What a special treat to end June with seeing the Piping Plover on the shore of Lake Michigan this weekend!
I’ll always remember June 2018, since I saw three of the rarest Michigan birds in one month:
- The Kirkland’s Warbler three weeks ago in northern Michigan, a bird that will be taken off the list of endangered and threatened species in the United States this year.From 200 breeding pairs in the early 1970’s to recent estimates of more than 2,300 breeding pairs, the Kirtland’s Warbler is a success story of the recovery efforts by multiple government and conservation groups.
- The Whooping Crane in mid-Michigan, one of a population of less than 750 birds worldwide. A rare bird to see in Michigan, Whooping Crane flocks generally summer in Wisconsin.
- The Piping Plover, a small shorebird whose nesting area is along the shorelines of the Great Lakes, shores and rivers of the Northern Great Plains, and the Atlantic Ocean coastlines from Newfoundland to North Carolina.
I’m going to name June 2018 as my “Rare Birds in Michigan Month.”
About the Piping Plover
The Piping Plover is a small shorebird with a pale back, black-tipped orange bill in breeding season, and bright yellow-orange legs.
A threatened and endangered bird whose nesting areas have been reduced due to human activity along beaches, Piping Plovers make their nests on open beaches, sandflats, and sparsely vegetated dunes.
If you’ve ever been to the Lake Michigan dunes along the western part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, you’ll know why Piping Plovers make their homes there: it’s the ideal habitat.
The colored bands on the Piping Plover legs help identify the bird, allowing researchers to track the birds’ migration, nesting sites, mates, and other things.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Great Lakes population of Piping Plovers hit a low of 12 breeding pairs in 1983.
They have since recovered to 75 to 80 pairs in the Great Lakes (according to National Park Service update in December 2017).
The Great Lakes population of the Piping Plover was added to the endangered species list in 1986; the Atlantic Coast and Northern Plains populations are listed as threatened.
When Piping Plovers are found along Michigan shorelines, the nesting area is cordoned off by staff and volunteers from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the University of Michigan Biological Station, and other agencies to keep people from disturbing the nesting area.
Yesterday, I watched the Piping Plovers move quickly along the beach looking for insects, spiders, and crustaceans to eat.
The three birds would pause for a moment, and then scurry from the shoreline back up to the dune area and into the vegetation.
Their coloring almost matches the color of the sand, so they can be hard to spot.
Big Month for Birding
For me, June is not typically a big birding month in Michigan.
With leaves completely out on the trees and many birds nesting, I spend more time with my binoculars searching the shores of ponds, lakes, and rivers for waterfowl or peering through masses of tree leaves with the hopes of finding some vibrant moving color that catches my eye.
And while many birders remember the highest number of birds they’ve seen in one month or one year, I’m going to remember June 2018 as my “Rare Birds in Michigan Month.”