Wednesday, May 16, 2012

North American Migration Count 2012

The North American Migration Count takes place the second Saturday each May. It aims to take a "snapshot" of migration, and is compiled on a county basis. My husband Darrin is the coordinator for Wayne County, and as usual we covered the city of Dearborn together on May 12.

Spring migration this year got off to a great start the first week in May. We had very good numbers of early migrants the last week in April into the first week in May. There was a nice influx that included some mid-season migrants on May 3. Within a few days, however, things began to slow down. On migration count day, we tallied a disappointing 70 species on campus. Warblers in particular were very scarce, with only ten species. Yellow-rumped Warblers had been dwindling, but were absent on count day. Many people commented on the high numbers of White-crowned Sparrows this season, but on count day we had only a few, and no White-throated Sparrows. Our best bird on campus was a Gray-cheeked Thrush, the first of the season.

Darrin taking a quick break on campus during the count. Sometimes,
having too few birds is more tiring than having too many!
We added eight more species at other locations in Dearborn. The original Ford "sunflower field" at Hubbard and Southfield had a minimum of two dozen Bobolinks on May 7, but none stuck around for the count.

The Rouge River at Kingfisher Bluff behind Henry Ford
Community College.
Northern Rough-winged Swallows are nesting in the terra cotta
tubes poking out of the bank at Kingfisher Bluff behind Henry
Ford Community College.
The best bird of the day was an Orchard Oriole at Porath (Kielb) Park. This 11-acre property in a sparse residential area adjacent to railyards and an industrial border of Detroit was once a clay mine for bricks. In the 1940s, fill material from construction of I-94 was added. A federal brownfields grant was used to clean up contamination (still no digging allowed, according to warning signs) and it was turned into a park by the city in 2005. There are a variety of native plants there, but aside from a trail that is mowed through it, the park has not been maintained very well and it's becoming weedy and overgrown.

In addition to the oriole, Porath had two very good butterflies. One was a Common Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus communis), a southern species that has been seen in southern Michigan with increasing frequency the last few years. Not only is this an uncommon species, this is a pretty early date to see them here. It's unlikely that the larvae (the stage in which they hibernate) can survive here overwinter, so the individuals we typically see are migrants from the south, or perhaps some progeny from these migrants which appear later in the season. Their host plants are in the mallow family, and I have seen them most commonly in vacant lots or neglected fields that are infested with velvet-leaf (Abutilon).

Here is my bad documentary photo of a Common Checkered-Skipper at
Porath Park. Click here for a much nicer shot of one in my Dearborn yard last fall.
We also saw another uncommon butterfly, an "Inornate" Common Ringlet (Coenonympha tullia inornata) When we found our first county record in 2003, it represented a substantial southern range expansion in the state (PDF of my note in the newsletter of the Michigan Entomological Society here). This species now shows up all over the place in southern Michigan, moving south here as it has in New England and Ontario in the last decade or so. I failed to get a photo, but here's one Darrin took last fall in Oakland County.

Both the skipper and the ringlet have been observed on the UM-Dearborn campus as well.

A table of results from the Wayne County North American Migration Count, with links to complete results, is available on the RRBO web site. Once we have data from all the other field participants, I'll put up the 2012 results at that location as well.

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