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Birdwatching in Brockway | News, Sports, Jobs

Birdwatching in Brockway |  News, Sports, Jobs

Sonya Swetich, a seventh grader at Houghton Middle School, takes in the view during a school trip to Brockway Mountain on Friday morning. (Photo Houghton Daily Mining Gazette by Garrett Neese)

On Friday, students from Houghton Middle School traveled to the top of Brockway to learn more about the number of birds, the geology behind the formation of the Keweenaw and ways to mitigate the dangers facing birds.

The trips, which began in 2012, are coordinated by Michigan Technological University’s Center for Science and Environmental Outreach.

“When I ask how many have never been to Brockway Mountain, their hands go up,” said Joan Chadde, the center’s director. “And of course they don’t really know about all this migration, so it’s cool for them to know more. It’s place-based learning, right here in your backyard.

Because of COVID, this was the students’ first trip in three years, said Houghton science professor Sarah Geborkoff.

Bob Baez, counter for the Mount Brockway Hawk Watch, demonstrates his methods during a lecture to students at Houghton Middle School on Friday. (Photo Houghton Daily Mining Gazette by Garrett Neese)

Students cycled between stations, where they heard from experts before participating in hands-on lesson-related activities.

Michelle Anderson, outdoor science educator at Michigan Tech and director of Keweenaw Wild Bird REC, spoke to students about some of the dangers facing birds in the Keweenaw and some solutions.

Scavenging birds are at risk of lead poisoning by ingesting bullets or eating fish on decoys. Whenever possible, people should use lead-free alternatives, she said.

Glass windows claim an additional 500,000 to 1 million birds each year; groups like the Copper Country Audubon Society have worked to remedy the problem locally by providing decals at frequent crash sites like the Portage Lake District Library.

For predation by pets, bells on a cat’s collar have been shown to be ineffective, Anderson said. Instead, pet owners should watch a “cati”, a screened porch that allows the cat to experience the outdoors without allowing them to roam freely.

Habitat loss can be mitigated by land preservation, Anderson said. At a smaller level, one step concerns nesting boxes, where migrating birds can lay their eggs. She pointed to one mounted several hundred yards away.

“Places that have a loss of habitat, that would be a great way to give them that habitat back,” she says.

In a game at the end, students played birds and tried to outrun other players, who carried signs marking them as threats such as plastic waste.

Dana Richter of the Copper Country Audubon Society showed the students the variety of birds they could see on the mountain. The company launched the Falcon Watch about 14 years ago.

The birds migrate north each year from states such as Missouri and Alabama. To conserve energy, birds avoid flying over water.

“It kind of acts like a funnel, so it’s a point of focus,” he said.

Sometimes more than 30,000 birds fly overhead during a three-month period. Broad-winged hawks are the most common, accounting for around 70% of raptors spotted this spring. Others include the sharp-shinned hawks, known for their slender legs, and the bald eagles, which are distinguished by the white patches on their heads.

The students also heard of a counter that goes from March 15 to June 15 on the mountain. For the first part of the season, he climbs the mountain by snowmobile.

Keweenaw Bird Research Group, a birding group in Copper Harbor, and Audubon are collaborating to fund the bird counter, Richter said. The Copper Country Audubon Society also gives presentations, including to Lake Linden-Hubbell schools, Richter said.

In what several students voted the best part, Richter gave the students binoculars to look for birds. The clouds receded towards the end of the students’ visit, creating new views of the peninsula and more frequent bird sightings.

“I really like the view” said fifth-grade student Sonya Swetich, looking west through the binoculars.

The rocks that make up Brockway and the Keweenaw are about 1 billion years old, said Erika Vye, a geoscience researcher at the Great Lakes Research Center. To show how Lake Superior and the peninsula formed, she had the students line up in two rows with their arms stretched out toward each other. One row represented Keweenaw, another represented Isle Royale.

The magma, staged by Vye, erupted to the surface in a series of 450 lava flows. The weight of these flows created the Lake Superior Basin. The students had passed one on the way up – near Cliff Drive, a basalt cliff in Keweenaw County.

“Did you know this is the largest known lava flow on the surface of the earth?” she says. “We have it here.”

Mount Arvon in Baraga County is Michigan’s highest natural feature, 1,979 feet above sea level. A billion years ago, it was part of a range that rivaled the Rocky Mountains, Vye said.

Erosion has smoothed out part of the gap between the mountains and the basin, leaving a relatively tiny peak and material filling the Keweenaw. Brockway Ridge is an alluvial fan made up of conglomerate, Vye said.

“So the rocks you are standing on are part of an old mountain,” she says.


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