Fear not, spring is coming – someday

A peregrine falcon looks on. (Scot Stewart photo)

“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!” – Sitting Bull

Talking about Spring in the Upper Peninsula in March is nearly always a case of jumping the gun, getting a little excited about something still off in the distance, but what the heck. A little rain, some 40 degree temperatures can do that, right? It’s already the Ides of March, true enough, but there is still a St. Patrick’s Day storm out there waiting, right?

More and more signs point to the change of season. With the switch to daylight savings time sunset is at 7:55 p.m. tonight. Unfortunately, sunrise is back to 8:02 a.m., but it still means 11 hours and 52 minutes of daylight today, with more than three minutes more added every day.Temperatures of 43 and rain have also brought lower snow heaps, swollen creeks and flooded roads, but new snow will cover over parts of those.

There are other noticeable changes too. Bird migrants are coming! On Saturday, a peregrine falcon was seen chasing rock pigeons near South Beach. With the ice cover on Lake Superior, the return of ducks and other waterfowl will be while off yet, making hunting for birds more challenging for the peregrine and his mate when she returns. They will be limited in Marquette to chasing pigeons, blue jays, a few mourning doves and starlings.

In a British study of the diet of urban peregrines, Diet and prey selection of urban-dwelling Peregrine Falcons in southwest England, by Edward J.A. Drewitt and Nick Dixon, nearly half the diet there was made up of pigeons, and 9 percent of starlings, the two prey species most common around Marquette currently. They do eat ducks and gulls but both mallards and herring gulls, due to their size, are challenging prey for them. The handful of common goldeneyes and the returning ring-billed gulls would be more likely targets for the peregrines. In the British study though, ducks made up only 3 percent of the peregrines diet, gulls and terns 2 percent. It is the first report of a peregrine in Marquette this winter

The housing situation for peregrines in Marquette this year is even more complicated. It appears a nest box at the Shiras Steam Plant in south Marquette will be ready again this spring for peregrines. Last week’s observation seems to indicate they are returning. Peregrines have nested there since 2011. The nest box at the Presque Isle Power Station is closed and there are no plans to open it this spring for the falcons as the plant shuts down. MiDNR biologists are currently exploring options for siting a new nesting box elsewhere in Marquette to accommodate a second pair of peregrines.

The new location for the nesting box will need to be atop a tall structure where both birds and biologists will be safe. In the wild they nest on rocky cliffs and other high spots usually overlooking lake shores and valleys. The distance between potential nesting sites is also crucial. The general rule of thumb in the wild is peregrines need a minimum of two miles between nests to be content. If too close, the dominant pair will most likely drive the second two away. Interesting days for these raptors are ahead and may not be that far into the future. Marquette has been something of an exception due possible to the amount of prey available. Relocating a nest site will be tricky.

Some remnants of winter are still hanging on here. A large flock of bohemian and cedar waxwings returned to the southeast corner of the Marquette County courthouse on March 7. It was the first time in nearly three weeks they had visited the crab apple trees there to feed. Since that day, they have not been reported back. A total of 36 bohemian waxwings were also seen in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, near the St. Mary’s River, on Saturday. Bohemian waxwings begin to get scarcer in mid-March as they begin their trip back to the Rockies and northwestern Canada to their summer range.

Cedar waxwings will remain in the U.P. and nest in mid-summer. Because both species are very social, they will remain in small groups of flocks until they split up to nest.

Small number of pine grosbeaks have been reported lingering north of Ishpeming, on the Peshekee Grade, and in Dafter, Chippewa County. Numbers have been most frequently seven or less. A few small flocks of common redpolls have also continued across the area. Just one snowy owl was reported last week on the loop around Pickford in Chippewa County.

The eastern U.P. has also been a good spot to see flocks of wild turkeys, in flocks up to 22. Small flocks of sharp-tailed grouse are also continuing around east end feeding stations and other areas with available food. In Chocolay Township and Alger County, wild turkeys have had to rely even more on feeding stations with the depth of snow.

So, fear not, spring is coming. The sun’s embrace is sure to be appreciated by not just the earth, but by creatures great and small as well.

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