Delightful surprises for bird lovers

A broad-billed hummingbird is shown. (Scot Stewart photo)

“I love how summer just wraps its arms around you like a warm blanket.” — Kellie Elmore

Summer did not have to wait to wrap the Upper Peninsula in total warmth on Monday as it went all out hitting temperatures across the 90-degree mark. Summer brings warm temperatures, but it also brings some consistency as life settles into a daily routine as life gets on with lots of growing, reproducing and more growing.

There have been some delightful surprises for birders recently though taking them outside the routines of late June. Late shorebirds have livened up the area beaches other past few days. Another whimbrel showed up on the beach at the mouth of the AuTrain River in Alger County last weekend. It remained on the beach several days before disappearing/leaving last Monday.

In Marquette a pair of late arrivals were found at the mouth of the Dead River Monday morning. A long sand spit extending from the south side of the river mouth all the way to the old coal unloader. Sand rises just above the river level and low enough to Lake Superior to allow high waves to streak crossways over the sand from the lake to the river. Water is able to settle in low spots on the spit creating good habitat for shorebirds as they move from the lake edge onto the top of the spit looking for more food. An adult semipalmated plover and a sanderling, a medium sandpiper, were found foraging along the beach facing the lake. Eventually the plover moved into the wet flats while the sanderling reversed course and head south toward the beach crowd near the beach park.

Out on the river a female common merganser swam out on the river toward the lake with four young ducklings. Several youngsters took turns running up onto the back of their mother as she cruised downstream. The nearby Upper Harbor marina parking lot looked like a daycare center last Saturday as four different pairs of Canada geese wandered around on the pavement with their young families. The goslings looked to span the age gap from about two to five weeks of age.

A really great surprise turned up in Shelter Bay, Alger County, last week. In what has become something of a wonder spot, a private home hosted a broad-billed hummingbird for two days. What makes Alger County so amazing is the number of really unusual hummingbirds that have shown up at feeders over the past twelve years or so. At the Shelter Bay home green violet-ears and the broad-billed hummingbird have visited. The broad-bill is metallic green, with an iridescent purple throat and red bill. The only part of its normal range in the U.S. is the southerly corners of New Mexico and Arizona where they join. The green violetear’s range runs through the highlands of Mexico to Nicaragua.

Seventy-nine miles to the east, Grand Marais has hosted a beryline hummingbird in a September visit and an unlikely pair of Anna’s hummingbirds – in November! The berylline is a larger hummingbird — up to 10 inches long found in the western part of Mexico south to central Honduras. Anna’s hummingbird is the heartiest of the quartet, living in the western U.S. and even parts of Canada near the Pacific year-round. They do wander eastward in fall migration but only a couple get to Michigan in a good year, and nearly always Lower Michigan.

The third huge surprise this month is a male indigo X lazuli bunting that has appeared to have taken up residence near a home in Negaunee Township. The bird sings like an indigo and has a blue head, but most of the other markings resemble a lazuli bunting — white breast and white bars on the wings but lacking the rusty neck patch. The male has been seen with a female indigo bunting and sings regularly.

Hybrids are not uncommon where the edges of the territories of the two bunting species meet. They are two of the most common species to interbreed. Apparently the hybrids can mate but their reproductive success is weaker than pure-bred individuals. Some nests may produce eggs that don’t hatch, but some crosses do produce offspring and those offspring occasionally back cross with non-hybrids. Hybridization has been noted since the 1800s but has increased with changes to the vegetation across the edges of ranges encouraging the movement of both species toward each other.

Indigo buntings are seen sporadically throughout the U.P. but are often located first by their sharp songs, usually presented high in deciduous trees, but not always at the treetops. Because of their intense blue plumage, they do blend in well with blue skies and are often difficult to find. They are frequently found at the edge of forests overlooking more open fields and clearings. The buntings nest on the ground. Their normal summer range includes nearly the entire eastern U.S., and a block of western states including southern Colorado, Utah and Nevada and northern New Mexico, Arizona, and far eastern California. “Neighborhood” male buntings sing similar songs, but those spaced farther apart have different melodies. Young birds continue the songs of their parents’ neighbors as they fledge and if they return to the same area as adults may keep the local variety of a song going for up to two decades.

As the weather cools the birds will return to a little more singing to brighten up mornings — red-eyed vireos and American redstarts are two of the commonest singers (and loudest) in town these days but there are still plenty of songsters to brighten up that morning cup of coffee.

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


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