Thursday, July 09, 2009

The bird no one knows

Our nation's list of imperiled species includes some celebrities... sexy ones like the Whooping Crane and the Florida Panther.

Most, however, are virtually unknown.

The Kirtland's Warbler, one of the rarest of songbirds, is a specialist and nests only within a very particular habitat.

The habitat itself, even, is imperiled.

The scrubby, non-descript trees that emerge from sandy and fire-scorched terrain in isolated parts of Michigan are the bird's touchstone. Jack Pines, like the Pitch Pines more familiar to me, require fire for regrowth.

Fire isn't very popular in residential or commercial or agricultural areas, but the Kirtland's depend on the mosaic of changes inherent in the destruction and subsequent renewal caused by fire.

They nest only in those areas where fire has created the conditions that select for early successional plants... plants that typify a pine barrens community. Without proper management, gradually the Jack Pines grow too tall, the canopy closes in and the grassy understory where they build their nests disappears because of low light levels.

The birds move elsewhere... or try to. Aggressive management has allowed for the hope of recovery and populations are increasing.

None of this has anything to do with what it felt like to wander in those pine plains searching for a Kirtland's.

This is not a bird that I'd hoped ever to know.

The Kirtland's is near mythic among birders and the makings of a pilgrimage for many.

I was just along for the ride.

Please click on the pic! It's one of only a dear dozen or so and is especially sweet because he's carrying food in his beak.

10 comments:

KatDoc said...

Oooh, boy - I get to be first!

Gotta love the Kirtland's Warbler. So elusive and rare. Most people have to make the trip you just did to see one; I was lucky enough to pick up a first year male KIWA at Magee Marsh this spring.

Great pic, Laura - show us more?

~Kathi

Dave said...

None of this has anything to do with what it felt like to wander in those pine plains searching for a Kirtland's.
Does this mean we can expect a follow-up post, I hope?

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

That's a beautiful photo Laura.

Susan Gets Native said...

Lucky you!

Rabbits' Guy said...

That is a great picture and recounting. I lived many years in that area of Michigan when the Kirtland protection efforts began .. they have been in process a long time and have been successful .. the demise of the little guy was predicted often!

One of the fun and happy stories from Michigan!

The Jack Pine cones need the heat from fires to open and free the seeds too.

KGMom said...

It is amazing that this particular bird evolved to require such a specialized environment.

bobbie said...

What an interesting story. And a really nice photo. A pretty little bird.

Carolyn H said...

Oh, one of these years I hope to make a trip for Kirtland's warbler. What a little beauty.

Carolyn H.

John said...

The photo has a very dreamy feel to it. I'm glad you got to see a Kirtland's.

MojoMan said...

What a wonderful experience! I'm happy for you, and a little envious.

Do the NJ pine barrens have any birds unique to them?