Autumn delayed but will arrive
“There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.” — Celia Thaxter
The lowering angle of the sun remains a subtle reminder the summer-like temperatures are but a brief delay in the true progress of Autumn. It has seemed fall was put off or summer had simply stormed back with plenty of sun and unseasonable temperatures. The delay in cooler weather has given more to believe summer can continue. The warm daytime temperatures and the lack of frost at night have left many insects to continue their work. Bumblebees, flies, wasps , true bugs, grasshoppers, beetles, and even some late butterflies like Compton’s tortoise shell, American ladies, and mourning cloaks are about. Dragonflies like green darners and autumn meadowhawks are still busy chasing life in the busy skies.
The plethora of insects, especially the flying ones, have helped many end of season migrant birds find the food they need to continue their flights south. Winter, sedge, marsh, and house wrens are all still being reported in the central Upper Peninsula, and for these small, active birds, a large lively insect population is a huge plus for their migration ambitions. Least flycatchers and eastern phoebes are being seen too and they also depend on insects as a primary food source and a critical resource for their flights south.
Even so, it looks like the return of summer fall bird migration is winding down. In addition to the insect eating birds like wrens and flycatchers, shorebirds are wrapping up their movements through the U.P. too. Whitefish Point in Chippewa County is seeing some of the best late migrants. Both black-bellied and American golden-plovers are still coming through as well as dunlin and some bigger flocks of sanderlings too. A flock of 25 went through that area this past Wednesday morning. Elsewhere, including the mouths of the Dead River in Marquette and the AuTrain River in Alger County, small numbers, often singles of the plovers are being seen. Late solitary sandpipers and sanderlings were seen in Alger County this week too.
New sparrows are here. Ever growing numbers are showing up at feeding stations and in brushy areas where seeds of weeds and trees collect on the ground. Among the flocks have been white-throated and white-crowned sparrows probably working southward from Canada and a few Harris’s sparrows. White-crowned will winter across the northern two-thirds of the U.S. and up the West Coast to British Colombia. White-throated sparrows will winter in the southern two-thirds of the eastern U.S. The Harris’s sparrows are the only bird to nest exclusively in Canada. They make their way to the southern, central U.S. for the winter but some do wander eastward, often with white-crowned sparrows and stop to feed here. Their primary winter range is in a narrow strip from Nebraska, through Kansas and Oklahoma to Texas.
Golden-crown kinglets seem to be having a prominent place in the woods this fall. Multiple sightings have been reported by many birders out in more wooded location. These tiny birds are smaller than chickadees and spend most of their time in the canopy gleaning small insects from tree branches. Some will remain here all winter and will look for over-wintering caterpillars. Their foraging is amazing considering the prospects, but is an important to the overall health of the area’s trees.
This is a great time for duck watching. Some dabblers, pond ducks the tip upside down looking for aquatic vegetation and invertebrates, like green-winged teals, American wigeons and northern pintails are sailing past, and a few are stopping at places like the wide, shallow regions of the Dead River to forage. They have been joined by pied-billed grebes and even a few American coots. Divers are now starting to make their passes too, with scaup, redheads and some ring-necked ducks passing Whitefish Point. Horned and red-necked grebes, divers, like common goldeneyes, buffleheads, mergansers and scaup are starting through and some will eventually be stopping in local Lake Superior harbors and bay, for foraging stops and even early winter stays.
And speaking of flights south, huge flocks of broad-winged hawks are still being reported in the Delta County area. Each fall massive numbers of broad-winged hawks head southward from Canada and the U.S. on a migration to South America. They often join together in larger flocks, following shorelines in the Great Lakes and again along the Gulf Coast.
The western shore of Lake Superior has long been known as a primary spot to see large numbers in the fall. They are counted there each year at Hawk Ridge in Duluth. This year, as more extensive counting has been done in Gladstone and at Peninsula Point at the tip of the Stonington Peninsula. On several different days, between 300 and 800 broad-wings have been counted as they moved across the U.P. headed south. It is the first time such large numbers have been noted.
While there are variations from year to year in the migration pathways of birds, some birders have wondered if they have just missed big flights like this or if it is something special this year. Because broad-wings have such narrow pathways for parts of their fall migration conservationist now realize more than ever how important it is to protect habit along these routes to ensure birds have the best chances to fly between winter and summer ranges. Unfortunately, summer does not last forever and these trips between crucial ranges are for migrants the more perilous times in their lives. It’s a great time to be out as summer will end for us too.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.