Spring has been a rollercoaster
“Nothing like the petals of a spring beauty or a marsh marigold to take the sting out of a late snow.” — Anonymous
It has been a roller coaster of a spring and it seems like that is becoming winter’s in the Upper Peninsula. Luckily there has been enough warmth and sunshine to provide encouragement to the spring ephemerals like spring beauties and trailing arbutus, and the yellow marsh marigolds are just begging to open their flower buds in the wetlands in Marquette.
It is also fortunate many songbirds have taken a slow path back north this spring with many still holding off still to the south. Leaf-out is well underway in places like northern Illinois where temperatures have reached 80oF this past week, but in the U.P., not so much. Recent snow though did push the official snowfall totals in some places to pass the record annual low snowfall total, and no temperatures in the near future here look to pass 70 degrees F.
Hardier species like waterfowl have been passing through. On Lake Superior eight common loons were counted on Lake Superior’s Lower Harbor in Marquette on Tuesday and a smattering of horned grebes has also been seen there. Spring grebes can be spectacular, with their intense red eyes and buffy-gold head tufts. For most birders, a view through binoculars or spotting scopes is about all they get, but occasionally the grebes will fish close to shore around the ore docks, Founder’s Landing, and even in some smaller ponds and wetlands like those at Presque Isle Park, affording stunning, close-up looks.
There are still a number of large groups of migrants still to come this spring. Shorebirds — plovers, sandpipers and their relatives have barely started. Some killdeers have arrived, including some that will probably nest in the area. Other plovers, including black-bellied, American golden-plovers and summer resident, endangered piping plovers are still a week or two away from really getting underway here.
Greater yellowlegs are beginning to work their way into the area too, some passing and calling while flying through recent snow squalls. They will be seen on the ground at the edges of small ponds and shallow wetlands hunting for worms, aquatic insects and other arthropods. American woodcocks have not only arrived, but some have nested and started hatching young. A brood of five was seen along a road in Mackinac County this past week!
The bulk of sparrows — including summer resident white-throated and chipping sparrows are underway, following the first waves of juncos, song and fox sparrows. White-crowned sparrows are usually right behind the white-throated and occasionally bring along Lincoln’s, more vesper, savannah and a few Harris’s sparrows. Harris’s sometimes wander east of their normal migration path to Canada. Gaudy neotropical migrants — including scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles, indigo buntings and rose-breasted grosbeaks will be travelling here about the same time as the first ruby-throated hummingbirds, driving many birders into complete ecstasy. Other neotropical species like wrens, thrushes and flycatchers will also arrive here then.
Usually the last large group to arrive are the warblers. Also traveling from the Caribbean and the Tropics, they come the second half of May most years when the leaf eating caterpillars are starting to get busy in the new leaves of the trees and bring spring migration to an end.
Until then there is plenty to keep outdoor explorers busy. Besides Lake Superior, there are other good spots to see waterbirds, like Tourist Park and Teal Lakes and sewage Lagoons like the ones in Gwinn, Chatham and Baraga. In Marquette, green- and blue-winged teals, the first wood ducks, American coots and ring-necked ducks are stopping over to rest, feed and occasionally wait for better weather conditions to continue the flight north. While common grackles and red-winged blackbirds have arrived, rusty blackbirds, less noticed relatives have also been passing through, with 260+ counted at Whitefish Point this spring.
Odd numbers of hermit thrushes, brown creepers and a few winter wrens have also continued to trickle through the Upper Peninsula. Buteos are continuing their trips through too. They are the wider-winged hawks know to soar as they hunt, often for mammals and larger birds on the ground. Rough-legged hawks, winter visitors from the north are mostly on they way back to Canada and Alaska and large numbers of red-tailed hawks headed to Canada are across Lake Superior already. Some late red-tails will remain in the U.P. and are being joined by smaller broad-winged hawks, Broad-wings are interesting forest hawks. They are the ones usually seen sitting on power lines over ponds and wetlands where they perch while hunting frogs! They are fairly easily to distinguish in flight by there long white and black curved tail bands.
Hummingbirds have not made much progress northward since last week due to the cold conditions. The hummingbird guide website, https://www.hummingbird-guide.com/hummingbird-migration-map-2021.html#spring-migration-map-2021, seems to have a more accurate map of current progress. On Wednesday it showed a migration line through Milwaukee to Madison, with a lone stray just northwest of Rhinelander in Wisconsin. In the Lower Peninsula, the line is about to Lansing, with one stray just south of Ludington.
Morning are frequently filled with songs and calls now from robins, cardinals, song sparrows, mourning doves, white-breasted nuthatches, chickadees and northern flickers. Add some percussion from yellow-bellied sapsuckers, downy, hairy and a few red-bellied woodpeckers and the sounds are just plain hard to beat.
The days are filling with sights and sounds to bring a warm smile on even the coldest spring days.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.