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Rain brightens winter’s remnants

A green-winged teal shown. (Scot Stewart photo)

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. — Langston Hughes

A little bit of rain has come again to the Upper Peninsula, washing away more remnants of a Winter season hardly experienced. The moisture dampened the air filled with new sounds not head in over six months. Song sparrow are the sweetest of the new serenades, joined with background notes from newly arrived red-winged blackbirds and common grackles.

The changes have seemed almost surreal to many seasoned Yoopers, unfamiliar with a Winter of little snow, mild temperature and only one great frigid snap that only made the winter more enjoyable as it opened the gates to days of strolls, skating and exploring on the Lower Harbor and Lake Superior in Marquette.

On strong winds from the southwest, a new array of spring migrants arrived in the Upper Peninsula this past week. Along with the song sparrows came dark-eyed juncos and a few American tree sparrows. Many of the other early migrants continue — sandhill cranes and killdeer.

Turkey vultures also started streaming in. They seem to be right on time again this year. There is small town south of Cleveland, Ohio, name Hinckley. For two centuries residents there have noted the return of turkey vultures there each spring, and since 1957 have made March 15, the day they traditionally return, a special day to welcome the birds back each spring. It seemed fitting that the first turkey vulture seen at Whitefish Point in Chippewa County was on March 17, just two days and 519 miles from Hinkley. Marquette saw one on March 24.

Once a rare sight in the U.P., the turkey vultures are now commonplace in Marquette County and parts of Alger County too.

Trumpeter swans have continued on the Dead River in Marquette, above the Tourist Park. After irregular visits over the past three or four years, a pair has remained along the river near homes for several weeks, giving rise to hope they may finally nest nearby and bring young to sites along the river during the coming summer. On the Portage Canal northwest of the Houghton-Hancock bridge a group of swans has also been seen this past week.

The mitigation ponds at Presque Isle at the Bog Walk and the single pond behind Lambros Park south of the Dead River have become good spots to occasionally see dabbling ducks like American wigeons and green-winged teals. Since they are fairly small ponds with good access, careful, quiet birders have been able to get close looks and enjoy the detailed beauty of these ducks, seen far less often in the area than the divers like common goldeneyes, buffleheads, scaups and mergansers. A pair of green-winged teals have been together near Presque Isle, and the male is a much more mature, sleek looking one tan the young male seen along the Dead River this winter.

A northern pintail (duck) has been seen in Marquette too. It has been seen in the bigger waters of the lower Dead, with a lesser scaup, mallards, goldeneyes and Canada geese. Smaller ponds across the Upper Peninsula are worth checking in the coming weeks for dabbling ducks, shorebirds — killdeers are here already, and songbirds like flycatchers, looking for early insects and water.

Huge flocks of common redpolls have been showing up at feeders in a variety of locations in the U.P. from Whitefish Point to Grand Marais to the Keweenaw. Some have numbered in the 100s as they begin to mass up and head to other sites where natural foods like birch and conifers still have seeds available. The flocks have frequently contained hoary redpolls too. Much whiter, with rounded heads and smaller bills, they are always exciting to see because they are so much rarer.

A flock of a hundred common redpolls may contain only one or two hoaries.

Occasional snowy owl sighting are also being reported. One was seen Thursday morning in the middle of Marquette crossing U.S. 41 near the motel complex on the west side. Another was spotted in the Keweenaw earlier in the week. They have been wintering to the south and are headed back to the tundra for the summer. Unfortunately, most of these birds will be at any one place only a day or so before continuing north.

Extremely foul weather day might be best for looking as many birds may be grounded, waiting for better weather to depart. They will probably leave after dark, when there are few problems with crows and jays.

The start of Covid saw many people head outside to find safer places to see others, to get some exercise and time away from the computer with so many businesses closed and people working remotely. It came as no surprise being outdoors offered so much more. The sunshine, fresh air, bird songs, colors of flowers, leaves, sky and animals brought happiness and a greater sense of balance and tranquility.

Some businesses saw great sales increases as people bought equipment and clothing to enjoy the natural world too.

As the wonders of spring continue to cascade down up the U.P. rediscover all that comes with the season and the outdoors. Take some time to catch a fresh breath of air and step away from the news and technology. The rain is washing away what lingers from winter, and Spring can brighten up all that is here!

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

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