Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Great Lakes piping plover 2012 breeding season summary

A male Great Lakes Piping Plover defends its nest with a broken-wing display at Whitefish Point, MI.


We had a very good piping plover year across the Great Lakes Basin. Here are the numbers, 58 nesting pairs established 64 nests. From these nests 193 chicks hatched, of these 121 chicks fledged in the wild. Additionally the captive rearing facility reared and released 6 chicks. This was the third highest number of chicks fledged since the recovery program began and the second highest chicks fledged/pair ever recorded for the program. Locations with especially high fledge rates included Whitefish Point which fledged 11 out of 12 chicks, Tawas Point State Park, which fledged 8 out of 8 chicks, Grand Marais which fledged 7 out of 10 chicks and Sleeping Bear Dunes once more led the way with 45 chicks fledged. A new nesting site was South Manitou Island, which had a pair that fledged 2 chicks. Approximately 15 plover monitors were hired through various partner groups to monitor plovers at different locations throughout Michigan. Additionally dozens of volunteers spent time assisting with different monitoring efforts. If possible, protective exclosures are built around all the piping plover nests in the Great Lakes and the nests are regularly monitored to protect them from disturbance and predators. In addition a research team, from the University of Minnesota travels between all of our piping plover sites and bands the chicks and adults. They also help assist in locating and monitoring nests, help at the captive rearing facility and conduct research on the piping plover population. The USFWS, East Lansing Field Office coordinated these efforts through partner meetings, regular phone conversations with monitors and partners, 5 separate plover monitor training events throughout Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as regular site visits by the Great Lakes Piping Plover Coordinator. The Captive Rearing Facility located at the University of Michigan Biological Station near Pellston, MI once again took in eggs and chicks that were abandoned due to weather, predation or some other factor. Dozens of volunteer zoo keepers from zoos across the country, including Disney’s Animal Kingdom, The National Zoo, The Detroit Zoo and many others help incubate eggs and raise chicks that were then released into the wild at the end of the season with other wild piping plovers. Starting in July and continuing into August, piping plovers departed the Great Lakes and once again migrated to wintering areas on the southern Atlantic Coast of the United States, as well as along the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Texas.

A Great Lakes Piping Plover shelters in some drift wood near its nest in Grand Marais, MI.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The state bird of the hypothetical state of Superior?

As most of my readers (or past readers) know, I am from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  This beautiful and rural region has no land connection to the much more densely populated Lower Peninsula and as a consequence has always had its own identity and culture.  This along with various political squabbles has resulted in numerous calls for seperate statehood for the U.P. usually proposing that this new state be known as Superior (after the mighty lake of course).  While this has never come to pass, the idea still comes up in conversation quite frequently amongst yoopers (people from the U.P.) and trolls (people from the Lower Peninsula, because they live "under the bridge") alike.  You may also recall that I am somewhat obsessed by how poorly done our state bird system has chosen its representatives (see a ridiculously long narrative I wrote about the state birds here ).

So, this has naturally lead me to speculate on what the official state bird of Superior would be (you know if it was actually a seperate state).  In my long-winded diatribe about the state of the state birds, I argued for a new system that picks state birds that represented a dominant ecotype in the state (such as a mountain bird for a mountain state, or a coastal bird for a coastal state) or a species that was represenative historically or culturally to the region (for example Baltimore Oriole for Maryland).

Superior is a northern land, filled with boreal and boreal-hardwood transitition forests, interspersed with myriad inland lakes, all tucked in cozily between the shores of the three mightiest Great Lakes.  So what species to pick to represent such a landscape?  Common Loon comes to mind, but in my state of the state birds article, I also argue that states should have unique state birds, not share them across multiple states such as they do now and unfortunately, Minnesota has already claimed the Common Loon.

So what to choose?  I have tossed around ideas in my head for years, Gray Jay, Blackburnian Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, with nothing that really struck me.  However, this year the American Birding Association chose the Evening Grosbeak for its ABA bird of the year (see  Along with its designation the Evening Grosbeak has been the object of much discussion on the ABA blog.  Through this, I learned that the first Evening Grosbeak to be collected for science came from the U.P. (!)  I have since learned that of the first 6 nests, 5 were from the U.P. as well (!  That along with many fine memories of this wandering and beautiful finch from all across the U.P. leaves me with little choice than to propose the ABA bird of the year, the beautiful Evening Grosbeak as the state bird for the hypothetical state of Superior!

An Evening Grosbeak at Whitefish Point, Michigan earlier this summer.  The location of some of the earliest known nests of this species were right at Whitefish Point.