Lower Harbor. The two males began singing on Tuesday just 100 yards apart and with a northern cardinal singing farther down the ridge, there was a great mix of songs beginning to build. Robins have been singing there lately too and all will be joined by yellow warblers, gray catbirds, eastern phoebes, and red-eyed vireos in the coming weeks.

Picnic Rocks, the mouth of the Dead River and the Lower Harbor in Marquette have all still been great spots to see large flocks of gulls. Herring and ring-billed gulls always make up the bulk of them, but larger numbers of greater black-backed and glaucous gulls have also been mixed in as they move through the Great Lakes as they usually do in the spring, and a couple of iceland gulls have also been seen. It’s a great time to be out!

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

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