Summertime slows down for nature

Late summer is a lazier time for most in nature. Young animals are learning to feed and look out for themselves. Young birds like blackbirds, grackles, warblers, and flickers are moving through the area in family groups and larger flocks to feed before heading south. Many flowers, except the goldenrod and asters, are setting seeds or gently setting fruit around them. With the cool summer the roadside yellows and purples are delayed a bit this summer.

The slowdown is allowing outdoor enthusiasts a chance to spend more time studying the details of their surroundings for the unnoticed beauty of the summer season. The rich colors, aromas, buzzy calls and sounds make it a memorable time of year.

Shorebird migration is picking up in the area. Regular small flocks are appearing at the mouth of the Dead River and the Lower Harbor breakwall in Marquette. Semipalmated plovers, lesser yellowlegs, a sanderling, least, Baird’s, and semipalmated plovers have been seen. Slowed by the low pressure system, winds and rain affecting the area Aug. 11-12, 55 shorebirds stopped at the mouth of the AuTrain River in the rainy early morning hours. Species there included black-bellied plovers, along with the sandpipers seen in Marquette. They are headed for wintering sites from the Gulf of Mexico all the way to southern South America. It is difficult to fathom how these tiny birds make these trips over thousands of miles each migration season.

Studying the rocks along the breakwall and the detail of the beach areas can reveal shorebirds otherwise camouflaged in the rocks and sand. Mottled patterns of their back feathers can make it very difficult to pick them out, and impossible when they stand with their backs to observers. Getting a close look at their amazing patterns, colorful eye rings and other details reveals the true beauty of these birds.

Birders with extra time may be rewarded with a longer visit at the Dead River, especially if the gull numbers are low and peregrine falcons, merlins and dogs are elsewhere. Often small groups seem to appear along the shore and land when other shorebirds are already there. Recently while two sandpipers and a plover were feeding on the beach, they had to contend with a pesky young ring-billed gulls begging food from a parent. The gulls wandered up and down the beach frequently forcing the shorebirds to relocate. Because there were only a few gulls there at the time, the shorebirds were able continue foraging ion the beach.

Hummingbirds have continued to put on several amazing shows around the Marquette area. A patch of flowers along Mangum Road near the Chocolay River south of Marquette has attracted a group of around a dozen hummers. An area of milkweed mentioned recently has drawn at least 30 hummingbirds at a site north of Hawley Street in Marquette.

Early morning and evening feeding times have looked like a cross of the fighter jet dogfight scenes from the movie Top Gun and those of Peter Pan when Tinkerbell, the tiny fairy, turns into a fading, glowing light as she flies away. The large number of birds competing for nectar in this sizable patch creates numerous fights with hummingbirds chasing each other or facing off as they squeak at each other and and occasionally rise from 20-50 feet in the air. Difficult to know how they discern their perceived territories and how they are able to change the rules early and late on the cold days when feeding takes on an additional urgency. After undisturbed birds feed they arc up to nearby trees to rest between feeding sessions. During windier days, they rest on the milkweed leaves to avoid the uncertain commute.

When watching the hummingbirds in the milkweed patch it easily becomes a four senses event, enhancing the appreciation of the delicate beauty of these fragile birds. The heavy sweet aroma of the milkweed, the high-pitched squeaks of the hummingbirds produced when they announce their presence or objections, the whirl of wind as they fly by and the glow of their iridescence make their convoluted flight patterns and hovering nectaring habits all the more admirable and incomprehensibly beautiful. Find the beauty of late summer for yourself – you won’t be disappointed.

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