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Categorized | Outdoors

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Upper Peninsula Winter Birding

Chuck and Colleen MacDonald graciously led a UP field birding field trip for Michigan Audubon (MAS) based from Sault Ste. Marie in January. It was a wonderful experience and the opportunity has been repeatedly available for several years. We Lower Peninsula trolls head north for winter fun.

Going north to see birds in the winter may seem somehow wrong but it is a wonderful chance to see species that only venture south to the northern edge of the United States during the harshest weather of the year. The reasons vary for birds coming south to areas still to our north. During some winters it may be due to food shortages or perhaps due to more extensive freezing of moving water sources.

During the 2008-09 winter, we experienced the greatest influx of White-winged Crossbills in decades. The cone crop on conifers was reduced farther north when this species was experiencing a productive year for its population. All 83 counties in Michigan had winter sightings for this species that is usually limited to only the most northern of Michigan counties. This year the crossbills are not being seen in even these counties.

During our UP weekend, we did get to see four Northern Hawk Owls perched at the top of trees in open country. In one case the bird was standing on a utility pole, flew to the north over a field where we could not view it, and then returned to land on another pole. We drove closer and observed it had a vole in its talons for lunch.

Seven Sharp-tailed Grouse gathered at one location but only two were visible to us. One was standing in the top of a tamarack tree with a second feeding on either buds or cones lower in the tree. When five flew up from the ground, the two in the tree joined their flight to a new location. We saw additional grouse at two different locations.

Twelve Bald Eagles were clustered together to feed on an unidentified carrion source. Others were seen individually throughout the weekend. Four heavily dark marked Snowy Owls were all perched in separate locations. They were either young owls or females. Perhaps adult males were present along our route but we did not notice their white plumage camouflaged in the snowy countryside.

A Northern Shrike stood patiently at the highest tip of a conifer tree where we had a great chance to see its masked face as it watched for prey.

Other species observed by our group were Mallard (2), Common Goldeneye (2), Common Merganser (1), Red-tailed hawk (1), Rough-legged Hawk (4), Ruffed Grouse (2), Wild Turkeys (20+), Herring Gull (30+), Glaucous Gull (3), Rock Pigeons (25+), Mourning Doves (15), Hairy Woodpecker (1), Downy Woodpecker (1), Hairy Woodpecker (1), Pileated Woodpecker (1), Blue Jay (5), American Crow (5), Common Ravens (30+), Black-capped Chickadees (10), Red-breasted Nuthatch (2), White-breasted Nuthatch (2), Bohemian Waxwings (50+), European Starlings (200+), Snow Buntings (300+), Red-winged Blackbird (1), American Goldfinch (50). The blackbird flew to the top of Jack Pine tree at Whitefish Point. It was the most unexpected bird for the weekend. Our group sighted 30 species.

Additionally a group from Whitefish Point Bird Observatory (WPBO) saw Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Lapland Longspur, Pine Grosbeak, and Evening Grosbeak. During the weekend, our two groups jointly saw 35 species.

Make plans now to participate in future UP winter birding trips hosted by MAS or WPBO in January and February.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net  Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

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