What’s Flying: Still much to enjoy, soak in

A black-bellied plover looks on. (Scot Stewart photo)

“Is this not a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love — that makes nature and life harmonize.” — George Elliot

After another bout of near 80F weather, it got here — Autumn. The fondness many have for summer’s warmer temperatures and the crisp fresh air of autumn definitely contributes to a twinge of sadness as thoughts of frost, freezing temperatures, snow begin to creep into the minds’ recesses. The reds of roses, the buzzes of bumblebees, the clatter of aspen leaves in the wind and the smells — of rich soil, newly cut grass, and flowers, lots of flowers all begin to face into summer’s warmest memories.

But for now, there is still too much to enjoy, savor and soak in. A trip to the western edge of Marquette County and the eastern parts of Baraga in those priceless fall highlands is beginning to hint at fall’s golds, crimsons, and lemon yellows.

The mention of frost the week absolutely cured fall color fans to believe the big break in the weather will bring a huge rush in changes to the maples, ironwood (hophornbeam), and the big-toothed aspens. In those spots of higher elevations, the color changes will come faster, and the rain on this past Wednesday and Thursday may prevent some of those colors from dimming on their way in in the coming weeks.

It has been a banner year form many plants. Maples, horse chestnuts, mountain ash, hawthorn, crab apple, and other trees have produced overwhelmingly massive crops of seeds, nuts, and fruits, sure to provide substantial amounts of for wildlife this fall. Because they had huge crops last year, oaks may be among the few with lighter crops this fall. Good mountain ash, birch and conifer fruit/seed crops may keep some Canadian finches, grosbeaks, and waxwings to the north this winter.

While the goldenrod season is just about over, having adorn roadsides and fields in bright yellow flowers this summer, the aster season is continuing nicely. This year saw an explosion in the plants producing bright white, violet and purple flowers. The large-leaved aster, a staple in the maple-aspen woods of the Upper Peninsula has an outstanding season, with many plants usually too small to produce flower stalks were impressively festooned.

Wild turkeys may have been the most successful of the U.P. birds this summer. On a recent drive on M-92 between U.S 41 and U.S. 2, about 50 miles, seven different large flocks were seen last Saturday morning. With the flocks averaging over twenty birds each, it meant about 150 or more were seen in about an hour. Highly visible between in the mid-morning hours where they sought out grasshoppers along the road, they had all moved back into the woods by the afternoon.

Waterbirds have continued to move through the area, nearly daily, but in small numbers. The mouths of both the AuTrain River in Alger County, and the Dead River in Marquette have seen arrivals daily. At the Dead, the wide expanse of the sandy point on the south side of the river has been a wonder to watch as the strong waves on days with east winds, and the river level changes due to rain have washed over parts clearing away some debris and altered the pools and “mud” flats where sandpipers and plovers have searched for food. Semipalmated and black-bellied plovers have been the most commonly seen waterbirds there joining the daily appearances of gulls and some American pipits and horned larks.

At the AuTrain a wider array of shorebirds has been seen, including sanderlings, killdeers, semipalmated, black-bellied and American golden-plovers have been regulars for the past week. Other species there though have also been exciting. American pipits, horned larks and bald eagles have been among those seen there and this past Wednesday a flock of geese there including three cackling geese and a Ross’s goose. Cackling geese are mallard sized versions of Canada geese and the Ross’s is one of three varieties of white geese seen occasionally during migration. The other two are snow geese, and Ross’s X snow geese hybrids.

The periodic rain and stormy weather may provide some better opportunities to catch some of these waterbirds as they occasionally sit out this kind of weather and may hang out on the area’s less busy beaches. Both South Beach and the Dead River mouths are great places to check on these mornings.

All three are smaller than Canada geese and are told apart with some challenges by size, Ross’s are a bit smaller, and the bill shape. While this description is a bit simplistic, not always snow geese have slight spread in the outer edges of each beak creating a “smile.” Ross’s beaks look to close more, and the hybrids are “in between,” obviously making close examination necessary, and even then, not always conclusively.

Some nice flocks of robins have been seen in the Marquette area this week, both on the wet ground chasing invertebrates and in the mountain ash and crab apple trees feeding on fruits with their carbohydrates. A few hermit and Swainson’s thrushes have been seen in the area too.

Some birders have seen a continuing trickle of ruby-throated hummingbirds. It is always a good reminder to those with hummingbird feeders to keep them up during September and even October, as late Canadian hummers will still be coming through and even a few western birds, like rufous and Anna’s that are both quite hardy, may be seen as the weather gets colder. So as the days cool, there is still much to see.

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


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