What’s flying

Keep an eye out for hummingbirds

Pictured is a northern saw-whet owl. (Scot Stewart photo)

“April is a moment of joy for those who have survived the winter.” — Samuel Johnson

Although it is still April, birder hopefuls are beginning to think of the next stages of migration and one of the birds most thought of in spring, and summer, is the ruby-throated hummingbird. The interest across the country helps with the tracking their migration each spring as they inch they way north. By Wednesday this week, hummingbirds had a made several appearances in the Green Bay area and one had already made it to the edge of the Wisconsin-Michigan border at Land of Lakes.

These northbound birds depend on southerly winds, warm temperatures and the tiny insects and tree flower nectar the warmer days encourage.

While it is usually toward the end of the first week in May when ruby-throats make it to the northern end of the Upper Peninsula moderate temperatures in the next ten days may speed things a bit, although the sizeable amount of forecasted rain for the next ten days suggests the arrival times may be fairly close to normal.

A big surprise among the birds remaining in the Marquette area recently as spring marches on has been a pair of vagrants, a duck and a gull lingering on along the Lake Superior shore. A female harlequin duck appeared a around the Picnic Rocks the first week of March, then went missing after a few days.

It reappeared last Thursday. Although it has not showed up since then on local reports, few reports have been filed for the are in the last few days.

In the Lower Harbor a rare gull, a slaty-back, a larger gull with nearly black wings and a yellow bill with a red spot on the lower bill. Slaty-backed gulls’ normal range is the eastern hemisphere, but in the winter they do wander. In the past few years several have made it to Marquette, hanging out at Picnic Rocks and the Lower Harbor pilings.

A couple others have appeared in years past, and there may well have been more over the years that just went unnoticed. In recent years the number of accomplished birders has provided increased the number of notable birds seen in the U.P. exponentially.

Phone apps have also improved the communications between birders helping more get to sites in time to see rare birds, and technology has offered higher quality of sound and photo documentation. This gull showed up last Tuesday and remained at least through this past Tuesday.

In winter and early spring gulls with summer ranges in the Arctic and Eurasian occasionally funnel through the Great Lakes. Some may wander down the East Coast, then up the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes. Rough weather slows the movements of these birds so it is often the best time to see them at places like the Lower Harbor, South Beach, and until this spring the mouth of the Dead River. As work continues at the Dead River to redirect the mouth and remodel the beach area between the river and the ore dock bird activity has changed.

American white pelicans have be seen regularly in Marquette. Most in the U.P. think Florida, Texas, or California when they think pelicans. There are two species in the U.S., brown and American white pelicans. Brown pelicans are very rare in northern Michigan, with just a couple reports in recent years, American white pelicans though are summer residents in Wisconsin, with nesting colonies at the mouth of the Fox River in Green Bay, Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge between Madison and Fond du Lac, and on islands in Lake Butte des Morts near Oshkosh.

Because pelicans usualy must be at least 3 years old to breed immature individuals tend to occasionally wander around the area, cruising along the Lake Michigan shore and heading farther north into places like Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Schoolcraft County.

Most of them are “fly-over” small groups, easily identified with extended gliding, looking like synchronized swimmers in the air. They do make short stops on Lakes Superior, Teal and other larger bodies of water before leaving.

Owls have been popping up around Marquette too. A tiny northern saw-whet owl was heard several times on Presque Isle this week. Its call sounds more like a toot than a hoot and comes in short repeats, It was heard early in the morning, but may have all come from the same bird or a pair. From the Top of the World near Harlow Lake three barred owls were heard last Tuesday.

Also heard there was newly arrived whip-poor-will. They have been more difficult to hear or see in the U.P. over the years, as this group of birds, including the common nighthawk, see shrinking populations in the U.P. They are most active at night, hunting flying insects like mosquitoes and moths. During the daytime they remain well concealed and are rarely seen.

Ducks continue to move through the area with several hundred, including a large number of scaup seen in Little Bay de Noc near Kipling. Nine different species were observed at the Rapid River boat landing last Tuesday.

At Whitefish Point Bird Observatory large pushes of red-tailed hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, and broad-winged hawks are moving through. Over 1,300 sharp-shins and over 900 red-tails have been counted and now some bigger kettles, large circling numbers, of broad-wings have begun showing up.

On days with strong north winds, the hawks will circle over the point waiting for more favorable winds to aid them in their trip across a narrow stretch of Lake Superior to get to Canada. Those same winds will keep spring going strong.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is naturalist at the MooseWood Nature Center, a writer and photographer.


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