Smoke has effect on bird watching

A scarlet tanager is shown. (Scot Stewart photo)

Perhaps there is no time in a summer’s day more cheering, than when the warmth of the sun is just beginning to triumph over the freshness of the morning – when there is just a lingering hint of early coolness to keep off languor under the delicious influence of warmth.” — Robert Muller

The sun made a statement this week and its warmth is so noticed on these late spring days after the coolness of a previous day and night. Still a seesaw affair, with welcome warmth arriving after cold days, when the blankets are pulled up high to the neck of the trout lilies shivering in the lateness of unexpected spring cold.

The warmth has made certain the moves by both warblers and sandpipers as they make their push to reach boreal forests and tundra wetlands in time to raise a brood of young before the summer’s warmth is washed away again by a failing summer season.

The third and fourth weeks of May are often prime times to witness spring bird migration in the Upper Peninsula. Places like Peninsula Point can host 100+ species days including 25 species of warblers, 12 scarlet tanagers and 25 rose-breasted grosbeaks in a day as it did last Saturday, but some sites closer to home can be nearly as impressive.

Last Tuesday a local birder found 19 species of warblers during a 75-minute hike on Presque Isle in Marquette. It included several more unusual species, like blackburnian, bay-breasted, Canada, and blackpoll, plus eight Wilson’s and 1 common yellowthroats, and 20 American redstarts. This was part of a total list on eBird of 45 species that was mostly summer residents including a sora. A second birder had 64 species on their list with 17 warbler species in an hour and three-quarters.

It is great time to be a listener, as most summer residents are singing during at least part of the day to establish or maintain. Find the edge of a woodlot near a creek or pond and it might be possible to hear a dozen or more birds singing. Even the best birders may have a challenge identifying all the members of the chorus, especially if it includes some of those northbound warbler headed for the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. Others may be in the chorus but quite a ways off and difficult to hear.

The good news there are apps for the phone to help identify those tough songs and pick out the hard to hear melodies. The Merlin app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a popular way to record them on a phone and while the songs are being heard and recorded, the identities of the birds are listed, and the singers are highlighted as their calls are heard.

A birder in Big Bay, at the far north end of Marquette County recorded 18 species in a five-minute span last Tuesday including five warbler species, two flycatchers, a Baltimore oriole, indigo bunting, and a northern mockingbird. With some faint calls off in the distance, it may be possible to talk a walk and find a bird or two that might be otherwise missed. It is a great way learn more about the resident birds and those passing through and pick up those also in the area.

Birds at Peninsula Point had another good day last Tuesday with one birder listing 94 species including 17 warblers. That included an estimated 60 American redstarts. Also big were 40 indigo buntings and an estimated 120 cedar waxwings. This was during a seven-hour visit collecting sights of migrants moving through. There were also seven shorebird species including a beautiful breeding plumage black-bellied plover. A plus to that day included in the report were a list of nine species of butterflies seen including a large number of red admirals.

Shorebirds have been good at the mouth of the AuTrain River in Alger County. Seven species were also seen here early last Tuesday morning with black-bellied plovers and dunlin plus 16 semipalmated plovers. Greater yellowlegs, dunlin and short-billed dowitchers have been seen at inland sights In Rumely.

Many birders are expanding their experience by including butterfly and/or dragonfly sightings to their experience. With binoculars in-hand it is often easy to get good looks at both groups, too. Pictures are a little bit more challenging because they are smaller, but since they are often closer, it is often possible to get some good locks. With time of year and location information to help narrow the field somewhat and with some experience. Identifications can be easier and add to outdoor experiences.

What has made some viewing different the past two weeks has been the effects of smoke from western forest fires on air quality and changes to the light during the day in parts of the U.P. Sunrises and sunsets are simple red orb affairs with a thick haze across the entire sky. Light is dimmer during the day making some observations a little more difficult for both butterflies and birds. Forest fires can have other effects on migrating birds by forcing them to stop at new sites, driving them into places farther along their normal routes and into spots less suitable for resting or foraging.

It can lead some birds to provide new sighting for birders, but the new areas may make it difficult for birds to fare as well on long flights. Climate changes may have many unexpected new developments creating wanted and unwanted warmth in spring, affecting migration and experiences birders have.

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


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