Northland Nature: Plenty of migration going on in the Northland
With the autumnal equinox in mid-September, we feel in many ways like the new season has already begun. Cool morning temperatures in the 40s and 50s greet us each day. Later in the sunlight, we can look out on a scene of arboreal yellows and reds...
With the autumnal equinox in mid-September, we feel in many ways like the new season has already begun. Cool morning temperatures in the 40s and 50s greet us each day. Later in the sunlight, we can look out on a scene of arboreal yellows and reds increasing with the month. But it is the shortening daylight that may cause us to note the changes the most. A sunrise that gets later is matched by early sunsets. It is this lessening light that brings on so many signs of the seasons.
It's hard to live in the Northland and not notice the southbound migrations that are happening now. Maybe the most notable are the large and loud Canada geese. We may not realize how abundant these aquatic birds have become until we see the honking flocks passing overhead. Though they have become common, and almost a pest in some areas, I still find the calls from a September "V" heading south as a great note of autumn. Others joining in this annual trip include the raptors, and though hundreds or more may be visible each day at Hawk Ridge, they can be viewed from many other sites here as well. Hugging the shore of Lake Superior, they come this way in large numbers giving us plenty of opportunity. Watching big kettles of broad-winged hawks or the scattered movements of sharp-shinned hawks is a feeling of being immersed into this changing month.
Much more migration is going on in the region as well. Recently I biked through a massive movement of green darner dragonflies as they were southing. Waves of warblers have been working their way through our woods for the last couple of weeks. Being small and staying among trees, they may be a bit harder to see than others. In a similar fashion, thrushes and vireos move through. More out in the open are the flocks of sparrows. Little brown birds in our yards and along the roadsides become more common each day. The variety of these birds will keep us looking for more, in the weeks to come. Blackbirds in their tight-knit groups feed and call as they move. Flocks of flickers, woodpeckers that seem more interested in feeding on the ground at this time, can also be spotted along the roads. Robin-sized brown birds, they reveal a rump patch of white as they take flight.
Many of the birds are heading to southern states or beyond for the winter, but others may be just a bit to the south of us. Some migrants may surprise us since not all of their kinds leave here. I've been seeing the flights of blue jays and crows a lot lately and yes, while these are going to winter elsewhere, others of their kinds will be here during the cold. This has also been seen in recent weeks with red-breasted nuthatches. These diminutive birds, only four inches long, are one of the tiniest avian residents in the region. Along with their cousins, the white-breasted nuthatches, they can be found in much of the area. I find the white-breasted ones more in the deciduous woods while the red-breasted is among the conifers. The name of nuthatch refers to their feeding habits of breaking open (hacking) seeds. This is obvious to anyone who sees them devouring sunflower seeds at a feeder.
For the last couple of weeks, I have been watching as dozens of these birds have been visiting a nearby white pine. Timing their flight to coincide with that of the opening of the cones, they proceed to take the newly formed seeds. Many are consumed immediately, but others are cached behind tree bark. They follow the pine crop through the area and remain as long as there is food. Last winter, I saw few red-breasted nuthatches, but maybe this year, the food source will keep them here. As we begin fall, winter seems far away, but the avian flights through the Northland tell us of their preparation going on.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including "Butterflies of the North Woods," "Spiders of the North Woods" and "Webwood." Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org .