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What’s Flying: What will spring bring to the U.P.?

A Eurasian tree sparrow looks on. (Scot Stewart photo)

“Just living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” — Hans Christian Andersen

Sunshine comes as an added gift on warmer days in spring. Golden rays draw cold dark hulls of sleepy painted turtles out of the ice cold bottoms of small ponds and enjoin choruses of wood frogs and spring peepers. Chocolay pond edges welcomed sleep turtles at the start of this week. Wood frogs were heard doing their impressive duck imitations in a roadside ditch on Old Little Lake Road and ponds north of Marquette. Spring peepers have also started their spring calling at a variety of sites across the central Upper Peninsula.

The ducks are coming. Birders in the Green Bay area have kept watch on large flocks of divers — scaup, redheads, canvasbacks, plus dabblers — American wigeons and gadwalls were part of a staging of over 6000 ducks lingering in the wetlands along Lake Michigan just north of the city. After lingering there for more than a week, they began moving out last Tuesday headed north. Duck numbers were already in the low 100s on April 3-5, but spiked to 700+ by Tuesday afternoon at Ogontz Bay on Lake Michigan. A handful of ring-necked ducks were tallied at the Dead River Wednesday afternoon. Small numbers of lesser scaup have been seen at many smaller lakes and ponds.

Of particular note in the Green Bay/Brown County reports were of substantial numbers, in the 100s, of American wigeons and gadwalls in flocks along Lake Michigan. Birders will be hoping to see some of those ducks too, as they are uncommon here during migration. One striking wigeon drake spent most of the winter with mallards on Lake Superior and the Dead River in Marquette. Will spring bring more?

Hawk migration has also picked up, especially at Whitefish Point where staff man a spot on the sand dunes to count passing raptors, cranes and other passing migrants. While common redpolls lead the count with over 1540 so far since March 15, red-tailed hawks recently took over the second spot with 308 as of this past Wednesday morning, with 42 season Tuesday!

Sharp-shinned hawks will be coming soon too. There are usually several amazing spring days there when upwards of 1500 can come on a single day with impressive surrounding days if the conditions are good, with south winds, warm temperatures and some sunshine. Similar stretches can occur with like numbers for sandhill cranes too. 241 have been seen so far, but 1000+/ day can occur for them too. 99 bald eagles and 27 golden eagles have also been counted there this spring.

American robins have been arriving and beginning to claim their summer territories. Sunshine, with cardinals and robins opening up the morning, are true gifts of spring. Their movements are often connected to soil temperatures. Robins usually move north as daily average temperatures reach 37oF, warm enough to get soil invertebrates moving. Sparrows are beginning to work their way north into the area too. Until just a few days ago only dark-eyed juncos, song and American tree sparrows were present. With substantial flocks of new juncos, up to 50+ at the MooseWood Nature Center feeders this week, fox, white-throated and chipping sparrows have also come.

A real surprise was discovered at MooseWood Monday, when a pair of Eurasian tree sparrows also showed up for about an hour at the feeders. These birds, as their name implies, are not from around here. They do show up at feeders in Marquette and at Whitefish Point occasionally, usually during spring migration. A small permanent population of Eurasian tree sparrows can be found along the Missouri-Illinois boarder around St. Louis. In 1870 a dozen imported from Germany were released in St. Louis to provide recent immigrants with sights of familiar European birds. The population has slowly expanded, but occasionally some do wander, either because of disorientation or simply exploring for new sites to colonize. There current range is an elliptical area around the city where most of the birds have located in less developed rural areas away from more aggressive European house sparrows. Eurasian tree sparrows seen in the U.P. rarely stay for more than a week but little is known if they return to the St. Louis area or perish during the explorations.

Another rarity, a yellow-throated warbler, was also seen in north Marquette this week. The southern edge of the backwaters of the Dead River above the Lakeshore Blvd. bridge and the area around a large feeding station near the end of Schneider Mill Court have been attracting a high diversity of birds again this spring. In the cattails along the river some unusual warblers, late warblers, blackbirds and sparrows have been drawing birders out daily. The extra eyes have picked up some really interesting species over the past few years — yellow-headed blackbirds, a wintertime common yellowthroats, a brief appearance by the gyrfalcon seen in January, regular summer sightings of a family of American kestrels and a lesser scaup during the winter, just to name a few.

Even more migrants are on the way. Ruby-throated hummingbirds have made it to Chicago and at least one is in southern Wisconsin. This is early for them and as good as they, wrens, flycatchers and other birds are to see, late storms and cold weather can really hurt summer populations, so care must be taken in wishes made. Each warm day now seems to bring new arrivals, so bring on the sun!

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

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