‘Vacation’ with a view

Northwoods Notebook

An osprey sails off with a northern pike in its clutches at Six Mile Lake. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

I’ve had a relatively lovely week observing and photographing wildlife at Six Mile Lake, in a “vacation” that was not by choice.

Earlier this month, I tried crossing the icy dirt road from a neighbor’s home and failed miserably, ending up on my back with a right ankle that got bent at an angle it was never designed to achieve, even if I practiced yoga. I blew up much of the ligaments in my lower leg and broke the first bone of my life.

I’ve been stuck at home roughly three weeks and one surgery later, ordered to stay off the leg and keep it elevated.

That sounds potentially restful in concept. Not so much in practice. Moving around easily is easily taken for granted. And not working can be great for a few days, not a few weeks.

What it has offered, however, was lots of time to sit in the living room window seat and watch what passes by on Six Mile Lake as spring migration finally kicks into full swing after the late-season dump of snow.

So with few other options, I took advantage of the opportunity. And the view from the window at least has been far better than I imagined. The week featured:

— A parade of new yard birds. At least four sparrow species have shown up — fox, American tree, song and white-throated, which with its skunk-striped head and yellow eyebrows is about as flashy as a sparrow gets — plus first-of-the-year northern flickers, belted kingfisher, yellow-bellied sapsucker, eastern phoebe and tree swallows. Most of the sparrows are bound for somewhere near the Arctic Circle.

But the phoebes, tree swallows and flickers all nest here, so are courting in earnest since arriving. The ground-foraging flicker woodpeckers in particular wasted little time going from probing the lawn for what they could find to posturing and showing off.

Wednesday evening also brought in entire flocks of rusty blackbirds, another boreal forest bird that Cornell Lab of Ornithology says has been in severe decline. The females are grayish, like immature grackles, and the breeding males glossy black, unlike the grackles that show iridescent blues, purples and bronze highlights.

— Strips of open water finally knifed through the lake ice, creating little pools to concentrate the waterfowl and other creatures seeking a place to paddle around, fish or haul out to rest within easy reach of diving for safety if danger threatened.

The usual suspects — Canada geese, common mergansers, wood ducks, hooded mergansers and mallards — all have taken up residence for now, along with bufflehead ducks and what appeared to be a common goldeneye early in the week.

But the open water also attracted bald eagles and osprey, plus beaver and otter. The osprey, in particular, proved to be a great photo opportunity, as it snagged a sizeable northern pike while plunging deep into the lake.

Friday morning, the first great blue heron was checking out our end of the lake.

— Fly-bys by bald eagles — likely testing the waterfowl for any that might be weak or injured — and greater sandhill cranes that regularly landed on the ice while, I suspect, solidifying pair bonds and scoping out potential nest sites. If we’re lucky, the ones that now seem to call just off our property will stick around and we might see crane colts in a month or so.

The multitude of migrating birds also seem to have drawn raptors to the feeders such as Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks, one of which dove into the bushes just below the window seat Thursday chasing a chipmunk. It missed the target, which hunkered down for about 20 minutes before scampering off.

Given my limited mobility, I haven’t been able to get out and check for the first warblers, but others have reported seeing them as well.

This is just the first real influx, too. Ryan Brady, the Ashland, Wis.-based conservation biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation, said in his weekly birding report he expects next week’s warm-up will bring the first Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks and hummingbirds to the southern part of that state.


Speaking of spring migration, a bird-watching walk has been scheduled for 7 a.m. May 19 at the Fumee Lake Natural Area. Those who want to participate should meet at the east parking lot. The walk, with Christina Kionka as guide, should include several species of warblers and other later migrants, plus loons if the lake finally has thawed. Participants should bring binoculars and bird guides.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.