No time to sing, there’s work to do

There is no time in summer as precious as dawn. It is the moment when nature re-reveals its beauty, filled with aromas and fragrances, songs of birds, crickets and cicadas and an enveloping cover of green, guilded in gold, and unknown the rest of the year. July marks the gradual disappearance of bird song, replaced by the gentle, and in the case of the cicadas, not so gentle, hum of insects.

In Upper Peninsula towns there are still a number of robin and cardinal songs being belted out well before sunrise. Once it gets light and birds switch to foraging for young, the singing ends and the real work begins. During the day though, there are still a number of songsters singing, especially on the cooler hours. Yellow warblers, red-eyed vireos and song sparrows are most vocal birds in residential areas. Common yellowthroats continue to rip their “Richie, richie, richie” call in wetlands and blue-headed vireos replace the red-eyes in mixed forests outside of Marquette.

The late nesters, like cedar waxwings and American goldfinches are also being heard. The waxwings don’t have a complex song; the goldfinches are better singers. They have been waiting for the thistle seed heads to form for more additional food and the downy seed tops for nest lining material.

Many larger birds, like swans, eagles, white pelicans and geese do not breed until they are three years old or older. For young birds reared in Lake Michigan – two islands in the Green Bay, Wisconsin area starting in 1994 – their summers include wandering the upper reaches of Lake Michigan and into the U.P.

Travels during summer in recent years may have resulted in a new colony being established in Lake Michigan on Little Gull Island in Delta County in 1999. By 2007 seventeen nests were seen. In 2005 American white pelicans were also seen on islands near Beaver Island. Four pelicans were recently seen flying over Marquette Township. In Houghton County a single pelican was noted near the Chassell beach on July 7 and 27 pelicans were spotted flying over L’Anse, in Baraga County the previous day.

New waves of young common grackles and starling are livening up neighborhoods in Marquette and as amazing as the numbers are, within a few weeks the grackles will be gone. They are currently foraging in yards and at feeders. It is a good time to watch areas around feeders for non-bird species too.

Some merlins in Marquette are close to fledging. During windy conditions on July 7 one was dislodged from a nest along Lake Superior in town. Merlins often nest in old crow nests in large pines. The fallen merlin chick was collected by a bird rehabilitator after it began wandering near a busy Lakeshore Blvd. Through the cooperation of the Public Works Department from the City of Marquette, a lift bucket was utilized to lift the young bird back into its nest.

July 1 also marks the unofficial start to fall migration as some Arctic nesting shorebirds begin their long trip back to South America. Some will make a 7,000 to 11,000 trip back for the winter. One dunlin, seen at the mouth of the AuTrain River in Alger County last week, may be one of the first seen in this area. Many sandpipers are already showing up along the Lake Michigan beaches farther south.

Editor’s note: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.