Friday, August 1, 2014

Kirtland's Warbler and Karner Blue Butterfly - A trip to Pure Michigan

Karner Blue Butterfly at the Michigan Nature Association's Newaygo Karner Blue Sanctuary

There's an old saying in Michigan that goes like this: If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you! How true it is. I had two "bucket list" nature goals that have been bugging me - I wanted to really make an effort to see a Karner Blue butterfly, and I also wanted to see a Kirtlands Warbler in its breeding territory - Crawford County Michigan (Greyling Michigan).

Map of Karner Blue Sanctuary in Newaygo MI
Nom Nom Nom ...Monarch Caterpillars on its foodplant - Milkweed
Karner Blue Butterfly on Wild Lupine - Its larval foodplant
The Karner Blue is extirpated from Ontario [ROM link] and is endangered in most of its remaining range [see range map here]. One area that hosted the Karner Blue Butterfly was in Port Franks - Just north of the Pinery Provincial Park. 

I did not have much time to search for the Karner Blue butterfly so I stopped at one location that almost promised to host this endangered species: Michigan Nature Association's Karner Blue Sanctuary in Newaygo Michigan. Looking around, we saw many Monarch butterflies, some singles of American Copper and Grey Hairstreaks. I could have spent the afternoon at this sanctuary but almost upon finding my target species, my son declared that he had to go to the bathroom... So I tried my best to capture this rare butterfly with a brief 10 or so minutes of photography. This was the best I could do in my brief 10 minute stay... Oh the joys of parenthood!  The Karner Blue Sanctuary was beautiful ... but sadly, it was being overrun with Spotted Knapweed, an invasive flower that chokes out native plants... such as Wild Lupine.

Karner Blue Butterfly - Dorsal & Ventral Composite

Next stop was Greyling Michigan, which hosts the Kirtland's Warbler. A quick check of E-bird will give you some ideas of where to look. This bird was found pretty easily in a special forest of young Jack Pine trees with man made open areas.

Kirtland's Warbler in Greyling MI

Vesper Sparrow

Brown headed Cowbird Traps
Oval shaped opening in Jack Pine Habitat

Satellite view of Managed Kirtlands Forest Habitat along Fletcher Road. There were many oil derricks in the area (white patches on right)
When visiting Greyling, or any part of Northern Michigan, I think a good afternoon activity is to Kayak a local river. In Greyling, they have a beautiful, clear, meandering river called the Au Sable River. My son and I rented a two-person sit-on-top kayak and kayaked for about 2 hours down this river. Surrounded by nature, with towering white pines and singing Pine Warblers, It was beautiful!

Two hours on the Au Sable River in Greyling. Awesome.
White Pine along the Au Sable River

Mustard White Butterfly - one of the very few butterflies seen in Traverse City. A lifer though. I almost assumed that this was a Cabbage White that we often see in Essex, but its dorsal view had no black markings.

We also visited Traverse City Michigan for a few days. One highlight of Traverse City is its proximity to Sleeping Bear Dunes. Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of the most beautiful beaches in North America and is a stonghold for the great lakes population of Piping Plovers. According to USFWS: "In 2008, there were 63 breeding pairs (126 individuals) in the Great Lakes region. Of these, 53 pairs nested in Michigan, while 10 were found outside the state, including six pairs in Wisconsin and four in Ontario, Canada. A single breeding pair discovered in 2007 in the Great Lakes region of Canada represented the first confirmed piping plover nest there in over 30 years, and in 2008 the number of nesting pairs further increased to four. In 2009, a pair of piping plovers nested on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Illinois, the first nest in Illinois in 30 years" (USFWS).  I did attempt to visit one particular area where ebird had a sighting just days before my arrival (July 27th) but I was unable to find a piping plover at the Platt River Point area. A quick look at Ebird for Piping Plovers this year hinted that there were at least five sites in this park alone with breeding Piping Plovers.
450 ft dune!?!?

Lake Michigan
No Piping Plovers at Platt Point in late July

Just one last point - I couldn't help but notice beautiful pink flowers everywhere you look in northern michigan - the fields and roadsides all have this nice pink hue. Sadly, its Common Knapweed though, an invasive plant that chokes out native vegetation. Three ways that this plant is thriving:

  1. A tap root that sucks up water faster than the root systems of its neighbors
  2. Low palatability, meaning it is less likely to be chosen as food by herbivores
  3. It is also suspected to be allelopathic, releasing a toxin from its roots that stunts the growth of nearby plants of other species (Wikipedia)

Each Spotted Knapweed plant will produce over 900 seeds (

This plant was in the news at Point Pelee a few years ago, but now that I've seen how invasive and aggressive it is, I think its a good idea to get rid of this plant sooner then later.

To end this long posting, I had a great trip to Michigan and wanted to share some of the nature-based highlights of my trip. The northern half of the the lower peninsula of Michigan is so beautiful. Driving through the Manistee and Huron forests is breathtaking and its just hard to realize how much forest and wetland are still intact. Seeing the Karner Blue butterfly, even for a  fleeting few minutes was one of the best nature discoveries of the year for me.

Good Birding!

USWFS , "Piping Plover - Great Lakes Population", July 1, 2014
web, Aug 1 2014, 

More Reading:
ROM Karner Article

Karner Blue Sanctuary in Michigan

Karner Blue in Ohio

Spotted Knapweed

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Windsor LaSalle Butterfly Count 2014 (v2)

Monarch on Butterfly Milkweed - Butterfly watchers are happy to see a slight population rebound from last summer

Last July, I did a review of the Windsor LaSalle Butterfly count for 2013 [link]. So I figured I would continue tradition this year. This year's count took place on July 5th, 2014. I actually didn't officially take part in this year's count. My son had a soccer game on that Saturday morning but I was able to catch up with the butterfly census about an hour after it started at Brunet Park in LaSalle.

Its always fun to see a bunch of Hairstreaks nectaring on Butterfly Milkweed

Interesting Notes from this years survey:

  •  1,787 individuals of 49 species for the 2014 butterfly count (1,471  of 52 species in 2013)
  • 19 Monarch butterflies as opposed to last year's 3 Monarchs [link]! The 10 year running average for Monarchs is 32 for this count (source: I actually have finally seen a few Monarchs this year (starting with this recent count) at Ojibway and Point Pelee.
  • No American Coppers this year (I did see one earlier in the season though)
  • No Mulberry Winged Skippers this year- A species that I was going to really try to catch up with...
  • A worn Northern Oak Hairstreak was found at Brunet Park a new species for the count!
  • Edwards, Acadian, Coral and Banded Hairstreak are pretty easily found at Spring Garden area, and huge numbers of Hickory Hairstreaks were seen at Brunet Park in LaSalle this year (100+)
Here are some pictures I took while butterfly watching on or around the butterfly count...

At one point of our walk, we noticed a giant bumble bee nectaring on milkweed flowers, and then a second giant bumble bee... No... A Snowberry Clearing Moth nectaring on the same plant as a bumble bee! The Snowberry Clearwing moth is a bumble bee mimic and it was cool to see them nectaring side by side!

My son and I also went to Point Pelee after the butterfly count (July 6th) to see what we could find along East Beach ... Lots of butterflies were to be seen but highlights included 1-Pipevine Swallowtail and 4-Striped Hairstreaks.

Good Butterfly Watching!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Late June Lepidoptera Observations around Windsor

 Lepidoptera is a term coined by Carl Linnaeus in 1735. The term is derived from greek origins meaning "Scaled Wing". The photo above (Source: shows a scanning electron microscopy view of the scales on a butterfly wing at 50X through 5000X. The scales on the wings of butterflies have many functions: to attract mates, camoflage, mimicry, thermoregulation, insulation and pheromone production (wikipedia). (A small area on male butterfly wings called 'stigma' glands is what actually produces pheremones if I'm not mistaken). So when I go out birding, if I get a chance to get a good look at a butterfly, I take it! With the right optics, you can really get amazing views of the details, colours, patterns that butterflies provide. Some butterflies will allow close looks where you can almost grab them, and others will flutter away and keep a safe distance never to be seen again. I recall trying to find Hackberry Emporer butterflies at Point Pelee one summer, and while searching for one, one landed on me! I had another land on the dash of my car!

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better" - Albert Einstein.

Even with a cheap 55-250mm lens, you can actually see scale detail on butterflies if you get a good exposure. Do you know what butterfly this is?
My latest nature walks have focused on our local endowment of about 40-80 species of butterflies that can be found in Essex County (there are 174,250 species worldwide in the order of Lepidoptera). Right now (July) is prime time to go out and get a look at these fluttery beasts*! 

Red Admiral Butterfly - Dorsal and Ventral Composite

Red Admiral Butterfly. It took several exposures and adjustments on ISO, Aperture and shutter speed to get this shot! Once in a while a butterfly will afford you some time to capture it. This is the exception, not the norm though.

Hickory Hairstreak.  This rarity is pretty easily found at Brunet Park in Lasalle. This one only gave me 3 seconds of viewing.

This photo was of an obliging Banded Hairstreak. It was fresh and was nicely perched  at the forest edge sunning itself. Its hard to describe the colours you get from a fresh hairstreak. While moving its hindwings, it gives off a sheen of blue, purple and reddish copper colours. Brilliant!

The "hairstreaks" of a hairstreak butterfly is an example of self mimicry. A hungry bird wanting to eat this butterfly might be fooled into biting the wrong end of this butterfly - its non-vital hindwing, giving the butterfly one more chance to fly away and see another day.

Banded Hairstreak

Red Spotted Purple - A butterfly that mimicks the bad tasting Pipevine Swallowtail.  Its really a colour morph of the White Admiral butterfly!

Baltimore Checkerspot

Great spangled Fritillary on Purple Milkweed

My latest birding efforts have been good but nothing outside of what would be expected. I have seen and heard a great number of Great crested Flycatchers this summer at Ojibway, as well as Orioles, Indigo Buntings and Eastern Wood Peewees. One highlight from the third week of June was a group of five fledgling Green Herons at Ojibway (see below).

Five Green Heron Fledglings at Ojibway Park
American Toad 
So next time you're out in nature, take a second look at the lepidopteric gems that flutter about you. You just might be amazed at what you see! If you don't know what you are looking at consider getting a good field guide [link] .

Interested in joining a butterfly count in Essex? Read below for details of the Essex County butterfly count:

The Windsor Butterfly Count is being held Saturday, July 5 (2014). If you would like to attend we are meeting at 9:00 am at the Ojibway Nature Centre. We will then divide up into groups to cover the various parks and natural areas for butterflies.

Good Birding!

* "Fluttery Beasts" was a term coined by Ohio Blogger Jim McCormac. I must give him credit for that lexicographically brilliant description of butterflies.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival Birding - Catch up Tour (Day 4 of 4)

Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival Shirt Artwork
Brewers Sparrow

Editors Note:
This Sisters Oregon Woodpecker Posting is part of a 4-part series on my June 2014 trip
Day 1: Arrival & self guided touring
Day 2: Ochocos Tour 
Day 3: Black Butte Tour 
Day 4: Catch up Tour - Dry Creek Burn  ***]

The last of my three day Woodpecker Festival featured a "Catch up Tour" where festival participants requested various birds they were hoping to get. Most birders wanted to go where we went on Saturday, so we re-united with our guides from the previous day and had some fun exploring different areas. Some target species were mountain grouse, Hermit Warblers, Lewis's Woodpecker, and Pileated Woodpeckers. With those two woodpeckers, my total woodpecker species for this festival would hit the maximum 11 species mark.

Our first stop was an old burn that had now become a brushy field. Brewer's Sparrow and White crowned Sparrows were present. We noted the slight difference in Western White crowned Sparrows (see above), whose eye line is from the eye back. The western species essentially has white lores while the eastern species has a complete black eyeline! [compare]

Steller's Jay
We then continued on into some forest stopping at various spots seeing what was around. We found a Townsend's Warbler with a white belly, hinting that it was an "intergrade" - having traits from Hermit Warbler. Below, you will see a Hermit Warbler, which should have a white belly - having a yellow belly - showing features that Townsends Warbler may have passed on with some interbreeding. Common nighthawks were seen flying overhead as well.

Townsend's Warbler - Should have a yellowish breast
We saw our first Hermit Warbler - I was really happy to see this. This was one of the few lifers I had on my fourth day in Oregon. Very exciting to get all four target warblers!

Hermit Warbler

The Dry Creek Burn area had several Lewis's Flycatchers easily seen. When we were there, they were very active, flycatching and moving from snag to snag. These were not life birds, but still, breathtaking to see. Only nature could have come up with such a colour combination! Lazuli Buntings and Olive sided Flycatchers were singing and easily seen in the area as well. I saw several Stellar's Jays as well, but they were a little camera shy.

One last stop at Suttle Lake made one last try at seeing Pileated Woodpeckers - Mission Accomplished! We also saw more Hermit Warblers! The Hermit Warbler shown below has a yellowish breast - hinting of some genetic traits from Townsend's Warbler.

Hermit Warbler - with yellowish breast of a Townsend's Warbler

Hermit Warbler - My only lifer on day 4!

Red Crossbills (Type 2 – Ponderosa Pine Crossbill ) were seen almost daily on this trip
On Sunday afternoon, I was anxious about getting back to Portland to prepare for returning back to Detroit. I went to the Best Western Hotel in Sisters which sometimes hosts the local flock of Pinyon Jays but came up short. I also attempted to find Barrows Goldeneye, American Dipper and Vaux's Swifts while driving back but no luck!

The last four postings really detailed my Oregon trip and my personal birding highlights. I had a great trip and wanted to document what happened photographically and through my blog so that I would not forget about it and also to share the experience with my blog readers. Its expensive to travel, not just financially but environmentally, time not with family, opportunity costs abound ... so the least I can do is document my trip. I like knowing I can at any time go back and look at this trip, my old Florida trips, or my trip out to BC two years ago and easily re-live the highlights of those trips. This concludes my Oregon Trip to the Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival. If I had to rate this trip I would rate it.... 11 out of 11 Woodpeckers! ;-)

MacGillivray's Warbler at Black Butte Swamp

Rufous Hummingbird at Cold Springs Campground

Good Birding!

Life List Summary based on my 50 target birds (crossed out birds were missed):

1 American Dipper
2 Canyon Wren (#351)
3 Townsend's Solitaire (#352)
4 Sage Thrasher
5 Black-throated Gray Warbler (#353)
6 Townsend's Warbler (#354)
7 Hermit Warbler (#355)
8 MacGillivray's Warbler (#356)
9 Western Tanager (#357)
10 Green-tailed Towhee (#358)
11 Brewer's Sparrow (#359)
12 Sage Sparrow
13 Black-headed Grosbeak (#360)
14 Tricolored Blackbird (#361)
15 Bullocks Oriole(#362)
16 Cassin's Finch(#363)
17 Red Crossbill(#364)
18 Lesser Goldfinch
19 Cassin's Vireo(#365)
20 Pinyon Jay
21 Steller's Jay(#366)
22 Western Scrub-Jay(#367 - Seen while driving through Prineville)
24 Pygmy Nuthatch (#368)
25 Rock Wren(#369)
26 Northern Pygmy-Owl (#370)
27 Common Poorwill

28 Vaux's Swift

29 Anna's Hummingbird
30 Calliope Hummingbird (#371)
31 Gray Jay
32 Williamson's Sapsucker (#372)
33 Red-naped Sapsucker (#373)
34 Red-breasted Sapsucker(#374)
35 White-headed Woodpecker(#375)
36 Hammond's Flycatcher(#376)
37 Gray Flycatcher(#377)
38 Dusky Flycatcher(#378)
40 Ferruginous Hawk

41 Prairie Falcon

42 Snowy Plover

44 Cinnamon Teal (#379)
45 Barrows Goldeneye

46 Sooty Grouse
47 Clark’s Grebe (#380)
48 Ruffed Grouse

49 western screech
50 White throated swift (#381)
51-Barn Owl(#382)
52-Band tailed Pigeon (#383)
53- American Three toed Woodpecker (#383)

Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival Websites:

PS: I photographed and attempted to identify some butterflies while in the Sisters Oregon area. The eight or so species below were photographed in Central Oregon.

Becker's White - Seen at Smith Rock State Park

Nelson's Hairstreak?

California Tortoiseshell

Pale Swallowtail - Common around Sisters Oregon

Hoary Comma
Great Arctic
Two banded Checkered Skipper
Ancilla dotted Blue - Smith Rock State Park


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