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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Highlights from the Land of the Kirtland's Warbler

[Kalkaska Co. June 2016]

To pay homage to one of the outstanding conservation success stories of the 20th century, it is necessary to undertake an ecological pilgrimage to Northern Michigan. Here, it is possible to witness America's rarest warbler -- the Kirtland's -- a striking songbird which had a terrifying flirtation with extinction 
in the 1970's when the global population plummeted to the low hundreds.

For a country with a bloody and ignominious history of shooting species to ruthless extinction (eg., Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, etc.), recovering our extant at-risk species from the precipice of extinction is a much needed act of ecological redemption. 

And, the success of the Kirtland's Warbler conservation program shows not only what determined conservationists can accomplish, but also what "could have been" had we acted with equal urgency in saving, say, the Bachman's Warbler for instance.

For this reason, it is recommended, nay, required, that every American birder undertake this pilgrimage to Northern Michigan -- and, appreciate not only the warbler, but also what it took to save it. 

Thus, in this humble spirit, we present the Kirtland's Warbler and other species that were observed in the Kalkaska County area:

  • Kirtland's Warbler
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Cedar Waxwing
We start with Kirtland's Warbler (observed at Fletcher Rd):

A male seen in his prime -- Kirtland's Warblers are extremely picky about where they breed and the key requirement is for young Jack Pine habitat..

The female is a paler version of the male (see above):

Next, Northern Waterthrush (observed, like all the following species, on Sunset Trail). This distinctive warbler is unique in its habits and, while drab, has a beautiful song:

Black-and-white Warbler is one of the few warblers whose winter range also encompasses the US (i.e., S. Florida). Here, in breeding plumage, the black cheeks and chin are striking:

A second individual was also observed at this venue:

Nashville Warbler is a warbler found in both the West and East:

There are subtle differences between the Western and Eastern populations in both song and plumage brightness. 

Other birds included:

Red-breasted Nuthatch:

Breeding Brown Thrasher:

And, Cedar Waxwing:

The conservation success of the Kirtland's Warbler is much heralded -- and, rightly so. With a rebounded population, the Kirtland's Warbler is re-establishing itself in its historical range in Wisconsin and Ontario -- providing the birders there the ability to enjoy what had previously been an exclusive Michigan privilege -- to observe the rarest of American warblers in its natural breeding habitat.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Prime Pickings at Pinckney: Cerulean Warbler, Scarlet Tanager and Yellow-throated Vireo

[Pinckney RA. May/June 2016]

Spring Migration is a flash in the proverbial pan -- lasting but a month in the annual birding calendar (running from late April through late May here in Michigan). Yet in this relative short amount of time, the migration season packs a disproportionate punch when it comes to species diversity, numbers and, most importantly, a remarkable ease in observation.

Indeed, it is in these frenetic days that a grand parade of neotropical delights ensues at hotspots across the country -- fueling the avid birder's breathless excitement at the steady cadence of avian arrivals: first wrens, sparrows, nuthatches and blackbirds; followed by warblers, thrushes, finches and then tanagers and flycatchers. To be blind to the movement of this "feathered current" as it flows from South America and spills into our lands here in North America would surely be the gravest of travesties for not only birders but indeed all lovers of nature in North America.

In this post we explore a few hotspots (Hankerd Rd, Park Lyndon and Stinchfield Woods) in Pinckney Recreation Area (Washtenaw County) in late May and early June just as arriving species are starting to settle in from their long journeys from tropical America and are beginning to establish their breeding territories. And, in doing so, these neotropical species effect the dramatic transformation of our verdant forests into gardens of colorful feathered blossoms such as the following spectacular species:
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Cerulean Warbler
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Eastern Wood Pewee
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Hooded Warbler
  • Pine Warbler
We start with Hankerd Rd:

What would our Eastern Forests be without the flashy Scarlet Tanager? Superlatives fail us in doing justice to the tanager's liquid song and eye-blinding plumage:

This treasured visitor from S. America is our welcome guest for the Summer -- without it, our forests would be infinitely poorer.

Our next species, also observed at Hankerd Rd., while not exactly an explosion of color, is nonetheless brilliant in elegant tones of pale blue and light grey:

Blue-Grey Gnatcatchers, unlike Beeeaters, are misnomered having no particularly affinity for consuming gnats. Yet, these exclusive-to-the-New-World songbirds are energetic insect foragers that rarely pause to offer satisfactory observation.

The pale blue of the Gnatcatcher is no match for the dazzling indigo of our next bird -- the aptly named Indigo Bunting:

 Moving on to our next venue -- Park Lyndon:

Here, we start with the Cerulean Warbler:

Is there a more dazzling warbler? Certainly -- the Blackburnian and the Magnolia outshine the Cerulean. None, however, combines the aesthetics of white, sky blue and dark blue so perfectly; and, for this reason, the Cerulean is considered America's most beautiful warbler.

Chestnut-sided Warbler was observed as well -- unlike the Cerulean which favors the high canopy, the Chestnut-sided can be seen in shrubs and bushes:

A pair of raucous Yellow-throated Vireos were seen at Park Lyndon as well:

Our final species from Park Lyndon is Eastern Wood Pewee:

Now over to Stinchfield Woods:

Black-throated Green Warbler is hard to confuse in its range. Yes -- there are similarities with Golden-cheeked Warbler -- but this is a range-restricted species of Texas not to be expected anywhere else.

In addition to Hooded Warbler (seen distantly, above), a very handsome Pine Warbler was also spied at Stinchfield Woods:

The Magic of Migration doesn't end with Spring -- indeed, it marks a new period in which breeding species may be observed without fuss or fear. These prime avian pickings at Pinckney will be around long enough to raise the next generation of songbirds who will, like their parents, be dual citizens of both hemispheres of the New World.