Birding provides a respite

Northwoods Notebook

A Canada goose joins the company of three trumpeter swans at Six Mile Lake. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

With the COVID-19 situation, I’m looking for options for learning about the natural world online, considering students and perhaps their parents are hunkered down at home with schools, many businesses and other gathering places shuttered for at least a few more weeks, perhaps longer.

As I get more input from some of the experts I’ve used in the past in the Notebook, I’ll pass along what they suggest as quickly as I can. For now, responses to my inquiries have been a little sparse, but that’s understandable given the circumstances. There’s a lot going on out there, so I’m sure my column takes a lower priority, as it should.

One that popped up unbidden in my email this week was from a favorite source, the Cornell Lab for Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, a state that Friday along with Illinois joined California in ordering all residents to stay in their homes unless they have vital reasons to go out.

John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, wrote on Wednesday —

“Like everyone around the world, we at the Cornell Lab are adjusting to new routines. We’ve also spent recent days scouring our brains and our servers for ways to help — in some small way — people who find their daily lives upended.

“If you’re a teacher prepping for a new kind of remote class, we’ll send you ideas. A parent or grandparent whose kids are on an unexpected ‘spring vacation’? They can play our games and learn. Are you a bird watcher with extra time on your hands — or an inveterate traveler now homebound? We can bring birds and bird song into your home — or let you explore the farthest reaches of the world in sounds and images.

“A core part of our mission is to help people celebrate the wonder of birds. We do it because you (and we) love birds, are amazed by their powers, and even gain solace from them and a deep, clean breath of hope.

“Together we’ll all get through this. In the meantime, whenever you may need a moment of respite, we invite you to explore, enjoy, wonder, replenish, and spark hope with the resources we have to share.”

These resources can be found at: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/how-to-make-these-next-few-weeks-a-little-easier-courtesy-of-birds/.

Laura Erickson, an author who was science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and has the blog site For The Birds at https://blog.lauraerickson.com/, pointed to a post she’d made this week about birding and maintaining “social distance.”

Done right, birding and other activities in the woods can be excellent ways to get outdoors without risk of exposure. But if birders flock together, sharing equipment such as spotting scopes or binoculars — held up to the eyes, after all, and touching the face — it ceases to be so harmless. Just use a little common sense, Erickson advised. Her full column is at https://blog.lauraerickson.com/2020/03/social-distancing-while-birding.html.

Her other recommendation is at https://www.birdwatchingdaily.com, which has set up a gallery for posting bird photographs. Even those who don’t take photographs should enjoy the growing slideshow of images from others.

Erickson also notes this is getting to be the prime time of year for birding from the comforts of the home or backyard, as migration begins to grow and more species show up at the feeders.

Hopefully, our returning feathered friends will provide a welcome distraction from the stress.


As the pool of open water expands where Six Mile Lake feeds into the creek of the same name, the trumpeter swans have returned. As last year, the first group seen was a trio, but this year all three were gleaming white, rather than one being a gray-tinged juvenile that likely was sticking close to its parents in spring 2019.

Hard to say if it was the same family group, with the juvenile now old enough to lose its ashy plumage. While trumpeter swans don’t necessarily mate for life, they do form long pair bonds and stick together throughout the year, according to Cornell.

As the sun rose Tuesday, they were joined by a lone Canada goose that was tolerated, moving among them as they all fed.

However, the swans showed off how they earned the name trumpeter by loudly protesting and posturing when another three swans tried to land. The airborne birds circled overhead a couple of times before deciding to move on.

Last year, when the ice disappeared from Six Mile Lake, so did the swans. Hopefully, this year proves different and we’ll have a chance of seeing cygnets along with the annual parades of Canada geese goslings this summer.


Finally, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources warns that as the bears begin to come back out, the bird feeders should come down.

This is advice I am unwilling to follow, even as I pass it along. No feeders means far fewer backyard birds and, as mentioned, migration is about to kick in, so I’d rather have them showing up. Instead, I’ll bring almost everything in at night.

The bears and raccoons may put in a daytime visit, but it at least gives us a chance the birds will make a stop even if passing through.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 240, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.


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