Winter brings some surprises

“At this season of the year, darkness is a more insistent thing than cold. The days are short as any dream.” — E.B. White

Although the days get two or three minutes longer every day, the clouds of January all but erase the small gains made. Last weekend saw a couple of moments in Marquette like the sun might break through, then just faded back into a dreary sky. The sun did shine brightly on Monday morning for a few hours but tired out by mid-day and faded back behind the strength of winter gray clouds again. This weekend promised to bring a bit of the real cold of Upper Peninsula winters back again so it may indeed look more like more typical winter conditions.

The birding scene currently looks like one of the best of for winter, especially in Marquette. Last Saturday some bohemian waxwings returned to town. Around seventy-five shot across north Marquette, hitting mostly crab apple trees, but finding a few mountain ash trees too. At times the large flock broke into smaller fragments to visit two or three different directions to hit several trees at the same time. Occasionally, they were joined by robins, house finches, European starlings, and even a few chickadees. More robins and a pair of cedar waxwings followed them around town Sunday tool

The most remarkable flock milling about town though may have been robins. People are often surprised to hear about or even better see a robin in Marquette in winter, especially in January or February. There have been a few around, like three amigos seen on the north side of town in a mountain ash tree last week. But an unbelievable flock of 45 was found on the south side of town last Saturday. This is by far the largest flock reported in the entire Upper Peninsula this winter, maybe ever. On Sunday, small flocks were seen all over town, so it looked as though they may have split up as no large flocks were relocated.

Another visitor back in the crab apple trees near Fair and Presque Isle avenues was a Townsend’s solitaire, possibly one seen earlier this winter. Solitaires are grayish, slender thrushes native to the foothills of the Rockies and on west to the Pacific. This one has been very cautious, feeding immediately next to a busy parking lot, so it feeds briefly, then ducked into a cedar hedge to digest the fruit before going back for more food. It has probably been in and out of there for weeks, but not visible when most have checked those trees there for birds. The solitaire has been seen with some regularity for at least four days this week.

Interesting, a second solitaire was seen on the Peshekee Grade in western Marquette County Monday. It is somewhat surprising because the area lacks the vast amount of food available in Marquette, but it is not known if it was just moving through the area or had found food to keep it there for a while.

Over in Chippewa County it is bald eagles and snowy owls providing the excitement. The numbers of both seem to keep ramping up. For the owls, the number seen has jumped to two-dozen, located on Saturday by two excellent birders. A number of nearly all white males were seen there but the highlight for them was one they heard calling. They were unable to locate it until they began to drive off and realized it had been perched in a tree above them.

A variety of variously aged bald eagles popped up on nearly every ebird report from the area between the Soo and Pickford last Monday with a number of them photographed at the Dafter landfill where they have been seen all winter. Northern shrikes and rough-legged hawks continue there as well.

A northern shrike has also been seen with some regularity in Marquette too. It has been seen at the old Marquette dump at the end of Pioneer Road in south Marquette, at the Jacobetti Veteran Center on Rock Street, the old composting area on Lakeshore Boulevard, and along the Dead River marshes.

A Cooper’s hawk has also continued to be seen around Marquette too. It has been spotted on the east side of town, on the Lower Harbor ore dock, and the Dead River marshes. Usually accipiters, hawks like sharp-shinned and Cooper’s, may linger in an area in the U.P. for a short time but are only seen a few times. This Cooper’s hawk has been seen hunting multiple times in town and has been seen with a kill — a rock pigeon at least once.

Probably the most accessible winter visitors in the U.P. are the smallish flocks of pine grosbeaks feeding in the area’s crab apple trees. Their quiet, tame appearances may coax other species like the Townsend’s solitaire to feed in the same places.Two other more unusual species, a single common redpoll, rare here this winter after a banner year last winter, and a very unusual species, a tufted titmouse were both seen at a residence on Marquette’s east side truly making it a great birding season. The tufted titmouse is a distant relative of the chickadees rarely seen north of central Wisconsin. This individual has been challenging to find visitor at several feeders since mid-December and showed up with a large flock of goldfinches at a platform feeder with sunflower seeds last Saturday. Birders have watched for more sightings unsuccessfully this week. Unseasonable weather, longer days and great birds!

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


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