.......and Reflections

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lake Erie marshes to Michigan's gateway to the north

Everything I own is in my Toyota truck and I am off at last. I left before sunrise and as I started out on Interstate 90 west I could see large clouds of midges rising above the freeway in the dim morning light. Will this be a buggy adventure?

The western Lake Erie marshes are a good location to start a birding trip west because it adds to the transition from eastern species to western species of birds as the trip progresses. When all is done I can look back and get some sense of this westward and later eastward change as I review the trip.

I drove through Medusa Marsh that lies on the eastern side of Sandusky Bay and then proceeded to Magee Marsh. Considering there were probably a hundred species of birds and thousands of birders all swarming the Magee March boardwalk a couple of weeks ago, the place was deserted! Spring migration is virtually over so I had low expectations about seeing anything but nesters like Prothonotary Warblers.

But Magee Marsh is always reluctant to let spring migration go until it is really done. And guess what. Migration is still happening on a very small scale. The very first bird I found was maybe the last I expected, A
Golden-winged Warbler. It was a very bleached out male. The black throat was but a shadow and the yellow wing-bars were barely evident but it was enough to make a positive ID. The salient point here is going to these places always provides rewarding surprises.

Michigan changes north of West Branch. You can see the transition from farmland to northerly habitats as you drive up Interstate 75. I could feel Porcupines lounging in poplar trees watching the traffic pass them by.
The Kirtland's Warbler is associated with Jack Pine forest......young Jack Pine forest. This region is one of give and take. The management plan calls for removing large tracts of older trees by fire or cutting and replacing it with new Jack Pine trees. This Warbler likes them 4 ft. to 6 ft. tall. After that the nesting trails off dramatically.

Kirtland's Warbler Management Area is managed by both the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service located out of Graying and Mio respectively. The area managed is massive but the Jack Pine Wildlife Viewing Tour is the show piece of the management program. This tour is a circle that has a variety of habitats that weave around the Au Sable River.

I stopped at the Forest Service office and asked about good Kirtland's Warbler viewing areas as they change from time to time. Armed with directions I made my way to the areas identified and low and behold I heard a Kirtland's Warbler sing and with some patience the singing male revealed himself atop a snag amid the young pines.

The beauty of the management for the federally endangered Kirtland's Warbler is that it is, not surprisingly, beneficial for other interesting birds. So I made the tour and found Nashville Warblers, Vesper Sparrows, Brown Thrashers, Eastern Towhees, Brewer's Blackbirds, Common Nighthawks, Hermit Thrushes, Common Ravens, and Palm Warbler.

The Huron National Forest and the Tour is much more than cut and replant. There is plenty of mixed deciduous and coniferous forests in varying stages. Along with the absolutely gorgeous Au Sable River the area also provided Great-crested Flycatcher, Mourning Warbler, Swainson's Thrush, Ovenbird, Pine Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker and Scarlet Tanager.

I end the day with 87 species. This is a great start to what will prove to be a momentous tour of America's heartland, its places and its wildlife inhabitants.

Tomorrow I'm crossing the Mackinac Bridge to the U.P. and new places to explore!

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