At noon on Wednesday May 15, 2013 I had checked my email at work to find an amazing Ontbird Posting. Barb Charlton & David 'The Machine' Bell found a Kirtlands Warber in the far northwest corner of the park, not too distant from the front entrance gate. I figured there was no way I was going to find it after working into the afternoon and driving to Leamington. But, to my amazement, it was still in the area it had been reported when I arrived at the park, easily seen foraging high in the single row of trees lining Sanctuary Pond. A large group of birders (and park staff directing traffic) made finding the bird simple. It was very high in the trees during my time viewing the bird, and I just got a few decent ID shots of this rare beauty. Hundreds of people got a chance to see this rare bird so Barb and Dave... Thank You!
Migration path and the chances of seeing this bird outside of Michigan:
Even though this bird migrates from the Bahamas Archipelago through Georgia and the Carolinas up through Ohio and finally ending in the northern lower peninsula Michigan, it is very rarely seen in migration. Magee Marsh and Point Pelee though have the advantage of being a popular migrant stop, being geographically small, and having huge numbers of talented birders scouring the place. To find this one bird in Point Pelee National Park though still takes more than luck, you have to be a brilliant birder.
A Brief History of the Kirtland's Warbler:
Discovery in 1851 - A specimen was shot and collected on Dr. Jared Kirtland’s farm near Cleveland, Ohio(US FWS). The birds name obviously honours its finder . Oddly enough, 1851 was the year John James Audubon died. It must have been amazing to discover a new bird that was never described!
Wintering Grounds Found in 1879 - The winter range of the Kirtland's warbler was discovered in 1879 when a specimen was collected on Andros Island in the Bahama Islands archipelago.(Michigan DNR)
Breeding Grounds found in 1903 - It was not until 1903 that Norman A. Wood discovered the first nest in Oscoda County in northern lower Michigan (Michigan DNR).
Jack Pine Habitat Requirements:
-Requires pine habitat with trees between 6-20 years old.
-Prescribed burns (or logging) has provided more optimal breeding habitat for the birds.
-Kirtlands Warblers prefer a nesting site with Blueberry bushes as that is a favored fruit of this bird... cool!
-Michigan and US Wildlife employees have done an amazing job helping this bird's population recover.
-A successful breeding nest was discovered at Petawawa Ontario in 2007 (Drake).
Besides it habitat requirements, Cowbirds had been hurting the breeding success rates, so a successful cowbird management program has been put in place to reduce the numbers and increase the nest success for the Kirtlands Warbler. Nature lover and blogger Kristen Martin features some photos of the cowbird traps here.
Improved Outlook for the Future:
This chart below shows a trend in the number of singing male Kirtlands Warblers in Michigan. Since 1990, a continual increase in the number of singing males is evident. Props to Michigan and the US-FWS for putting resources towards saving this wonderful species. I'm just a humble birder from Ontario, but perhaps Michigan should consider changing its state bird from the American Robin to the Kirtlands Warbler? :-)
|Image Source: Michigan DNR|
Other birds seen on May 15th were this Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina)... I have not seen a northbound breeding-plumaged Cape May since May 1st, 2010 !!! Oddly, I have seen many southbound Cape May Warblers every year since.
|The Tiger-Warbler! (Setophaga tigrina)|
|How many Tern species do you see? Can you see the SB Dowitchers?|
|Blenheim SL - Finally figured out where the gate is after 4 entrance attempts!|
I had missed a Worm-eating Warbler by a five minutes again after seeing the Kirtlands Warbler, but, I can't complain. My friend Rick from Leamington reminds me when I miss a rarity is that I need to "save something for retirement". So, Worm-eating Warbler... we have a date for late April 2030!!!
USFWS, "Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii)",January 3, 2013 , WEB, May 16, 2013, http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/birds/Kirtland/kiwafctsht.html
Michigan DNR, "Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii)", ND, WEB, May 16, 2013
Drake Laura, "Endangered warbler found nesting in Petawawa, Canada.com, NOVEMBER 2, 2007, WEB, May 16, 2013, "http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=a111ac43-2210-4785-a2b5-cd118a102e1f
Lifer Summary: Kirtlands Warbler -332