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Slowed by cold spring, UP migration finally kicks in

Northwoods Notebook

TWO MALE ROSE-BREASTED grosbeaks are joined in dining on black oil sunflower seeds by a hairy woodpecker. Her lack of any red spots on the head identifies her as a female. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

If, as the saying goes, anticipation is the best part of an experience, well, spring migration this year should have been delightful.

Reality proved … not so much. The annual arrival of birds back in the region after a winter spent wherever was so prolonged that anticipation quickly gave way to exasperation and frustration. This was made worse by a northwoods winter in which the feeder crowds from November through March lacked variety, drawing in — at least here — only a couple handfuls of species. Most of the winter finches seemed to anticipate the “shelter in place” orders early and did just that in the north.

In short, we hungered for a little feathered color after a drab winter. It only got worse when forced to stay near home, making the feeder and backyard watch one of the few new shows that didn’t require Netflix or other streaming services.

Instead, winter rudely overstayed its welcome into May, stalling out the avian advance in lower Wisconsin.

Thankfully, in this case good things do come to those who wait (as if we had a choice). And no, anticipation did not make it more sweet.

A MALE INDIGO BUNTING. Like the rose-breasted grosbeak and Baltimore orioles, they are among the later migrants. (Pat Moore photo)

The first breakthrough, at least at Six Mile Lake, seemed to come Saturday when a single and then trio of rose-breasted grosbeaks discovered the black oil sunflower seeds. By Sunday, the grosbeaks were descending in flocks.

It’s unclear when exactly the Baltimore orioles hit town — several people in the Iron Mountain area reported them perhaps a week before they surfaced here.

The first sign at our home was not a bird but a feeder with orange halves and grape jelly dishes with clear beak bite marks. Thursday morning, the feeder had barely been hung up — all feeders are brought in at night to hopefully avoid bears — when a half-dozen orioles laid claim to the goodies.

Ryan Brady, Natural Heritage Conservation biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources office in Ashland, predicted the influx Tuesday evening, posting up on Facebook weather radar images that showed major bird movement north from the Green Bay and Fox Valley area around Appleton. He then Wednesday reported seeing 50 species at his home near Ashland, Wis.

Along with the orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks that normally enjoy coming to our bird buffet, a few others will take advantage of what’s available, especially if temperatures are cool enough to curtail bug movement.

THOSE WHO FEED Baltimore orioles didn’t really begin seeing them in numbers in the area until this past week. (Theresa Proudfit photo)

Some to watch for would be Cape May warblers, whose males are mostly yellow and black with streaked breast and a spot of chestnut color around the eyes, and scarlet tanagers, which has males a vivid red with black wings, females almost solid green. Both species enjoy the grape jelly as much as the orioles do.

This spring also has brought summer tanagers, similar to the scarlet but not as deeply red and with no black wings. Though normally much more of a southern species, it has been photographed this spring at several locations in Wisconsin and at least four separate sites in the Upper Peninsula. This is a bird worth reporting if seen.

Though these neo-tropicals and warblers often are brightly colored, they still can be difficult to see as they flit in the trees, especially the smaller varieties. But a little patience and scanning for movement can pay off.

Some of my favorites warblers include the Blackburnian and the redstart, which to me look like miniature orioles and red-winged blackbirds, respectively.

THE SUMMER TANAGER is considered a rare visitor to the Upper Peninsula, yet four already have been reported at different sites this spring, including one immature male in Iron County. This is a fully mature male. It can be most easily distinguished from the more common scarlet tanager by its lack of black wings. (Skye Christopher G. Haas photo)

AN AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, left, is almost back to yellow after spending winter decked in drab khaki, like the bird on the right. (Theresa Proudfit photo)

A RUBY-CROWNED kinglet barely shows how it got its name. About chickadee size, they have the ability to raise the red cap in display. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

A brown thrasher makes his presence known on a foggy morning in Dickinson County. Most migratory species seem to have made their way back into the region in the past week, making for a chorus of singing in the morning. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

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