What’s Flying: What will March bring this year?
“The stormy March is come at last,
With wind, and cloud, and changing skies,
I hear the rushing of the blast,
That through the snowy valley flies.”
— William Cullen Bryant, March
Next Monday starts a new month, and March is always a month of uncertainty in the Upper Peninsula.
Will it bring some of the snow, so skillfully able to avoid us most of the winter?
How about those chinook winds, wild and warm with teasing hints of spring?
Or will March just bring more of the same — alternations of temperature and occasion dustings of snow? If the appearance of throngs out on the sunny days is any indication, those mild streaks are the type most desired by most this time of year.
Despite the thick layer of ice that developed in some places on Lake Superior recently, it did not take the deep blue water long to recover its place on the horizon in Marquette. Smack dab in the middle of a large mass of ice east of Marquette, a large opening in the ice appeared, begging the question – “How did that happen?”
It seemed to pair with the 40o temperatures to sap much of the confidence many had about walking out onto the ice in the Lower Harbor to enjoy a new perspective on the views of South Marquette. The opening was quite large though and seemed to be carved out by strong winds.
The open water is a good sign for waterbirds like ducks and gulls. A large flock of herring gulls was found on Picnic Rocks Tuesday that included a glaucous gull. As mentioned recently, it is just a matter of time before the rest of the gulls, including the hundreds of smaller ring-billed gulls trickle back into town. They have been waiting at locations to the south, but with the recent cold wave, they may have not been able to find open water at their locations either. Rarer gulls like the glaucous, may be working around the Great Lakes too making a scan of flocks much more interesting.
It did not take much to reopen some of the narrower sections of the Dead River this week, like those west of the Tourist Park and close to the river mouth. Several hundred mallards and eight common goldeneyes were seen at the Granite Street dead end on Tuesday and more of both species were seen in the wide waters west of the Lakeshore Boulevard bridge. These sites provide resting and feeding sites for the ducks not available along most of the Lake Superior shoreline, but there are some distractions there. On Tuesday a Cooper’s hawk cruised along the river creating a ruckus among the ducks. Cooper’s hawks are capable of catching pigeons but would have a difficult time attempting to catch a duck, especially on or near water. Eagles and falcons also cruise up[ and down the river too looking for vulnerable birds.
A sharp-shinned hawk has continued to hunt along the Chocolay River this past week too. Frequently seen around feeding stations, this smaller version of the Cooper’s hawk feeds mostly on songbirds like doves, starling and sparrows. Ironically, a song sparrow and a white-throated sparrow have spent most of the winter near a residence in the same area. Birders watching birds at feeders can look out for these predators by watching the smaller birds. If a flock scatters, they may be a hawk or falcon around. If several chickadees just freeze, something these bundles of energy rarely do, they too may be watching a predator.
A merlin, a small falcon, or possibly two, have been sighted multiple times in Marquette too. One was seen downtown recently feeding atop one of the buildings downtown. This past week end a luck birder was fortunate enough to watch one pursue a larger crow near the lighthouse.
As the flying acrobatics continued, two more crows joined in and it was suddenly not possible to know who was chasing whom. The maneuvers continued for more than five minutes before the birds finally separated and all went separate ways.
It was a spectacular show.
Bohemian waxwings are back too. Flocks were seen in the Marquette area earlier this winter but as much of the crab apple crop was consumed by them and pine grosbeaks and most of them and the pine grosbeaks seemed to disappear.
This past week several flocks of waxwings reappeared in Marquette, including one group of around 40 seen near Lakeview Arena this past Tuesday. The waxwings prefer small crab apple fruits, ones they can swallow whole. They will drop down into a tree, swallow two or three then zoom back up to a tall nearby tree to digest their fruit. After a few minutes — it takes about 15 to digest the apples — they drop back down for another couple and repeat the digestion process.
Bohemian waxwings are called lateral migrators. They migrate east and south during the winter in search of fruit and now may be returning from sites out eat on their way back to the Rockies and Canada.
The flocks may be joined by cedar waxwings, summer residents in the U.P. They are slightly smaller and have yellow breasts. They may remain in the area as winter begins its thaw.
Snowy owls, northern shrikes and rough-legged hawks may also reappear as they begin their return from points to the south head back to northern Canada and Alaska for the summer.
It is a good time to return to the outdoors and see just what is moving through the area!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.