Pelicans seen cruising the Rock Cut
Seeing pelicans up north in the Upper Peninsula strikes many as a truly unusual phenomenon. They are usually fitted into scenes coasting over sea green waters near white sandy beaches crowned with palm trees. Yet another U.P. sighting came recently as four or five of the large, graceful black and white birds coasting over U.S. 41 at the Rock Cut in south Marquette recently. This is at least the fourth group seen in the Marquette area this summer. Young birds continue to explore the area north and east of nesting areas in northern Lake Michigan.
Peregrine falcons continue to make the news in the U.P,. too. The third fledgling from the nest at the Lift Bridge between Houghton and Hancock over the Portage Canal got into the air recently. An effort was made to band the young birds without success, but bridge officials were pleased to see the pair successfully produce three young as the raptors have made an impact reducing the pigeon population at the bridge. A reduction in the pigeons was sought as their excessive droppings can corrode metal on the bridge. With the successful fledging of the young the peregrine appearances at the bridge will lessen.
In Marquette the peregrines have also fledged from the Presque Isle Power Plant providing quieter times around the mouth of the Dead River. A female red-breasted merganser has been seen there leading six or seven little fluff ball youngsters around newly created backwaters of the river. The elevated waters of Lake Superior have cut through a portion of the beach on the north side of the river creating a small island of sand where the ducklings have been seen resting several times. A couple of small fuddles, flooded puddles, have also formed on the north side of the river mouth near the larger flooded area there formerly know as the “Hot Pond” – a channel created by the release of water heated by the cooling process at the plant.
Shorebirds were reported at the river mouth for the first time this month on July 28. Three Baird’s sandpipers and a semipalmated plover were seen on the beach on the south side of the river in the shallows and on the beach. During the summer when the peregrines are at the nest only the gulls and crows seem safe from the diving attacks of the falcons. Besides the peregrines, merlins occasionally buzz the beaches too looking for a meal. The area around Picnic Rocks seems quieter, suggesting the merlin family there is also foraging farther afield.
Shorebird activity should pick up at the Dead River mouth and the Lower Harbor breakwall in the foreseeable future, but foraging opportunities at both sites are poorer due to the lack of warm-water flooded beach and lower visibility around the water edges at the Dead and the lack of midges and other insects at the breakwall. A spotted sandpiper was found on the breakwall recently.
Several birders have reported pairs of rose-breasted grosbeaks in the area recently. Some birds have been appearing at sunflower feeders. Ripening pin cherries will also attract the grosbeaks, cedar waxwings and some woodpeckers, including the oversized pileateds. Cherry trees on Mt. Marquette are currently bearing fruit and attracting the grosbeaks.
Waxwings have also been observed flycatching along Lake Shore Blvd. in Marquette and several other areas. Perching near the tops of trees, often in bare branches where the visibility is better, they flutter out to nab flying insects, quickly returning to their perches to await the next target.
There are new fledglings making their “teenage” (but fun to watch) mistakes, struggling to figure out all they must to survive migration or the rugged winter to come. There are also new faces heading south from the Arctic edges of Alaska and northern Canada currently reaching the area. Between the two there are some great moments to catch right now.
Editor’s note: Scot Stewart is a teacher at Bothwell Middle School in Marquette and a freelance photographer.