A Northwoods Almanac for May 26 – June 8, 2017
Sightings: First of Year (FOY)
5/9: Jean Hall in Arbor Vitae had her FOY rose-breasted grosbeak.
5/10: Dan Carney in Hazelhurst saw his FOY palm warbler, ovenbird, and black-throated green warbler.
5/10: Bob Kovar observed the FOY Baltimore orioles in Manitowish Waters, and then reported the first ruby-throated hummingbirds to appear in our area the following day.
5/11: Cindy Carpenter reported seeing two whooping cranes on Wind Pudding Lake near McNaughton.
5/11: Pat Schmidt saw her FOY ruby-throated hummingbirds in Hazelhurst, and noted that this was the same day as in 2010, 2014, 2015.
5/12: Toads began loudly trilling along the Manitowish River below our home.
5/15: Debbie and Randy Augustinak in Land O’Lakes reported their FOY male scarlet tanager at their feeders despite a steady rainfall.
|scarlet tanager photo by Mike Greedy|
5/13: Dan Carney had chestnut-sided warblers, Cape May warblers, and American redstarts at his pond and feeders in Hazelhurst. He had 30+ species in his yard that day!
5/13: I walked outside at 4 a.m. and heard below our house a woodcock “peenting,” a snipe “winnowing,” and a bittern “pump-er-lunking.” The Manitowish River is in full flood, as are many area rivers, and the birds associated with water have a lot of habitat!
5/17: Colleen Hendricks in Lake Tomahawk had a tufted titmouse visiting her feeders, a rare bird in the Northwoods.
5/17: Larry Peterson in Park Falls has a juvenile gray jay coming to his feeder. Gary jays are our earliest nesting songbird, sometimes nesting as early as late February, so a full-grown juvenile in May is not unexpected or unusual, but coming in to a feeder is unusual.
5/17: Nancy Burns in Manitowish Waters snapped a fine picture of a doe with a fawn. This is early for fawns – I always think of Memorial Day as the average date. I suspect our mild winter and early spring has meant an easier pregnancy for does.
5/18: Art Foulke in Manitowish Waters had a
pair of brown thrashers eating from his suet feeders. He also had a red-headed
woodpecker visiting his property.
|photo by Nancy Burns|
5/18: Jean Hall in Arbor Vitae reported her FOY pair of American redstarts.
5/19: Don Janssen on Squirrel Lake observed two brown thrashers building a nest on his property. He also noted that they have had a pair of cardinals for several years now, and he sent a picture of the female cardinal at one of his window feeders.
5/20: Rod Sharka on Palmer Lake near Land O’Lakes wrote: “Wow! What a morning at the bird feeders. Besides the usual fare, we've had a flock of rose-breasted grosbeaks, a couple of evening grosbeaks, a lone indigo bunting, and incredibly, a male scarlet tanager. This is the closest look I've ever had of one. I was within 5 feet of it. All in honor of Myrtle's [his wife’s] birthday.” Happy birthday Myrtle!
5/20: Ed Iphish in Minocqua had at his feeder this remarkable color combination: a scarlet tanager, Baltimore orioles, an indigo bunting, and American goldfinches.
Spring Wildflowers at Their Peak
Last week, Mary and I taught a three-day workshop in Mercer on spring flora, and we were rained out of every field trip we had scheduled! Still, we collected numerous wildflowers for our participants to learn to identify using the plant key in Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.
A few spring ephemerals had already gone-by. Bloodroot’s flowers only last two or three days, so only their leaves were still visible. On the other hand, quite a few spring ephemerals were just beginning to flower. In particular, trout lily, both white and yellow, had just come into bloom. Each blossom follows the sun, nearly closing at night, and then lasts only a few days. By the end of May, the flower has usually vanished.
|trout lily photo by Mary Burns|
Trout lily has two smooth, shining, long and narrow leaves that are mottled purple, brown, and white – the mottling resembles the marking on a brook trout, hence the name. Usually a solitary light yellow or white flower with six reflexed petals nods from a single stem. A deeply buried smooth white bulb sends out numerous clonal shoots, each shoot soon producing its own new bulb. Thus, trout lily usually grows in extensive colonies often to the exclusion of other plants.
The seeds may take six or more years to produce flowering plants. Little shows above ground in the first two years of life, then only one sterile leaf appears for the next four years. Look for large patches of flowerless leaves still in their juvenile years and awaiting their adulthood. Once into adulthood, trout lilies may live 300 years!
On May 20, I, along with several other members of the Northwoods Land Trust Board of Directors, were privileged to paddle around in the Munninghoff Marsh, one of the most ecologically and biologically significant pieces of land in the state. Considered one of the premier wild rice wetlands in northern Wisconsin, the marsh provides both nesting and migratory stopover habitat for an exceptional array of waterfowl species, and includes extensive frontage on the Rhinelander Flowage of the Wisconsin River.
Wild rice provides valuable cover, food, and loafing sites for numerous bird species and ranks as one of the most important waterfowl foods in North America largely because the maturation of its seeds coincides with fall migration.
Last spring, Scott and Ann Eshelman signed a conservation easement with the Northwoods Land Trust protecting this 210-acre property in perpetuity. The marshlands remain open to the public but can’t be divided and developed, ensuring the wildness of the area.
We were treated to observations of trumpeter swans, great blue herons, bald eagles, and many, many species of waterfowl and songbirds.
In the last fifteen years, the Northwoods Land Trust has protected more than 11,000 acres of land and 60 miles of lake and river shoreline.
Going to Lengths for Nest Protection
Rod Sharka in Land O’ Lakes sent me the following note: “We have a pair of white-breasted nuthatches nesting in a bird house just outside our office window. Poor things have been pestered by a yellow-bellied sapsucker that loves to "drum" on the house for a sounding board. I hope the nuthatches don't abandon the house. We've learned that nuthatches have a habit of smearing smelly insects or other objects on and around their nesting sites to deter predators. We have been observing this behavior. The nuthatches are smearing/brushing the smelly stuff on the bird house itself...mostly around the entrance hole.”
So, what are the nuthatches up to? Cornell’s Birds of North America says this: “Two forms of nest defense behavior [are] noted: bill-sweeping and distraction display. A nuthatch usually performs bill-sweeping with an object, such as a crushed insect, in its bill. It may be performed both outside and inside the nest for many minutes at a time. The behavior may employ the chemical defense secretions of insects to help keep tree squirrels from entering the nest cavity. Kilham described a case when a pair of nuthatches breeding in his aviary also used beetles to sweep the nest site. The beetles used were identified as Meloe angusticollus [short-winged blister beetle], a species that, when handled, exudes a copious, oily, vesicant [causes blistering] fluid. Likewise, strong-smelling material is occasionally used in nest construction, e.g., nicotine-laden filters from cigarette butts made up the bulk of the lining of one active nest.”
Over half a billion birds are estimated to be killed every year in North America after colliding with windows. Birds can’t see glass which means they usually hit windows at full speed. A friend recently brought over a female Cape May warbler that had struck her window, and while this provided a great opportunity to study this bird, we were both saddened by the loss of its life.
Mary and I have a simple, low cost solution to preventing bird window collisions. We cut long lengths of Christmas wrapping ribbon and simply thumbtack the ribbons into the casing along the top of our windows. The ribbons and down and flutter in the slightest breeze, breaking up the reflection of the woods that a bird might see. While it makes it look like we’re always having a party, that’s better than hearing the sickening thud of a migrating songbird hitting our windows.
Cost – a few pennies for the ribbon and the thumbtacks. Take the ribbons down after migration if you wish, but we leave them up year-round.
North Lakeland Discovery Center BirdFest
The North Lakeland Discovery Center BirdFest participants tallied 93 species on 5/13, a good number given that quite a few neotropical bird species were still on their way north. The weather was relatively warm with modest winds, an unusual occurrence for this event which has seen some really difficult weather over the years.
One of the highlights was a northern mockingbird that was briefly in our yard that morning while a group of birders were watching our feeders. Northern mockingbirds nest well south of here, so its presence was very unusual.
On May 21, a number of bird-loving friends and I joined forces with the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, and Madison Audubon Society to raise support for bird conservation by counting as many birds as we could find in our area in a 24-hour period.
We did this as part of the sixth annual Great Wisconsin Birdathon which aims to raise at least $70,000 for our state’s breeding, migrating, and wintering birds. Funds raised through this effort will support nine statewide programs that meet the year-round needs of Wisconsin’s birds. You can view project descriptions at the Birdathon website.
Our Birdathon team, the Up North Hammerheads, fought some rain, wind, and chilly temperatures to count over 100 bird species! Help us help our birds by pledging or donating to the Up North Hammerheads, or to individual members of our team, at www.wibirdathon.org!
Look for these planets in June: after sunset, Mars is very low in the west, Jupiter is bright in the southwest, and Saturn is rising in the southeast. Before dawn, look for brilliant Venus low in the east.
On June 1, we’ll be the recipients of 15 hours and 30 minutes of sunlight (assuming the sun ever reappears after all this rain). On 6/3, look for Jupiter two degrees south of the waning gibbous moon.
The full moon (the “Strawberry/Rose/Honey Moon”) occurs on 6/9. This is the year’s smallest and most distant full moon, 14% smaller than the closest full moon which will occur on 12/3. Saturn will be three degrees south of the moon all this night.
One of the Values of Winter
While winter is finally over (we hope!), without experiencing the cold, snow, and ice, the spring would be nowhere near as joyous: In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. – Albert Camus
Please share your outdoor sightings and thoughts: call 715-476-2828, e-mail at email@example.com, snail-mail at 4245N State Highway 47, Mercer, WI.