What’s Flying: These days must be savored
“It was one of those perfect fall days when the air is cool enough to wake you up, but the sun is also kissing your face.” — Anita Diamant
Mid-September and the full spectrum of feelings run wild in many. It is time to pull out the windshield scrapers and brushes, find the winter coat, gloves, and hats. Fall will begin next Thursday, Sep.22 at 9:03 pm. There have been many days recently when hints of it were in the air – cool rains, north winds, and unseasonably chilly temperatures.
A great wave of fall migrants pushed through the Upper Peninsula earlier this week. Some of the large contributors have been common loons, American pipits, thrushes, sparrows, and broad-winged hawks.
Vagrant small songbirds are always a challenge to refind once someone reports them, even in easy to reach sites like Presque Isle and the Bog Walk. That happened twice there this week. On Sunday a yellow-breasted chat was seen at the Bog Walk at Presque Isle. It was seen briefly then did what this large New World warbler commonly spends most of its time, in shrubby vegetation and is difficult to see or watch. The Bog Walk bird did call briefly but no further reports of it have come out.
Large numbers of American pipits have been reported at Whitefish Point in Chippewa County, with 50 or more seen flying by on some days. Smaller numbers have shown up at many other sites. Because they are primarily ground feeders, they are often seen on the ground in open areas where can more easily be seen. They are cryptically marked so they do blend in well with the grass. They also have extra-long back toes, like longspurs, to help with balance when walking and feeding in snowfields and on slippery mud flats.
On Tuesday, a whimbrel was heard at Presque Isle in the early afternoon, but again no further reports of this larger shorebird has been made. A check of the Dead River mouth area later in the afternoon revealed a Baird’s sandpiper and a semipalmated plover were found but no whimbrel.
On Wednesday another vagrant special, a yellow-headed blackbird showed up on the Lower Harbor Breakwall, a truly amazing find. They are mostly western birds but do occasionally show up in the area, usually though places like the marshes of the Dead River.
Large flocks of American goldfinches have shown up at a number of feeding stations in Marquette, cleaning out sunflower feeders in a day. Tyler Hoar’s Winter Finch Forecast should be arriving shortly on the internet with a look at this winter’s outlook for the movements of many of the area’s winter favorites. Finches like crossbills, redpolls, American goldfinches, pine and evening grosbeaks, bohemian waxwings, as well as nuthatches and blue jays are featured in the annual report from Ontario.
Foresters, birders, and others provide information regarding fall seed and fruit crops for birches, conifers and mountain ash, important foods for these birds and their probabilities for staying in southern Canada for the winter or needing to move to find more food during the winter months. This includes the possibilities for some of these species to wander far enough south to reach the Upper Peninsula. In this area mountain ash crops have been incredibly good. If similar conditions have occurred in Canada it is not too likely the bohemian waxwings and pine grosbeaks will make it here this winter. Last winter huge flocks of bohemian waxwings descended into Marquette where there are hundreds of crab apple trees the two fruit eaters can turn to during cold weather. There were some flocks of pine grosbeaks here too. Many birders will anxiously await that report.A massive wave of broad-winged hawks was noted in the Gladstone-Escanaba area Last Tuesday too. At least 13,500 hawks along with several other species of hawks, some turkey vultures and blue jays were all observed flying westward along the Lake Michigan shoreline to the edge of the two communities, before turning southward. Broad-wings are renowned for their southbound migration and can be seen in large numbers in places like Duluth and in southeastern Texas where 100,000 hawks pass on their way to Central and South America.
Canada geese and common loons are beginning to make moves out of Canada and Alaska for the season too. The loons will head out to the Atlantic Ocean for the winter. The young will remain there in the spring, but the adults will make it back next spring. The geese will go only as far as they need to find open fields of grass and some open water. Large flocks will overwinter around industrial parks with large grassy lawns and retention ponds, moving farther south as the conditions dictate.
Some impressive numbers of wood ducks are being seen at the Gwinn sewage lagoon this week. Nearly 100 were there and with those numbers there is always hope a few may stay in the Marquette area with the huge flock of mallards that now overwinter here. Smaller numbers have been seen at Portage Marsh in Delta County too. Scaup, pintails, wigeons and teal have a history of sticking around in small numbers, and they add much to the interest of feeding and watching them on gray winter days on the Dead and Chocolay Rivers. Common mergansers and common goldeneye will also stick around as long as there is open water. These now those are glory days to be savored!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.