Michigan’s Wetlands

We just had a week in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. There are Great Lakes all around Michigan; Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan wash the Lower Peninsula with Lake Superior looming above the Upper Peninsula (which is attached to Wisconsin and never touches the Lower Peninsula). In addition, there are many streams, rivers,  lakes, marshes, and bogs. It is just great for mosquitoes, black flies, and birds. The area is a haven for birders (a few), fishermen (a whole lot), hunters (lots in season) and, in the winter, snow-mobilers (again, lots). We were impressed (wrong word?) with the number of road-killed deer we saw; the insurance companies must really dislike deer.

Our trip took us from eastern Massachusetts, out through New York state and into Canada at Niagara Falls (there will be a blog page on this area coming soon) and then across southern Ontario and back into the US at Sarnia/Port Huron. We then headed west and north reaching Grayling, Michigan where we stayed a few days. From there we headed west to the bustling vacation town of Traverse City and then south along Lake Michigan to Grand Haven. From there we headed east by the same roads with stops at Niagara Falls and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.  It was a trip of 2667 miles with lots of dollars spent of petrol – $4.19 a gallon in Michigan and $3.83 in Massachusetts.

Grayling is one of the two towns where Kirtland’s Warblers are pretty much guaranteed. They are a very rare species; breeding in the Jack Pine of central Michigan and wintering in the Bahamas. Though that sounds pretty cushy it is a bit of a challenge on the ground. The Jack Pine habitat was managed by natural fires historically and natural fires are frowned on these days. The use of controlled burns is a bit iffy as well as control and loss-of-control are often only a gust of apart. There was a 24,000 acre fire year ago that changed the management techniques for Jack Pine woodlands. After the Mack Lake Fire the use of mechanical planting has pretty much totally replaced fire as the prime tool for Jack Pine reforestation projects. (There will be a blog page on this area following this page on wetlands.)

Ruddy Ducks are one of the stiff-tails. They are toy-like diving ducks.

Grebes are not ducks and the Pied-billed Grebe is the most widespread the North American Grebes.

In an area that is largely remote and often wet, as is most of rural Michigan, it is nice to see all the grebes, mergansers, ducks, and geese that live there. It is not unusual to see Canada Geese most anywhere in the US these days but there are impressive numbers in Michigan. There are large marshes that hold Bitterns, Pied-billed Grebes, lots of diving and puddle ducks, and an abundance of Great Blue Herons. In addition there are swallows, Black Terns, the occasional Caspian Tern, and a huge biomass of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds.

While traveling north of Traverse City on the Leelanau Peninsula we bumped in to a large number of migrating birds of prey. There had been no southern air moving north for quite a while and this warm and breezy day was just what they needed. The adult birds had pushed through the early weather but the non-breeding younger birds seemed to have lazed along and were all bunched up mulling over the water-crossing that was ahead of them. We had several hundred Broad-winged Hawks, Bald Eagle, accipiters, and Turkey Vultures soaring above the cherry orchards of the northern part of this peninsula. It was pretty nice. The blurry images below show the crescents in the wings and the split tails on many of the Broad-wings. Young eagles are very dark. The Turkey Vultures were not all young as might be seen by the reddish heads.

The Broad-winged Hawk is a Buteo. It migrates north over the Rio Grande Valley (TX) by the hundreds of thousands in mid-April. We see them in the northern woods 2-5 weeks later. The 10-11 month old birds (last year’s young) are molting as they move north.

Young Bald eagles are ragged also. They are also 3-4 years from the white heads and tails that make them officially grown-up.

The Turkey Vulture is much more common in Massachusetts than it ever has been – but the west and mid-west have many many more than we do.
The fruit orchards of northern Michigan were just finishing setting fruit; but were still very nice.

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