This is not a ‘normal’ summer
“Every time I stand before a beautiful beach, its waves seem to whisper to me: If you choose the simple things and find joy in nature’s simple treasures, life and living need not be so hard.” – Psyche Roxas-Mendoza
For some it seems that summer watched for the Fourth of July, and the next day got on the fastest horse in the county and began racing off. The world may be happy to see summer push on and get to some cooler autumn temperatures as soon as possible. On a few days recently, the Upper Peninsula and a small corner of the American Southwest have been the only two places in the Lower 48 with “below average” temperatures predicted for that particular day. Even in the U.P. temperatures have reached into the 90s bringing on the realization it is not a normal summer — at least with hope it is not the normal of the future.
In recent weeks there have been many reports from the river mouths, beaches and points describing a great array of shorebirds, wading birds, ducks with young and vagrants, birds stopping off on their way to other places. For residents of the Upper Peninsula that heat is not something most are comfortable to be experiencing, so these sites may currently be the best way to combine birding with a cooler places to explore, relax, and enjoy. The beach and other points along the shores of the Great Lakes may be just the answer to the question of how to best spend a U.P. summer day.
While the Lower Harbor breakwall in Marquette is not exactly the beach, when the wind is out of the south, it can be the perfect respite from the heat. It can also be great places to see shorebirds now apparently heading back south for the winter, plus ducks and others like swallows. The times before and after storms, rain and inclement weather can be excellent hours to find sandpipers and plovers foraging on the rocks and concrete.
During the late morning last Tuesday five sandpipers made a quick stop for insects, mostly on the concrete portion of the breakwall. They included a sanderling, two least and two Baird’s sandpipers. Along the edges of the breakwall, three mallard hens were tending to their very young offspring, with one, three and four duckling in tow. Overhead, barn, tree and bank swallows cruised over the breakwater and the lake surface scooping up flying insects.
The tip of Whitefish Point in Chippewa continues to be a great birding location too. On Monday, half a dozen piping plovers, 17 semipalmated sandpipers, four killdeer and six sanderlings were found on the beach. Three species of warblers, a great blue heron and a common loon were also seen.
Escanaba also has some great birding spots of shorebirds. One somewhat obscure spot is the mitigation pond between 26th and 30th streets north of 3rd Avenue North near the Secretary of State Office. On Wednesday at least seven species of shorebirds were seen including killdeer, solitary, least and pectoral sandpipers, lesser and greater yellowlegs, and a vagrant Wilson’s phalarope. A green heron, great blue heron and a great egret were also there. The phalarope is an interesting shorebird usually found on western ponds where is swims in circles in the shallows creating whirlpools to pull small animals up from the bottom to eat.
True, the mitigation pond is not the beach, but a great birding spot.
The mouths of the Dead River in Marquette and the AuTrain and Anna’s Rivers in Alger County are some of the best beach sites to look for shorebirds now, and through the next month or two. A flock of gulls is a good start at the Dead River. It means there have been no dogs, and probably no peregrine falcons for a while, increasing the chances shorebirds are now there. Because of regular visits from the former two, the cast on the beach is always on the fly. During the late summer and early fall, Bonaparte’s gulls and even American white pelicans may join least, white-rumped and semipalmated sandpipers, semipalmated plovers, killdeer, sanderlings, and ruddy turnstones.
The AuTrain River mouth is a favorite spot for birders in the early morning hours when common and Forster’s terns may be on the beach with a large variety of sandpipers, plovers, and other shorebirds. Because of a nearby great blue heron rookery the adults and their offspring are semi-regular visitors at the mouth and in the river. Bald eagles are also seen there fairly often too, often sending the gulls and other nervous, larger birds on their way. Because of the nesting sites under the bridges in the area, the beach is often alive with a dozen or more swallows looking for flying insects.
In the neighborhood, ruby-throated hummingbirds seem scarce at most sites. Females are finishing the incubation of their eggs and are feeding new fledglings insects like aphids, and small spiders they need to grow. They will be bringing young to feeders soon. At one home north of Ishpeming though, five hummingbirds are already visiting.
In other places young common grackles, crows, and blue jays continue to crowd feeders and create a ruckus. At one home of the east side of Marquette four or five young blue jays have been camping out over a suet cake with a parent or two the past week creating a daily show of acrobatics and flying. So, stay cool and head to the beach or in the shade of the woods.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.