‘Icy grip’ begins to loosen

(Betsy Bloom/Daily News photos) The first red-winged blackbirds are beginning to re-appear in the region.

Every year, certain signs point to the region really turning the corner from winter to spring.

At Six Mile Lake, one such indicator is the sound of trickling water that inevitably finds its way to the lake, especially from Solberg Creek on the northwestern corner.

As snowmelt feeds into the creek, the increased flow into the lake begins to drill into the ice, creating a slim spearpoint of open water that should grow and extend further into the icepack if the thaw continues.

This opening in the ice seems to draw wildlife. First are the aquatic mammals that are able to come in from the creek and haul out on the ice to leisurely munch on a catch, enjoy the growing sun or groom, confident they can slip back into the safety of the water if anything threatens. A mink took advantage of the new opening Friday and otter have popped out onto the Six Mile Lake ice in the past, although it’s been a few years since I’ve seen one.

The first of the returning waterfowl tend to arrive about the time that finger of open water has expanded to a pool — usually common and hooded mergansers, mallards, Canada geese, common goldeneye, buffleheads. They also like the area on the other end of the lake, where it flows into Six Mile Creek. Open water there often persists through winter; this year, the creek already is ice-free. It’s a popular spot in spring for trumpeter swans. I have yet to spot any waterfowl even on the creek, but this weekend could change that.

A mink Friday took advantage of a slim opening in the ice where Solberg Creek feeds into Six Mile Lake to log a little time in the growing spring sun.

Friday afternoon, a turkey vulture was soaring over Kingsford. Thursday brought the first red-winged blackbird to the backyard feeder, a male that doesn’t appear to be fully mature but still seemed compelled to race back to the region in hopes of staking an early claim on a nesting territory.

Patt Bunt posted photos Monday on the Upper Peninsula Birding Facebook page of sandhill cranes back in Waucedah.

I wasn’t surprised by any of this, as during two trips to Green Bay, Wis., this past week the male red-winged blackbirds had conspicuously taken up positions on overhead lines as far north as Lena, Wis. Sandhill cranes, too, were back despite the still snow-covered fields.

The influx of spring migrants, as would be expected, has been much stronger in downstate Wisconsin, which has had a mild winter and been without snow for most of March. My brother in Racine, Wis., reports they’re past crocuses being up and should see daffodils begin blooming any day now.

These earliest birds back usually are short-distance migrants, among the last to leave in the fall and wintering in the U.S., so they can return with relative ease. They’re also fairly hardy and resilient if a late storm sets in, as long as conditions aren’t too harsh or prolonged.

Ryan Brady, Natural Heritage Conservation Program biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, wrote in his statewide birding report that homeowners looking to help these early migrants if the weather takes a nasty turn can —

— Clear or maintain patches of bare ground for foragers like robins or woodcock;

— Offer mealworms, chopped fruits and suet in addition to the usual seeds at the feeders.

— Keep feeders full, dry and sheltered from the conditions.

I invite readers to share what they’re seeing in terms of bird movement back into the region.

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


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