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Spring migration brings new hope

A yellow-rumped warbler is shown. (Scot Stewart photo)

“Birding always bring expectations — especially in spring. Marveling with what actually occurs, enjoying the place, and the day are what ultimately make the expectations inconsequential.” — Anonymous

Spring migration brings new hopes and surprises each day to birders. It is an especially notable time as most birds are molting into or have already gained their fresh breeding plumage and look spectacular. They are often vocal, especially those slated to summer in the area. Males of some species do sing as they move on northward, still trying to find a female, looking for a possible open summer range or other reasons, but this behavior is not well understood. Migration in spring is different from fall’s. In autumn, adults with worn plumage and somewhat worn out from raising young, head south with young, inexperienced young in tow. These young may be seeing humans for only the first or second time when they reach the south shore of Lake Superior, but all are generally silent except for mostly quiet calls to keep tabs of each other while they rest and feed as they continue south.

Birders heading outside these days have great expectations for new birds of the year, get numbers of diversity and maybe even surprises. Sighting of yellow-throated warbler was a surprise in Marquette recently. This is a very unusual warbler, in summer nesting all the way south to Florida and part of Texas, and all the way north to the Great Lakes states. It is just beginning to become established in small areas of Michigan, as its range has expanded northward. They are very rare visitors to the U.P. This bird had been seen for more than a week along the Dead River but has popped up from cattails only occasionally. While some birders have gotten great looks at it, it has been frustrating some birders heading there with high expectations getting a glimpse of it. Remarkably, it has continued in the area offering new hope for birders missing it, without opportunities to get there or procrastinating to head out in rain to look.

Yellow-throated warblers have distinct bright yellow throats, striped flanks, bright white breasts and dark gray caps and backs. They also have strong black cheek patches. Few other warblers have been seen yet in the area so far this spring. Several yellow-rumped warblers have shown up in the central U.P. but it is still very early for their return. Because most warblers overwinter in Central and South America, they will take longer to get this far north. With the cold weather, low number of insects available yet, it is good they stay to the far southern tier of the U.S. until it warms up. Ironically, the yellow-throat may be coming a much shorter distance from these southeastern states.

The numbers and percentages of birds seen at Whitefish Point are changing as a few new waves of birds pass through. On Tuesday, several tremendous waves of sandhill cranes moved over the point and 1818 were counted for the day. That raised the total number of cranes passing the point this migration season to 2,485, past the total number of 1,856 common redpolls seen so far this year there. Because the Point is the closest place to Canada along that part of the Lake Superior shoreline, and the Canadian side is visible there, it is a jumping off point for birds heading north.

Hawk migration has picked up this week too, despite the rain, fog and cooler temperatures. There has been a steady stream of raptors, especially red-tailed and sharp-shinned hawks. During the uneven weather on Tuesday, 153 red-tails and 61 sharp-shins were counted by the staff ornithologist on the platform on the dunes above the tip of the point. Some bigger days are still ahead for the sharp-shins. On perfect flight days 1,500 can cruise over and past the point. Some come over the dunes and into the leatherleaf bogs nearby hunting songbirds resting and feeding in the brush and at the feeders. It is quite amazing to see some many so close while they are cruising by and hunting.

While the cooler weather, rain and snow have been slowing migration some, this past week has seen rising numbers of woodpeckers — northern flickers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and sparrows — song and American tree sparrows and dark-eyed juncos. This latter group has flocked to feeders in search of sunflower seeds as they have hunkered down to wait for more favorable following winds from the south. With the snowfall earlier this week, many ground feeders will head toward feeders to find easier sources of food. Then it is off again, continuing their trek north as soon as conditions improve, to their summer range to claim better home territories.

Robins seem determined to state their case now. Songs are getting louder and louder in mornings, despite the snow and cold temperatures. Song sparrows are also adding to the morning chorus, with cardinals, white-breasted nuthatches and early nesting mourning dove.

According to Hummingbird Central, https://www.hummingbirdcentral.com/hummingbird-migration-spring-2021-map.htm, an early ruby-throated hummingbird has already made it to the Upper Peninsula, showing up in Rapid River on April 8. This is an early bird. While there are some edible insects and spiders, a few midges and other flies are already active, there are just a few willows currently blooming to provide any natural nectar to help them refuel. Time for birders to start filling those hummingbird feeders and get them up! Lots of spring expectations, more hope for a great spring, and plenty of terrific experiences ahead!

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

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