Tuesday, July 5, 2011

NWA 7/1/11


A Northwoods Almanac for July 1 – 14, 2011

Correction
A correction from my last column: I incorrectly captioned photos of foxes taken by Bill and Margo Perkins as silver fox. The photos are of gray foxes.

Lupines in Flower, but Wild or Garden Escapees?
            The spread of lupines throughout the Northwoods over the last decade has been spectacular and has been welcomed by nearly everyone. In his journal on June 5, 1852, Thoreau wrote of wild lupines, “The lupine is now in its glory . . . It paints a whole hillside with its blue . . . Its leaf was made to be covered with dew-drops . . . such a profusion of the heavenly, the Elysian color, as if these were the Elysian fields . . . That is the value of lupine. The earth is blued with it.”
Indeed, lupines can paint entire hillsides and roadsides, but are the lupines we are seeing here the same as those described by Thoreau? The answer is nearly always no, and here are the differences between them. Wild lupines (Lupinus perennis) are 8 to 24 inches tall – about shin-high. Their cluster of stalked flowers is 4 to 8 inches tall, while the leaf is palmately-divided into 7 to 11 leaflets, each of which is from 1 to 2 inches long.
Conversely, the most common non-native lupine is bigleaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus). These lupines are significantly larger and showier than the wild ones, often growing over three feet tall. While their leaves are also palmately-divided, they have more leaflets – 11 to 17 – and the leaflets are much longer, ranging from 2.4 to 4.3 inches.
            Bigleaf lupine’s native range extends from northern California to British Columbia. Grown in gardens for its showiness, it has escaped from cultivation in the Lake Superior region of the upper Great Lakes states and also in the northeastern US and adjacent Canada. Of three recognized subspecies of bigleaf lupine, only polyphyllus has become established in the eastern US so far.
The only lupine native to eastern North America, and thus Wisconsin, is the wild lupine, Lupinus perennis. And, as you might expect, there are issues of concern with the non-native lupines:
1- Wild lupine leaves are the only larval food source of the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly, and only the wild variety appears to support the Karner blue butterfly in Wisconsin.
2- Bigleaf lupine often forms dense colonies that exclude other vegetation. While its potential for invading natural areas is not well documented, its dense colonial growth, combined with its rapid spread, suggest that it could become a significant, albeit beautiful, weed in the upper Great Lakes region.
            3- As a legume, bigleaf lupine forms a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria that convert nitrogen in the air into forms the plant can use, some of which ends up in the soil. But while increased soil nitrogen is beneficial in agricultural settings and in some native plant communities, it can be detrimental in communities adapted to low nitrogen levels, which is most of the sandy soils in our region.
            So, given the potential undesired consequences of the non-native lupines, I recommend folks be sure to plant the wild lupine. Check local nurseries for the plants and seeds, or purchase them from prairie nursery (www.prairienursery.com) in Westfield.

Pine Pollen
            I was sitting in our yard on the morning of June 24 when a gust of wind went through the white pines and a sheet of yellow pollen drifted out. With each successive gust, more and more pollen streamed out, until everything in the yard was coated with pollen, as hopefully were the female cones on the pine trees!
            The spent clusters of the tiny male pollen cones, having done their work for the year, will soon be falling to the ground, and the female cones will now rapidly grow, maturing by late August next year with seed dispersal a month or so later.  

Mink Frogs
            Last Sunday, I woke up at 3:20 a.m., and was so wide awake I thought of one of Aldo Leopold’s essays on walking before sunrise (“Great Possessions”): “It is a fact patent both to my dog and me that at daybreak I am the sole owner of all the acres I can walk over. It is not only boundaries that disappear, but also the thought of being bounded.”
            So, I grabbed my binoculars, mosquito dope, and Zoe, our Australian shepherd who thought this was a grand idea, and headed for Powell Marsh. There I was greeted by many things, but perhaps most impressively by the best chorus of mink frogs I’ve ever heard. How many were singing I can’t say. Hundreds. Maybe thousands – it’s a big marsh! But it was a wave of noise, biologically defined as song but aesthetically without melody and more like horses running on cobblestones, or a rapid “cut, cut, cut” resembling a hammer striking wood, or like a thousand very little people knocking at your door, or like popcorn popping. However it might  be described, it was ubiquitous.
All this sound was coming from "the frog of the north," so described because it’s only found above 44 degrees, 30 minutes North latitude. No other frog on the continent has a southerly limit that is that far north, and thus it’s a true “Northwoods” frog.
Zoe and I began our walk at Powell when the quarter moon was high and bright. Eventually we watched the sun rise, and only headed home after the sun was well up. The interplay of fog, moonlight, dawn light, and the open marshscape made for an ever-changing visual world that was enthralling, I think even to Zoe.
So, I advocate for everyone to take a pre-dawn hike before the summer bird song ends and the light ebbs. It can be a magical time.

False Dichotomy on Open Pit Mining in Iron County
            Please pardon this breach of my unwritten law that politics will not enter into my column. This from the Milwaukee Journal, 6/21/11: “Gogebic Taconite says that it won't proceed with a proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin until the Legislature rewrites laws to speed the state's review process to construct mines . . . A key measure would require the DNR to act on an iron-mining permit within 300 days. Another feature would forbid the creation of a local impact committee in a community near the mine to review, comment or negotiate with the mining company. Other language would eliminate a legal appeal process known as a contested-case hearing, in which citizens could challenge the DNR's decision, and instead send a challenge directly to the courts.”
            That’s a very small part of what the first draft of this legislation was asking for. The bill also included a legislative finding that “because of the fixed location of ferrous 
mineral deposits in the state, it is probable that mining those deposits will result in 
adverse impacts to areas of special natural resource interest and to wetlands, including 
wetlands located within areas of special natural resource interest and that, therefore, the
use of wetlands for bulk sampling and mining activities, including the disposal or storage of mining wastes or materials, or the use of other lands for mining activities that would 
have a significant adverse impact on wetlands, is presumed to be necessary.” (p. 53)
Thus, the destruction of wetlands within areas of special natural resource interest would, by law, be considered “necessary” and acceptable.
Fortunately, the bill is being rewritten, but no one is privy to the rewrite. It could be better, it could be worse.
I live in Iron County, so it’s both sad and angering to see that once again an industry has trotted out the lie, the false dichotomy, that we can either have jobs or we can have a clean environment, but we can’t have both. Many others in American industry have proven that businesses can both make a profit and honor the environment.
This isn’t news. The examples are endless, but here are two quick Wisconsin stories: the Wisconsin River was cleaned up without job or profit losses. Fifteen pulp mills and more than 65 municipalities were pouring pollutants into the river, but the mills said they would move to Georgia if forced to cleanup. The legislature gave the paper mills an out, telling them that if they could prove they were adversely affected by the DNR rules for cleanup, they could file for exemption from cleanup. Not one paper mill filed, not one company moved, and the Wisconsin River flows relatively clean these days. 
The second example: sulfur dioxide emissions, and thus acid rain, was dramatically reduced without the economic collapse prophesized by industry and utilities. Wisconsin's acid rain law aimed to reverse the damage resulting from acid rain by aggressively limiting emissions of nitrogen oxides beginning. The law passed in April 1986, requiring the state's five major electric utilities to reduce their sulfur dioxide emissions to 50 percent of 1980 levels by 1993. By l990, sulfur dioxide emissions from electric utilities had already fallen 46 percent. During the subsequent 20 years, these changes at electric utilities helped reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by two-thirds compared to 1980 levels and improved the pH range to 4.78 in southeastern lakes and 5.29 in northwestern lakes.
            Thus, we can do business and live within acceptable environmental parameters.
Relative to the mine, it’s important to understand what’s at risk with the location of this mine. Fifty-six miles of perennial, and 15 miles of intermittent waterways flow through the mining land. The Penokee range where the mining site is located averages over 200 inches of snow a year. The quantity, temperature, and nutrients of this water have significant impacts on water resources downstream including the Bad River, the Kakagon/Bad River sloughs, and finally Lake Superior.
At the mouth of the Bad River are some of the largest and highest quality coastal wetlands in the Great Lakes. The 16,000-acre Kakagon/Bad River Sloughs, which have been called Wisconsin’s Everglades, are an ecosystem of national significance and were designated as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior in 1983.
Of the 23 streams that flow through the mine site, eight are designated as Exceptional (E) or Outstanding (O) Resource Waters, including Bad River (E and O), Ballou Creek (E), Potato River (O), Barr Creek (E), Devils Creek (E), Javorsky Creek (E), Tyler Forks  (E and O), and Krause Creek (E).
            So, there are important resources at stake. If the mine is to be built, it’s simple: it should be done right by practicing what many of Wisconsin's corporations already practice, a "triple bottom line" management strategy, with the environment, economy and social responsibility all parts of the equation.
A vibrant economy and a healthy environment have always been inextricably linked to each other. Legislation meant to sacrifice that linkage – the environment lost in the name of jobs – fails to honor this. Forty years from now we want to be proud of what we did now regarding this mine, and not be filled with regrets that we destroyed a nationally significant ecosystem for temporary jobs. 

NWA 6/17/11


A Northwoods Almanac for June 17 – 30, 2011

Loon Aggression
Loon chicks hatch-out around June 15, so you may now be seeing the chicks, who initially are little more than tiny balls of down, riding on the backs of their parents. They take the taxi service for several weeks until they are able to thermoregulate, and then they’re on the water full-time with the adults.
This area of northern central Wisconsin is home to the best common loon research being done in the world. Over the last 15 years, researchers have banded more than 3,000 loons in four counties (Vilas, Oneida, Iron, and Forest), providing a bounty of data that has altered much of what was once accepted as “truth” regarding loons.
The largest myth to be shot down by the research was that loons mate for life. They don’t. Instead, they are “mated” to their territory. Thus, if a new male usurps the male from a long-standing pair on a particular lake, the female remains and mates with him. Likewise, if a new female runs off the female in a pair, the male remains and mates with her.
There are some intriguing differences, however, in how attached a male is to a territory compared to a female. For instance, when a young male returns as an adult to his natal area after two years on Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico saltwater, he’s faced with the problem of finding a vacant breeding territory, and must take one of three options: he can find a vacant lake and establish a new territory (29% do this), he can assume a territory vacated by a previous resident (26% choose this strategy), or he can aggressively try to take over a territory (45% employ this approach).
When he attempts to oust a resident male from a territory, he usually first flies over the lake and tremelos, whereupon the resident male tremelos back. The “flying tremolo” is considered an acoustic challenge, and it’s thought that if the resident male doesn’t tremolo back with sufficient vigor, the “prospecting” intruder will land and initiate a confrontation. The loons will swim in a circle, splash dive, rise up in a “penguin” posture, and in 26% of the encounters, the action then escalates into overt aggression involving chasing, grabbing the opponent by the bill and beating it with wingbeats, holding the other loon underwater to drown it, and even shooting up from underwater to spear the opponent in the heart with the bill. These male fights are fierce and end up fatal for one of the combatants nearly a third of the time.
On the other hand, when females are confronted by a female intruder, they contest their territories with lots of chasing and some wingbeating, but the loser departs rather than fights to her death. She lives to breed and raise young on another territory another day.
Interestingly, the “spouse” in all the battles simply watches passively, apparently never coming to the aid of his or her mate.
Why do males fight to the death for a territory and the females don’t? Perhaps for a variety of reasons: one, reproductive success goes up the longer a male is on a territory. The male always chooses the nesting site, not the female, based on their success or failure in raising chicks. Breeding success in the first year on a new territory is only 47% for a male, but rises to 66% over a three-year period, whereas, female breeding success appears stable whether on a new territory or not. So, perhaps the male has a great deal invested in a lake he’s been on for a few years.
Another thought is that loons can live to be 20 to 30 years old – perhaps it’s the old guys that are foremost in losing the battles and who might only have a year or two left of breeding potential, and therefore also would have little chance of taking over a new territory.
It may also be that because male loons are very aggressive defenders of their chicks, their aggressiveness spills over into territorial aggressiveness.
Curiously, if a male loon does lose his territory and then in a domino effect takes over another loon’s territory, he will change his yodel call. The yodel, the call most of us think of as the most maniacal, is given only by the male, and apparently only in response to a direct threat. Each male has his own clearly defined yodel, which differs from all other loon yodels in the area. But when a male changes his territory, he drops his characteristic yodel, and sings a new tune. This is very surprising given that most birds learn their songs when they’re young and their songs remain the same throughout their life.
What’s even more remarkable is that the male doesn’t just change his yodel randomly, he makes it as different as possible from that of the previous resident, indicating that the male had studied the resident male before taking over the lake. Is the male trying to proclaim that he’s the new kid on the block and wants everyone to know it by having such a different yodel? It’s unknown.
Yodel calls also increase in length as the aggressiveness of an encounter increases – the longer the yodel, the apparent greater willingness to attack. And the yodels have been found to be longer on territories with artificial nesting platforms, which are much more successful sites for raising chicks than natural sites along shorelines. Thus the best nesting sites apparently engender the most vocal defense.
The chicks have their own predators to defend themselves against. Nearly 20% of all chicks are lost every year to predators, from eagles to musky to snapping turtles. I’d hate to think about living in a world where my dangling feet in the water could be grabbed at any moment by a predator 50 times my size.
Do loons need counseling for all this stress?
Don’t know, but I’ll still enjoy watching the chicks getting their free rides and revel in the beauty of the adult’s calls, only now with a better ear for what these calls might mean.

Fields of Cottongrass
            Cottongrass is in bloom in all the bogs, on occasion their tufted, cottony heads blooming so densely it appears as if snow has fallen. Some eight species of cottongrasses bloom from spring through fall, most forming tussocks – sod-like clumps – in the bogs. These cottongrass tussocks are reputed to survive for a century or more, making cottongrass an “old-growth” species, albeit herbaceous. Look for cottongrass among its many boggy associates which are also flowering: blueberry, bog-rosemary, bog-laurel, Labrador tea, pink lady’s slippers, and many more.

Action Temporarily Down at Bird Feeders
During the month of June it's normal to see a decrease in birdfeeder activity as the birds start families and as natural food sources become more available. Protein-rich insects are the order of the day for feeding chicks thus, during this period you don't have to keep your feeders filled all the time. By the end of the month, we should see increased activity at the feeders as the parents start bringing their fledglings in.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtails
            The beautiful yellow and black tiger swallowtail butterflies have returned, and are likely congregated at a puddle near you. This “puddling” behavior, usually by the males, has been likened to the guys gathering at the local pub for two reasons: one, they use the moisture to replenish fluids lost during their emergence. And two, because when the males cluster together, it apparently makes it easier for the females to locate them for mating.
            Larry Weber, an excellent naturalist and author in Duluth, says that his ten-year average date for seeing his first swallowtail is May 28. This spring they were certainly later than that in our area.

Turtles Laying Eggs
            Painted and snapping turtles are in the midst of their egg-laying. This is parenting at its easiest, though there’s lots of danger merely crossing the roads to get to the sandy sites they prefer for laying their eggs. Large snappers will lay as many as 80 eggs, while smaller ones will produce from 25 to 40 eggs. Painted turtles are less prodigious, laying around ten eggs.
            Since predators galore love these eggs, only 5 to 10% of the eggs will survive to hatch, and then only 1 to 3% of the hatchlings will live to become adult turtles. So, while the parenting may be effortless, the success rate is commensurately tiny.

Gray Fox
            Bill and Margo Perkins sent me some superb photos of a gray fox and family living under their shed. The coloration on gray foxes is just beautiful – note the reddish brown that typically occurs across the throat, down the side of the neck, and down the legs.
            Gray fox are appearing more regularly in northern Wisconsin perhaps due to gradual warming trends.

Whip-poor-wills
Mary Madsen on Twin Island Lake in Presque Isle sent me a note saying she was loudly serenaded for about l0 minutes at dusk on June 5th by a whip-poor-will.
Well, that same night my wife Mary and I conducted one of our three annual frog counts, and we heard at least five different whip-poor-wills at various locations. We have heard a whip-poor-will at Nichols Lake near Boulder Junction for at least a decade, and we weren’t disappointed again this year – it can easily be heard at dusk right at the parking lot for the swimming beach.
Another great site is along Bear Lake Road where a clear-cut took place several years ago. The area looks like hell, but there are whip-poor-wills and nighthawks galore in there. If you can survive the mosquitoes at dusk, it’s a unique sound experience listening to the nighthawks boom and the whip-poor-wills chanting incessantly.

Celestial Events
            Summer solstice occurs on June 21, gracing us with 15 hours and 45 minutes of daylight. The down side, and I truly hate to mention it, is that the days start getting shorter on June 22. Seems like we’re just starting to get into summer, and suddenly the days aren’t as long.
            On 6/26, look before dawn for Jupiter 5 degrees south of the waning crescent moon. On 6/28, look for Mars about 2 degrees south of the crescent moon.

NWA 6/3/11


A Northwoods Almanac for June 3 – 16, 2011

Bird Fest 2011
The seventh annual North Lakeland Discovery Center Bird Fest took place on May 21, and between the many early-morning warbler walks and the later-morning hikes, canoe, and pontoon trips taken by the participants, 96 bird species were officially tallied, including uncommon species like white pelican, sharp-tailed grouse, northern goshawk, Virginia rail, black tern, northern waterthrush, and warbling vireo.
Ninety-six species is a very good number, and many people were able to see birds they had never encountered before. Mary and I guided one of the warbler walks at 6 a.m. and later a canoe trip down a short stretch of the Manitowish. On occasion, we were able to call in birds, and people got great looks at them. Seeing the coloration up-close-and-personal on a chestnut-sided warbler or a common yellowthroat heightens your appreciation all the more.
But, while seeing so many birds truly excites everyone, I was equally taken by the amiability and camaraderie of the people involved. Folks just seemed to be relaxed and having a great time, whatever their level of skill or experience was with birds.
Kudos to the Discovery Center for pulling off another Bird Fest. As anyone who has ever organized a major event knows, there’s a ton of work behind the scenes to make one of these run smoothly, and the staff, the bird club, and all the volunteers made it look easy.

Quetico – Paddling the Pines Loop
            Mary and I spent six days last week paddling in Quetico Provincial Park, a 1.18 million acre, 1,800 square mile, roadless wilderness area in Ontario directly north of the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area. The park consistently receives international acclaim for its beauty, in large part due to its 600+ pristine wilderness lakes, the majority of which are connected via portages. Where to go in such a glory of lakes was a question, but given our love of old-growth forests, we chose a lake route that was reputed to have some of the oldest white pine in North America rooted along its shorelines and that, with luck, we thought we could navigate in six days.
            Well, wilderness offers many faces. You have to meet life on its terms, not yours. On one hand, there’s amazing beauty and peace to be found in crystal lakes and unmanaged forests, and on the other, there are constant challenges to be met, from rigorous portages to clouds of black flies to unpredictable weather. We found all of these, and a little more, and we came back thinking about a number of lessons we thought we knew, but which we now understand even better.
            One is to do not just adequate planning, but complete planning. We found, for instance, that much of the Pines Loop had burned in wildfires in 2006, a fact that our two reference books, both written before 2006, could not have known. So, while we found some large pines, we found much of the landscape was recovering from fire.
            We also found that a number of the portage trails were not exactly where they were supposed to be on the maps. We were fortunate that we purchased a GPS just a few days before we left, and while we still haven’t figured out 95% of the gizmos, we             were able to use it to locate where we were the one time the portage trail took us in a direction that wasn’t at all on the map.
            We found our fair share of black flies, of very cold mornings, of mud-sucking portage trails, and trails that led us over expanses of bog that on occasion we went through. We made it across one bog after a very difficult struggle and looked up to see three vultures circling. We mentioned a few unpleasantries to them, laughed, and continued on.
            For all the work, there were loons on nearly every lake serenading us nightly. Beavers were ubiquitous, and some of their dams were marvelous engineering works of art. Eagles and osprey patrolled the skies. Songbirds boisterously sang along the portage trails. We camped near several gray jay families, the young already fledged, but still darkly feathered until they grow into their adult plumage next year.
We didn’t see anyone on three of the six days we were in, and the silence was remarkable. But when we did encounter people, we also witnessed how people just naturally help one another in wilderness settings.
            Our little Aussie dog, ZoĆ«, had the time of her life, but slept like a rock every night for all the effort it took her to cross some of the boggy portages. She often rode in the canoe on top of one of our portage packs (see the picture), so she could watch everything more intently. On our last day, she even slid off the pack into the 54° water, and I, in my eagerness to gather her in, capsized the canoe.
But that’s another story.
            It was an adventure, and despite being experienced paddlers, it was also a schooling on many levels. We’re glad to have gone, and equally glad to be back home on the beautiful Manitowish River.

Woodchucks
            A woodchuck is regularly eating sunflower seeds from our platform bird feeders, and from our deck and the ground. He (she) was even up on our shed roof the other day (see picture) eating the leaves from an overhanging black cherry tree.
            I’m a lover of all things in nature, but I’m not so happy to have this fat fellow around our house due to his species’ reputation for eating garden fare and wildflowers. He’s a harmless soul, though, a pure vegetarian not looking to rankle anyone or anything. Still, between him, the cottontail rabbits, and the deer, one needs to build a fenced fortress around the gardens in order to see the fruits of one’s labor. It’s an old story, but one that when all options are considered, we wouldn’t want to change.

Sightings
            Mary and Gordy Moscinski in Woodruff had an immature summer tanager visiting their oriole feeder for about a week in early May. Summer tanagers rarely nest as far north as southern Wisconsin, so this is a highly unusual sighting of an absolutely unique and beautiful bird.
Judith Bloom on Lake Tomahawk observed her first indigo bunting on 5/18, while Sharon Lintereur reported an indigo bunting visiting their feeders in the town of Lake Tomahawk on 5/23, and Barbara McFarland in Manitowish Waters sent me a photo of an indigo bunting visiting their feeder on 5/24.

Celestial Events
            While summer solstice doesn’t officially occur until June 21, this year’s earliest sunrises (5:08 a.m.) begin on June 11 and continue at the same time until June 21.
            This year’s southernmost, and thus lowest, full moon occurs on June 15. A total eclipse of the moon also occurs that evening, but unfortunately it’s not visible in North America. If you feel like traveling, it will be visible completely over Africa, and Central Asia, visible rising over South America, western Africa, and Europe, and setting over eastern Asia.           
For planet-watching in June, look at dusk for Saturn high in the south, and before dawn for Venus and Mars very low in the northeast. Jupiter will also appear very bright but much higher in the northeast before dawn, rising around 3 a.m.

Local Weather Station
            Bob Schmidt sent me the website link for Gail Spears' excellent and highly recommended weather station on Presque Isle Lake:  http://home.centurytel.net/presque-isle-weather/.

NWA 5/20/11


A Northwoods Almanac for May 20 – June 2, 2011

Hawk Watching!
            On May 6th, Mary and I led a group of intrepid birders to beautiful Brockway Mountain in Copper Harbor, Michigan, to catch the hawk migration. We’ve led many hawk-watching trips for well over a decade, and sometimes we’ve hit it, and sometimes we should have stayed home! Well, this time we were graced on May 7th with a morning that offered very modest winds and enough sunshine to create rising thermals of warm air off the rocky landscape of the Keewenaw Peninsula. Riding those thermals were kettles of broad-winged hawks, flowing east in loosely formed vertical columns that sometimes numbered as many as 50.
            Broad-wingeds are masters at living easy, riding the thermals up many hundreds of feet, and then setting their wings and gliding out as far as they can go. Again and again they rise and glide down, rise and glide down, nearly effortlessly sailing north until over many days they reach their breeding areas.
            Broad-wingeds can sail out a maximum of 11 feet for every foot they drop in altitude, but their average glide ratio is closer to 7:1. Even better sailors are the turkey vultures which can squeeze 14 horizontal feet out for every foot they fall. And here, surprisingly, is one area in flight where humans surpass the birds – our highest performance sailplanes can sail out 40 feet for every foot they sink.
            A tailwind can dramatically increase the migration glide ratio, whereas a headwind can decrease it or stall it completely, leaving the birds grounded and watching the weather like, well, a hawk.
            We arrived up on Brockway’s ridge around 10 a.m. and left a little after noon, having counted around 480 broad-wingeds while also acquiring very stiff necks, the bane of a good hawk-watching day.
            The official counter, a young man named Arthur from New York State, tallied 1104 raptors for the day, 1034 of which were broad-wingeds.
            The next day, the winds had increased and shifted to the northeast in the morning, making it a tough day for the raptors that use soaring and gliding as their modus operandi. So, the playing field changed to favor the powered fliers, those that flap their wings to make progress, but which will happily glide, too, if the gods are kind. Sharp-shinned hawks took the main stage with 226 flying by that day, though the broad-wingeds had a reasonable day as well with 324 gliding by, accompanied by 38 red-tailed hawks.
            While the numbers were impressive, there were also moments when individual hawks left us dazzled, either with their close-up beauty or with their aeronautical skills. Sometimes the hawks came in right overhead, perhaps 50 feet above us, and then there were the times where the hawks were flying in the valley below where we were standing, and we were looking down on them, sharing the views that they were experiencing.
            The spring raptor migration has pretty well wrapped up by now, but mark your calendar now for this autumn’s migration which peaks around September 15, and where the show shifts to Duluth, Minnesota. You owe it to yourself to see this phenomenon at least once in your lifetime.

Freighter Sanctuary
            While the raptors don’t like to cross Lake Superior, songbirds do so regularly, and most often at night. Stories abound of stormy nights that forced songbirds to land on tankers and sailing vessels when the birds had to find an “island” or die. One freighter captain, and avid birder, J. P. Perk, sailed an array of lakers assigned to him by U.S. Steel from the 1930s through the early 1970s, and always created his own bird sanctuary on the deck of his ships. Before leaving port, Perk would buy burlapped trees from nurseries and make a little forest on the deck, complete with a viewing bench and bird feeders. He tried to buy trees that were laden with fruit so the birds would have something to eat, and usually the birds had stripped the trees by the time he made his next port.
            Perk kept records of the birds that landed on his deck, even filming them, and he identified 17 distinct migration corridors over Lake Superior, Huron, Michigan, and Erie, while recording more than 200 species using the flyways. Audubon Magazine published  his findings in the fall and winter issues of 1964-65.
            Perk had some big days out on the water. One day in May, 1960, 44 species of birds, including 15 warbler species, visited his freighter forest. One time an osprey rode 120 miles on the steering pole that projected beyond the front of the ship. Yet another time, Perk semi-tamed an American kestrel that fed out of his hand on the trip.
            To read more of Peck’s story in Lake Superior Magazine, see www.lakesuperior.com/blogs/superior-notes/331jrnl.

Lots of Sightings!
5/3: Cynthia and Jim Krakowski observed a small flock of snow buntings near Powell Marsh, a rather late date for snow buntings to still be with us (but then again, it still felt like winter that week).
5/3: Sharon Lintereur observed her FOY (First Of Year) yellow-rumped warbler in Lake Tomahawk.
5/5: Pete Johnson in Mercer had a sow bear with three very small cubs take down his bird feeders.
5/5: Dan Carney in Hazelhurst had both a pine warbler and a yellow-rumped warbler eating suet from his feeders.
5/5: Judith Bloom reported seeing their FOY rose-breasted grosbeaks on Lake Tomahawk. Judith also noted that five pairs of loons are back on their typical territories on Lake Tomahawk.
5/5: We had our FOY rose-breasted grosbeaks appear in Manitowish.
5/6: Al Denninger on Elna Lake watched a gray squirrel swim out to a wood duck box he has placed about 25 feet off-shore, climb up the metal pole, and go in the hole. The squirrel is raising young in the box. Al notes that over the years he has had tree swallows, common mergansers, and mallards nest in the box, but never a wood duck.
5/6: Mary Madsen in Presque Isle had Baltimore orioles eating oranges, as did Ed Marshall in Lac du Flambeau, although his oriole was eating at his peanut butter feeder.
5/6: A yellow warbler visited our sunflower seed feeder in Manitowish, a very unusual behavior for a yellow warbler.
5/7: Sharon Lintereur in Lake Tomahawk observed her first hummingbird and first rose-breasted grosbeak the next day.
5/7: Nacny Skowlund on Powell Road had 18 wood ducks come in to eat corn at her deer feeder. She also had a female red crossbill eating sunflower seeds at one of her feeders, a very unusual sighting.
5/8: Jim Sommerfeldt in Lac du Flambeau reported seeing his first rose-breasted grosbeak.
5/8: Bob and Sandy Alfano in Woodruff reported seeing their first hummingbird of the year.
5/8: Ray and Nancy Pilmonas heard a small bird hit their window, and “before we could get outside to see if we could help it a black squirrel grabbed it and started devouring it. Feathers flew, the wings were bitten off, and it took it away after eating part of it in our yard. Pretty grisly.” They also noted that on Mother’s Day the loons on Little Manitowish Lake laid at least one egg that they could see.
5/9: Pat Schmidt in Hazelhurst reported her FOY hummingbird.
5/9: Bill & Barb Schweisheimer in Arbor Vitae sent me the following note:
“A few minutes ago a male golden-winged warbler knocked himself silly on our patio door. He was lying on his back on our patio stunned with legs trembling. When I tried to pick him up with a rag he flew onto my wife's pant leg. He then let me pick him up with the rag and did not struggle. When I tried to let him perch on a post he remained limp, so I put him in a box with holes in it, which we keep around for just such occasions. After sitting quietly in the box for something less than 10 minutes (enough time for me to look up his identity in one of our bird books) he started to move around. I opened the box and he flew onto the limb of a neighboring maple tree and on from there after a few more seconds.”
5/10: Linda Thomas in Sayner reported seeing her first hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles.
5/10: Jim and Tally Schuppel had a yellow-headed blackbird visit their yard, a quite uncommon sighting for our area.
5/10: Uwe and Cathy Wiechering in Arbor Vita reported seeing their FOY hummingbird.
5/11: Dan Carney in Hazelhurst reported seeing a solitary sandpiper and least flycatcher.
5/11: Ed Marshall in Lac du Flambeau reported seeing an indigo bunting at his sunflower seed feeders.
5/11: A grand day in Manitowish: Baltimore orioles and hummingbirds returned, and a male cardinal appeared (an indigo bunting arrived the following morning).
5/12: Colleen Henrich in Arbor Vita reported a male cardinal visiting her feeders.
5/12: Mary Madsen in Presque Isle photographed a scarlet tanager sharing the oranges she put out for the Baltimore orioles!
5/13: Dan Carney observed FOY parula, American redstart, and chestnut-sided warblers on the Bearskin Trail.
5/13: Jim Sommerfeldt in Lac du Flambeau also reported seeing an American restart, this one having met one of his windows (it was fine later on).
5/13: Barb Kaufmann observed a flock of around 70 Bonaparte's gulls on Island Lake on the Manitowish chain, a quite unusual sighting for our area.
5/14: JoAnn Zaumseil had a scarlet tanager feeding on her suet and thistle in Lac du Flambeau.
5/15: Dan Carney came across a wave of warblers on the Bearskin Trail. The flock included ten warbler species: Nashville, palm, redstart, black-throated green, yellow-rumped, magnolia, orange-crowned, golden-winged, ovenbird, black-and-white.

Discovery Center Bird Festival and Van Vliet Trails Opening 
Two reminders: The North Lakeland Discovery Center is hosting its seventh annual BirdFest tonight and Saturday, May 20 and 21. If you like birds, this is the place for you.
And there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. on May 28th to celebrate the opening of numerous hiking trails on the 400+ acres of the Van Vliet Hemlocks.
For directions to the site, and to see a map of the site, visit the Van Vliet Lake website at www.vanvlietlake.com.

Celestial Events
            Before dawn on 5/22, look for Venus just one degree south of Mars. New moon on 6/1. We are graced by 15 hours and 30 minutes of sunlight as of 6/2.