Saturday, July 2, 2011

UP Summer Bird Off: by Sunwiggy

My guest blogger, Sunwiggy, returns with the results of the Northern portion of our summer birding challenge. Way to go, Sunwiggy!

Sometimes you get a birding day that's just about perfect, and so it was on Wednesday, June the 29th, when my husband and I answered Ms. Crow's Bird-Off challenge. Weather? How about sunny, around 68 degrees F, with a very light breeze? Bugs? A hat and a longsleeved top will take care them. Company? Husband's slathering at the bit, and plotting out our day, with an eye to getting 44 birds, and beating Ms.Crow's count for her Bird-Off day. And the birds? We got 37, including some I was surprised to see, or doing surprising things. Others surprised us by their being a no-show, such as our neighborhood blue jay. We never did see a blue jay, and they're usually everywhere!

We started the day at this summer's birdiest spot: the Nara Nature Trails, in Houghton. We did both boardwalks, and the adjoining Peepsock Marsh and Trail, and then, across the road and up the hill, we walked the Pilgrim River Trail. I was thrilled to see that the Baltimore oriole couple were still in residence. We noticed that there seem to be fewer redwinged blackbirds- are they leaving us already? The marshes will be so silent without them. Well, not totally silent. There is the Bullfrog Band, especially in the Peepsock Marsh; it sounds like 10 to 15 one-string banjos playing, all out of tune! I was delighted to see a pair of rosebreasted grosbeaks on one of the boardwalks, once I figured out that the male's beak was covered in sticky pollen and petals, and not some horrible, disfiguring beak fungus, as I'd first feared! I noticed that several of the cedar waxwings had what appeared to be nesting material in their beaks, grasses, cattail fuzz, and such. Note to self: Look up when cedar waxwings start nesting. We only saw one American redstart and two yellow warblers, and the only little birds still singing a lot were the song sparrows. For most birds, anyway, it seems that nesting season is winding down. Some raise more than one brood, though. Which ones? Something else I want to look up!

The River Trail yielded a bald eagle sighting, actually, 2 immature bald eagles, spotlit in the sun. Our next stop was the Paavola Wetlands. What a difference 3 weeks make! I'd been avoiding Paavola because our incessant rains had turned the place into a real muddy challenge to navigate, plus brought out the bugs. After my last visit, I counted a dozen skeeter bites on the back of my neck. This time it was dryer, and very jungly-looking. The beaver pond was lovely, with waterlilies and ducks to admire. My husband finally called a wood duck that turned out to actually BE a wood duck, and became insufferable as a consequence! We saw at least 6 wood ducks throughout the day, the first we'd seen this year. Where have they been? Why are they all over the ponds now? We also "got" our first pintails of the year, and a mama mallard with 5 cute ducklings. She was bathing, wings stretching out, head dipping into the water and then flinging the drops back over her head, paddling in circles. She looked so happy to be alive!

On our way our of Paavola, I could hear (of course, you hear them everywhere up here) veerys, and I begin complaining that I never, ever actually SEE one of them. My husband stopped, pointed, and said, "Look." And there were 2 veerys, one on each side of the narrow trail. I had to laugh and say, "Thank you!" We were being escorted off of the property, so to speak, by a truly irate redwing blackbird and his helpful mate. I'm sure I don't know what we did to offend the pair so much, but they followed us a long way. I kept expecting a sneak attack, as I know redwing blackbirds will "stab you in the back" if you tick them off enough. My husband wondered, as we drove away, if the blackbird believed he'd succeeded in showing us who was The Big Bird.

Our next stop was Lake Calumet. I kept hoping all day for a great blue heron, but they are not very common in my area. Instead, we saw a merlin, and cedar waxwings, reminding me that merlins are especially fond of a nice cedar waxwing...for dinner. I finally saw a mama ringnecked duck with 10 or 11 babies; we'd been seeing childless, or is it ducklingless, couples but no mamas. The kingfisher was in residence, sounding like a big rattle. Our last stop was Lake Eliza in Eagle Harbor, where we've been seeing Blackburnian warblers. I love Blackburnian warblers; their colors just pop. Lake Eliza is very peaceful and lovely. I always feel good, just being there. Lately, every trip up towards Copper Harbor has involved at least two or three painted turtle rescues, as in, getting out of the car and carrying a painted turtle off the road. I always remember to carry the turtle in the direction it was already going! The turtles aren't in the least bit grateful for these kind attentions. It has to be egglaying time for painted turtles. Near Lake Eliza, all of the turtles have been heading into a quiet, historic cemetery to lay their eggs. We only saw one turtle, and no warblers, but, in the actual harbor we saw a common loon, our last bird counted on our Big Bird-Off day. It was a lot of fun, and luckily for my husband, I was well content with our 37 species. Otherwise, it would have been back to Paavola for some owling...and blood-letting, with all of the mosquitoes that come out at night!

We didn't see any grouse, but one memory I'll have of the ruffled grouse from an earlier walk is of a little mama grouse who flung herself out of the ferns, practically on our shoes, tail fanned, wings drooping, turning like a little top while she made the most piteous cries. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the point of this whole show, as a bunch of little fuzzballs scooted into the undergrowth. My husband called her a "brave little bird", and indeed she was.

As the birds wind up their nesting, and become quieter, and some start leaving us, I'll keep my spirits up by exploring new places. My husband found a big marshy area on a map of Nara's trails, so I think we'll try there next. With a can of Deep Woods Off, as even the UP is getting warm and buggy! Summer has truly arrived..........Sunwiggy

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