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Birds venture north

UP’s full-time residents begin to work out pairings

As temperatures climb, red-winged blackbirds tend to return quickly to pin down prime territory. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

… Northwoods notebook

March is the meteorological start to spring, though the vernal equinox won’t arrive until March 20.

But the avian signs already seem to point to a change in season.

Both downstate Michigan and southern and central Wisconsin have had their first red-winged blackbirds return this past week.

While this is a tricky species to rely on as a predictor of winter’s ebb — red-winged blackbirds don’t go far south and tend to come back as quickly as possible to pin down prime territory, sometimes to be caught out by a late storm — it still indicates that bird movement is shifting northward.

Sandhill cranes and killdeer have arrived back in south and central Wisconsin as well, Ryan Brady, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Natural Heritage Conservation Program biologist, stated in his birding report. The cranes are hardy birds that often linger well into November and come back with substantial snow still on the ground.

Though perhaps they won’t find that this year. Already, the north hillsides along M-69 east of M-95 are clear of snow after days of full sun and above-freezing daytime temperatures. Watch out for deer drawn to graze on the possible new growth underneath last year’s brown vegetation.

With highs in the 50s possible next week, it makes me wonder if we might see some of these earliest bird migrants arrive even this far north. As more water opens up on the edges of lakes and where streams connect, also watch for the first of the waterfowl — common and hooded mergansers, goldeneye, Canada and snow geese, and if enough open space, the resident trumpeter swans.

The trade-off is bidding goodbye to the “winter finches.” Locally, the influx of evening grosbeaks has waned. Pine grosbeaks were in the crabapple trees on U.S. 2 between the Chapin Pit on Wednesday, but likely for only a last visit before departing.

The birds that are full-time residents in the Upper Peninsula are beginning to work out pairings for the nesting season to come. Northern cardinals are singing in earnest, woodpeckers are drumming to set up territories. Wild turkeys are gobbling.

Other wildlife, too, is beginning to stir and pick up pace. The first chipmunks are being spotted after a winter hibernating. Skunks and raccoons have re-emerged, and for both it’s breeding season, so they’ll be looking for a mate as well as an easy meal.

What I suspect was a raccoon managed to take down a metal feeder at our home and made off with a fairly new suet log.

It’s a reminder that black bears might not be far off in reappearing. Probably time to get back in the habit of bringing feeders in at night.

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

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