What’s Flying: ‘Summer’ has been here for awhile

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time.” –John Lubbock


Well it is not “summer” yet, but it sure seems like it. Some have already wondered if these past days will be the hottest the Upper Peninsula will experience this whole summer. And the season start is still nine days away. June 20 will mark the official start of summer, but it has been here a long time already. Brown grass, plenty of 80-degree  temperatures and long lines at the ice cream stands are testaments to the progression of the season.

The hope for the Upper Peninsula would be for some significant rain in the coming days. There was a good bloom of blueberries last month and the blackberries are really flowering up a storm of white blossoms now, but without some rain soon these little details will be lost for the season.

Along Lakeshore Boulevard near Mattson Park the viburnum (high bush cranberry, though it is not a cranberry) is also in full bloom this week, adding a splash of contrast to the hill side.

Early risers were treated to the start a partial eclipse of the sun Thursday morning in places with clear skies. It lasted about 50 minutes, starting at sunrise, and covered about 80% of the sun in the north central U.P.

The grassy open areas have been a place of discovery for birders this month as a large number of grasslands birds has turned across the U.P., apparently from areas to the west, where dry conditions may be even worse than they currently are in parts of the U.P.

Several grasslands and prairie birds have been more frequently seen recently. 

One of the biggest surprises has been the significant number of dickcissels found across the area recently. These grasslands birds are currently believed to be relatives of cardinals and have heavy bills. Their primary range covers parts of Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, but they occasionally nest in parts of the entire eastern U.S., including parts of the U.P., especially in open agricultural areas and old fields.

This summer they have been seen in Skandia, grasslands near Limestone, Delta County near both Hyde and Cornell, in Baraga and Gogebic counties and even at the Bog Walk at Presque Isle Park in Marquette. In certain years they do tend to become more widespread across their summer distribution. Their call, a series of three high notes and three lower notes sounds much like it name and is often the first clue one is present. Their markings are similar to those of a meadowlark, with a brown striped back and black-chinned, yellow chest. 

Several other unusual species normally more common in western states have been seen in the U.P. recently, such as Wilson’s phalaropes, loggerhead shrikes, western meadowlarks and yellow-headed blackbirds. The phalaropes are shorebirds and they were among the first from this quartet to arrive.

The yellow-headed blackbirds have been the most recent, with one even making an appearance in a parking lot of one of the larger stores in Marquette Township. A second was seen recently at the mouth of the Whitefish River in Delta County east of Rapid River.

With bright yellow heads males are quite distinctive and formerly were more widely distributed in both Michigan and Wisconsin. Because they nest over standing water, changes in climate and water levels has drastically changed some marshes and swamps where they have nested, leaving them unsuitable for yellow-headed blackbirds. They were once common in the Lake Michigan marshes south of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, but when Great Lakes water levels dropped they left and at least at some sites they have not returned. They do have one other interesting nesting habit. Once males claim a summer territory they can attract and hold half a dozen mates or more nesting there. It usually helps with the care of the first nest but not the others, leaving those females to feed and care for their young alone.

Another gold mine of warbler diversity unveiled itself on the Peshekee Grade along the Marquette-Baraga County line June 7 when 17 species of warblers were found, including 43 American redstarts, 27 blackburnian, 40 Cape May, 10 magnolia, 38 Nashville warblers and 54 ovenbirds. Six species of flycatchers and 49 red-eye vireos were also tallied in a five-hour trip up the grade and back. Starting trips like that fairly early in the morning can be most advantageous for hearing many of the birds otherwise unnoticed during a tour of that sort. This one started around 8:30 in the morning.

Having expert birders along able to identify those songs also helps.

Other birding sites have also produced some notable birds lately. At Sand Point east of Munising, an orchard oriole and Franklin’s gull report drew other birders who later found a lesser black-back gull. All sightings were on June 9.

Common nighthawks and a few whip-poor-wills have been seen on the Sands Plains a few other locations. Several U.P. jack pine areas have produced endangered Kirtland’s warblers in the U.P. as well this month.

Time to slow down a bit, especially on those 80-degree+ days and enjoy the small details of the clouds, new dragonflies, the details of some warbler and vireo songs and just relax!

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


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