What’s Flying: Get out there and see what you can find
“Far up in the deep blue sky, Great white clouds are floating by; All the world is dressed in green; Many happy birds are seen, Roses bright and sunshine clear Show that lovely June is here.” — F. G. Sanders
The sun rises early and sets late in mid-June as the “official” start of summer draws near. Summer will begin at 5:13 a.m. next Tuesday, June 21, as the longest day of the year. On Tuesday sunrise in Marquette will occur at 5:56 a.m. and sunset is at 9:46 p.m. for 15 hours and 50 minutes of daylight. It is an early start for birds to get their morning territorial melodies out of the way as early as 4:30 a.m., before they begin their search for food for mates still incubating eggs, or more likely to feed young fledglings.
Upper Peninsula residents in many places are very aware of some of the area’s recent fledglings — common grackles and European starlings. Both species have taken their young families across neighborhoods looking for easy handouts like sunflower seeds for the former and suet for both. When the two species have travelled together the noisy raucous is difficult to miss.
Mallard ducklings and Canada geese goslings are growing fast as they have been out of the shell several weeks. For the mallards in the Lower Harbor in Marquette, some families are usually easy to recognize, but go through some transformations as the size of the duckling crews seem to shrink as they grow up. A wide variety of predators reduces duck numbers during the summer — snapping turtles, large fish like northern pike, mink, eagles, raccoons, and foxes reduce duckling populations as they move from ponds to lakes to puddles. Nonetheless, the mallard population in Marquette continues to grow with more than a thousand counted on the last Christmas Bird Count here. Food provided for the ducks during the winter months here has helped the population numbers to remain stable during winter months.
Other families should be appearing soon across the wetlands of the U.P. Hooded mergansers have been seen on the Dead River already, as has a single young sandhill crane upstream from Tourist Park. Common merganser females with young are usually seen in the Lower Harbor around the breakwall and around the mouth of the Dead River in early June too. A young red-tailed hawk was spotted in the wetlands east of Christmas this week with an adult as well. With the Marshland Drive around Seney National Wildlife Refuge closed for the summer, all but the most ambitious birders and other outdoor enthusiasts have had to look for wetlands wildlife in other locales this summer. Some trails and roads in the refuge are open this summer as new road construction projects and the building of a new office/visitor center are underway at Seney.
A few surprises this summer have included increased sightings of a number of species in the U.P. Wood thrushes are usually rare and only found here in summer, although their range does include the entire U.P. and much of eastern Minnesota. Reports have continued, in small numbers, through June. Hermit thrushes, veeries and Swainson’s thrushes are more common thrush species here in summer and gray-cheeked are occasionally seen during spring and fall migration. Wood thrush reports have come in recently from a number of Marquette County locations including the Gwinn and northern Marquette area near Halfway near Co. Ro. 550.
Another species in many central U.P reports this spring has been the eastern wood-pewee. While many of the flycatchers have been tougher to locate this season, wood-pewees have turned up a number of times, helped by their clear self-identifying call. This flycatcher prefers semi-open deciduous woodlands.
A least one family of chimney swifts has continued to make itself heard over Marquette this summer too. Usually seen twittering, they circle high overhead traveling in small groups gleaning insects from the air over town. Before the construction of building, swifts nested here in cliff overhangs and hollow trees. Since the development of buildings, especially those with inactive chimneys, they have relocated. Historically they have been found in the old skill center on Rock Street and the Northland (now Landmark) Hotel when it was closed.
Shorebird sightings have narrowed down to mostly spotted sandpipers and killdeers across most of the area. Both are nesting, summer residents. A whimbrel was seen at the mouth of the AuTrain River on Tuesday though. Often seen in large flocks in migration, single individuals are occasionally seen during migration, primarily in Marquette, Alger, Delta, and Chippewa Counties. Whimbrels are known for great nonstop flights, sometimes traveling up to 2500 miles from their summer range in northern Canada to the British Virgin Islands.
Peregrine falcons should be fledging about this time too. It does appear two pairs nested in Marquette this summer. A pair were seen at Presque Isle this week and may have included a young bird. Sitting close together, one of the falcons grabbed a small rodent from the talons of the other. As the young begin to follow their parents and hunt on their own, they will definitely become much more visible around town. Starting off with a bit less grace than adults the young are occasionally beset with crash landings and unfortunate collisions with vehicles and building that get in their way. When they are able to secure larger prey they may be seen on the ground for extended periods feeding. So, get out with someone young and see what you can find.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.