We heard about the visit from the celebrity on Twitter.
We raced out to see him before he left. We had been trying to meet him for some 35 years, traveling as far as 230 miles to see him in his home county of Oscoda, Michigan, so my wife and I were excited. Here he was in our backyard, at Magee Marsh.
Other fanatics heard about his appearance too. It was all over the Twitttersphere. A hundred or so were there at the same time we were. The star didn’t disappoint. He strutted his stuff a few yards away, flitting about to the amazement and joy of the spectators looking to add one of the world’s rarest birds to their life lists--the Kirtland Warbler.
The Kirtland was placed on the Endangered Species list in 1973, when they numbered less than 500, due in part to their finicky reproductive habits. They only nest in jack pine forests of at least 170 acres and at the base of trees four to 20 years old and roughly six to 12 feet tall. This type of forest is virtually non-existent in the natural world today because of advance fire management and human encroachment. The Michigan DNR conducts controlled burns to create the ideal conditions for mating.
The majority of the estimated 5,000 birds in existence today can be found in three northern Michigan counties, one of which is Oscoda County, where we have a family cabin in the heart of their habitat. We have gone in search of this rare and elusive quarry a number of times, but it wasn’t until the bird came to us that we saw him.
The Kirtland was one of a number of birds we saw Saturday on Migratory Bird Day during an afternoon of birding with stops at Magee Marsh, Ottawa Wildlife Refuge and Maumee Bay State Park. We were among the tail end of a crowd that was expected to total 60,000 birders who came to the Lake Erie marshes for the Biggest Week in American Birding, May 4 to May 13. These visitors had registered 222 species, with one day to go.
We saw license plates from 29 states as far east as Delaware, as far south as Texas, as far west as California and as far north as Minnesota. They also came from the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Their vanity license plates tell you something about their sense of humor: Cheeprs, BooJay, Brdnrds, evltwn2,Vampyr, Bad2, Spydrs, Papyrus and Ezgoin, to list a few.
We also stopped by to say hi to Tom Bartlett who was sitting atop a five-foot ladder for his Big Sit. Tom was in his 18th year of raising money for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. He has raised more than $30,000 over the years, getting pledges for the number of birds he identifies without leaving his 17-foot diameter circle. He was eight hours into his 12-hour sit and had tallied 89 species.
“About average,“ he said.
Well, maybe for a master birder like Bartlett, but for most birders compiling a life list, there’s nothing average about a trip to The Warbler Capital of the World where the average birder can see more than 200 species in one week including a celebrity.