“In August the great masses of berries, which, when in bloom, took on many wild bees, gradually took on their bright velvety crimson hue, and by their weight they bent again and broke their tender limbs.” – Henry David Thoreau
The forests have welcomed the August rains. The warm temperatures made plants thirsty and even after a rain shower last Sunday, most plants were ready to take on the new rain that fell Tuesday night. The rain will also ensure that the blueberries, raspberries and blueberries that are currently ripening will be full. The blueberry crop has been good in many areas and handfuls are picked at each grab in some locations. Cedar waxwing and robins have also made the most of the blueberries ripening along Lake Superior in Marquette and Harvey. Even winkers have offered treats to house finches and American goldfinches.
The UP high for vagrants this past week came at Whitefish Point in Chippewa County on Monday when an extremely rare prairie falcon stopped on the beach at the Waterbird Counter Station. During the summer, American kestrels, merlins and peregrine falcons are reliable birds of prey to find near their summer nests and territorial locations. In winter, there are some places where gyrfalcons can be found in some years. But prairie falcons are always extremely rare visitors here.
The summer range for prairie falcons extends from the extreme south of Canada into Mexico, essentially between the Rocky and Cascade-Sierra Nevada Ranges. In winter, their range extends eastward to the western edges of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Their diet includes a higher percentage of mammals than other, larger falcons. Their plumage is mainly light brown which makes them blend in well with a prairie landscape.
An interesting note on Cornell’s All About Birds page on prairie falcons, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Prairie_Falcon/overview, notes that prairie falcons are among the birds engaged in play activities, “They’ve seen them drop dried cow dung into the air and then dive to catch it. Like young ball players turning a baseball to themselves, this can be a way to hone their coordination skills.” The Whitefish Point visitor stays for a few hours in the middle of the day before heading east across Whitefish Bay.
Whitefish Point has also seen quite a few great blue herons flying over the point, possibly on a trek south. Single individuals have appeared in many locations lately, including the Park Cemetery in Marquette. On August 2, nine more were seen on the south side of the Cleveland Cliffs Basin in Alger County, east of Limestone. The edge of that lake has become an excellent place to see a great diversity of birdlife during the autumn migration. In just over a mile of driving around the lake, 59 species of birds were found there on August 2. Ducks and relatives included wood ducks, merganser, green-winged teal, and trumpeter swans. Other waterfowl included a fur-billed grebe and a Virginia spur. Shorebirds included a short-beaked dowitcher, solitary sandpipers, greater and lesser yellow-legged crabs, a Caspian tern, and a common loon. At least eight species of warblers, 120 red-winged blackbirds, a night hawk and 26 northern flickers were among the other birds seen there Tuesday morning.
Redheaded woodpeckers have been surprising popups in the central UP lately. One of the rare local woodpeckers in the area, it seems to make a small jump in appearances, and perhaps summer residents too. Last year a couple raised a brood in a northern part of Gladstone. They have been seen occasionally this summer, but not that often. A couple has appeared erratically in southern Chocolay Township this year and was spotted again about a week ago. Red-headed woodpeckers are regularly spotted at Peninsula Point, at the tip of the Stonington Peninsula in the spring and this year was no exception – as many as five were spotted this year. Three more were seen there on Wednesday afternoon.
Red-headed woodpeckers were once relatively common in the southern stratum of the UP counties, and some were even nesters in Marquette. It wasn’t until the late 1970s and early 1980s that they nested in large sugar maples at several locations on East and West Ridge Street in the city. This woodpecker population has declined in much of the northeastern US due to the removal of dead trees, an increase in the starling population (they take over woodpecker nests shortly after they are completed), and the loss of open forests where the woodpeckers prefer to live.
They are easily identified by the completely red heads of both males and females, solid black backs, wings and tail, and white rump and breasts. They are highly social birds, feeding on insects, especially grasshoppers, and seeds, and are relatively unique in their habit of covering stored food with bark or other material. They also “fly catch”, which flies out into open areas to catch flying insects on the wing. Seeing more of them in the area is a very encouraging sign.
Small mixed swarms of warblers are a sure sign that fall migration is approaching. Many observers have noted that families with fledgling young move beyond their territorial range to forage further afield and have often been seen with other species. Many hummingbirds also seem to have fledged their young.
Some birds, especially song sparrows and northern cardinals, are still singing and may be working on a final clutch. So go out and pick some raspberries or blueberries, find a bird singing and enjoy the signs of a season beginning to end in all its glory.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.