Summer in U.P. is truly incredible
“I could never in a hundred summers get tired of this.” — Susan Branch
Summer in the Upper Peninsula is a truly incredible time. While much of the Lower 48 swelters in 90-100 degree temperatures, the U.P. is a place where walks through the woods or along the beach lift walkers gently off their feet and carry them along in a nearly effortless manner. Following a monarch butterfly to the nearest milkweed flower cluster or searching out the singer of a distance bird song in the spruces up ahead, one is nearly unaware of their footsteps. Other days have had the warmth to draw them to the water. Once there the warmth can encourage the desire to wade in, peer into the depths at the minnows, or scan the surface to watch the wind push the crystalline waves over the lily pads and under the pure white and yellow blossoms of the two types of aquatics.
Economics this summer have led many to change travel plans and look for sites closer to home. Fortunately, there are plenty of great parks, roads, and wild areas to explore, hike, photograph, bird and relax. Unfortunately, the record rainfall this summer — now over 16 inches — has created good conditions for mosquitoes and they have been extremely friendly in some places. Luckily, picking the right time of day on many days has helped make their appearance more tolerable.
For birders, some of the old standby spots have been great this summer. Seney National Wildlife Refuge has closed its Marshland Drive this summer for road repairs and to complete its new office-visitor center complex. A temporary visitor center is open, and hiking trails are accessible though, and some birders are enjoying the extra quiet away from M-77. Bald eagles, osprey, trumpeter swans with young, common loons, ring-necked and wood ducks are still easy to find. Birders this past week also found ruffed grouse with young, American kestrels, pine warblers, a spotted sandpiper, eastern kingbirds, and groups of nine and 15 cedar waxwings.
The Manistique Boardwalk on Lake Michigan has also been a reliable spot to find good birds this spring and summer. Recently a short-billed dowitcher was seen by several birders there. 40 American white were there last Saturday with a pair of killdeer with young. Sanderlings, Caspian terns, solitary and pectoral sandpipers have been there this week too. Last Friday a female common merganser with around 25 young was seen there. Fortunately for the adult, four more females, probably other mothers, appeared later to help with the large group.
Another large group of around 12 young common mergansers was seen on Lake Superior between Wetmore Landing and Little Presque Isle last Sunday. The young were still small enough to travel on mothers’ backs. Two adults were present with that group. Also seen and heard along the trail were eastern pee-wees, pine and black-throated green warblers and northern parulas. A family of what appeared to be red crossbills was also seen there last Sunday.
The varied habitats found in the Upper Peninsula also provide opportunities for unique bird communities. In a jack pine stand northeast of Gwinn birders have been flocking to see a variety of dry pine-blueberry habitat to see eastern towhees, clay-colored sparrows, unusual Brewer’s blackbirds, and endangered Kirtland’s warblers.
On the Peshekee Grade boreal species continue to draw birders from across the Midwest. Boreal chickadees, Canada jays and black-back woodpeckers join a large diversity of warblers, including northern parula, common yellowthroat, American redstart, northern waterthrush, Cape May, blackburnian, black-throated green, magnolia, yellow-rumped, chestnut-sided, and Nashville warblers. The road meanders along the Peshekee River, eventually heading north to the Triple A Road through rugged hills, stands of spruce and tamarack, and along the edge of the McCormick Wilderness. The roadside views of the river are some of the best of rivers in the U.P.
The U.P. also features some great grasslands bird habitat too. East of Limestone in Alger County, there is an open area on the west side of the Cleveland Cliffs Basin. The area was once managed for sharp-tailed grouse by the MDNR, but they have not been found there in recent years. A number of grasslands birds can still be found there though in the summertime. Savannah and clay-colored sparrows are occasioned joined by grasshopper sparrows with their buzzy song. Other grassland species can include both species of meadowlarks, bobolinks and dickcissels.
Dickcissels are a newer species to the Limestone grasslands. During years with widespread drought in the southern and western states, they sometimes wander eastward and northward seeking moister grasslands to nest. They have been widely found in the U.P. some years, even in the former Marquette city compost area one year. Like the meadowlarks, they have yellow breasts and sharp, distinguished, black v’s below their chins. They are easily recognized by their rattling namesake call. In the fall they begin building large flocks to make their way to South America for winter. They have heavy bills, but it has taken a while for scientists to finally place they in the same family group with cardinals.
No matter where those outdoors explore, they are bound to find young fledglings, and busy parents trying to watch and feed them. In Marquette, both blue jays and crows have been busy moving around feeders, fields, and other places foraging. They have become busy, vocal watch-dogs for red foxes around town, and all seem to be everywhere, active during early mornings and later in the day. Join them, summer is at its best.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.