Friday, May 23, 2014

Rare Bird - Kirtland's Warber

If you thought that the Nerds went to Ohio and stopped there, you are mistaken. We left Magee Marsh on Sunday and headed out to Michigan (another 4 hours in the car) to see a very rare bird - the Kirtland's Warbler. There are only about 2,000 of these birds in the world. The bird is rare due to it's limited geography for nesting and wintering sites. The warbler winters exclusively in the Bahamas and nests ONLY in certain pine forests in Michigan. Although it would probably be really cool to see one in Bahamas in January, Michigan is cheaper so we went to Michigan.

Nerds in Michigan
The best way to see the bird is to join an Audubon tour which takes you out to the nesting grounds. The tour starts at the Hartwick State Forest visitor center where we watched a short film about Kirtland's Warblers. It was eye opening. The film showed forest destruction by timber companies and fires devastating the landscape. All of which turned out to be GOOD for the warblers! Why? Because they only nest in areas where pine trees are between 5 and 20 feet tall. Once the trees get taller, the warblers won't breed there. They also rely on big territories of this habitat, which logging and fires provide. Here is a view of the nesting area. Not what you would expect for a warbler.

Jack Pine regrowth area
We went out to the field with the Audubon Naturalist and immediately heard a few Kirtland's singing. It was difficult to spot them but this guy popped into a bare tree for a bit. Can you see him? He is sitting on the left side.

Kirtland's Warbler

Here is a cropped shot. The photo is lousy, but you can see the bird singing. I would have liked a closer look but at least we saw one of the 2,000 remaining birds.
Kirtland's Warbler
The good news here is that the forest service is actively managing habitat for the warblers and the logging companies are making money too. A win-win situation. A few Kirtland's Warblers have even found nesting sites in Wisconsin and Ontario which is the first time ever recorded outside of Michigan. Both of those locations also have managed logging programs in place. Hopefully, this little warbler will continue to thrive.
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