“The spring air just on the cold side of perfection, the heavenly late afternoon light in its hurtful character.” — John Green
It’s April in the Upper Peninsula after all, but hope is still high as the snow slides in, the days should roll by into spring. Nature most often seems to have other ideas. As is natural in human behavior, people look around to see what others have. Bird watchers are looking south to see what is coming, what is waiting and who is still far away.
In the Wisconsin wetlands along the shores of Lake Michigan north of Green Bay, thousands of diving ducks – scaups, ringnecks, ducks, rufous, goldeneyes and common goldeneyes along with hundreds of tundra swans have arrived. They rested and fed in the shallow waters waiting for warmer conditions before continuing north and west.
Duck diversity continues to stagnate on the Dead River above the tourist park. Mallards, black ducks, goldeneyes and hooded mergansers continued to be joined occasionally by trumpeter swans and other Canada geese, but nothing else. Mallards are clearly paired for spring and some mating behaviors have already been observed.
Near the mouth, although more species of ducks were seen as the waters opened up. Sooty Ducks and Ring-necked Ducks have joined the Common Mergansers and other Wintering Ducks. A Pied-billed Grebe was also seen there this week. The vast waters of the Lower Dead, known to birders as the Dead River Marshes, are an increasingly ideal place to see a wide variety of spring migrants, including more unusual spring species like grebes, coots, America, pintails, american ducks. , blue and green winged teal.
At Marquette, a good number of winter birds continue to wait for better conditions before heading north to their summer grounds. A few snowy owls, rough-legged hawks and northern shrikes are still reported in the eastern Upper Peninsula. The snowy owl seen near the bypass south of Marquette this winter and again recently was spotted irregularly earlier this week. Redpolls are still crowding around many feeders in Marquette waiting to head north. Bohemian waxwings were joined by early cedar waxwings and attacked both crabapples and even some soft apples hanging from the trees at the north end of Marquette.
Gull numbers continued to increase at Marquette with over 650 counted earlier this week. As the ice around Picnic Rocks has thinned over the past week, many gulls have moved from there to spend the afternoon in Lower Harbor where they rested primarily on the ice, but also on harbor rocks and the old berths. A few Glaucous and Icelandic Gulls continued to be seen in the flocks.
With mostly wintry weather, migration was relatively slow at Whitefish Point in Chippewa County. Counts of hawks and other raptors https://dunkadoo.org/explore/whitefish-point-bird-observatory/hawk-count-spring-2022 reflected some movements of golden eagles (9 for the season so far ) and white-headed. As of Wednesday, 32 species had been included in official daily counts, including red-tailed, rough-legged, red-shouldered, sharp-shinned hawks and American kestrels. Most other species were overwintering except for sandhill cranes and red-winged blackbirds.
At Marquette, a new development that is sure to change the birding scene a bit this summer is the installation of a pilgrim nest box at the top of the hospital, next to the bypass. This may have altered the movements of the snowy owl seen there, as a couple of pilgrims have already arrived, spotted the site, and appeared inside the box. Basking Sharks and Snowy Owls don’t usually get along well, and several videos have emerged in recent years of visiting owls being bombarded by Basking Sharks along Lake Michigan.
When peregrines nested at the Shiras Steam Plant, they were regularly seen hunting along the bike path parallel to Washington Street in Marquette, where rock pigeons, European starlings and other birds are usually plentiful during summer, so pilgrims should be quite visible. along this route. When both power plants were operating in the city, they each had nesting boxes, and two pairs of peregrine falcons could coexist within the city limits. Last year, a pair apparently nested on the north side of town, so it will be interesting to see if two pairs nest in town again this summer.
Song Sparrows are a welcome arrival in Marquette and a number of other locations on the Upper Peninsula. These are usually the first sparrows to return to the area, and while there is still snow on the ground. They truly live up to their name, starting to sing almost as soon as they arrive and continuing throughout the summer months. They are usually one of the last to stop at the end of summer. Because they often nest in town, they are a welcome addition to the morning chorus.
A good handful of robins also rolled around the area and in some places, like Gladstone, they too started singing. As the weather finally warms, house finches, mourning doves, cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches will add more of their notes to the morning music and remind us once again of the power of the sun – the angle, the luminosity and the newly found warmth are sure to bring an uplift to the spirits of birds and man.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.