Sunday, June 8, 2014

On the Special K-bird Trail

Kirtland's Warbler. Sure everybody wants to see this gorgeous blue and yellow bird of the Michigan pines!  I have been fortunate to see a few in my days, but a recent trip to Michigan multiplied that number substantially. So here are the pro-tips for finding America's rarest warbler.

1.  Fly.  If it is an option I suggest flying to Michigan, as it saves a six hour car ride!  My favorite means of transportation is Annie Mae. We were there in a few short hours.

 2. Head N-W, as the Crow flies, or any bird for that matter, it is fairly short trip from Port Clinton, Ohio to Grayling, Michigan.  Grayling and Mio are ground-zero for the breeding grounds of Kirtland's Warblers.

Good-bye Port Clinton and Catawba Island!  This is the most scenic portion of the journey, as the next leg takes us on a course between Toledo, Ohio and Detroit. Michigan.  I wish I could have seen those areas pre-settlement.

3. Pines, now this is more like it.  We have now entered Michigan's land of the Kirtland's Warbler.  Even aged Jack Pine, Pinus banksiana forests are the only breeding sites for the ground nesting Kirtland's.  The preferred pine is young, between 6-12 years, for a prime canopy dense enough to hide the much-sought warbler.

4. Sand botany is a huge part of this Kirtland's equation.  The diminutive Jack Pine, often stunted in growth, grows in sandy regions. It rarely reaches 50 ft in height. It was once thought to poison the ground on which it grows, as few plants are found in conjunction with the pine.  However, we noted thick mats of Sand Cherry and Blueberries growing in abundance. Another plant species requires a disturbance to set-up shop in this dense eco-system. Bird-foot Violet, Viola pedata is only found growing in the middle of the sandy roads we traveled through the forests.

The leaves of Bird-foot Violet, Viola pedata.
 Aptly named, this unusual violet has leaves that resemble tiny bird's feet!

Bird-foot Violet is a favorite of Ohio's botanists, as we only find it in a few counties, predominately the sand barrens of the Oak Openings and in Scioto and Adams County.  

It is only fitting that a rare plant should point the way to one of American ornithologist's favorite birds- the Kirtland's Warbler!

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