Summer seems to say goodbye
“And then the sun took a step back, the leaves lulled themselves to sleep and Autumn was awaked.” — Raquel Franco
Suddenly summer seems ready to say goodbye. The feel of autumn appears more than ready to take over, although there are still some signs the warmth of days past would like to linger on the shores of the Great Lakes just a little longer.
There are delightful mixtures of seasonal signs to keep nature lovers busy. The length of days is similar to those of spring, tricking spring peepers into thinking it is time to breed. Their random peepings in trees seem almost simultaneously humorous and tragic. Bumblebees, enjoying their best summer in recent memory, have buzzed from goldenrod to goldenrod to fill themselves with the last of the season’s nectar. The recent rains have finally drawn out many of the season’s mushrooms and other fungi brightening up fallen logs and forest leaf litter. It is an amazing time of seasons in collision.
Birds too are playing their part. Mixed flocks of warblers have joined monarch butterflies at the tip of the Stonington Peninsula in Delta County. On Aug. 31 a rare to the area common ground dove was also seen there. Last Monday 10 different species of warblers, including blackpoll and Tennessee, were seen there at the Peninsula Point along with a red knot and plenty of monarchs.
Since the large massing of monarchs at the Point two years ago many have wondered when the best times would be to see them there. The absolute best times are during days with strong south winds and damp weather. The monarchs prefer using following north winds to help them make the crossing to Washington Island and Door County on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin and will wait at the point through damp weather until the winds and sun are more favorable. For more information check with the Hiawatha National Forest Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/HiawathaNF/.
Reports from along Lake Michigan continue to include the remnants of the wave of great egrets that have spent weeks in the Upper Peninsula this summer. Most now are slowly working back south and will spend the winter on the ocean coasts, the southern parts of the Gulf States and south of the border in Mexico and Central America. As a species they do range all the way to South America.
The back end of shorebird migration is also well underway. At a mitigation pond in Escanaba an unusual stilt sandpiper was seen with a nice array of other shorebirds including pectoral and solitary sandpipers, greater and lesser yellowlegs, killdeers and semipalmated plovers. A great egret was with them as well.
One of the last shorebirds to come through the U.P. will be the American golden-plover. With markings similar to the black-bellied plovers, the key to positive identification is the underside of the inner wings — the “armpits.” Black-bellies have dark patches there and American goldens do not. They do sometimes travel together and both like to forage along beaches and search for earth worms in grassy athletic fields. They do occasionally end up on the breakwalls too. They can show up as late as the second week in October.
Shorebirds have also continued passing through Whitefish Point, but a nice variety of other migrators have also been seen there. Shorebirds have included buff-breasted, Baird’s and least sandpipers, lesser yellowlegs, American golden-plovers, and sanderlings. Other species though have also been reported — horned larks, American pipits, continuing red-necked and horned grebes, Bonaparte’s and common terns, merlins, peregrines and broad-winged hawks. A large number of jaegers, predatory gulls, was also noted last Sunday with 19 spotted.
Some summer birds are continuing with nice numbers being seen. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are being reported at multiple sites, although many may be Canadian summer residents just making it this far south. Some hummingbird fans are watching the tropical storms, especially those hitting Louisiana, to see if they disrupt flight patters of hummingbirds heading that way during fall migration to the tropics, or for winters along the coast. Some may be temporarily blown eastward on their way from the western states and provinces and in Michigan. Of particular note are rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds, reddish relatives of the local ruby-throats. These western species may end up in flower beds or at feeding stations, so birders should pay particular attention to unusual hummingbirds, and photograph any they see. Of particular interest are the back views of tail feathers color and markings. These are some of the best ways to distinguish these species. Turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks are being seen with some regularity yet in the Marquette area. It is always difficult to know if late birds are lingering summer residents or migrating birds coming from Canada. This is especially true when they are seen in areas where they have been regulars all summer. A red-tail was seen over the by-pass near Grove Street early this week and the turkey vultures have been seen over the hills in south Marquette.
And speaking of the turkey word, wild turkeys have been seen across much of the U.P. this summer. One family has been a regular feature at Presque Isle and may be a released adult with a new family. It is difficult to travel south toward Iron and Dickinson counties with out seeing several families foraging along the road.
September is also a great month for cloud watching. It is a mix of fluffy cumulous and big storm clouds, rainbows and great sunrises and sets. So, get out and catch your mix of the changing seasons.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.