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Spring throws a curve; cranes show some hops

Northwoods Notebook

Sandhill cranes strut and dance in a field along Six Mile Lake Road in northern Dickinson County. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photos)

Just as it seemed like spring was progressing nicely, with most snow gone and the ice contracting and cracking at a steady rate, comes word of a nasty mix of rain, freezing rain and snow set to start Sunday and potentially linger into Tuesday.

That will be accompanied by a string of days that will feel more like late February than mid-April.

While Monday may poke its head above freezing, Tuesday will be lucky to get out of the 20s. Wednesday will do little better — a predicted high of 30 — and Thursday struggle to reach the upper 30s, according to the National Weather Service office in Marquette.

The balmy day of the week, at least at this point, apparently will be Friday — with a forecasted high of 44.

So savor today, with its 50-something temperatures and partly sunny skies, because it may be a week before spring attempts to re-establish itself.

Sandhill cranes typically breed and forage in open prairies, grasslands, and wetlands.

As mentioned last week, as long as it isn’t severe or prolonged cold, it shouldn’t do much harm to the birds that have returned or the hibernating animals that have re-emerged from dormancy.

The big risk would be if the ground was to freeze enough to prevent birds such as the woodcock from probing to pluck worms from the soil. A freezing rain followed by deep cold could be a recipe for this, but these temperatures don’t sound low enough to create such harsh conditions.

To help the songbirds that otherwise might rely on insects, make sure suet is in good supply and perhaps put out dried mealworms.

As hoped, this past week saw Eastern phoebes, turkey vultures and Eastern bluebirds back in the mix, along with belted kingfishers. No tree swallows just yet but they’re likely not far. A reader had a pair of evening grosbeaks, which could be the first sighting of that bird in the area that I’ve heard of in 2020 — as noted, it was a poor year for the winter finches.

Even more surprising this past week was having to dodge a few American toads moving around on M-69 after a warmer day with some rain.

But for this cold turn, the region might even have heard the first spring peepers and seen an influx of other songbirds: vireos, warblers, more of the sparrows, thrushes and thrashers.

With the “stay home” orders and social distancing in place, it would be helpful if nature would make it a little more pleasant either to get out in the woods or at least watch the yard for new arrivals.

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A sandhill crane pair has taken up residence in a field along Six Mile Lake Road, patrolling along the edges where the shadows along the tree line allowed some snow to linger. They offered a treat Sunday when they showed off a few dance moves, hopping and posing while calling with their rattling cry that carries far through the woods — though one seemed more enthusiastic than the other.

The landowner later told me the couple had chased off a juvenile bird to lay claim to the field. While I regularly see sandhills on that property, the ones that each year seem to have a colt or two trailing behind them usually favor a nearby farm field.

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

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