Monday, June 25, 2012

Catching a Kirtland's

Earlier this month I was visiting family in northern Michigan and had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a Kirtland's warbler habitat tour offered by the Michigan Audubon near Grayling. This was a unique chance to go into protected jack pine habitat favored by these precocious and particular birds, and I wasn't about to pass it up.

Good thing, too; it was a fabulous viewing opportunity and our group of about a dozen birders saw not one, not two, but at least half a dozen of these endangered warblers. They prefer the young growth of this forest, and monitored lumber harvest in the area ensures an ongoing available range of young trees for the birds to use. Ironically, most of the Kirtland's warblers we saw were not perched in the jack pines, but were taking advantage of scattered deciduous trees that were taller and offered better views for their territorial defense. That worked to birders' benefit as well, and we were treated to unobstructed, clear views of boldly singing birds. I was struck by the intense volume of their song and their overall size, hefty for a warbler, that made the viewing all the better to see markings and colors.

It is always a treat to see a new lifer, better still when a bird is as endangered and has as restricted of a range as this beautiful warbler.

Monday, June 18, 2012

New Yard, New List

Given that we have recently celebrated our one year anniversary of the new house, it's about time I update my yard list to reflect the new property. It's hard to say goodbye to some of my old yard birds - I still miss the mallards that visited whenever they were at our neighbor's pond - but it is always exciting to welcome new guests that had never been at our old house. While I hope to welcome even more species to my feeders, landscaping, and bird baths, to date the birds that have already joined my backyard flock include...
Some of these beauties have only been casual visitors or one-time guests, while others are regular residents. In just one year, that amounts to 26 species, and it took five years at the old house to get to 33 - who knows where I'll be a year from now! All are welcome, of course, and as I build up our landscaping to be more bird friendly and continue to add more feeders, I hope even more species will join the flock.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Unwelcome at Church

Swallows are amazing birds, and I was privileged recently to have an amazing experience with them, owing to a fortuitous turn down a street we don't normally drive. We passed a local church that was surrounded by a cloud of flight, and quickly I urged my husband to pull into the empty, weekday parking lot so we could have a better look.

From the skies to the walls, in and out, a colony of cliff swallows was industriously building their mud nests along the bricks below the eaves of the church. The chirping and other high-pitched murmurs were a constant background to the frantic activity, and we watched the busy birds bring back mouthful after mouthful of mud and dirt to build up and cement their nests. In the air, their flight was aerobatic and precise, whirling and diving with grace and beauty.

Every beautiful story has a dark side, however, and I'm ashamed to share this one. Evidence was clear from mottling on the walls that the nests had been knocked down and destroyed over and over. While this is legal (the Migratory Bird Act offers no protection unless there are eggs are chicks in the nests, and there were not), I find it no less abominable that a church - an institution devoted to honoring God and all His creation - would destroy the life efforts of one of God's creatures. The birds were working to build homes to raise their families, and in a state where family is so very sacred, it is horrific to deny that to other creatures. Yes, there were droppings on the walkways, but wouldn't that be worth the opportunity to witness the miracle of life for another living being? Even more abysmal is the fact that the statement "Visitors Welcome" is so prominently displayed on every LDS church - but clearly that doesn't apply to other visitors God might send to share creation with his devotees.

I'm still grateful to have had the opportunity to see the birds myself, and I only hope that I wasn't the only one ashamed at how they were persecuted (funny enough, the Mormons moved to Utah because they themselves were persecuted). The colony did move on, and I hope they found another, more welcoming home to enjoy.