Northland Nature...Warbler waves passing throughThese last days of August are filled with nature happenings. We most likely note the produce from the garden or early apples and grapes now getting ripe. But much more is going on among other plants.
By: Larry Weber, Pine Journal
These last days of August are filled with nature happenings. We most likely note the produce from the garden or early apples and grapes now getting ripe. But much more is going on among other plants. Oaks are dropping acorns in the yard, the nearby pine cones are reaching a mature size and the hazel nuts that the squirrels and I have been watching in past weeks are starting to turn brown, a sign of maturation. Maybe I will be able to harvest a few before the others gather them. Beyond the trees in the roadsides and fields, the wildflowers of late summer and fall are in full bloom. I always look for three groups: sunflowers, goldenrods and asters. Each has about ten kinds flowering in the area.
Besides being a beautiful delight to our late-August scene, the goldenrod patches are loaded with critters. Visiting these sites in the warmth of the day, I’m surrounded by bees, wasps, flies, ants, stink bugs, ladybugs, butterflies, grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, dragonflies and spiders. The spiders are present in the setting, but I find it is the early mornings at this time of year when their webs show up in huge numbers, as each snare holds the morning dew. Roadside and field plants hold a plethora of small residents.
The forest floor, too, has its share of life. At this time, the proper temperatures and moisture combine to show a rich growth of various mushrooms. During a recent walk, I noted twenty kinds. They ranged in size from as big as my fingernail to larger than the hand. And nearly all the colors of the rainbow were represented. This is not unusual as we approach September and I expect this variety to continue here for a couple of weeks.
Also along the woods edge, I watched as a family of cedar waxwings devoured the fruits of choke cherries and moved on to highbush cranberry and hawthorns. While these birds and a few more are feeding, others have begun migration. Nighthawks, in flocks that may number in the dozens, are passing over. Shorebirds line up on the beaches as they work their way south. And the first raptors have been recorded at Hawk Ridge. But the bird movement that I have been watching the most lately has been that of the warblers.
Back in May, we enjoyed seeing this diverse group of small birds that arrived here. Twenty-six species are expected in the region each year. About half stay and nest while others move on to breeding sites in the forests of Canada. They arrive with plumage and songs of the spring season and in big numbers. It is a rare day in late May that I do not see at least ten kinds. Nesting and raising their young through the following weeks proceeded on schedule. During June, I heard them singing territorial proclamations and watched as the young fledged in July. Slowly their songs waned in the summer heat. The young grew and, with the adults, continued to feed on abundant summer insects.
Now with the shorter days, less than fourteen hours, they are grouping for the next phase of life – migration. For the past few weeks, the family units have been mixing and traveling with others. Soon the number of birds grows and the flocks become a mixture of different species. Going through trees and giving chipping calls to each other, the groups are called waves. Often they are escorted by local chickadees, nuthatches and vireos.
A few days ago, the calling of a chickadee in the yard alerted me to the passing of a wave. I looked up to see the movement and before it was over, I noted ten kinds: chestnut-sided, black and white, golden-winged, Nashville, pine, yellow, mourning, redstart, ovenbird and yellowthroat. Nearly all these birds nest here and most adults wore their mature attire, but the young were a bit harder to recognize. Soon these local ones will be joined by the northern travelers and once again, we may be seeing two dozen kinds of warblers as they pause on their southbound trek. These present warbler waves are one of the many nature happenings that make these days of late August so pleasant in the Northland.
Retired teacher Larry Weber of Carlton is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.