A grand show - Birders of all experience levels cherish annual “warbler time”

Press Staff Writer

        It is time. Warbler time – a time that dedicated birders, beginners, and first timers all cherish.
        It’s easy around here. There’s no better place to enjoy our magnificent songbird migration than such nearby places like Magee Marsh, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Howard Marsh Metropark, Maumee Bay State Park and Pearson Metropark. Even our backyards and the woodlot down the street can be productive this time of year.
        It’s a grand show and most birders would tell you that the various species of the colorful warblers are the stars of the show. And among those stars the one that causes the most buzz is the Kirtland’s warbler. Not because it’s the most attractive, though it’s no piker when it comes to looks.
        The Kirtland’s is rare, and rarely seen. And that’s part of the fun of it. Whether seen or not, the joy is in the search and seeing dozens of other cool and often colorful species in the process.
        If the goal is to sight as many species as possible in a day this is a great place. Experienced birders can log 100 species or more in a single day.
        But if it’s a Kirtland’s that’s longed for, there is a place that seeing this rarity is a virtual slam dunk. It requires some advance planning but it’s well worth the effort.
        Kirtland’s pass through our area on the way north to their primary nesting grounds in Michigan. They’re very picky about their nesting habitat. Most of them end up in the jack pine stands near Grayling in Michigan’s northern lower peninsula, which not so long ago was the last refuge for the endangered warbler. Those large stands are intensively managed especially for their specific nesting needs.
        It’s that intensive management that has brought the Kirtland’s back from the brink of extinction and helped the Kirtland’s population increase. Thirty-five years ago, their world population had dropped to an estimated 200 nesting pairs. Last year’s census recorded 2,245 pairs, the huge majority calling the managed young jack pine stands in Huron-Manistee National Forest as their home.
        Those grounds are closed to the public during the Kirtland’s nesting season, but with advance planning there is a way to see them. Michigan Audubon, in cooperation with Hartwick Pines State Park, offers guided tours into the nesting habitat from May 28 through June 30. Online preregistration is essential for the tours, which are offered daily at 7 a.m., with a second tour available on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. The tours are based out of Hartwick Pines.
        The cost is $10 per person, and you must have a Michigan State Park Recreation Pass to enter the state park. Tours are limited to 20 people and the times fill quickly. Groups of 10 or more can contact Michigan Audubon at events@MichiganAudubon.org to schedule a private weekday tour.
        Hartwick Pines State Park is located about 3.5 hours north of our area, just north of Grayling, Michigan off I-75. For more information and questions about the Kirtland warblers tours, contact events@michiganaudubon.org.          


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