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What’s Flying: With a new year comes new changes

A Northern hawk owl looks on. (Scot Stewart photo)

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

— Alan Watts

A new year stands ready to bring new changes. Ironically the changes most look forward to are the ones bringing back the ways of old, the routines of the past. 2021 is all about undoing the changes of the past year! It has been a strange, horrible year in so many ways, but there have been some opportunities to learn from all that has happened and take away some interesting lessons.

Many took the travel restrictions, limitations in opportunities to socialize, frequent public places and even work away from home as a chance to explore places closer to the house. By hiking, exploring the backyard, looking at the feeders out the dining room window and revisit parks, creeks and hillsides not seen in a while we saw things anew. Time was there to get reacquainted with plants, animals, waterfalls, mushrooms and all life close to home. Many were surprised to become so enraptured with the beauty found. Wildlife itself found ways to become more endearing, more tangible as human activity on highways and in business waned, birds and mammals seemed aware of the changes and seemed to draw nearer.

For birders, many too stayed close to home, choosing to enjoy the discoveries nearby. Fortunately, whether it was because of the conditions of the year or just more birders out looking, there were plenty of great birds seen in the Upper Peninsula this year. Increased use of UPBirders listserve, https://ebird.org/region/US-MI-103/activity, a citizen science bird reporting site and https://www.inaturalist.org/, another citizen science site, kept birders updated on current birds in the area and their precise locations over time. They encouraged many to go outside and see amazing birds.

A warmer start to last winter left the Lower Harbor with lots of open water and waterfowl. Long-tailed ducks and mergansers joined the always large flock of mallards. A few warblers, an orange-crowned and yellow-rumped, surprised almost everyone by spending the last days of December into the new year in new year was a northern hawk owl, first seen in late October of 2019, stuck around until the end of February 2020. It was the first reported in Marquette in 20 years. Usually found in or near the old Marquette City Compost area off Lakeshore Blvd., it drew birds from across the Midwest because of its rarity this far south, its reliability and accessibility. It stayed until late February.

Despite heavy snows early in the year, flocks of robins, 30+ in Marquette and later 50 in Manistique and flocks of cedar waxwings were regularly seen. A northern flickers and a gray catbird were surprises in Marquette in February. Plenty of snowy owls, rough-legged hawks and a gyrfalcon spotlighted raptors in Chippewa County again during the winter. Ice came slowly to the Lower Harbor in Marquette in 2020 keeping 300+ herring gulls in town most of the winter, and eventually providing a resting spot for up to a dozen bald eagles on some days.

Spring saw the return, probably for the last time of peregrines to the Shiras Steam Plant on Lake Street in south Marquette as the facility is due to be torn down soon. A loggerhead shrike drew crowds at the mouth of the Dead River in Marquette. A great diversity of warblers migrated through the U.P. this past spring and left a terrific population of Cape May breeding in the conifer forests. Spring and summer saw numerous visits from both northern mockingbirds and blue-gray gnatcatchers. A whimbrel and a stilt sandpiper brighten up Marquette beaches with brief visits, and ruddy turnstones turned heads on the Lower Harbor breakwall in the fall.

Fields and open areas saw impressive numbers of dickcissels and bobolinks. Great egrets and American white pelicans again wandered northward from Wisconsin. A scissor-tailed flycatcher and a scissor-tailed kite both appeared for a day each in Chocolay Township. Fall brought flocks of horned larks, a few American pipits and plenty of black-bellied and American golden-plovers.

The 2020 bird year in Marquette ended in great fashion with Marquette’s Christmas Bird Count filled with diversity, and a great number of counters and neighbors both able to see a great variety of regular winter residents and a surprising variety of vagrants and late departures. Lingers included two warblers, an orange-crowned, like last December, and a common yellowthroat; also red-winged blackbirds and an American wigeon. Vagrants and wanders included a harlequin duck,Townsend’s solitaire, summer tanager, glaucous, iceland, great and lesser-black back gulls and a snowy owl. In Copper Harbor they had a Cassin’s finch, sage thrasher and a varied thrush!

A snowy owl found Dec. 19 in the middle of Marquette drew one of the biggest crowds to watch a bird recently in Marquette. Perched about 40 feet up in a spruce, it was mobbed by a rowdy murder of over 30 crows and several blue jays. Residents from around the block came with binoculars see what the clamor and crowd of cameras, tripods and spotting scopes was all about. It was a wonderful social event over a truly amazing set of birds!

With travel and social restrictions on the line for at least a few more months, there is still plenty of time to use the changes in effect to walk, explore and bird the neighbor before the new changes hopefully ease everyone back into a more normal lifestyle.

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

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