MIO — A small, fleeting songbird once on the brink of extinction lures birdwatchers from across the world to northern Michigan each spring, and guided tours into the woods can help those interested find the birds with their flashes of yellow.
"Kirtland's warbler tours are a fun way to experience Michigan's greatest conservation success story," said Kim Piccolo, biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
The Forest Service will offer the earliest round of guided tours to see the elusive Kirtland's warbler in the Huron-Manistee National Forests this spring.
The Kirtland's warbler nests almost exclusively in young jack pine forests of northern Michigan, though some have been found in Wisconsin and Canada. The species is proposed for removal from the federal Endangered Species List this year after decades of efforts to research the bird and help it recover.
"That is not the usual story we get to tell with endangered species," said Emily Vogelgesang, environmental education coordinator for Huron Pines nonprofit organization. "We've been at about 2,000 breeding pairs for the last 15 years."
Vogelgesang said the species is a conservation-reliant species. That means for the Kirtland's warbler to be de-listed, she said officials must prove they have biology and land management plans, an established monitoring system and adequate funding to continue efforts to sustain the species.
"It's an example for other endangered species," Vogelgesang said. "There are not a lot of success stories to point to."
Kirtland's warblers' breeding grounds primarily are found in Michigan, while the birds spend winters in the Bahamas.
Daily tours on national forestland to observe the Kirtland's warbler in its natural habitat began this week and will run through month's end out of the Forest Service's Mio Ranger Station. Participants will learn about the natural history and management of jack pine forests as a means to save the Kirtland's warbler.
Additionally, the Michigan Audubon nonprofit organization offers daily tours from May 27 through June 30 based out of Hartwick Pines State Park north of Grayling. An educational presentation at the park will be followed by a caravan of tourists into the nearby pine barrens for a chance to see the bird in the wild. Call 989-348-4945 or email email@example.com for more information.
Conservation efforts to manage Kirtland's warbler jack pine habitat involved not only the Forest Service, but also the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, among other agencies.
Later in the year, Leelanau County-based Saving Birds Thru Habitat nonprofit organization will host Kirtland's warbler expert David Ewert for a lecture about the species and its de-listing progress. That event is scheduled for Sept. 7 and more details are available under the calendar link at www.savingbirds.org online.
Want to go?
What: Kirtland's warbler three-hour walking tours
Where: Forest Service's Mio Ranger Station, 107 McKinley Road, Mio
When: Arrive and register by 7:15 a.m., tour starts at 7:30 a.m.
Cost: $10 for adults, free for children
More: Call 989-826-3252, ext. 3334, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service