.......and Reflections

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Beautiful Morning in the Middle of Nowhere

This mornings drive to my first location is a short one from Marquette, Michigan. One of the first birds I saw for the day was a Common Loon on Teal Lake, no less. I did not see any Teal. Not too far down M 28 is an unmarked road that heads north from the main highway. It is an old and sometimes still used logging road that once terminated somewhere else, but no more.  The road is Peshekee Grade. The river for which the road is named, provides the gradual fall or "grade" suitable for, in this case, a road or sometimes a railroad track. Hence the name, Peshekee Grade.

This is a dead end road that starts out in the middle of nowhere and accesses the "somewhere" that is so dear to my heart. It is, in fact, one inspiration for this blog. The road goes 10 miles before it is reduced to a trail impassable by vehicle. About half is paved and the rest is gravel. The gravel road is great and the paved road is probably the worst in North America. The pavement has conformed to bedrock contours and then heaved about by freezing and thawing. It is awful and it has nearly no potholes!

People live along the first few miles of the road and I suppose only in summer. There are secluded cabins but nothing I would consider more than rustic. There are no utilities. There is no popular destination along or at the end of the road. Consequently it is a wilderness that is available to enjoy and study in a practically uninterrupted way.

I spent about 4 hours birding mostly the last 7 seven miles of river and adjacent boreal bogs, wetlands, spruce forest, and mixed hardwood and deciduous forests. I saw maybe half of the species likely to be seen or heard which is a pretty good morning any time. But seeing birds in this virtually undisturbed wilderness is a beautiful and humbling experience.

Even the birds I have seen in migration or have identified countless times come to life in this place like no other. As I was examining a Pesheke River wetland I noticed Blue Jays flying frantically across the way. There sitting in a Spruce was a Broad-winged Hawk. Then a duck lifted in front of me. It was an American Black Duck, an unexpected surprise. I listened to a conversation among at least 3 singing Alder Flycatchers spaced about the wetland. As I surveyed the area once again, a lone Sandhill Crane gracefully crossed the western sky with the eastern sun showing his colors as only the sun can.

I really wanted to see Boreal Chickadees. They are common here but in early June they seem scarce because they are tending to nestlings. Finding them is not guaranteed. As I stood in front of a stand of Spruce trees, I played the Boreal Chickadee song and got no response. I listened ever so carefully and did not hear their burry chickadee song but off in the distance I could clearly hear the call of a Common Loon. This is the consummate "call of the wild".

I moved from one location to another with no Chickadee success. In one place I heard a Magnolia Warbler. I found and watched the Magnolia sing from atop a Spruce tree. As many thousands of Magnolias I have seen, the singing Magnolia on top of that this place, was, as if it was the very first Magnolia Warbler I had ever seen. It was a thing of beauty! And as I pondered at this thing of beauty I could here a Ruffed Grouse drumming in the distance. For those of you who have experienced this drumming, you know that you can not only hear the sound but you can almost feel it in your chest. It is not a sound but an experience.

I was making my way back out to the main road and I had all but given up hope on the Boreal Chickadee. Then I saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler fly into the top of a tree. I raised my binoculars to take a look and saw other birds moving in the same location. There were two wonderful Boreal Chickadees foraging with the Warbler. It was a reward worth waiting for.

As I made my way further toward the main highway, I watched and heard a pair of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers interacting around a dead snag. There was drumming and vocalizations and it seemed to me that it was something that wasn't choreographed for human viewing. Finally, I stopped to take pictures of the Peshekee River. I looked upstream just in time to see a Common Merganser lift from the stream and fly up stream with white wing patches flashing with every wing beat. It was just one more memorable experience in a place where all the creatures spoke to me in a symphony best heard by the heart.

I made one more scheduled stop before heading directly to Grand Rapids Minnesota for the night. I wanted to check out some more boreal habitat in the farthest northwest corner of Wisconsin. I left U.S. Rt. 2 in Douglas County for a short side tour of Stoney Bridge on the Brule River. This is another boreal habitat that is more like a wilderness corridor than Peshekee Grade. The area around Stoney Bridge and the Brule River is much more developed and populated. But the corridor itself is high quality habitat. Black Cedar is an important tree in this Brule River habitat and there was none of that in Peshekee Grade. Despite the differences the expected bird species is nearly identical.

It was late afternoon and the birding was slow. I did get to enjoy a singing Yellow-bellied Flycatcher along the river. This is one of many migrant birds I love to see in their breeding areas. I also saw a pair of Black and White Warblers but struck out on Black-backed Woodpeckers. When the weather warms and nesting is in full swing it is always important to bird early in the morning and late in the evening and save the mid-day for travel. I'll be back to explore the Brule some morning down the road.

The first 3 days of the trip have been predominantly northern forests. Tomorrow I'll explore central and western Minnesota and will start the day once again in northern forests. Changes aren't too far down the trail so tune in tomorrow to "Where the Middle of Nowhere Is Somewhere" is on your radio dial.

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