Nature tried to hold on to fall

A blue-gray gnatcatcher is shown. (Scot Stewart photo)

“The thinnest yellow light of November is more warming and exhilarating than any wine they tell of. The mite which November contributes becomes equal in value to the bounty of July.” — Henry David Thoreau

The year begins its slow wind down. Though the season seems to be rushing faster these days, there remain slender slices of brilliant gold to create the impression Nature is trying hard to hold on to the final great moments of Autumn. A few white birches, American basswood, and Norway maples have kept their leaves while living close to the Big Lake and in those brief moments when the sun has peaked through sudden lake effect snow squalls, those golden leaves have just blazed through the snowflakes and dark nimbus clouds over the lake.

The Fall Waterbird count wrapped up at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory last Monday dunkadoo.org/explore/whitefish-point-bird-observatory/wpbo-waterbirds-fall-2021. As always, some awesome data came from the three month long daily count field work. From July 19-Nov. 16, 236 species and a total 119,430 individuals were counted. The top three most numerous species counted were long-tailed ducks at 21% of the total individuals with 24,544, then common redpolls at 8% with 9,049 individuals and red-breasted mergansers at 7% with 7,914. As would be expected, ducks, gulls and grebes made up the lion’s share of birds but there were plenty of other interesting species. 4,350 American goldfinches and 1,524 pine siskins were also counted 1,251 horned larks were counted, ahead of 933 yellow-rumped warblers, and 593 snow buntings.

On the last day of the count the highlights 1,356 long-tailed ducks, 1,236 common redpolls, 27 white-winged crossbills, and a northern shrike were counted. The counters will be back on March 15, 2022 to start the spring hawk count and April 15 for the spring waterbird count.

Speaking of counts, the Audubon Christmas Bird Counts is in just about a month away and birders are watching migration numbers of winter finches like the goldfinches, pine siskins, common and hoary redpolls, white-winged and red crossbills and pine grosbeaks. While large numbers of most have flocked into the area, the local sightings have been of much smaller groups. Birders have looked carefully for crossbills and pine grosbeaks, particularly in the Marquette area and have just reported a few at a time of each. A peregrine falcon was seen along the Lake Superior shoreline in south Marquette and a merlin over the by-pass near Champion Street this past week and they will be great birds to add to the CBC next month.

It looks as though Lake Superior should stay open with one long-range forecast predicting mostly upper 20s and low 30s through the first three weeks leading up to the start of the CBCs.

Currently the Lower Harbor in Marquette is continuing to host white-winged and black scoters, greater scaup, common goldeneyes, buffleheads, red-breasted, hooded, common mergansers, long-tailed ducks and of course mallards. The mix will change nearly daily, but birders hope many species will have some representation in mid-December. The same is true for gulls, grebes and even common loons. Most birds currently in the area will move on before the count, but others may take their places, as long as Lake Superior waters stay open.

The status of local rivers adds to the intrigue. The Dead River’s shallower stretches, like at Tourist Park and the area upstream from the Lakeshore Boulelvard bridge, called the Dead River Marshes, also have a good mix of similar duck species and even a few American coots. Some diving ducks, like the common goldeneyes, buffleheads, and scaup may continue there as temperatures drop, and eventually will head to narrower open waters farther upstream.

Tundra swans occasionally show up on the Dead River, too. Their Upper Peninsula numbers continue to grow and their appearances continue to surprise. In Alger County at the Cleveland Cliffs basin, more than 60 trumpeters were seen late last week. Most will head south to open water, like Trout Lake in Alger County and the Manistique River around Manistique, where springs keep parts of the water open much of the winter.

Dabbling ducks, like the mallards and American black ducks may be joined by wood ducks, American wigeons and teal that will overwinter with the huge population of the mallards. The wintering mallard population may have surpassed 800 in the Marquette area. They divide their time between the Dead River, Lake Superior, and the open waters between Presque Isle Avenue and Lakeshore Boulevard, on both sides of Hawley Street.

There are nearly always random lingerers that are hanging around as winter descends. Last year an orange-crowned warbler hung around into early January, surviving mostly on suet and peanut butter at feeders near the Park Cemetery. A summer tanager and a leucistic house finch visited feeders in the same neighborhood, drawing birders from across the northern Great Lakes.

Yellow-rumped warblers and common yellowthroats are two others occasionally seen late in the season and both have been seen in the Marquette area in the past two weeks. Another big find was a blue-gray gnatcatcher along the Dead River near Schneider Mill Court in north Marquette. The range for this tiny insect eater is to the south, but they have been showing up much more frequently in Marquette and at Whitefish Point, suggesting they are being spotted by more intense birding or they are simply wandering more during migration, possibly due to climate change. So, get outside and enjoy those slivers of sun and gold and see what else is enjoying November in the U.P.

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


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