Most, however, are virtually unknown.
The Kirtland’s Warbler, one of the rarest of songbirds, is a specialist and nests only within a very particular habitat.
The habitat itself, even, is imperiled.
The scrubby, non-descript trees that emerge from sandy and fire-scorched terrain in isolated parts of Michigan are the bird’s touchstone. Jack Pines, like the Pitch Pines more familiar to me, require fire for regrowth.
Fire isn’t very popular in residential or commercial or agricultural areas, but the Kirtland’s depend on the mosaic of changes inherent in the destruction and subsequent renewal caused by fire.
They nest only in those areas where fire has created the conditions that select for early successional plants… plants that typify a pine barrens community. Without proper management, gradually the Jack Pines grow too tall, the canopy closes in and the grassy understory where they build their nests disappears because of low light levels.
The birds move elsewhere… or try to. Aggressive management has allowed for the hope of recovery and populations are increasing.
None of this has anything to do with what it felt like to wander in those pine plains searching for a Kirtland’s.
This is not a bird that I’d hoped ever to know.
The Kirtland’s is near mythic among birders and the makings of a pilgrimage for many.
I was just along for the ride.
Please click on the pic! It’s one of only a dear dozen or so and is especially sweet because he’s carrying food in his beak.