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Tag Archive | "Migration"

Knee deep death trap


Rough waves on Lake Michigan. Photo from Wunderground.com by unobtrusive troll10.

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Enjoying the big waves has always been fun but poses life threatening challenges for many species. If you happen to be a duck you are probably safe. Big waves were rolling on shore at Traverse City State Park shortly after mallard ducklings hatched from eggs. The hen led fledglings to water. People concerned for the safety of the little ones approached and caused the mother to move away from young and shore.

She disappeared among the tall waves with most of the ducklings but a couple lost sight of her and became separated. The people that frightened the mother picked up two ducklings and brought them to me at the ranger station. They should have left them to the mother’s care. At the beach, we could not locate the mother or her other young.

One-fourth of a mile away, a stream entered Grant Traverse Bay and provided an inlet where water was calm. We took the two ducklings there and found several adult ducks with young. We released the ducklings with hope the mother was present in the protective cove. If not, the young should be safe and might join another family.

The big waves did not pose a death threat to them but people causing the mother to move away from young did.

When I was a “young duckling” so to speak, I had my own death threat among big waves. Our family was at a beach on a giant wave day. It was exciting and fun in the waves. I waded into the water and stood in knee deep water between waves. When a wave arrived, the water was over my head. I rode up on the wave and came back down when it passed to stand on the bottom again.

All was going well until one time when I rode high on the wave and came back down, the undertow of water returning along the bottom knocked my feet from under me. I thought no big deal and stood up. It happened that I stood up in middle of a tall wave. Almost immediately the undertow knocked my feet from under me again. Quickly I stood and found myself in the middle of another wave. This repeated.

By now I was out of air, frightened, and desperate to inhale.  A breath would flood my lungs with water and begin the drowning process. My folks had no idea I was in danger in knee high water. They hadn’t even noticed I had disappeared. I was only underwater a short time.

It seemed impossible to stand up between waves and I could not get my head into the air. Finally, I managed to get my head out of water but was knocked down by the undertow. A push off the bottom allowed me to ride up and down on a big wave. I discovered the danger of knee deep water between large waves and survived. Many people do not and several times each year, families lose a member to the power of water.

It is not just people whose lives get threatened by water. Fall bird migration season has arrived. Massive avian numbers from songbirds to hawks encounter the Great Lakes migration water barrier. They pile up on the north end of the lakes on their southbound journey and move along the shoreline searching for safe crossing sites. I’ve watched hundreds of Broad-winged Hawks move west along northern Lake Michigan to go around the lake. Others moved east towards Mackinaw Bridge where crossing the straits is shorter. Once there, they wait for proper weather and wind conditions to venture safely over water.

Migration over water is one of many life-threatening challenges for species in nature niches. Not all survive. I have found small birds washed dead to shore after being knocked into the water by storms or winds. People and wildlife lives depend on respect for the power of water. Have fun in turbulent water but remain safety conscious.

Consider a trip to Whitefish Point Bird Observatory north of Paradise on Lake Superior to witness bird migration from Canada to the US this fall. Michigan Audubon staff can assist with species identification.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Migration Stopover


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

White-throated sparrow Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area, Quebec, Canada. Photo By Cephas, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15086427

White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows stopover on their way to northern breeding grounds. If you have feeders in your yard, expect these interestingly marked sparrows to feed on the ground. They salvage seeds that fall when Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, American Goldfinches and others get seeds from the feeder. Mourning Doves will also be feeding on the ground.

The White-throated Sparrow has a beautiful distinctive song people describe with words to help remember it. It sings “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” or our friends to the north like to describe it as “My Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.” It is a refreshing sound to enjoy for a few weeks as the birds work their way to Canada and northern Michigan breeding grounds. Google the species by name to get pictures and song.

Look for the white throat under the bill. The breast is gray with some streaking so its white throat stands out well. Between the eye and bill is a bright yellow patch. It is easy to miss if one does not look closely. When light is bright, the yellow patch shows best but in shade it is subdued. Above the eye and behind the yellow patch are white or tan stripes between darker stripes that run the length of the head. Attention to head details is helpful for identifying many sparrows.

Some might think “a sparrow is a sparrow” but attention to details reveals a beauty missed by those that do not take a few moments for a close look. House Sparrows are common in town, on farms, and in area of heavy human use like grocery store parking lots. The White-throated is not likely to be found in grocery parking lots but your yard can be a good stopover location. Do not assume all are House Sparrows.

White-crowned Sparrows superficially look similar to White-throated Sparrows but head details separate them. I saw both species together recently. The White-crowned is slightly smaller but that is a difficult character to recognize when the species are not together. The White-crowned has a plain gray throat and cheek below the eye and bill. The breast is a plain gray with no streaking like that present on the White-throated. On the head are alternating white and black stripes running from front to back. The stripes are more brilliant than those on the White-throated. No yellow is present at the base of the bill.

Young birds from last year’s brood can make identification difficult because alternating light stripes are tan instead of white and the dark ones are rusty brown instead of black. Don’t get frustrated with variations. Concentrate on the typical.

About 10 species of sparrows can be expected in or near our neighborhoods in spring. Those present will be associated with unique nature niche requirements. The two-species described like shrubby areas with some conifer trees nearby. I find the White-crowned Sparrow in more open areas than the White-throated. Sparrow recognition can be difficult but these two separate easily when one looks at head details.

Familiarize yourself with the natural world we share with a multitude of life. Start with the two stopover sparrows and then learn the Song Sparrow, Field Sparrow, and Chipping Sparrow that stay for the summer to raise young. Be a good neighbor by providing suitable nesting and feeding habitat where you live. Though sparrows are often considered seedeaters, they depend on insects especially during young rearing. Avoid sterilizing your yard and garden with pesticides. Allow life.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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