Located at the base of Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, a natural migration corridor, MacGregor Point Provincial Park is a superb birding destination and the venue for the Huron Fringe Birding Festival. The program will include guided hikes by local experts, tours, workshops and presentations. For more information, and to register online, visit www.friendsofmacgregor.org
Dates: 23 May – 1 June 2014
Venue: MacGregor Point Provincial Park
City: Port Elgin
Kirtland’s Warblers have very specific habitat requirements and are found only in the jack pine forests of Ontario, Michigan and Wisconsin. Due primarily to habitat changes, the numbers of these elusive little birds were declining drastically, but thanks to ongoing conservation efforts, recent research by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has revealed that the population not only appears to have stabilized, it may even have grown. More than twenty years ago the Kirtland’s Warbler population in northern Michigan had declined to a count of 167 pairs.
The Kirtland’s Warbler count takes place in the second and third weeks of June each year, as this is the time when they defend their nesting territories and become quite vocal about it. The birds are very elusive and would be difficult to detect if it were not for their distinctive song. Only the males sing, and total population is based on the assumption that each male has a mate. The count carried out in June 2010 recorded 1,747 males, with this year’s count indicating that 1,805 males are resident across their habitat range. Two pairs were located in Ontario and another 21 in northern Wisconsin.
Kirtland’s Warblers select nesting sites in jack pine forests where the trees are between four and twenty years old. In the past, nature would create these new forests as wildfires swept through the area burning down the older trees and making way for seedlings to sprout and grow. This natural cycle has been interrupted by humans who have implemented fire suppression programs in the interests of safety. Even so-called ‘controlled’ fires can get out of hand and are considered too risky an option for reestablishing the natural order of things. So, in order to recreate the effects of wildfire and allow the growth of new jack pine trees and other rare plants in the ecosystem, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, along with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Forest Service carry out a continuous cycle of cutting, burning, seeding and replanting, over an area of around 3,000 acres.
The program has proven to be successful in a number of ways. The Kirtland’s Warbler population has increased, and snowshoe hares, deer and turkeys are among the creatures that are thriving in the area. Moreover, the program is providing valuable timber without damaging the environment. Although the Kirtland’s Warbler population has grown, it remains on the endangered species list where it has been since 1973. It appears likely that the population has reached its peak determined by the habitat available to it, but with ongoing conservation measures, the Kirtland’s Warbler will still be around in the years to come.
The Algonquin Provincial Park was established in the year 1893 to protect the headwaters of the area’s five major rivers. The beauty and biodiversity of the park has inspired many books and paintings, and thousands of visitors are welcomed to the park each year. Located in one of the most picturesque areas of Ontario, Canada, the Algonquin Provincial Park offers tourists tranquility, beauty and a large variety of activities. One particularly popular activity in the park is bird watching.
The fact that Algonquin Provincial Park has approximately seven thousand insect species in the park might sound insignificant to some, but without the insects, the pollination of plant life would not happen and the habitats in which the birds and animals live would no longer exist. The varied vegetation provides both animal and bird life with vital resources. Also found in the park, are two forest types, namely the coniferous forests and southern hardwood forests, creating a home for a vast number of different birds. Visitors and avid bird watchers can therefore look forward to seeing birds such as the Brown Thrasher, Indigo Bunting, Spruce Grouse, Wood Thrush, Boreal Chikadee, Gray Jay, Common Loon and many others that form part of the 272 species in the park. In addition, the Algonquin Provincial Park offers bird related programs such as Birds in Winter, Owl Prowl and Bird Adaptations. Talks are also held in the evenings in the park’s outdoor theatre, covering a wide variety of topics related to the park. Guided tours are available as well as a bird species checklist.
After a day of bird watching visitors can explore other features at the park, such as the picnic areas, stores, bookstore, backpacking trails, museum, art centre, restaurants and beaches. There are also a few lodges in the park enabling visitors to extend their stay and maybe explore the breathtaking bird life found along the rivers on the canoe routes. Bird watching in Canada is a rewarding experience and the Algonquin Provincial Park offers visitors everything they could need for an unforgettable bird watching adventure and family vacation.
One of the most rare members of the Paulidae family is the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii). This is a fascinating bird species seen on occasion in the jack pine forests of Michigan where it is reliant on very specific habitat. Kirtland’s Warblers are endemic to the USA and are found only in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario. Much needs to be done if the Kirtland’s Warbler is to survive and the first step is gaining knowledge about the elusive species.
As a rare bird species, the Kirtland’s Warbler was only first described by scientists in 1851. The newly discovered species was named after Dr. Jared Kirtland, author of a list of Ohio’s animals. The Kirtland’s Warbler is a small songbird measuring about 5 inches in length. As an insect-eater, the warbler’s bill is thin and pointed. The nape and upperparts are grey whilst the throat, belly and breast are yellow. Its undertail covers are white and the wings have dull white bars. Its sides and flanks are streaked. The Kirtland’s Warbler is also easily identified by its constant tail wagging. The male and female are similar but males have black streaks on their back and black lores. If you are looking out for the Kirtland’s Warbler, you may hear it before you see it, so listen for a clear, loud “chip-chip-che-way-o”.
Kirtland’s Warblers are very choosy when it comes to habitat, the females even more so than the males. These warblers will only nest in small jack pines. Jack pines will only release their seeds after a fire so the warbler will only come to nest there 6 years after a fire when the young tree is around 2 m high. As the tree reaches over 3 m in height, the Kirtland’s Warbler will vacate the area. Kirtland’s Warblers are known as neotropical migrants. Males arriving back from the Bahamas in breeding season will establish territories. The female builds the nest whilst the male warbler supplies her with sustenance. A clutch contains 3 to 6 eggs and incubation lasts 14 to 15 days. The young ones fledge quickly in about 12 to 13 days.
The numbers of Kirtland’s Warbler populations has decreased largely due to the suppression of fire necessary for their chosen habitat. They also suffer due to nest parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird. Extensive conservation efforts are being made to protect the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler.
One of the rarest members of the Parulidae family, the endangered Kirtland’s warbler captures the attention of avid birders for a number of reasons. The breeding range of this small neotropical migratory bird is limited to an area in the north of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, in the province of Ontario and in Wisconsin.