Birds settle in during sweet, smooth June

A semipalmated plover is shown . (Scot Stewart photo)

“The days of June are like honey, smooth, full of flavor, and oh, so sweet!” – Anonymous

There is a calm that comes with June. Most of the migrating birds have arrived and found their summer homes. Flowers are finishing their blooming in cherry, service berry and apple, and still going in lilacs, and will be sending out their fragrant, sweet perfume from the flowers of basswood trees, so there is plenty of nectar available for pollinating insects and hummingbirds that will provide plenty of food for spiders, wrens, and flycatchers. June also comes with a little heat, as this past week has show all too clearly. It does seem to be another sure thing in the changing world.

Leaves continue to unfurl and with this stretch of warmer temperatures are getting close to being entirely open except for the new ones extending out from new growth. Those tender leaves are feeding plenty of hungry caterpillars that warblers and vireos are greedily snatching up. Nighttime moths are making their way to some of the evening lights around town and providing fare for a very few nighthawks, whip-poor-wills, and saw-whet owls around the U.P.

The first two have become harder and harder to find which may be due in part to the fact there are fewer moths and other flying insects here and more pesticides being used in the winter range. Common nighthawks winter in the Caribbean Islands and most of northern South America. Eastern whip-poor-wills winter on the southern edge of the Gulf Coast States, eastern Mexico, and most of Central America. Both species are nighttime insect feeders, catching moths and mosquitoes on the wing, aided by whisker-like feathers at the corners of their very wide mouths.

The morning chorus is becoming the best time to hear most birds. As the light brightens, many are spending more and more time feeding mates and newly hatched young. The plenty produced by June and warmer temperatures are critical for feeding those young. It is the reason most all the migrants have come north for North America’s summer, the plenty the season provides.

The end of May brought scores of warblers and many of the late arriving shorebirds. There have still been a few late waves of warblers like one seen at Presque Isle Park in Marquette Memorial Day when 11 species were seen including ovenbird, northern parula, blackburnian, and magnolia warblers. Also observed that day were eastern wood-pewee, Philadelphia vireo, and resident bald eagle and peregrine falcon. Many woodland edges are filled with the short songs of American redstarts and black-throated green warblers.

Shorebird migration has seemed spotty, erratic, and light through the central Upper Peninsula. The mouth of the AuTrain River has probably been one of the best places to see this part of the end of spring migration. Dunlin, sanderlings, semipalmated and black-bellied plovers have been seen on many mornings here, but almost always in single digit numbers. At Portage Point a whimbrel, an impressive larger shorebird with a large, decurved (down-curving) bill, and four dunlin were found along with a single killdeer May 31. On the same day 11 species of plovers and sandpipers were counted at Whitefish in Chippewa County. Seven to 11 species have been seen daily there with a recent recording of 45 whimbrels May 30 a high number.

Another highlight has been a pair of piping plovers most days. Two have been seen each of the days before Wednesday. Piping plovers have been nesting at the point the past few years so hopes are high some will stay. If some do stay, fencing will be erected on the beach to enclose a large area around each nest to keep out walkers and dogs, predators like foxes, and also make it more difficult for raptors like merlins and peregrine falcons from swooping in to grab them.

A Ludington Park in Escanaba, an ongoing program to encourage purple martins to nest there continues and has again attracted close to a dozen to currently remain close to martin houses there, hopefully to stay and nest. Martins were once relatively common along the Lake Michigan shoreline and at inland sites near lakes like Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Schoolcraft County. Like the nighthawks and whip-poor-wills they feed on flying insects, but in daylight hours, and have seen their numbers drop to extremely low numbers over the past several decades.

They overwinter in central South America from Venezuela to Uruguay and may also be affected by more aggressive uses of pesticides in their winter range. For years they were prized for their ability to reduce deer fly and mosquito numbers as multi-family dwelling on thirty-foot tall poles were raised to attract them. The Escanaba project may help to slowly bring them back. There is another strong colony of them along Lake Michigan between the towns of Peshtigo and Oconto, Wisconsin.

Mosquitos are beginning to make an appearance in some places in Wisconsin and the southern U.P., but the current surge of warm weather will definitely bring them out faster in the next week or so. That hatch will surely help insect eaters like swallows, wrens, swifts, and flycatchers. The upcoming hatch of lake midges has started in Wisconsin too, along Lake Michigan has started and will get going on Lake Superior soon too, to feed swallows and shorebirds alike as the insects hover and land on the breakwalls and shoreline cedars.

Watching their aerial maneuvers is just one part of the excitement of June!

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


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