What’s Flying: Seeing red a good thing

“Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.” — Elizabeth Lawrence

There is no better time than right now to see red, everyone outside is seeing just that! The crimson red maples are making their statement in the turn to autumn with some brilliant displays across the western Upper Peninsula and into some places in the east. Red maples have been exceptionally great, an indication summer had lots of sunshine and late summer has provided adequate amounts of rain to keep late leaves from browning early.

It has been an odd mix of birds in the area this past week, due possibly to the warm temperatures. A late wave of robins poked around the edges of Tierney Street in South Marquette on Wednesday. Foraging on a grassy area, the trio looked to be a rough-looking group of young robins seeking out worms and other invertebrates. Interestingly absent, Whitefish Point has not reported any this week, but Peninsula Point, sites in Escanaba, AuTrain Falls, and Chatham have reports small numbers, mostly single individuals.

American pipits have shown up in waves across the U.P. this week. They spend their summers mostly in Arctic Canada and Alaska and locations in the Rockies from Colorado to Alaska. They winter in the southern tier of the U.S. and Mexico. In Asia they have a similar set of winter and summer ranges and are called buff-bellied pipits. As they pass through the U.P. their stopping points are mostly open fields, like the ones around the Superior Dome in Marquette, and around water, like the mitigation ponds in west Escanaba where they are often with horned larks. Small numbers also show up on beaches near the Dead River and on breakwalls.

Lapland longspurs have also been found in local fields. The last of the ground feeders, snow bunting, will be arriving in the coming weeks. The predicted rain mixed with snow today may speed the arrival of the last migrants as they try to stay ahead of snow and more challenging foraging.

Several late turkey vultures have also been seen cruising over Marquette and the Munuscong Wildlife Management Area, also known as the Munuscong Potholes north of Pickford in Chippewa County. At Whitefish Point single sightings were made each day earlier this week. Hawk migration is wrapping up, but small numbers of red-tailed, broad-winged, Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks are still moving south through the area. A smattering of merlins and peregrine falcons is also heading south through the point.

Whitefish Point has had some other interesting observations this week. A blue-gray gnatcatcher was seen at the Point on Oct. 4. Although a number of them have been seen at the Point this year, they are well north of their normal summer range that extends close to the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula, and most of the southern half of Wisconsin. No part of their normal summer range includes the U.P. They are a species taking advantage of global warming and have extended they breeding range nearly 200 miles north since 1995. They will overwinter in the far southern regions of the Lower 48, Mexico and Cuba.

Few think very much about black-capped chickadee migration. It is difficult not to think about it a bit when 142 zing past Whitefish Point in a single da as they did last Tuesday. A rough winter ahead in Canada???

At feeder stations along the Dead River and in South Marquette, rusty blackbirds have been seen foraging in the grass and under the feeders. Flocks of more than a few are not found every fall in Marquette, but their presence is warmly greeted. Their bright yellow eyes and striking differences between males and females makes them easy to identify. Like other blackbirds they go through a single molt each year — in the fall. The rusty tips of their feathers wear off during the winter, giving them their glossy look by the breeding season in the spring. There are rowdier blackbirds, and have been known to prey on other birds, some even the same size as them. They have spent their summer in all of Canada and Alaska except the High Arctic, and will winter in most of the eastern U.S. south of the Michigan-Indiana state line.It appears sparrow migration has peaked, but there are still plenty of white-throated sparrows in fields and under feeders. A few fox sparrows have also arrived with some swamp sparrows. Only white-crowned sparrows have a summer range extending farther north into Canada and Alaska than fox sparrows. Some find the song of fox sparrows the most melodious of all the sparrows and their plumage most colorful. Ducks are passing through the area in good numbers too. At Whitefish Point American wigeons are hitting triple digits many days, with scoters and scaup now picking up some tool A smattering of horned grebes in Munising, the Lower Harbor in Marquette, and at Whitefish Point are being reported too. October and November are always exciting as birders check waterway, especially placed like the Lower Harbor in Marquette, AuTrain Lake in Alger County, Teal Lake in Negaunee, and Munising Bay to see what might be dropping in. Mornings are usually best, as some just stop for a bit to eat and a short rest before continuing, but in rainy or foggy conditions make keep them staying longer. And on the shore, black-bellied and American golden-plovers are still continuing their trip through the Great Lakes. Birds, colors, great weather — it’s an amazing time!!

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


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today