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Ice bids farewell; pace of migration picks up

Northwoods Notebook

Mallards lift off at Six Mile Lake in northern Dickinson County. The ducks could remain in the region for a while, especially the hens looking for a place to raise young. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photos)

As predicted, the past week saw a number of returning birds and other animals and plants stimulated by spring.

Not predicted — though not unexpected, given the 60s and even 70s of the past week — was the disappearance of ice on Six Mile Lake. In the five springs I’ve now spent year-round on the lake, this is among the earliest exits for the ice; three years ago, it had barely begun to open up.

Spring peeper frogs began calling, a little sparse and faint at first but by week’s end a healthy chorus, if not completely in full cry. Painted turtles could be seen sunning along the lakeshore even before the translucent, final remnants of the ice had surrendered to the sun.

The staccato chatter of the belted kingfishers could be heard in crossing the yard — they don’t take well to being disturbed from their perch and will complain as they fly away. Ground-loving northern flicker woodpeckers are back in the yard, foraging like robins through the quickly greening grass.

The number of waterfowl on the lake has picked up, though not necessarily the variety. The diving ducks that seem to like colder water — the mergansers and buffleheads that typically show up when the ice still is well in place — are still present in good numbers, as are the mallards that come back quickly as well. The diving ducks likely won’t remain much longer but the mallards might, especially the hens to raise a few broods. Also on the lake this past week was a pair of what appeared to be lesser scaups — not an uncommon species, yet I’d not seen them before. Scaups tend to form large flocks along with redheads.

Scaups tend to form large flocks, though their visit to Six Mile Lake appears limited to just a pair.

Canada geese have been noisy as the pairs sort out the pecking order on the lake. Trumpeter swans have been seen several times, though as far as I know have never nested on Six Mile Lake. Sandhill cranes have been spotted strolling through the fields on Six Mile Lake Road.

The sparrows — fox, song, American tree, white-throated — continue around the feeders, as do dark-eyed juncos and a few common redpolls. Surprisingly, evening grosbeaks have shown up for several days as well, giving me a little hope that perhaps this might be a summer in which they stick around to nest, as they’ve occasionally done in the past.

The main crowd, for now, continues to be red-winged blackbirds and common grackles, with a few brown-headed cowbirds in the mix.

The next week should see — if they haven’t arrived already — osprey, tree swallows, yellow-bellied sapsucker woodpeckers, barn swallows, eastern bluebirds, hermit thrushes, brown thrashers and eastern phoebes, if the weekly Birding Report by Ryan Brady, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Natural Heritage Conservation Program biologist, is any indication. The first of the warblers — usually the yellow-rumped “butterbutts” — and the ruby-crowned kinglets may appear as well but are more difficult to notice, being small and not inclined to come to feeders.

While wind flow and weather conditions won’t be as favorable for movement north, Brady predicts some of the birds will “press on” and the amount of open water now in the region could tempt additional waterfowl and grebe species to make a stop on local waterways if the weather takes a turn.

A MALE COMMON merganser flaps to attention in a small weed bed.

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

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