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Monday, October 26, 2020

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: Plovers in Peril

[Glen Arbor, Lake Michigan. July 2020]

This blogger has been fortunate in the many occasions that have afforded observation of wintering plovers at several remarkable shorebird sites in Southwest Florida such as Bunche Beach, Carlos Pointe, Little Estero Lagoon and Tigertail Beach resulting in previous posts such as this one

Invariably, a sighting of the Piping Plover among the shorebirds has always been deemed rather special given the multitude of perils they face earning them the unfortunate distinction of being the most endangered among our plover species. Naturally, seeing the Piping Plover at its wintering grounds has inevitably raised the question -- where do these prettiest of American plovers spend their summers?

Research reveals that Piping Plovers have 3 breeding populations in the US: the Atlantic coast, Great Plains and Great Lakes. Of these, the Great Lakes population is the smallest and the most fragile. Accordingly, a trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to see breeding Great Lakes Piping Plover was planned and what ensues is a photographic essay of the area species thus encountered with the centerpiece, of course, belonging deservedly to the Piping Plover.

An unbroken collar and headband mark this dainty plover in its breeding prime. Pale underparts and sandy upperparts work in tandem to make it virtually invisible against the sandy shore. 

Flying long distance on their migration route is only one of the the many hazards these plovers face in Spring. Once they arrive at their nesting grounds on the pristine beaches of the Great Lakes, it unfortunately marks the beginning of warmer weather, and with it, commences a relentless plague of further disturbance and harassment. Mindless recreationists, boisterous beachgoers, marauding dogs; charging children -- all vying to inflict the maximum physical and psychological damage on the nesting shorebirds as they seek to outdo each other in the crudity and severity of their antics while the plovers work desperately to secure the safety of the next generation.

And, here is the fruit of their tender love and care: adorable Piping chicks that look like cottonwool balls on matchsticks. 

Farther away from the shore, forested areas were productive for songbirds such as warblers and others.

First, Canada Warbler: A specialty warbler known for its unparalleled "necklace" of streaks radiating from a black collar.

The male's song is loud and consists of sweetly jumbled warbles of joy:



Other species observed included: Eastern Kingbird:

This is a familiar tyrant flycatcher known for its bold, aggressive behavior in defending its territory.

White-throated Sparrow:

This sparrow was singing the new version of its song as profiled in this article

On the drive back from Lake Michigan, we passed through the fabled nesting territory of Kirtland's Warbler:

Coincidentally, one of the things the Kirtland's shares with Piping Plover is the choice of wintering grounds -- the Bahamas. While the latter also overwinters on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, the entire global population of Kirtland's warbler is found in the Bahamas in winter.

The male was seen in close vicinity of the female as well.

The Great Lakes are deserving of the epithet "Great" not because of their enormity but because of the critical habitats they provide to iconic species that are nourished under their protection. And, nothing personifies the unique ecology of the region than the American crown jewel of plovers: the Piping Plover.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

A Decade in the Making: To See All US Warblers!

[US states and territories. 2007 to 2019]

This blogger's first warbler Lifer was a Yellow Warbler observed on May 12th, 2007 in Michigan.  But it wasn't until 2010 (barring a wintering Black-and-white lifer seen in Southwest Florida in 2009), that a maiden May trip to Magee Marsh resulted in the following 6 additional Lifers:

  1. Chestnut-sided
  2. Black-throated Blue
  3. Blackpoll
  4. Magnolia
  5. American Redstart
  6. Canada Warbler
The magic of warbler mania at Magee in 2010 was addictive and this migration hotspot became firmly cemented as an annual rite of Spring on this blogger's birding calendar. 

Having taken 3 years to get to 8, the lifers would steadily accumulate by 47 more warblers over a long period of nine years. When the lifelist finally hit 55 warblers by 2019, it marked the glorious culmination of a quest to photodocument all regularly occurring warblers in the US. 

Indeed, this goal was substantially complete by 2013 but the last few stragglers remained elusive; and, the final capstone warbler species -- the notorious Connecticut Warbler -- finally relented by offering a quick observation opportunity in 2019. As the archetypical nemesis bird, the Connecticut sighting broke a 3-year curse of zero warbler lifers in 2016, 2017 and 2018.  

How did this quest unfold? Many species can be observed in migration at Magee Marsh (Northwest Ohio). However, many others demand unqualified obeisance on their own turf. Trips were planned and travel ensued to San Antonio, TX (Golden-cheeked), Southern Virginia (Swainson's), the Chisos Mountains (Colima), the Arizona Sky Islands (Red-faced Warbler, Olive Warbler and other specialties), Alaska (Orange-crowned) and Puerto Rico (Adelaide's and Elfin-woods). 

The tally by Warbler lifers by year:
  • 2007: 1 lifer 
  • 2009: 1 lifer
  • 2010: 7 lifers
  • 2011: 11 lifers
  • 2012: 14 lifers
  • 2013: 15 lifers
  • 2014: 3 lifers
  • 2015: 2 lifers
  • 2016: 0
  • 2017: 0
  • 2018: 0
  • 2019: 1 lifer
And, here is the detail on how we got here:

#Species1st Seen DateLocationWarbler Lifers in the YearYear
1Yellow5/2007Seven Ponds, MI12007
2Black-and-white1/2009Corkscrew, FL12009
3Chestnut-sided5/2010Magee Marsh, OH
4Black-throated Blue5/2010Magee Marsh, OH
5Blackpoll5/2010Magee Marsh, OH
6Magnolia5/2010Magee Marsh, OH
7American Redstart5/2010Magee Marsh, OH
8Canada Warbler5/2010Magee Marsh, OH
9Palm10/2010Carlos Pointe, FL72010
10Common Yellowthroat4/2011El Moro, CA
11Bay-breasted5/2011Magee Marsh, OH
12Black-throated Green5/2011Magee Marsh, OH
13Blackburnian5/2011Magee Marsh, OH
14Cape May5/2011Magee Marsh, OH
15Nashville5/2011Magee Marsh, OH
16Northern Parula5/2011Magee Marsh, OH
17Northern Waterthrush5/2011Magee Marsh, OH
18Ovenbird5/2011Magee Marsh, OH
19Prothonotary5/2011Magee Marsh, OH
20Pine11/2011Corkscrew, FL112011
21Hooded4/2012Magee Marsh, OH
22Louisiana4/2012Corkscrew, FL
23Myrtle4/2012Magee Marsh, OH
24Kirtland's5/2012Magee Marsh, OH
25Tennessee5/2012Magee Marsh, OH
26Wilson's5/2012Magee Marsh, OH
27Blue-winged6/2012Port Huron SGA, MI
28Mourning6/2012Port Huron SGA, MI
29Prairie6/2012Corkscrew, FL
30Orange-crowned7/2012Anchorage, AK
31Audubon's11/2012Pillar Pt, CA
32Yellow-throated11/2012Corkscrew, FL
33Black-throated Grey12/2012Sabino Canyon, AZ
34Painted Redstart12/2012Sabino Canyon, AZ142012
35Lucy's3/2013Sabino Canyon, AZ
36Grace's4/2013Mt. Lemmon, AZ
37Olive4/2013Mt. Lemmon, AZ
38Cerulean5/2013Magee Marsh, OH
39Golden-winged5/2013Magee Marsh, OH
40Hermit5/2013Mt. Ord, AZ
41Kentucky5/2013Magee Marsh, OH
42Red-faced5/2013Mt. Lemmon, AZ
43Townsend's5/2013Mt. Ord, AZ
44Virginia's5/2013Mt. Ord, AZ
45Worm-eating5/2013Magee Marsh, OH
46Yellow-breasted Chat7/2013Big Bend, TX
47Adelaide's9/2013Cabo Rojo, PR
48MacGillivray's9/2013Sweetwater Wetlands, AZ
49Elfin Woods10/2013Maricao, PR152013
50Swainson's4/2014Great Dismal Swamp, VA
51Colima6/2014Big Bend, TX
52Golden-cheeked6/2014San Antonio, TX32014
53Lawrence's5/2015Port Huron SGA, MI
54Brewster's6/2015Port Huron SGA, MI22015
55Connecticut5/2019Magee Marsh, OH12019

Note: these were all found on US territory (Adelaide's and Elfin-woods are in Puerto Rico). Some warblers are no longer placed in Parulidae (eg., Olive, Yellow-breasted Chat) while some are considered subspecies but once had full-species status (ie., Myrtle and Audubon's) and finally, some are hybrids (Brewster's and Lawrence's).

Among acclaimed birding personalities, some have seen all species in their home state; others, their home country; still others have towering lifelists that span the globe. In humble comparison, photodocumenting all 55 US warbler species is no feat of mastery, yet in its own meager way, it is nevertheless a notable, perhaps even celebratable, marker in this blogger's pursuit of a passion in birding.  

Thus, without further ado, we now present the 55 in alphabetical order (see also the blogger's Flickr album):


American Redstart




Black-throated Blue

Black-throated Green

Black-throated Gray






Cape May




Common Yellowthroat











Louisiana Waterthrush







Northern Parula

Northern Waterthrush




Painted Redstart












Yellow-breasted Chat



While passion can fuel such a quest, it must be kept in mind that birding as a process and activity cannot be circumscribed by mere metrics or milestones. Nevertheless, a goal, however inconsequential it may appear to others, can hold tremendous significance in one's own birding development. And, such was indeed the case with the observation of this blogger's 55th warbler -- a Connecticut -- which marked the culmination of a long cherished quest to see all warbler species in the US.