Skip to main content

Kirtland's Warbler

This is one of North America's true warbler Meccas: the sandy jack pine country of the upper lower peninsula of Michigan. And for one reason, the federally endangered Kirtland's Warbler. At a glance, it doesn't look like great warbler country. Dwarf pine carpet dry sandy soils, and there's scarcely a broad-leaved deciduous tree to be found.

We visited a promising area near Grayling, and it didn't take long to score. The birds are quite finicky about their habitat preference, utilizing Jack Pines from 5 to about 15 feet in height. Kirtland's Warblers are not exactly shrinking violets, and have loud rollicking songs that almost sound as if they run the tune through a Marshall amp with a tinge of reverb.

A bit of poking around and perseverance and we were rewarded with good looks at a singing male. There were at least three others in earshot, too.
By the 1970's, numbers of this exceedingly rare warbler had crashed. Less than 200 singing males were present. A better understanding of the bird's habitat requirement led to better management, and last year there were over 2,500 singing males. A heavy hand with Brown-headed Cowbird control has also been vital to the restoration of Kirtland's Warbler.


This is the magical tree in the land of the Kirtland's Warbler: Jack Pine, Pinus banksiana. Those tough little cones require heat to unseal the gummy pitch that shutters the scales, so that seeds can be released. Fire management does this, and burning is the tool that has spiked the warbler population.
Jack Pine "barrens" are anything but barren. It had been a while since I've roamed these haunts, and I was struck by the diversity of flora growing throughout the pine stands. And staggered by the number of moths. They were everywhere, obvious even on a bright sunny day. Of course, all of those moths are producing boatloads of caterpillars, and that's what is fueling these warblers. By the time the pine stands get into their late teens, they have begun shading out the understory, reducing plant diversity, and consequently moth numbers.

Comments

Jana said…
Cool. I just read about that area in Luke Dempsey's book A Supremely Bad Idea: Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See It All, and I didn't really know what the habitat looked like. I'm trying to remember if that's where they were attacked by mosquitoes.

Thanks for your timely photos.
Dave Lewis said…
Oh, I'm jealous! i feel a road trip coming on...
dAwN said…
Oh..Excellent..yeah Kirklands!

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.


So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…