Thursday, January 31, 2019

Bachman's Sparrow in Dearborn, 1946

NOTE: In anticipation of publishing a new Dearborn bird checklist, I am posting information on some of the city's more interesting sightings. 

Alice Miller was a Dearborn bird bander and active contributor and compiler of bird surveys in the Detroit region into the early 1950s. She wrote several short papers on unusual bird sightings, and regularly submitted records to the Detroit Audubon Society which were subsequently published in Michigan Audubon's Jack-Pine Warbler for their regular seasonal bird surveys.  Her home was in west Dearborn near Ford Road and the Dearborn Country Club (established by Henry Ford in 1925). At the time, the neighborhood was not fully developed and had quite a bit of open land. 

On 8 May 1946, Alice Miller discovered a Bachman's Sparrow (Peucaea aestivalis) across the street from her home. It was a singing male, and present until 13 May when it was procured as a specimen by Ralph O'Reilly. This specimen is now in the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology (a photo can be seen here).

This was the second record of this southeastern sparrow for Michigan, the first being one taken as a specimen in Erie Township, Monroe County on 29 April 1944. According to The Birds of Michigan and other sources, there were only a few additional sightings: one in Ann Arbor (Washtenaw Co.) 23-24 April 1948; one in Livingston Co. on 27 July 1954; and one in Macomb Co. on 26 April 1964.

Miller wrote a full account of this sighting, with some background on vagrancy in this species, in the Jack-Pine Warbler; following that article is a short note by O'Reilly on both individuals. You can read the PDF here.

Bachman's Sparrow in North Carolina. Photo used under a
Creative Commons Public Domain license.

Friday, January 25, 2019

European Goldfinches and other cage birds in the Western Great Lakes

European Goldfinches in Kenosha, WI, April 2016
Photo by Darrin O'Brien

I have posted an updated page on European Goldfinches and other non-native cage birds in the western Great Lakes. I am still collecting follow-up data while the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas is in its final year of surveys; southeast Wisconsin and northeast Illinois are the "epicenters" of the breeding population of European Goldfinches. I'm working on a summary paper -- read all about the history, identification, and how to submit reports here.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Some post-closing updates

RRBO has closed, but I am still working on several RRBO-related projects, as well as continuing to do urban ecology research independently and providing expertise and service to the scientific community. So whether you are interested in Dearborn and southeast Michigan birds; urban ecology with a focus on birds, insects, and plants in the Midwest; and/or similar endeavors, I hope you continue to follow along here!

Here are some updates:

First, I was asked to work on helping finish a really interesting bird conservation project by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. My involvement was just about squared away when the government shutdown occurred. While I'm pretty sure the project will be completed one day, I have no idea when or how this will happen until after the government reopens, the people involved catch up on their work, and how their budgets shake out.

Meanwhile, I am in the process of bringing the Dearborn bird checklist up to date. There have been some taxonomy changes, and I will move any material from the RRBO website on rare or interesting birds here to Net Results, link to those items on the checklist, and publish it here. I've also been working on a substantially revised annotated checklist. More on that soon.

In April 2019, hosting for the RRBO website will be up for renewal. I pay for this hosting myself, and therefore I'm going to let it lapse. At that time, the RRBO website will be no more, and the URL will point here. I have been and will be moving some material over here to the blog, including the entire section on European cage birds that have become established in the western Great Lakes. This is research I'm continuing, and I plan on publishing another paper. I'll be posting this section shortly.

Recently, a new paper came out that drew upon data I provided. "Species interactions limit the occurrence of urban-adapted birds in cities" was published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States). You can read a news story about it here. I have always strongly believed in sharing data, so even when I have not had the chance to use it in my own publications, I've been  happy to contribute to the projects of others.

Finally, I also still post pretty regularly to the RRBO Facebook page, so feel free to engage there.

Friday, August 31, 2018

RRBO is closing

Due to a lack of sustainable funding, the Rouge River Bird Observatory will cease operations in October 2018.  I will be leaving the University as a retiree with Visiting Scholar status, and hope to finish publishing RRBO-related research. I will continue to maintain this blog, and social media (Facebook) for the time being, and I'll use these venues to post updates on publications and related news, for those interested. 

I will still be collecting data on European Goldfinches! Please see this page on how to submit data. 

Finally, I sincerely thank everyone who supported RRBO in so many ways the past 26 years.

--- Julie Craves

Thursday, September 7, 2017

New major paper published

The paper Native birds exploit leaf-mining moth larvae using a new North American host, non-native Lonicera maackii was recently published online ahead of print in the journal Écoscience.

This paper describes the interactions between native birds, a specialist moth, and the moth’s new host in North America, Amur honeysuckle, a problematic non-native shrub.

On a bird survey in late fall 2015, I came across a small flock of chickadees that appeared to be finding food on the leaves of Amur honeysuckle along the Rouge River. This non-native shrub dominates the forest understory in this area, as it does over a large swath of North America east of the Great Plains. The feeding behavior was very interesting to me, as Amur honeysuckle is known to be largely free of insect herbivores, even more so than the other species of non-native honeysuckles that are so common in urban forests.

A closer look revealed that nearly every Amur honeysuckle had leaves that were heavily infested with leaf mines, and that the chickadees were opening these mines and feeding on the insects within them. This was even more intriguing! Because they live and feed within plant tissues, leaf mining insects tend to be very host-specific, and specialized insects like this were supposed to be especially rare on most introduced plants, Amur honeysuckle included.

I reared the tiny caterpillars, overwintered them, and had the emerging insects (which were moths) identified by DNA barcoding in 2016. I continued my observations on bird use of the moth larvae, the extent of the infestation, and population status in 2016. My paper details these findings, which are novel in several ways:
  • This is the first record of this moth species, or any in the same moth family of over 2000 species, using Amur honeysuckle as a host in North America
  • The native ranges of the moth and the shrub do not overlap, indicating evolutionary adaptation was involved in the host switch
  • Some of the bird species using the moth larvae have never been documented feeding on leaf mining moths
  • Because Amur honeysuckles holds leaves (with occupied mines) until well after killing frost, these larvae supply protein to birds at a time when other insects have become scarce
In the paper I also discuss the ecological implications of these interactions. I am continuing to make field observations on bird predation, and am raising moths to see which other local hosts in the same plant family they might use. One interesting fact about these moths is that they are all female. This method of asexual reproduction is not particularly common in butterflies and moths, and is not only handy for me (to raise them, I don't have to worry about pairing them off), but also means a single female can be a founder of a large population. I'm also working with a Canadian researcher on identifying the parasitoid community -- the many tiny wasps that lay eggs in the larvae within the mines; there have been four species identified so far. At least one more paper is in the works.

This link will take you to the abstract of the paper. If you'd like to read the full paper, please contact me by using the form in the footer.

Many other papers can be downloaded at my Researchgate profile.