Spring: a lovely reminder of the beauty of change. – Anonymous
Spring rain is meant to wash away snow, especially snow that has long lost its white freshness. The Upper Peninsula’s early rain comes with its own whitener though – more snow. Scheduled to be part of the time for at least another week, it will not produce the desired effects yet. Luckily, this product usually doesn’t linger too long and often the rain is able to turn grass and other surfaces green once the temperature hits the 50s for a few extended periods. In the meantime, the wait for change will continue.
The spring bird migration, however, is beginning to take off, despite ice still in Great Lakes ports and bays and snow still on the ground and in the air. At Whitefish Point, Chippewa County, the number of birds passing the Hawk Platform counted by researchers has plummeted over the past week. From March 15 to April 5, they have just over 550 individual birds. As of Wednesday, the number had risen to more than 1,770. Leaders for the past week included red-tailed hawks, red-winged blackbirds, sandhill cranes and red-headed vultures arriving and bohemian wings departing .
Along the southern portion of the Upper Peninsula counties, winter wrens, ruby-crowned kinglets, hermit thrushes, pied-billed grebes, double-crested cormorants and even a great egret have been sighted in the past week. Delta and Schoolcraft counties. A black-backed gull and Icelandic gull were spotted in Manistique near the boardwalk on Tuesday. The waterfowl were outstanding, considering the large amount of ice still floating on Lake Michigan. This week’s rain and milder temperatures are helping to melt and break up that ice, but there’s still some way to go.
In several locations in the interior of UP, more yellow-bellied sapsuckers and an eastern phoebe were seen. There have been sightings of flies and midges so there are now insects available for wrens, wrens, swallows and warblers. and flycatchers and there was at least one mourning cape butterfly location reported last week at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Chippewa County.
Eastern phoebes were also seen this week at Marquette and Whitefish Point. They are usually the first flycatchers to return to the area and are perhaps the most familiar as they often nest under the eaves of camps, outbuildings and sheds and sometimes under bridges on secondary roads. Like other flycatchers, they don’t have a melodic song, but rather the repetitive calls they were born with and don’t need to learn. Phoebes’ call sounds like their name and is heard in early spring once their territories are defined. Their coloring is also quite simple with dark greyish-olive backs and cream-colored breasts.
Tree Swallows are also starting to crawl north. A week ago, they were popping up over the lakes and ponds of Chicago. A couple were seen on the St. Mary’s River in the Soo on Tuesday. Brown creepers are another insect eater that takes up residence in the area. Five were seen at Almost Isle Park in Marquette earlier this week.
Dabbling ducks are always a welcome sign of change in spring, with the color they add to lakes, ponds and streams, and a reminder of how the water is opening up again for summer. Goldeneyes, lesser scaup and blue-winged teal make an appearance on the Dead River. The small barrows above Tourist Park are sometimes close enough to see the incredible iridescent pattern of green, red, purple and blue on the males’ necks beneath their large white patches in the sun. South of the Soo, over 300 Canada geese have been sighted, and nearby, wood ducks, pintails and wigeons have also been reported.
Birding is changing at Peninsula Point in Delta County off Lake Michigan. Last Tuesday, six species of ducks, including 250 crested mergansers, blue-winged teals and pintails, were spotted there along with 35 Bonaparte’s gulls. A northern flicker and a golden-crowned kinglet have also been observed. Peninsula Point is one of the best places to view spring migration in UP Over 100 species can be seen in one day during peak migration in May, including species like orchard orioles, eastern tanagers, summer blue-winged warblers and blue-grey gnatcatchers, those that seem to check the area, before returning south to their current summer range. Northern cardinals and red-bellied woodpeckers have done this before, and they are now regular permanent residents here.
Red-headed vultures are another once hard-to-find species now a regular feature of summer skies in the UP. A large wave of them appeared in central counties last week. Scavengers, they joined raven and raven, and occasional highway clearing patrols of bald eagles working to reduce the remains of road kills in the spring. It appears that many of these most commonly seen species are moving further north due to both habitat changes and climate change. Winters have gotten shorter here (most years) with warmer temperatures in spring and fall creating more favorable conditions for some species, especially some that can be challenged by conditions like drought in the south.
Another species to observe in the spring is the ruby-throated hummingbird. Fortunately, migration maps chart their progress https://www.hummingbirdcentral.com/hummingbird-migration-spring-2022-map.htm Currently they are seen closest in central Illinois. They should approach UP at the end of the month or the beginning of May – in only two to three weeks! Get ready for the changes!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.