What’s flying: Mother Nature can give solace

A male pine grosbeak is shown. (Scot Stewart photo)

“I pray this winter be gentle and kind — a season of rest from the wheel of the mind. — John Geddes

While there were great expectations the New Year would take a turn for better times it seems as though it has gotten off to a less than auspicious start. It looks as though it will need more time to make that turn. So, in the meantime, there is hope the weather and Mother Nature might do their parts to be a bit gentler and provide some solace from some of the trying repeats of the past two plus years.

The temperatures following the recent big storm, and the lake effect whiteouts in the central U.P. snowbelts have not been kind, and the look ahead to the next two weeks seems like “seasonable” will give way to below average temperatures — winter in January!

Luckily, for those who can, there are some glorious reasons to get out. Sunset last Tuesday night came with a brilliant array of colors over the west and a rosy glow over Lake Superior to the east! Fluffy snow has created a great base for skiers and snowshoers. Birds are currently doing their part to create a great winter too!

There have been some rarities and some great flocks of several terrific winter visitors in the Upper Peninsula recently making birding extra special.

Bohemian waxwings often make an early winter appearance here, quickly diving through the stores of mountain ash and small crab apple crops before moving on to other sites. A large flock can quickly strip a large tree of all its fruits, and the ones dropped on the ground in a couple of hours.

Forty were found in a bog between Mohawk and Gay in Keweenaw County last Saturday. Fifteen were seen at the Sugar Island ferry dock in Sault Ste. Marie Jan. 8 and later 82 were seen near Magazine Street a few blocks up stream.

In Marquette, 96 were seen near Giant’s Foot Park on the south side of town last Sunday. They were first seen landing in some large poplars over a crab apple tree popular with pine grosbeaks in early winter.

Twenty-two grosbeaks, including at least two gorgeous pine males were joined by small groups of waxwings dropping down to grab a fruit or two before flying back up to the tops of the poplars.

After just a few minutes, the grosbeaks left, and shortly after that the waxwings in three smaller groups left the trees too. The waxwings were relocated a short time later a little more than a block away dancing in the cold wind atop a Norway maple tree near another crab apple. The flock alternated between the crab apples and eating snow on the roof of a nearby house, dropping down in groups of 20 to 30 at a time.

Several winter finches have also turned up in large flocks in the area. A bunch of over 100 common redpolls were seen from the Chocolay Township Marina off Green Bay Street in Harvey Tuesday. They were seen in feeding in the birch trees there. Earlier in the day 40 American goldfinches, 11 pine grosbeaks, and 20 white-winged crossbills were all seen at the Marina. The Peshekee Grade topped the crossbill report though with 250 white-winged crossbills seen there the same day! Just as exciting, the birder visiting there also saw a male northern cardinal, extremely rare away from homes like that, and an immature golden eagle.

The pine grosbeaks have been seen in small flocks across the entire U.P. 30 were seen on Jan. 10 at Whitefish Point. The south Marquette group was another larger aggregation of 22. A pair of males was seen the same day in a crab apple tree between the Dead River and the end of McClelland Street. T

hey were spotted by several birders looking for a vagrant Townsend’s solitaire at the same location. It has been there occasionally for over a week.

The Sugar Island Ferry dock area has also produced several other interesting species this month. A half dozen tundra swans have been seen there frequently and were last reported on Jan. 8. Trumpeter swans are occasionally reported during the winter in the U.P., especially at places like the Manistique River in Schoolcraft County and on Trout Lake in Alger County.

Tundra swans are unusual sightings during migration but are rare winter guests. A cold hermit thrush was seen there the previous day.

A year-round resident now being seen more often and in plenty of new places is the wild turkey. Once a rarity in the U.P. seen most often in the southern counties where snow depths were small they are now regulars in Marquette — at Presque Isle and even in the Keweenaw where six were seen at 7 Mile Point on Jan. 4.

Winter is striking hard on Lake Superior when most of the Lower Harbor has seen the ice closing in quickly on the open water. The strong winds have continued to reopen stretches, where mergansers, goldeneyes and some greater scaup have been seen.

The ice shelves have been afternoon roosts for gulls with several rarer species showing up this past week. Greater black-back, iceland and glaucous made it onto eBird reports this week.

So, for those getting out in this fine winter weather, crab apple tree watching can be great sport, and Lake Superior shoreline checks can yield exciting species. But it just might be the quiet of the new, powdery snow that tops the list for a walk to take a few moments away from spinning wheel of the mind.

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


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