We had success last weekend in finding the rare Kirtland’s Warbler. Not at the Tawas Point Birding Festival on Saturday, but the next day in Grayling. We took one of the tours that leave from the Ramada Inn, and were lucky enough to be the only ones who showed up for the 11am tour. The Forest Service Ranger, Nick, said he’d had a group of 18 people at 7 am. Glad we missed that! So we got our own private tour of the jack pine nesting grounds for two whole hours. As soon as we got out of our car we could hear the males singing, and it only took a few minutes to spot one atop the tallest tree in his territory, singing for all he was worth. We watched him through the scope for about ten minutes, then walked further into the jack pines to find another one, hopefully closer. It was very hot (87 F) and I worried that the birds would be resting, but Nick was confident he could find more of them.
As we walked, Nick told us about one of the Kirtland’s males that they’d been monitoring who sings an alternate song. The Kirtland’s Warbler song is very distinctive (hear it here), and this particular bird had altered it by a few notes. According to Nick, this bird only sings the alternate version, never the normal one. And for some reason, this male has been the one to mate with the first female to arrive on territory for the past two springs. Coincidence? I think not. Those early gals must like a guy who’s not afraid to be different.
Anyway, this bird was right where Nick said he’d likely be, singing from the tallest tree in his territory. (The jack pines are only about 6 or 7 feet tall, but there are some huge deciduous trees scattered around the nesting grounds, and these tall trees are great perches for surveying your turf.) I got a few not-great shots of him up there, but as we continued to wait and watch, he eventually flew down to one of the smaller trees much nearer to us, where I snapped away and got the photo you see above. There were lots of branches in the background of that photo, but I was able to erase many of them using my very basic Photoshop skills. (It’s obvious if you look closely, so don’t do that.)
The jack pine habitat seems so inhospitable, I’m amazed that these birds insist on nesting in that sort of area. The ground is dry, hot sand, and there’s no water anywhere to be seen. By the time we got done there our shoes and clothes were coated with sand dust. I’d never spend time in that type of place if I weren’t in search of such a distinguished little bird!
Even though I’m going on and on about the Kirtland’s Warblers here, we also saw lots of other great birds the previous day at Tawas Point State Park. We found one tree that had three different warbler species in it at the same time: Blackpoll, Tennessee, and Chestnut-sided. (Two of those were new for us.) I’m still trying to wade through the 700 pictures I took, but I’ve been slowly posting them to my Flickr account if you want to jump over there to see more of them.
As we drove west out of Tawas toward Grayling, I was blown away by the fantastic old barns I saw everywhere. Barns are another of my favorite photography subjects (here’s my barn set on Flickr), so I hope to go back up there for a photography weekend soon. It’s an easy weekend trip from here too, so it should be do-able.
Here’s something I was surprised to find in Michigan, longhorn cattle. I associate them with Texas, so when I saw them next to the road I convinced Eric to turn around so I could take a few shots (he’s used to that by now). I’m definitely going back up there for a rural photography weekend!