Finally, spring sweeps in

Northwoods Notebook

A sandhill crane surveys its surroundings at Six Mile Lake. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photos)

Another week has seen spring continue to assert itself in the Upper Peninsula after an April with few signs.

As if making up for lost time, the turnaround in the past week has been swift. Trees and vegetation are quickly greening up and budding out. The willow catkins have sprouted pollen, providing an early food source for bumblebee queens — they are the only ones in the colony that survive through the winter — and other emerging pollinators.

The first butterflies have flitted across the lawn, even as ice remained on Six Mile Lake. But by Thursday, that, too, finally had surrendered, leaving open water for the first time since November.

Spring peepers began calling Wednesday. If I could venture outside more easily, I might spot the first green frogs and painted turtles in the lake.

A Pickerel Lake resident reported the first loon back. The open water likely will lure in a few new types of waterfowl, perhaps even shorebirds and unusual grebes such as horned, eared and red-necked.

With impressive height and a dagger of a bill, sandhill cranes defend against aerial predators by jumping and kicking.

Common green darner dragonflies, which like monarch butterflies migrate, have appeared in northern Wisconsin and could arrive here any day now. Same with Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, most of the warblers and vireos, scarlet tanagers and — if lucky — the vibrant indigo buntings. All have been reported as far north in Wisconsin as Wausau, Green Bay and even the Lake Superior shoreline, reports Ryan Brady, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist based in Ashland.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are a step behind but not by much. Some even have reached Green Bay.

It will make for a dazzling springtime display of avian color — if we can just manage to keep the feeders available for them. Because, alas, another sure sign of spring showed up this week: a bear took down our suet feeders, leaving the metal mesh cages flattened like they had been run over by a truck.

We should at least be able to keep the platform feeder stocked during the daytime hours, and the oriole feeder is easily brought inside at night.

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The sandhill crane couple continue to hang out in the marsh area where Solberg Creek enters Six Mile Lake. One decided to explore our backyard, coming all the way up to the bird feeders — we think it had its eye on snagging one of the chipmunks. It did make a grab for something at the feeders but missed, then leisurely wandered back down to the lakefront, where it called for its companion but only drew in a bald eagle.

The eagle has made a few passes over the marsh since then, drawing protests from the cranes as well as geese. I’m not sure if it would take on either unless very hungry — both are very large birds that can handle themselves in a fight. The crane that came within feet of the window seemed tall enough to look me in the eye had I been outside and has a wicked-looking dagger of a bill.

But the eagle could make the cranes uncomfortable enough to decide it’s too vulnerable a place to nest. We’ll see if they stick around or move on.

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A community lecture series program on Michigan’s frogs and toads will be offered at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Bay West campus in Iron Mountain.

The program by Walt Summers will detail frogs and toads in the Upper Peninsula, their habitats and what they sound like. After the program — and weather permitting — anyone who is interested can wander outside with the presenter and listen to the frogs calling in the swamp behind the campus.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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