What’s flying

Each day brings us new bird arrivals

An American avocet is pictured. (Scot Stewart photo)

“My heart is light with May! The sky is soft; the coming birds Are silent on their way.” — Mary Mapes Dodge

Seems difficult to comprehend the start of not just another month, but the fifth month — May! A look around at the sight of so many bare trees, still skeletons standing naked on the hills makes it hard to believe, but a close looks shows the new red flowers on the maples and now aging flowers on the willows and poplars.

A look to the skies bring assurance spring is surely on its way. Each day brings new bird arrivals, and they in turn find new discoveries of their own.

At the mouth of the Dead River, work continues to restructure the river’s outlet, straightening its route into Lake Superior and building up the beach between the river and the ore dock. This has been an important stop for many shorebirds during both the spring and fall migration.

This year has seen just a few birds there but last Sunday a true star did stop. In the early afternoon last Sunday an American avocet was seen on the beach in front of Lambros Park just south of the Dead River.

This is an impressive, large shorebird with a chestnut head and neck, a black and white body and blue legs. The seventeen to eighteen and a half inch long birds have 3.2 – 3.7 inch long decurved bills that curve down then up. Its arrival came after a pair of weather fronts swept through the Midwest from the south and brought rain and strong winds.

American avocets winter along both ocean coasts and parts of northern Mexico, and summer in the Central Plains and parts of western Washington and Oregon. Summer habitat is in areas with potholes and wetlands. Appearances in the Upper Peninsula are rare, with just a few individuals, usually singles, although one large flock of over 20 avocets did appear at the mouth of the AuTrain River in Alger County in late October 2019.

A second large shorebird, a willet, has also shown up at two different locations recently.

One was seen near Shelter Bay in Alger County last week, and a second on the Dead River this past Tuesday. Willets have ranges similar to avocets but have a winter range down both coasts all the way down to southern South America. These two may also been pushed northward quickly by recent fronts.

Shorebirds may have to alter stops in the U.P. this spring. With the dry winter, many inland wetlands and ponds have shrunk considerably or dried up all together. Reports from the western counties have noted some vernal ponds have disappeared altogether.

Due to the same conditions, some larger lakes have shrunk too creating some mudflats at their edges where shorebirds might be able to forage, and new shallows for ducks and gulls.

At Peninsula Point birds were able to find a rare little gull amid a flock of over 600 Bonaparte’s gulls. The reefs on the west side of the point in Lake Michigan are a favored stop for the gulls during spring migration. Large numbers of ducks are still migrating through the area currently too.

Teal, northern pintails, gadwall, northern shovelers, and other dabblers have been found all along the Lake Michigan coast and in many inland ponds and rivers.

The cool spring has not slowed the nesting of Canada geese. Many clutches have hatched in recent days providing small herds of goslings at some sites. This week three different pairs trooped 20 young geese around feeders and the Dead River at the end of Granite Street in Marquette this week.

Hummingbirds have also be beneficiaries of recent winds and some warmer temperatures. There have been two reports of ruby-throated in the U.P. now, so it is a great time to get feeders up! As they begin to arrive and settle in, the placement of several cattail tips from last summer, complete with their fuzzy seeds will encourage hummingbirds to nest nearby and use the cattails to line the nest.

Migration is at full throttle. At Peninsula Point at the tip of the Stonington Peninsula, birders are finding more that 60 species in good outings with a mix of waterbirds — gulls and duck, along with plenty of sparrows and now some of the early warblers like yellow-rumped, common yellowthroats, black and white, Nashville, and pine.

Some other rarer migrants and a few other “off course” migrants have also been seen. A blue-gray gnatcatcher and a yellow-headed blackbird also turned up last Tuesday.

In the coming weeks more than 100 species will show up at the point, making it one of the best places to see a great diversity of birds in the U.P.

Other species usually found there in spring are both Baltimore and orchard orioles, red-headed woodpeckers, plenty of indigo buntings, and three species of tanagers, local scarlet, the southern species — summer, and western tanagers. Arrive early and stay late to see up to 26 species of warblers on a good day!

Portage Point in Escanaba and Whitefish Point in Chippewa County are two other great spots to see LOTS of birds in spring. But there are plenty of different species that can be seen closer to home or at home. The Bog Walk at Presque Isle Park in Marquette can be really good too.

The backyard can be as well. A western tanager appeared quietly in a mountain ash tree in Marquette Wednesday for a brief visit for lucky birders Wednesday. May is great!

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


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today