The Mio Motel, in Mio Michigan, hasn’t got uniformly great write-ups on TripAdvisor but I liked it. The guy in charge is a bit brusque I agree – but by the standards of British customer care he is in the ‘eccentric and a bit curt’ category – no worse.
And my room had photos of birds in it too. But the big advantage of the Mio Motel is that it is only c400m from the Forest Service office where, if you are there at 0645 at the right time of year (and pay $10) they will introduce you to one of the biggest conservation successes on Earth and show you what is still one of the world’s rarest birds. I write of the Kirtland’s warbler.
Seven of us were there today and we heard, from Tim, about this species’s need for young jack pines – 5-20 years old. It’s a fussy bird rather like woodlark and nightjar back home.
A difference is that the KW only lives in this part of Michigan, a small part of Canada and fewer than five pairs in Wisconsin.
In 1951 there were 500 pairs, and a similar number were counted in 1961. But in 1971 there were just a few over 200 pairs – in the world. Conservationists, foresters and birders leapt into action and now there are over 2000 pairs – still not a huge number is it?
The successful recipe was to create large areas of the right aged trees (by clear-felling) and to bump off 3-4000 brown-headed cowbirds a year.
Clearfelling replaced the role of wildfires in maintaining enough large chunks of the right sort of habitat for this picky bird (which winters in the Bahamas – lucky thing!). The cow birds are nest parasites (like cuckoos) and were plains birds until we cut down forests and had farmland and then they moved in. KWs seem pretty susceptible – 70% of nests were affected by cowbird eggs and nestlings before control and only 6% after.
After the excellent briefing we followed Tim’s car in our own to a KW patch. As soon as we parked in a place which could easily be in the Brecks (sandy soil, pine trees of different ages in blocks) we heard a distant KW.
It was now about 0745 and the morning was sunny. I was wearing my jumper for the first time on this journey and when I left the Mio Motel I had had to wait for the windscreen to defrost.
During a short walk we heard lots more KWs and saw several too – males sitting at or near the tops of trees and singing away. They are proper American warblers – yellow and black and well-marked.
We were even shown a cowbird-trapping site (there are 54 scattered through the range of the KW) – no hiding anything here.
By 9am I was heading south after a very enjoyable and successful visit. There’s quite a contrast between the fate of the once superabundant passenger pigeon and the always quite rare Kirtland’s warbler.
The KW should come off the Endangered Species Act some time but I hope that doesn’t mean that the money disappears – otherwise its numbers will plummet again.