What’s flying: The softness of winter’s snow

A bohemian waxwing looks on. (Scot Stewart photo)

“I wonder if the snow  loves  the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.'”  — Lewis Carrol

The first snows have come and this one may be the start of something serious. With the persistent snow making a daily, almost hourly gentle appearance this past week and the continuing below average temperatures, most of the remaining late aster flowers and lingering leaves on Norway maple, balsam poplar and black locust have dropped, leaving the trees to descend into their deep slumber for the next 6+ months.

The fall waterbird count at Whitefish Point in Chippewa County concluded on Tuesday for the fall season from August 15 until November 15 a total of 219 species were seen and 119,433 individuals counted on the daily eight-hour count period for the 120-day census. Because of its consistency, it remains one of the best indices for monitoring population trends and migration timing for bird species migrating through the eastern Upper Peninsula during the fall.

This number reflects the long-tailed ducks noted each day only during the eight-hour window. More flew past the Point between each day’s count! Red-necked grebes were second with 7489 and red-breasted mergansers third with 6768 for the count period. Other big counts were recorded for white-winged scoters, greater and lesser scaup – often difficult to separate from a distance on the wing, common loons and buffleheads. Last Sunday was still a big day for long-tailed ducks, with 184 counted at the Point. The final day also revealed a hoary redpoll, another sign of a possible great winter to come.

Some birders are already counting the days until spring migration begins in March to get back over to Whitefish Point and watch again. While eagles, falcons, hawks and owls will be the featured species there in the spring, there is a good show of waterbirds too and separate counters will keep track of each of the groups.

Remnants of waterbird migration are still being seen in Marquette County. Last Monday, 150 common mergansers were found on Teal Lake in Negaunee. On Wednesday the common mergansers were still there, joined by 62 hooded mergansers and a belted kingfisher. Teal Lake can be a good spot for late migrants right up until the lake freezes up. Looking at the forecast that may be happening fairly soon. Over on Alger County, a recent highlight was a harlequin duck sighting in Munising at the mouth of Anna River. Harlequins are a western duck species that occasionally wander east into the U.P.

In Marquette good conditions for waterbirds should continue for at least a few more weeks. Participants for the Christmas Bird Count in Marquette, this year probably to be held on Dec. 17, will hope the harbor stays open to improve the prospects for ducks, grebes, common loons, and gulls. Herring gulls are always a good bet until the lake is completely frozen up around town, but more open water will increase the prospects for late ring-billed, iceland and glaucous gulls and even a few greater and lesser black-backed gulls.

On Tuesday, a nice diversity of waterfowl were in the Lower Harbor of Marquette. Among the birds seen were six long-tailed ducks, greater scaup, 700 herring gulls, one iceland gull, two red-necked grebes and one horned grebe. Because the Dead River is still open two good flocks,buffleheads and common goldeneyes, were found there on Tuesday too. Many of the larger flocks seen on the inland lakes can coincide with changes in weather systems and precipitation, temperature, wind, and air pressure variations they create.

One of the most skilled of the area’s birders has continued to find great birds in the area this fall. At Harlow Lake Tuesday a wonderfully large flock of 90 bohemian waxwings were found feeding in the winterberry (Michigan holly) shrubs along the shore at Harlow.  Also found there were three pine grosbeaks, two red crossbills and a single pine siskin. A moderately small influx of winter finches and waxwings continues to work into the Upper Peninsula, continuing to add hope to bigger flocks in the weeks to come. On Wednesday, a larger flock of 200 bohemian waxwings was seen feeding again on winterberry near Allouez, in Keweenaw County in a day following several sightings of small flocks. It is definitely looking better and better for waxwings this winter in the U.P. Evening grosbeaks are also continuing to show up in small numbers with sightings in both Keweenaw and Dickinson Counties.

Birders have continued to check on fall migration jump-off spot, Peninsula Point. At the southern tip of the Stonington Peninsula, it is a short hop for birds heading south across the Lake Michigan gap to Door County in Wisconsin. It is another great spot during the spring migration, but this fall the added attention of birders has turned up a number of surprises. A large flock of migrating black-capped chickadees has continued there with 150 still there last Monday and 200 were found the following day. One-hundred twenty-five snow buntings and a single late, northern flicker were foraging there on Monday too. Off the Point in Lake Michigan, 300 common goldeneyes were seen on last Monday and on Tuesday, 175 were there with 125 red-breasted mergansers and 400 scaup, redhead and other unidentified ducks. Four immature bald eagles were found there on Tuesday. Time to get cozy with some quietly resting trees in the softness of winter’s snow.

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


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