What’s Flying: Summer reaches amazing point

A northern parula is shown. (Scot Stewart photo)

“What in your life is calling you, When all the noise is silenced, The meetings adjourned …The lists laid aside, And the Wild Iris blooms By itself In the dark forest…What still pulls on your soul?” – Rumi

Summer has reached that amazing point when the wetlands are filled with northern blue flag iris and the ridges above are settling in to the deep, sweet aroma of summer roses. Many young birds have left their nests as the first big wave of fledglings hits the air. And perhaps best of all, much needed thunderstorms have stretched across the Upper Peninsula erasing many of the season’s earlier worries of droughts and fires. There may be a blueberry crop and some blackberries after all!

Warblers are beginning to draw down on their territorial singing as their summer lives switch over from claiming and defending nesting territories, to waiting on incubating eggs and simply needed to help feed their mates, to tending a nest full of hungry young. In many places though yellow warblers and common yellowthroats are still frequently heard and are among the more common warblers, especially in and near wetlands.

Black-throated blue warbler has been one of many warblers seen this summer in the U.P., especially in deciduous woods and shrubby areas adjacent to or in mixed forests. Foraging for them occurs at lower levels of the forest as these warblers spend most of their time closer to the ground. Females look very different from males, with drab olive-brown coloration and were once thought to be a separate species of warbler because they did look so different. Males are also unusual as their winter plumage is the same as breeding. They winter across most of the Caribbean and nest across the U.P., southeastern Canada, New England, and the Appalachians. There plumage is startlingly beautiful as they are one of the few warblers with stark blue backs to go with their black masks.

Northern Parula, American redstarts, ovenbirds, Canada, black-throated green, Nashville, blackburnian, and Cape May warblers are some of the other warblers that have been prominent at numerous sites this spring. The parulas have been one of the prominent warblers heard at most birding routes again this summer, and though frequently heard in most hemlock stands, are rarely seen because of their habits of foraging high in the canopy. Their backs also contain a bit of blue to go with their yellow and orange breasts and yellow patches on the small of their backs.

Black-billed cuckoos and a few yellow-billed cuckoos continue to be reported across the area too. While this has not been a true tent caterpillar outbreak this summer, there have been enough to go with a drier summer conducive to many caterpillars to help feed hungry cuckoos, who thrive on the hairy larvae of many moths and butterflies. Forest tent caterpillars have been one of the species showing up since late May and with their preference of aspen, birch, oak, basswood and ash, they can be important consumers of leaves of these trees.

While tent caterpillars don’t usually kill the trees they eat, they can slow down their growth and be a nuisance to those below.

Peregrines have just left question marks in Marquette this summer. As reported recently, a nesting box was placed atop the Landmark Inn downtown more than a year ago, but it has not been used. Nesting boxes were not in place at the start of this year’s breeding season atop either power plant in town. After an extended set of visits to the Presque Isle complex, a nesting box was set on the side of the buildings away from the demolition work. It was felt the birds could nest there successfully and fledge young before that part of the facility was torn down. It is not known if the falcons did use the box this year, but they will definitely need to locate a new nesting area next year as both powerplants will be gone by then. There was some evidence to suggest they checked out several protected natural ledges on Presque Isle this spring, but none appeared to meet the falcons’ approval as a nesting site.

From the looks of the activity along the breakwall in the Lower Harbor of Marquette there has been a good fledging class of cliff swallows this month in the area. Two tree swallows were also seen skimming over the rocks and concrete last week. An even better showing of swallows came last Sunday morning at the Portage Marsh south of Escanaba. There, 100 tree swallows and five rough-winged swallows were seen.

Four days earlier, half a dozen purple martins were seen at Ludington Park in Escanaba. These are the hardest-to-find of all the native summer swallows in the U.P. Like so many of the insect eating birds, even the cliff and tree swallows, martin numbers have plummeted over the years due to increasing use of pesticides, including lawn care products and in agricultural areas in Central and South America where most of these species winter, changes in habitats, and global warming. Both insect and bird numbers have seen serious declines so seeing purple martins in Escanaba is a real thrill. And it comes as no surprise. The city has worked closely with Joe Kaplan and Common Coast Research and Conservation to restore both houses and habitat to bring back a dwindling population of these insect-eating favorites to Delta County, this last know colony in the U.P. and the northern most colony in the Great Lakes.

Summer becomes a great time to examine how we use the outdoors and can help one of the love of our lives, summer!

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


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