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Kirtland’s Warbler – Crane Creek, Ohio!

This morning @ 9:15 AM Kenn Kaufman found a 2Y male Kirtland’s Warbler along the beach at Crane Creek. I was notified immediately by his Twitter posting which I have texting my cell phone! I rushed out from East Cleveland as soon as I was able to and arrived just before dusk. The large group of people still observing the KIWA got me on the bird immediately and I was able to capture some stunning images before the sun set in the distance.

Here’s an excerpt from Kenn’s blog:

“At about 9:15 a.m. I was lucky enough to find a male Kirtland’s Warbler. I was luckier still that it stayed around: I sent out the word via Twitter and cell phone, hundreds of people arrived during the next four hours while I was there, and it was still being seen after 4:30 pm. The location was along the east (wildlife) beach about 300 yards east of the parking lot. The bird was feeding low for the entire time, sometimes hopping on the ground, sometimes foraging among low branches of sumacs or willows, or even among brush piles. Often it was amazingly easy to see, and several times it flew toward crowds of people and foraged unconcernedly within a few yards of its admirers. I’m sure it was seen by over a thousand birders, and undoubtedly tens of thousands of photos were taken; this is probably the most-photographed Kirtland’s Warbler in history!”

Photos!

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler

 

Posted by on May 14, 2010 in Photography Adventures

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Michigan – Lower Peninsula

I got into Detroit around 4PM last Friday and immediately embarked on my 3.5 hour drive up to Grayling, MI in the Northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Since the sun doesn’t set until well after 9PM at these latitudes I decided to check out some known nesting locations for Kirtland’s Warbler around Mio. I didn’t have much luck but I did get some nice photos of Common Nighthawks flying around.

Common Nighthawk
Common Nighthawk

Saturday morning I took the Kirtland’s Warbler tour out of Grayling (offered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service). You can read more about the Kirtland’s Warbler tour here.

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler

Since it was still relatively early in the day when the tour ended I decided to check out some spots for Upland Sandpiper and other nesting specialties in
Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. I never did locate any Uplands but had a nice adult Bald Eagle fly over me as I was driving down the highway. I also found a Brown Thrasher that was presumably bringing food to recently hatched chicks.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

Brown Thrasher
Brown Thrasher

I encountered a few other areas that were designated as Kirtland’s Warbler nesting locations but I never heard or saw any. Being mid-day probably contributed to lack of any noticeable activity. Between the abundance of Jack Pine stands were large parcels cleared for local oil drilling. These areas supposedly had nesting Upland Sandpipers but I never did find any.


Oil Rig


Kirtland’s Warbler Jack Pine Habitat

I decided to throw in the towel on the Upland Sandpiper for the time being and head over to Rifle Recreation Area which was just East of Rose City. The area was primarily a migrant hotspot but they claimed to have nesting Olive-sided Flycatchers. I’ve been trying to get better photos of them for a while with no luck and today was no different. The park did offer some great scenery though.


Rifle Recreation Area

I took a quick nap in the car because I was working off a few hours sleep over the past few days – not going to bed until close to midnight and waking up (essentially) 2AM Pacific Time catches up with you. I decided one last futile attempt for Upland Sandpiper by checking out areas of Amish farmland north of Mio. It was pretty overcast and drizzled off and on but that didn’t matter much since I never found any Uplands. I did encounter a few displaying male Bobolinks along the sides of the roads.


Amish Horse Carriage

That afternoon I met up with some friends from Houston, TX. They had spent the past few days in the UP (Upper Peninsula) and had spectacular luck in finding Connecticut Warbler, Black-backed Woodpecker, Ruffed and Spruce Grouse and many other great birds. I just wish I was able to fly up mid-week to bird with them up there!

Since I didn’t get to meet up with them until late afternoon I decided to take them back to the Kirtland’s Warbler spot where I had photographed the male earlier that day. For the most part the weather was sunny and I was able to get a few more nice shots before the storm clouds started rolling in close to dusk.

On Sunday, we decided to work our way back down the “coast” toward Detroit since my flight was at 7:30PM that evening. Checked a few local hotspots for nesting Black Terns, Yellow Rails and Sedge Wrens. Unfortunately we started a bit late so we never heard any Yellow Rails calling. We did find nesting Swamp Sparrows and lots of calling Sedge Wrens (that didn’t seem to want to come out of the reeds).

Trumpeter Swan
Trumpeter Swan

Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane

Swamp Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow

We also checked a local hotspot for nesting Northern Goshawk, Yellow-throated Vireos, Red-headed Woodpeckers and many other Eastern passerines. We heard many Red-headed Woodpeckers calling in the area but never saw any. An over abundance of Red-eyed Vireos, Warbling Vireos and a single Yellow-throated Vireo. A Scarlet Tanager was also calling in full song nearby. We even spooked a Badger that was foraging in the leaves.

Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanager

Yellow-throated Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo

Badger
Badger

Last stop was Tawas Point (about 3 hours north of Detroit) along the coast of Lake Huron to look for Piping Plovers. I found the area where they were supposed to be nesting and there was a nice sign warning people to not enter during the nesting season months…but unfortunately there were two guys windsurfing along the beach so obviously nothing was there!!


Piping Plover Nesting Area


Lake Huron Coastline

There were lots of nesting Cliff Swallows in the area though. A couple of Bank Swallows flew by – too quickly to get any photos though.

Cliff Swallow
Cliff Swallow

 

Posted by on June 16, 2009 in Photography Adventures

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Bird of Fire

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler

The Kirtland’s Warbler, a federally listed endangered species, is one of the world’s rarest birds. Their numbers dwindled to less than 167 singing males just 20 years ago! Their only consistent breeding grounds are in the 6000 sq. mile Au Sable River drainage area in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. This area is unique in many ways most of which due to the soil composition which is sandy. Defined as Grayling Sand, it is the only suitable soil that Jack Pines flourish in.

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler

These birds are sometimes referred to as the “bird of fire” because they nest only in young Jack Pine forests of 40+ acres which require intense heat to open the cone and release seeds. Kirtland’s numbers plummeted when there were fewer fires causing their desired nesting areas to decline substantially. They will only nest on the ground in large areas of young Jack Pine forest that are between five and 20 feet tall, preferably with extremely high densities of trees. The low branches on the young trees protect the nest from predators. When the trees reach about 15 years of age the branches at the bottom begin to die, leaving the nests exposed. Kirtland’s find these trees undesirable for nesting.


Jack Pine (typical age/height for nesting)

In addition to the decline in habitat, Brown-headed Cowbirds have posed an additional threat to successful nesting. The Kirtland’s Warbler is extremely susceptible to nest parasitizing by Cowbirds which lay their eggs in “host” nests forcing the parents to feed young which are not their’s. Thanks to human intervention, Cowbird numbers are being managed and far less nests are being parisitized by Cowbirds.


A Protected Species


Cowbird Trap

This bird was first discovered in 1851 by noted Ohio naturalist Dr. Jared P. Kirtland when it was collected near Cleveland. In 1879 it was discovered to winter on the Bahama Islands in areas that contain low scrub. But the nesting range was not discovered until sometime around 1900 when some trout fishermen heard an unfamiliar bird singing in the Jack Pine barrens along the Au Sable River. Norman A. Wood, then University of Michigan curator of birds, is credited for finding and identifying the first nest in Michigan in 1903.


Range Map

Male Kirtland’s warblers arrive back in Michigan from the Bahamas between May 3 and May 20, a few days ahead of the females. The males establish and defend territories and then court the females when they arrive. As the female builds a nest of leaves and grass, lined with mosses or deer hair, the male begins to bring her food. This duty continues through laying and the incubation process, with which the males rarely help. Four to five cream white eggs speckled and blotched with brown are laid in late May, followed by an incubation of 13-16 days. Both parents feed the chicks, which grow quickly and have left the nest within nine days, staying in the undergrowth and lowest branches of the trees. Within five weeks, the parents have ceased feeding their young.

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler

The efforts of the US Fish and Wildlife and various other organizations have helped significantly. Numbers of singing males are over 2,000 in recent counts and Kirtland’s Warblers have been documented as nesting in various counties in Wisconsin, Minnesota and the latest being Canada.


Nesting Map by County

The US Fish and Wildlife Service offers tours departing from Grayling, MI and Mio, MI during mid-May through the end of June and is probably your best chance at seeing this rare and endangered bird. The said chance at seeing a Kirtland’s Warbler on one of these tours is greater than 90%.


Fish and Wildlife Tour

 

Posted by on June 15, 2009 in Photography Adventures

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