Monday, September 12, 2011

Late summer in the U.P. : by Sunwiggy

Another guest blog post from Sunwiggy, my northern correspondent.

Late summer in the UP is usually a melancholy time for me. Winter seems very near now, and more and more of my feathered friends are heading South. At the age of 62, one is aware that there are a limited number of new Springs and Summers one can expect to enjoy! So, to distract myself from all of this, I've been having a more-than-usual number of birding adventures.

First up was my sewer plant expedition, undertaken with a reluctant husband and birding partner. Having seen several nice peeps posted on ebird, by a fellow UP birder, at the Atlantic Mine sewer plant, I decided to go and see peeps, too. Finding the place was a trial and a tribulation, not very conducive to marital and birding harmony, but eventually we figured it out. An open gate, with a "Danger. Sewer Plant. Do Not Enter" sign gave my husband pause, but not me. How serious could they be, if the gate was open? We proceeded down the road and came to 2 of the 4 large "ponds" we'd seen on a google map at home. These were partially surrounded by a chain link fence and more "Keep Out" signs. The smell was horrific, even for a sewer plant. I could see crows investigating something along the muddy shore. There were puddle ducks in the first pond, tipping their bottoms up and eating away. My husband said his opinion of ducks had gone down a notch. The 2nd pond was empty, and my increasingly nervous spouse insisted on leaving "before anyone sees us." At this point, I started humming the tune to "Secret Agent Man." As we bounced down the road, we passed the biggest pickup truck I've ever seen, so I guess we got out just in time!

My next trip was to the Seney NWR, our 2nd time there. I was hoping to see trumpeter swans, and boy, did I, around 60 of the refuge's resident 250 birds. Seney is a really lovely place, with all of its pools. The place is well-laid out, too, easy to grasp and get around in. We noticed a big difference from our early summer trip; the long marsh walk was silent now, with all of the singing nesting birds gone, especially the redwinged blackbirds...if you can call what they do singing! Instead, the trees were full of migrating warblers, leading to a lovely, if frustrating, time complete with "warbler neck", and much paging through the bird guides and "discussion" of which birds, exactly, we were seeing. I was thrilled as we drove slowly by the ponds to see, not only all of the swans, but grebes, Canada geese, and sandhill cranes, and 3 bald eagles. We missed seeing the osprey and the mother loon with her baby that we'd heard about in the Visitors Center.

The swans were very protective of the almost-grown-up cygnets. We stopped to admire, from the Jeep, a mother swan and a cygnet, almost giving the father swan heart failure, or so it seemed. With much thrashing of wings, he got himself airborne, and flew to his little family, where the couple greeted each other with a lot of noise and synchronized neck-and-head bobbing. Then Father interposed his large body between us and his young one, and the 3 swam hastily away.

We also took a photo of a yellow rail, so we could tease Ms. Crow by saying we had seen one, and we did! Of course, the glass case in which the yellow rail is artfully displayed is visible in the photo. The best way to see one, I've read, is to go out with a guide in the middle of the night and endure being drained dry by mosquitoes while the guide knocks 2 rocks together. This sounds, to a male yellow rail, like a rival, and he will come out of the weeds to investigate. You turn a flashlight on, quickly, and there you go, you've seen a yellow rail!

This weekend, time constraints forced me to bird right here at home, which turned out to be lucky for me! The Scrub, an old railway line turned into an ATV trail, is full of warblers and sparrows flocked up to migrate. Lake Calumet is hosting, along with all of the Canada geese, a handsome gadwall. A rough-legged hawk is here, even though he's only supposed to be here in the wintertime. We got to watch a belted kingfisher catching and eating her fishy lunch. We rescued a very large painted turtle from the middle of the ATV trail, and put him gently in the mud by the beaver pond, although my husband refused to pull the leech off his tail (and I didn't, either, shame on us!). A short drive out of town gave us a ruffled grouse by the side of the road, near 2 male peacocks, the later presumably from the little hobby farm nearby.

Perhaps the best cure for Fall sadness is just to enjoy the birds we do see more than ever, and wish the departing ones a safe trip and a nice winter vacation down there in the South. Come January, I'll be trying to come up with a way to join them! Sunwiggy

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