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What’s Flying: Make your way out into nature

A male scarlet tanager looks on. (Scot Stewart photo)

“Tears of joy are like the summer rain drops pierced by sunbeams.” — Hosea Ballou

Tears of joy seem to be coming with raindrops this summer. They have been “as scarce as hens’ teeth” in this seemingly nationwide dry summer. The sunshine has been a welcome part of the days in the Upper Peninsula, it always is after a U.P. winter, but there is a true need for rain and there are literally tears of joy in some places when the rain does fall because it is so needed. Fire dangers and damage have been rampant in the western states and provinces this summer and risks continue in the U.P. Talk of the upper atmosphere smoke from western fires has really stoked up here as the skies remain hazy and the sun starts and ends the day as a dim red ball.

In many of the wetlands across the U.P. red maples taking on the late summer blush of reds seem even more prevalent, and early as they begin their premature shift into fall hues. A quick ride up Co. Road 550 or a spin around Harlow Lake will quickly reveal some of those early change artists. Every year a few of these red maples begin to change, but this year in at least a few places there seem to be more that are further along for mid-July.

In the meantime, the sound of singing male birds is being replaced by the begging calls of young birds and the alarm calls of blue jays warning of young falcons. In Marquette there are plenty of young crows, more than able to fend for themselves in newly mowed fields and yards, but still willing to try their luck annoyingly begging for an easier meal from their parents. Young merlins and American kestrels are also fledging in town, much to the distress of blue jays who are more than happy to let everyone know about the presence of merlins raised at McCarty Cove this summer.

The merlins like nesting sites in large white pines and have nested at several sites along Lake Superior in Marquette over the past few years. Bird feeders can grow suddenly quiet after merlins fledge. The large flocks of starlings and grackles that had also made a clatter in the area seem to have departed!

A few late songsters are still busy most days yet. Song sparrows, American redstarts, common yellowthroats and red-eyed vireos are among the last to wind up their summer serenades, but a few like mourning doves and cardinals may be continuing as they attempt late or second broods.

One way to add new ideas about birds and birding can come from a quick moment with noted “bird personality” Laura Erickson. Difficult to describe her as she comments on, writes about, photographs and educates about birds at www.lauraerickson.com. She has a few moments at the end of some public radio programs like WXPR in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, called “Speaking for the Birds.” It provides a quick five minutes of great stories three times a week. With podcasts, internet and other ways to hear news and programs from around the world, hers is a great way to learn some new things about both birds and birding and is often about the North Woods, as she is based in Duluth, Minnesota.

One of her stories this week was about the ingenuity of ravens. Although the story had a dark side it involved New Hampshire ravens’ ability to identify the painted turtles as a food source. The turtles were intercepted as they sought out places to lay their eggs, were flipped, and attacked for their eggs. The trick was probably learned from finding road-killed turtles and applying the newly learned information to other situations. It turned out ravens in the West have discovered a similar strategy with desert tortoises. There is a more complete story about the painted turtles on the New Hampshire extension web page – https://extension.unh.edu/blog/ravens-predators-painted-turtles.

There are plenty of places to check out great birds for those looking for new places or old favorites to revisit. Peshekee Grade along the Marquette-Baraga County line still has a great variety of warblers, black-backed woodpeckers and occasional boreal chickadees to see. One of the best hikes there is into the McCormick Wilderness about nine miles north of U.S. 41 just west of Van Riper State Park.

The North Country Trail and the trails around Harlow Lake and Wetmore Bog and Landing are also good. There are lots of chatty ravens around Harlow Lake and Wetmore Bog and good numbers of hermit and Swainson’s thrushes along with some good warblers too. A surprising scarlet tanager was found between Co. Rd. 550 and Lily Pond on the Wetmore Bog-Hogback Trail July 14. A bird most often found in deciduous semi-open forests, it seems to be a little more frequently encountered in the area this summer.

Peregrines have continued to pop up along the Lake Superior shoreline in Marquette. One was seen at South Beach on July 8 near the Shiras Steam Plant that continues to be in deconstruction mode. The less frequent appearances of peregrines along the shoreline though may encourage southbound shorebirds to linger longer in Marquette this summer and fall. While there have been few sightings of shorebirds in the area so far, small numbers of them — short-billed dowitchers and semipalmated plovers among others, have shown up just across the border in Wisconsin so some are on their way. So, rejoice with the rain and make your way out to see what’s going on!

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

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