Gifts of season are arriving
“It is the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines which way we will go.” — Jim Rohn
Spring winds have begun delivering the gifts of the season to the Upper Peninsula. In an unusual spring prelude, parts of Illinois, Wisconsin and the Lower Peninsula have received snow usually reserved for the Upper Peninsula this time of year. Snow has melted quickly over much of the area here and although there was still more than a foot of snow standing on the ground in the Champion Highlands it won’t be around long.
The dry weather this week, and the promise of more temperatures ahead in the 50’s should dispense with much of what remains and make the official start of Spring tomorrow at 5:37 a.m. seem like more of a reality. Usually the last ten days of March and April’s start can still be filled with snow showers and a storm or two before the true start of Spring in the U.P. occurs. Signs of spring have included sporadic chipmunk sightings for more than two weeks. Skunks and raccoon are beginning their nighttime forays too, but black bear reports with complaints of bird feeder raids have not come up — yet.
Mid-March is also the beginning of migration watches. On Monday the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in Chippewa County began their spring hawk and raptor count https://dunkadoo.org/explore/whitefish-point-bird-observatory/hawk-count-spring-2021. It provides a wealth of information about what’s currently occurring with the migration, and not only hawks, eagles and falcon, but songbirds, owls, sandhill cranes, and other birds passing over the dunes at the point. In addition to live updates, daily summaries and season total graphs are included on the page.
The daily reports can help those wondering about what birds might be in the area, or when to go to Whitefish Point. The counters there usually get off to a slow start and this year is no exception. Those the diversity and numbers both start low but often come with surprises. On Saturday just before the official count started, 49 bald eagles and 6 golden eagles were seen headed north to Canada.
On Monday a flock of 18 bohemian waxwings and 5 golden eagles were seen at the Point. Pine grosbeaks were seen Saturday too as they and the bohemian waxwings will be headed north or west soon.
Peregrines continue to trickle into the area with a pair, possibly returnees, appearing around the Lift Bridge between Houghton and Hancock. There has been a nesting box used there the past few years, but due to work on the bridge this spring, the box was taken down to avoid interactions between territorial falcons and workers climbing steep stairs.
Nesting boxes have been placed on taller buildings in the area hoping to entice the birds to find suitable nesting sites away from the bridge this year.
Typically, a site like the Portage Canal around the two towns will support only pair of peregrines because of their territoriality, but occasionally the falcons will nest close together if there is some degree of visual separation and a substantial food supply. For about nine years two pairs did nest on the two power plants in Marquette, only three miles apart. Waterfowl, pigeons and other songbirds provided an ample supply of food for two families and few serious interactions were notes between the two groups.
Common grackles, red-winged and rusty blackbirds seemed quite reluctant to leave the area last fall and many lingered in the central U.P. until there were several significant snow squalls. It does not seem like they moved too far south, because many are already back in the area, moving north or looking to stake out early territories here.
One of the real glories of early spring now is something not noticed here not long ago. Singing cardinals, breaking the morning silence with their calls, were literally unheard of here just 20 years ago.
Now, not only are they heard, especially in the Marquette area, but are sounding off in stereo and in a few spots quadraphonically! Two birders reported hearing four or more cardinals singing at the same time on the east side of Marquette last week.
Crows and gulls have also added to the morning chorus in Marquette too. The former have been particularly vocal the past two weeks all across town. Ring-billed gulls continue to work into the Picnic Rocks area where they will begin nesting later this spring. Travelers along Lakeshore Blvd. will know when the herring gulls start nesting on Ripley Rock in the Lower Harbor when they see the large gulls scooping big mouthfuls of grass and soil from the hill leading up to the Father Marquette statue for their nests.
Other sightings of interest this week included the first robins back into a few areas. They too were late to leave last fall but few have been reported in the past two months so it seems they may be early migrants.
A leucistic house finch was seen on Spruce Street this past week, too, about 10 blocks from sightings earlier this winter in Marquette. This bird is mostly white with a few brown markings and a blush of pink, indicating it is probably a male.
The out-of-doors still offers some of the best possibilities for staying out of COVID’s way, getting some great exercise and opportunities to relax and enjoy the beauty of our area.
So, go out and sail on the winds of Spring!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.