Thursday, May 29, 2014

NWA 5/30/14

A Northwoods Almanac for May 30 – June 12, 2014  by John Bates

Nesting Time
            While some songbirds are still migrating though, many have begun nesting, including Baltimore orioles. For several weeks, we’ve had three pairs of Baltimore orioles consuming oranges that we put out every day on our deck railing, and we’ve wondered if any of them might stay around to nest. Well, I have some evidence that at least one female has nesting in mind. On 5/25, I watched her pulling and pulling at a long string that was caught in a dogwood shrub by our house, presumably with the intent of using it in weaving her nest. The females weave their hanging, gourd-shaped nests out of various plant fibers like milkweed, grape bark and grasses, but they’re also known to use animal hair, string, yarn, and other fibers. So, our hope is that she was scrounging string from our garden for her nest. To help her out further, we’ve put out a basket full of Mary’s woolen yarns along with lots of dog hair to ease her search for nesting materials.
The next question is where she is building the nest. With Baltimore orioles, after the female has been courted and has chosen her mate, she then selects her nest site within the male’s defended territory. The problem with figuring out where the nest may be is that orioles nest in a wide array of habitats, nearly all of which are hardwoods – they don’t seem to like conifers.
In Wisconsin, Baltimore orioles formerly preferred to nest in American elms, but with the widespread loss of elms, they now generally nest in large American sycamores and cottonwoods in the central and southern parts of the state. In more northerly areas, the most commonly selected trees for nesting are still elms, when they can find them, then maple, aspens, willow, birch, and oak. One study in Ontario of the heights of 400 nests determined that they ranged from 2 – 65 feet off the ground, but most were found between 17 and 32 feet up.
This is a beautiful and complicated nest to construct. The females commonly build near the tip of the outer branches of a tree and they build fast – most nests are completed within about 1 week. The female weaves her nest in three stages, using three general types of fibers. The outer bowl is built first of flexible plant, animal, or human-made fibers to provide support. Then “springy” fibers are woven into the inner bowl to maintain shape. And finally, downy fibers are used to line the nest.
Three to seven eggs are laid, then incubated for 11 to 14 days. Only the female incubates, although the male closely protects the nest and at least some males occasionally feed the incubating female.
The chicks hatch nearly naked, eyes closed, and helpless. And like most songbirds, they’ll grow incredibly fast, and fledge in another 11 to 14 days. From helpless to flying in less than two weeks – amazing!

Black-capped chickadees
            Orioles aren’t the only birds nesting on our property. Black-capped chickadees nest in tree cavities, but we have a pair nesting in a little bird house that our neighbor, Don Gray, gave to us. Just a few days ago, Callie watched as a chickadee carried some of the dog fur that we had combed from our dog into one of the birdhouses. And on 5/26, I watched as one of the chickadees panted from the opening, then hopped out on the perched and continued panting in our 80° heat (recall that birds don’t sweat – they pant to cool off). I took pictures of it from less than five feet away, and it didn’t care one whit – I think it was too hot to care!
Most chickadees nest in trees, of course, and many studies have shown that their nesting cavities are found most often in birch and aspen. When these trees die, the wood is soft enough for the chickadees to excavate.
Both sexes participate in excavation, using their beaks to remove the usually rotten wood. Since the female builds the nest inside the cavity, she most often selects the site, and then lines the nest with moss or finer material like rabbit fur and deer hair.
She will then typically lay one egg per day, usually early in the morning, and she exclusively does the incubation. The male isn’t a complete loser – he regularly brings food to the incubating female. Often upon his arrival at the nest, the pair leaves the nest together to forage, before the female returns to continue incubation.
The chicks are “altricial,” meaning they hatch out helpless, unfeathered, and with their eyes closed. The female now broods the chicks, and the male brings most of the food for the brooding female and for the nestlings.
Chickadee young usually leave their nests when they’re about 16 days old and do not return. However, the young still give frequent begging “dee” calls and are fed by both parents for another two to four weeks until they become fully independent.

The most unusual bird we have around our house is a sora rail. We’ve only seen it once, but we hear it very day and very frequently. Soras give one of the most distinctive calls of any marsh bird – a loud, descending whinny call: whee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee. Soras also give a 2-note, plaintive ker-wee (also described as per-weep or ter-ee). And they often vocalize at night. This one, or pair, woke Mary and I up twice early this week with their loud whinny call.
Soras live primarily in shallow, freshwater wetlands dominated by emergent vegetation like cattails, various sedges, bur-reeds, and bulrushes. I suspect we are blessed with a sora this year because the Manitowish River remains in full flood and the wetland right below our house continues to be flooded.
As uncommon and difficult to see as soras are, I was very surprised to learn that the sora is legally hunted in 31 states and 2 Canadian provinces. Apparently little information is available on their total harvest, their population trends, or the effect of the harvests on populations. We see them most often in September in wild rice marshes when they are feeding heavily prior to migration.

Sightings: White Pelicans
On 5/25, Diane Steele saw 3 white pelicans at the Powell Marsh. She also noted that “while we're happy to see the new leaves appearing, we're sorry it will bring an end to out clear view of the warblers.”

Sightings: Bobwhite
Since 5/15, Mary Madsen on Twin Island Lake in Presque Isle has had a bobwhite wandering around in her yard. She has sent me numerous photos of it, and she writes, “My husband seems to have a knack of calling him in, and he ends up quite close in our back yard, answering back.” Bobwhites don’t nest here, but hunters raise and release them to train their hunting dogs, and an occasional one gets away.

Other Sightings
On 5/14, Joan Galloway on Clear Lake in Manitowish Waters reported she had four male and two female scarlet tanagers, and they were treated to the wonderful song of a whip-poor-will in their yard the previous night.
Also on 5/14, Sharon Lintereur in Lake Tomahawk sent me a photo of a weasel that her dogs had run up a tree. It appears to me to be a long-tailed weasel given that its tail is about one-half the length of its body. The other species of weasels in our area have tails that are 1/5 to 1/3 the length of the body.
On 5/16, Mike and Marcia Hittle observed a huge raft of Bonaparte’s gulls on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage right in front of their house. They noted, “Black heads and bills, pinkish/orange legs, and some wing markings matched up with book descriptions. But it was the behavior of the birds that caught our fancy. They would suddenly rise as one, flutter about, and then land almost in the exact spot from which they had lifted off. Other times, they would rise, make dazzling circling flights, and then settle into a new tightly packed raft. No air controllers were present, but amazingly, there were no collisions either!”
On 5/21, Joan Galloway in Manitowish Waters wrote, “I can't believe the birds we have seen and heard this past week. We've had evening grosbeaks, numerous orioles, red-bellied woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, female cardinal, rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, belted kingfisher, green heron and heard a barred owl, whip-poor-will and woodcock.”
On 5/21, toads began calling, and on 5/26, we heard our first Eastern gray tree frogs calling.

Spring Ephemerals and Green-up
            Mary and I had to cancel a spring wildflower hike for 5/11 because the flowers just weren’t up yet. But they’re up now! One of our favorite places to go is off Sheep Ranch Road (FR132), which runs south from Hwy. 70. I took a group of folks there from Land O’Lakes on 5/22, and we found a bounty of nodding trilliums and large-flowered trilliums, wild leeks, spring beauties, wild ginger, and toothwort among others. Most of the bloodroot had already gone by, but there were a lot of flowers just budding out, too, like blue cohosh and Virginia waterleaf.
            With the trees leafing out so quickly, the spring ephemerals will be gone in no time. Most only last a few days to a week.
            Speaking of green-up, can anyone possibly estimate the number of leaves that will appear over the next two weeks? It depends on the size and species of tree, of course, but estimates range from 200,000 to about 1 million leaves in the crown of one large tree. It’s an absolutely incredible amount of life coming into being, and all in multiple shades of green.

Celestial Events
The Arietids meteor shower peaks on June 7, the result of the Earth’s orbit passing through debris from either the asteroid 1566 Icarus or the comet 96P/Macholz. The radient will be located between the constellations Aries and Perseus. The best time to see this shower is an hour before sunrise – most of the meteor shower actually occurs during daylight hours. The typical hourly rate of visible meteors is about 60 per hour. If the meteor shower fails to materialize, look for dazzling Venus in the east, the most brilliant starlike object in the morning sky. Full moon occurs on June 13.

Please share your outdoor sightings and thoughts: call me at 715-476-2828, drop me an e-mail at, or snail-mail me at 4245N Hwy. 47, Mercer, WI 54547.

Monday, May 26, 2014

NWA 5/16-29/2014

A Northwoods Almanac for 5/16 – 29, 2014 

Fence Them Out - Small Deer Exclosures
It’s getting close to planting time, and as we all know, the best laid plans of every landscaper and gardener can be laid to ruin by the prodigious appetite of white-tailed deer. Many folks have resorted to 8-foot high fences to discourage these masters of jumping, the Michael Jordans of the animal world, but there may be an easier way. Dr. Karl Martin, a forest research scientist, conducted a study in 2006 in northern Wisconsin to see if building shorter fences around smaller plots would work as well as enclosing entire properties in expensive 8-foot high barriers.
Martin assessed the effectiveness of 5-foot high wire fences around plots 5, 6, and 7 meters on a side. He tested the fences in the winter when stressed deer would be most desirous of jumping a fence to get to into a baited plot of corn and sunflower seeds. Three exclosures of three different sizes at four study plots were erected, all at least three miles apart. Martin prebaited the sites to initially draw the deer in, then built the exclosures. Each site was monitored by digital, infrared cameras to observe deer movements.
Each study site had more than 10 deer visiting nightly, and one site had 22 deer! On the first night, one deer jumped one of the four 7 x 7 meter exclosures, while its compatriots on the outside of the fence watched passively even though there was no bait remaining on the outside of the exclosure area.
And guess what? No other deer entered any of the study exclosures over the 10-day monitoring period.
Martin’s results thus supported the use of 5-foot high exclosures in areas up to 7 meters by 7 meters (or about 22 feet by 22 feet). Dr. Jim Meeker at Northland College has conducted similar research that has reached the same conclusion – deer don’t like jumping into relatively small spaces.
So, rather than fencing our entire properties to exclude deer, we can utilize far less expensive fencing materials, fence in far smaller areas, and still get the desired result of ungrazed flora.
The caveat, of course, is that not all deer read scientific studies, nor my column, so one might still jump a fence just to prove the exception to the rule. Nevertheless, this bodes well for anyone trying to grow anything in a world heavily populated by deer.

100th Anniversary of the Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon
The last passenger pigeon, nicknamed Martha, died in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. In far less than a century, her species fell off a cliff, declining from numbers described in the billions as a “biological storm,” to its last successful large nesting in 1882, to the last known wild passenger pigeon shot at Babcock in 1899, and finally to the last known captive bird in Wisconsin which died in 1909 in Milwaukee.
The largest known nesting colony of the passenger pigeon occurred in 1871 in south-central Wisconsin, reaching over a minimum length of 75 miles and a width of 10 to 15 miles – or an estimated 850 square miles. Numerous newspaper articles attest to the size of the nesting. Famed wildlife biologist A.W. Schorger researched and wrote the definitive book on passenger pigeons in 1955, and conservatively estimated that 136 million birds were nesting in this one area alone.
In 1860, a flight of passenger pigeons filled the skies for two days near Toronto, likely exceeding one billion birds and maybe three billion.
The passenger pigeon was the most numerous bird known ever in the world, leading one writer to say, “The prodigious flights of these ‘millions of millions of birds’ have exhausted the numerical superlatives of the English tongue.”
            A rededication ceremony at the Passenger Pigeon Monument in Wyalusing State park will be held on May 17. The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau will host a special exhibit of passenger pigeon artwork during the fall. See for other commemorative activities.
            How much have we learned? Today 12% of the world’s birds, over 1,200 species, are threatened with extinction.

Peeper Pandemonium
The spring frog choir is in full voice at last, and standing next to a large ephemeral pond on a warm night, one can experience decibel levels usually associated with a rock concert. The male’s song consists of a single clear note or peep, occurring once a second. But the faster and louder a male sings, the more likely he is to attract a mate. So, put a few hundred males together in a pond, have them compete at a frenzied pace, and it can get pretty wild.
These first spring frogs (wood frogs, spring peepers, and chorus frogs) emerge most often when a spring rain coincides with frost-out and the beginning of ice-out. The frogs (and salamanders!) rapidly thaw out, then emerge from their hibernation sites in the forest and migrate at night to their breeding ponds, all often in a single night. I’ve never seen it, but some folks have witnessed this mass migration and say it can be amazing.
Their breeding is often described as “explosive,” meaning it’s an orgy out there! And that makes sense because the faster they can lay eggs and get them hatched, the less likely the ephemeral ponds will dry up before the young can metamorphose into adults and walk away into the woods.
The literature says these early breeders need water temperatures of at least 50 degrees, but I often wonder how the ponds could be that warm when the ice has just gone off the day before! I suspect the incredible urge to breed makes the water seem a little warmer than it really is.
Peeper eggs hatch within two to four days, or may take up to two weeks during cooler periods. In eight weeks, the young tadpoles will metamorphose into young frogs and leave the pond.

Sightings – Migration Is On!
4/29: Mary Rodman sent me a photo of a drake wood duck and this note about it: “Saw this beauty on Hwy B towards Land-O-Lakes yesterday, they are so beautiful they don't even look real!”
4/30: Sue DeFrancisco in Minocqua reported her FOY (first-of-year) red-headed woodpecker as well as her first ever red-bellied woodpecker. Linda Thomas in Woodruff had two warblers coming to her suet feeders – a yellow warbler and a yellow-rumped warbler. Pat Schmidt reported two loons had landed on a narrow strip of water on otherwise iced-up Silver Lake in Hazelhurst.
5/1: Jan and Alan Pierce reported their FOY common loon on Squaw Lake as well as a pair of ring-necked ducks. We saw our FOY greater yellowlegs, rough-legged hawk, shovelers, and green-winged teals on Powell Marsh.
5/2: Dan Carney in Hazelhurst had his FOY pine and palm warblers. On Powell Marsh again, we saw our FOY horned grebes and Bonaparte’s gulls.
5/5: Cherie Smith in Lake Tomahawk had a FOY brown thrasher in her yard. Mark Pflieger reported his FOY rose-breasted grosbeak in Harshaw.
5/6: Don and Greta Janssen observed their first male hummingbird in Woodruff. Judith Bloom saw her FOY male rose-breasted grosbeak in Lake Tomahawk
5/7: Audrae Kulas reported her FOY hummingbird.
5/8: Sharon Lintereur in Lake Tomahawk reported her FOY rose-breasted grosbeaks and said they were “right on time. I am always amazed at how punctual they are.” Don and Greta Janssen had a pair of evening grosbeaks at their feeders, and watched as the male fed the female. White-crowned sparrows appeared at our feeders in Manitowish.
5/9: Judith Bloom saw her FOY hummingbird in Lake Tomahawk. She also noted that the ice went out on Tomahawk Lake on 5/8, one day earlier than last year! Sue DeFrancisco in Minocqua reported her FOY hummingbird and noted that it was late compared to the last two years when hummers arrived on 5/5 at her place. Dan Carney reported FOY magnolia, northern parula, and black-and-white warblers. In Manitowish, we had our FOY hummingbirds, Baltimore orioles, and rose-breasted grosbeaks, as well as palm and northern parula warblers and spotted sandpipers on a hike in Presque Isle.
5/10: Pat Drought on Spider Lake in Mercer reported seeing her first hummingbird and rose-breasted grosbeak. She also noted that the ice went off Spider Lake on 5/8. Jean Hall in Arbor Vitae reported her FOY hummingbirds and orioles. In Presque Isle, Mary and I saw our FOY common yellowthroat, ovenbird, brown thrasher, and lesser scaup.
5/11: Judith Bloom on Lake Tomahawk reported the FOY indigo bunting in our area, while Sue Remley and Gary Sobek observed snapping turtles mating on West Twin Lake in Hazelhurst. Dan Carney in Hazelhurst reported FOY black-throated green, chestnut-sided, yellow, American redstart, Nashville, and bay-breasted warblers. On a hike near Round Lake between Minocqua and Park Falls, we saw our FOY blue-headed vireo, wood thrush, and least flycatcher. Our daughter Callie brushed some shedding fur out of our Aussie, and then watched a black-capped chickadee grab beakfulls of it and fly away, presumably to its nest.
5/12: Mary Madsen on Twin Island Lake in Presque Isle sent me a note saying, “So nice to be enjoying the return of orioles, hummingbirds and catbirds. All enjoying the feeders, grape jelly and oranges. Also have a pair of gray jays busy hauling off bread apparently to feed a hungry family. Have had evening grosbeaks for a long time, but now the rose-breasted are at the feeder, too.”

Unprecedented Drops in Migratory Monarch Populations!
Given the current population trend for migrating monarchs, it is likely that the USFWS will soon be petitioned to list monarchs under the Endangered Species Act!
Monarch butterfly winter population counts have just been released. For the fourth year in a row, overwintering numbers in Mexico are declining precipitously, and for the second year in a row, they are at an all-time low. Population counts for this winter are down 44% from 2012-2013, and down 77% from the winter of 2011-2012. The overwintering population in Mexico has decreased 97% in the past 17 years.

Monarchs have been so common in the past – it makes me think of the passenger pigeons and how no one dreamed they could go extinct.

NWA 5/2 - 15/2014

A Northwoods Almanac for May 2 – 15, 2014 

Merlins – the Wizards of the Raptor World
Bob Kovar in Manitowish Waters called on 4/26 to say he’d just watched a merlin swoop down and take a black-capped chickadee from one of his feeders. He’d never seen one before and was truly impressed at its speed – the poor chickadee just never had a chance. Mary and I saw a merlin across the road from our house in Manitowish on 4/23, and I had seen one in the backyard of Lori and Mitch Meyer’s home in Mercer on 4/22. So, merlins are clearly migrating through, and a few will likely stay in the area to nest.
Most folks have never seen a merlin. It’s a small falcon, just a tad larger than a kestrel, and breeds throughout the northern forests and prairies of North America, Europe, and Asia. The sexes differ in adult plumage, with adult males one-quarter smaller than females.
Still often called the “pigeon hawk” because in flight it can be mistaken for a pigeon, its species name (columbarius) also refers to pigeons.
Merlins are quite uncommon in the Northwoods, but are slowly increasing. I most often see them nesting in the abandoned nests of crows or hawks in white pines along a lakeshore. The merlin’s most common call is a loud, insistent Ki-Ki-Kee (Kek-Kek-Kek) which is given by both sexes. They’re really noisy, and easily identified by this call.
Most folks are thrilled to see one until they learn that merlins feed predominantly on small birds, which they generally catch in short, quick flights. An opportunistic hunter, they’ll grab flying insects like dragonflies, recently fledged young birds, and nestling birds. Remarkably, they’re also known to hunt with other species (e.g., juvenile sharp-shinned hawks), eat carrion, and hunt bats at cave openings.            
They’re also known to hunt cooperatively. One researcher observed 30% of hunts done in pairs, generally a male and a female, where one merlin flies beneath the canopy and then climbs to flush the birds, while the other flying behind follows up with the attack. Those who dislike non-native house sparrows will be pleased to know that the diet of urban breeders is predominantly the house sparrow. But whatever songbird they’re catching, no raptor is faster or more maneuverable in tight spots than a merlin.

Late April – Skiing, Paddling, Hiking, Snow Shoveling
            Late April is a great time to enjoy a wide variety of outdoor recreation since the weather is so crazily unpredictable – you just have to go with the flow and enjoy what you’re given. On 4/24, Mary and I birded on Powell Marsh during an off-and-on light snow, then Mary and Callie skied in the afternoon on crust snow while I paddled the flooded Manitowish River with a couple of friends.

Variations on a Junco Theme        
Dark-eyed juncos, one of the most common North American songbirds, range across the continent from northern Alaska south to northern Mexico, and right now they are THE dominant bird under most Northwoods feeders. They’re familiar to just about everyone because of their ubiquity (a recent estimate set the junco’s total population at approximately 630 million), tameness, and conspicuous ground-foraging at feeders. In 1831, Audubon stated that “there is not an individual in the Union who does not know the little Snow-bird.” Its plumage is characterized by white outer tail-feathers that flash when the bird takes flight and by a gray or blackish “hood” and dark back that contrast with its whitish breast and belly.
Varying plumage and bill color make them confusing to bird watchers, but also to taxonomists, with whom they have earned a reputation as a “nightmare” because of their variability.
Until the 1970s, juncos were split into 5 distinct species. The American Ornithologists’ Union then lumped those 5 species together into one species, so now each group bears the scientific and common name that it previously bore as a species: the slate-colored junco is by far the most common group that we see.
The males migrate earlier than females during the spring, with most migratory males arriving on their breeding grounds well before the females. You can tell the genders apart – the females tend to be much paler than the males.
Juncos usually nest on the ground, but in highly variable places that offer the most cover, like small depressions on a sloping bank, under a protruding rock, among roots (especially on the vertical surface of the root ball of a blown-down tree), under fallen tree trunks, at bases of bushes or trees or ferns, or on supports beneath buildings that are elevated on pillars, and even in barns or lofts between hay bales. We’re near the southernmost edge of their nesting range, so fortunately some will stay with us throughout the summer.

Sightings (FOY – first-of the-year)
4/14: FOY Eastern phoebe in Manitowish. Dan Carney in Hazelhurst also saw his FOY phoebe, this one gathering spiderwebs to build a nest.
4/15: FOY fox sparrows in Manitowish, which continue in good numbers as of 4/28. Jim Sommerfeldt in Lac du Flambeau reported the area’s FOY American kestrel which he watched giving chase to a flock of juncos. He also observed a barred owl sitting atop one of his feeder poles at 2 a.m., perhaps hoping to grab one of the flying squirrels that visit his feeders.
4/16: Pat Schwai near Fifield and Jim Sommerfeldt in Lac du Flambeau reported the FOY yellow-bellied sapsucker in our area.
4/16: Linda Mastalski reported the FOY killdeer, noting that he was “in the middle of Highway 51 by the main Hazelhurst intersection, looking very bewildered. He'd fly a few feet, walk around this way and that, fly again. Couldn't find his grassy spot.” 
4/17: Ron and Pam Ahles reported seeing their FOY common loon on the open water under the bridge crossing on the Pike/Round chain in Price County. They also observed four trumpeter swans near the same bridge.
4/18: I saw my FOY merlin at Mitch Meyer’s home in Mercer, and we had a partial albino fox sparrow in Manitowish. Wil Conway sent me some excellent photos of buffleheads and a pied-billed grebe in the Lac du Flambeau area.
4/19: Mary spotted our FOY kingfisher and yellow-bellied sapsucker in Manitowish. Pussywillows also popped today. John Randolph reported the area’s FOY Hermit Thrush on the northeast shore of Bolger Lake.  He also observed at least 46 male common mergansers at the Kawaguesaga Lake Dam in Minocqua, as well as about 10 male ring-necked Ducks and about 6 male hooded mergansers.
4/20: We saw our FOY killdeer, pintail ducks, rusty blackbirds, yellow-rumped warblers, white-throated sparrows, and northern flickers, plus another merlin across the road from our house. Pat Schwai near Fifield also reported her FOY white-throated sparrow.
4/22: Mary heard our FOY saw-whet owl calling at night in Manitowish.
4/23: The FOY winter wren was singing in Manitowish Waters. Dan Carney reported 20-25 yellow-rumped warblers and a gray-cheeked thrush in the Hazelhurst area.
4/23: On a non-birding note, Sharon and Dave Lintereur in Lake Tomahawk have made maple syrup for many years and they sent me this note: “Have talked to people who tapped and the sugar content is way down this year. Talked to a gal yesterday and she said it is taking about 70 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup; usually takes about 40 . . . One guy I talked to down in Tomahawk taps 150 trees and normally makes around 40 gallons, this year he made 23.” Does anyone know what causes sugar content to vary in sap in any given year?
4/25: Jean Hall reported a lone evening grosbeak at her feeders in Arbor Vitae, a sighting that two decades ago wouldn’t have meant a thing given how many there were at everyone’s feeders then. Courtney Wright reported hearing her first common loon of the year near Buckskin Lake in Minocqua. I suspect the bird was on a scouting mission to see if any lakes were open and found out the bad news.
4/26: A morning hike on the now snowless dikes of Powell Marsh yielded a modest number of these FOYs: American bittern, tree swallows, American widgeons, and black ducks. Dan Carney in Hazelhurst reported a FOY eastern towhee. Pat Schwai in the town of Fifield observed her FOY golden-crowned kinglet. Mary Madsen on Twin Island Lake in Presque Isle reported her resident loon returned undoubtedly “relieved to find the open water our lake's aerator provides. Several Trumpeter swans have been enjoying the open water for some time too.”

Coming Soon to a Feeder Near You
            The first two weeks of May usually usher in a legion of migratory birds. For instance in Manitowish, May 7 is the average date of return for ruby-throated hummingbirds and rose-breasted grosbeaks; May 8 for Baltimore orioles, and May 12 for indigo buntings. We usually just think of Mother’s Day as a day we definitely want to be out looking for birds.

            Most songbirds returning in May are neotropical migrants, meaning they are returning from wintering grounds in Mexico, Central America, or South America. The trigger for their departure from there is the photoperiod, or length of daylight, which sends them winging north into weather they have no ability to anticipate. Rainy or snowy weather, north winds, and cold can all conspire to ground them despite their instinctual urge to push for their breeding grounds. So, the wildcard this spring is what our low temperatures, iced-up lakes, and snowy woodlands will do to delay their arrival. A week of 60s or 70s with southerly winds would work magic. In the meantime, however, many are in a holding pattern down south until the weather breaks.