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Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Rarest Warbler in America: Kirtland's Warbler; plus Nashville Warbler and Brown Thrasher

[Crawford Co., Michigan. June 2015]

Of our many qualities, there are perhaps two defining features of homo sapiens that are universally acknowledged -- no, not our opposable thumbs or large craniums -- but, behaviorally, we are (1) relentlessly acquisitive; and, (2) fiercely possessive. 

Our insatiable urge to acquire objects, experiences, and knowledge is testament to the first quality; while, regarding the latter, it is almost legendary the great lengths that people will go to to protect anything they can stick a "my" in front of -- eg., "my land", "my car", "my pet", "my rights", etc. These two qualities together constitute an unstoppable force that is literally changing the face of this planet.

Thus, wildlife, which by definition is "wild" and "free" and therefore not subject to human ownership, is frequently at the losing end of the equation when it comes to competition or confrontation with our possessions -- animate or inanimate. Witness the ever shrinking numbers of wild animals and the ever burgeoning numbers of livestock and pets -- an increase no doubt helped by the loss of natural habitat to development. 

However, exceptions to this all-conquering rule of acquisition and possession thankfully do exist -- they are the scientists, naturalists, environmentalists, and their faithful supporters -- all dedicated conservationists -- who work against tremendous odds to preserve our natural heritage. 

And, it is this group of people that we must thank every time we see a Kirtland's Warbler today. For they have done something that very few people do -- work ceaselessly, and selflessly, to advance our understanding of the natural history of endangered species and protect the "unowned" denizens of wild America that otherwise would meet the same lamentable fate as the Passenger Pigeon, the Carolina Parakeet, Bachman's Warbler or Labrador Duck. 

The aforementioned are all species for which conservation action didn't effectively materialize; with the consequence that all of mankind will henceforth forever remain bereft of their incomparable and priceless presence. And, surely, with their loss, our record as responsible stewards of our environment too shall suffer -- indelibly stained as it will be with the ugly mark of extinction -- sadly, an occurrence that is still taking place under our watch even now.

We start with Kirtland's Warbler -- a species that a mere 50 years was headed to sure extinction with only 57 extant individuals left. 

This warbler is to Michigan what the Golden-cheeked Warbler is to Texas or the Red-faced Warbler is to Arizona -- best seen in that State and, as such, a much desired "specialty" species.

Kirtland's Warbler -- Male

Most birders are familiar with the comeback story of this species -- well intentioned environmental interventions by man to prevent forest fires actually resulted in habitat loss for the Kirtland's! 

Indeed, this warbler requires large areas of young Jack Pine forests to breed. And, forest fires are essential at regenerating the fresh growth of Jack Pines essential for nesting habitat.

Kirtland's Warbler -- Female
The other ecological threat to this warbler was brood parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird. The US Forest Service Rangers in Mio and Grayling construct traps for the Cowbirds to reduce their population to benefit the warblers.

Also in the area, Nashville Warbler was relatively common and offered ample opportunity for observation:

This is another handsome warbler with a prominent eyering that is found in both halves of the country.  The Western subspecies is brighter, has a different song and could be a candidate for a future split.

Other species observed included:

Brown thrasher

.. and Black-throated Green Warbler:

Man's interventions and intentional meddlings in Nature have had both constructive and destructive effects -- while the latter are generally well publicized (eg., oil spills in the Gulf, etc); it is imperative that the good work directed toward rebuilding habitat and restoring ecological balance be highlighted as well -- as this will serve to inspire and motivate the next generation of conservationists.


Bob Pelkey said...

Another fascinating report, Hemant, with very pleasing photography.

With your comment on the condition of Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Bachman's Warbler and Labrador Duck, you have additionally made reference to Ivory-billed Woodpecker and Imperial Woodpecker that seemingly have reached the same fate.

A compelling 2005 report from Arkansas noted an Ivory-billed Woodpecker was harassed by American Crows. Though there have been many other reports of the species as observed visually and audibly in Florida, it is unfortunate that there is no photographic documentation that would permit the American Birding Association to have the species considered other than extinct at this time.

The fate and possible continued existence of Imperial Woodpecker, which may have traveled as far north as southern Arizona, is quite interesting to investigate as well.

Digital Plume Hunter said...

Bob -- thanks for pointing out those examples. The Thick-billed Parrot is another species that earlier ranged in AZ, NM and TX before shooting and logging destroyed their habitat. All extinctions and extirpations that were preventable. It would be a huge boon if either woodpecker were found to be still extant.

Wishingnoni said...

Subpar pathetic photography couldn't be more dissapointed in you Hemant we expect more