Sunday, February 3, 2019

Bewick's Wren in Dearborn: historical report

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

In my post about Michigan's second record of Bachman's Sparrow (Peucaea aestivalis), I introduced Alice Miller, a Dearborn bird bander and active contributor and compiler of bird surveys in the Detroit region into the early 1950s. Here is yet another of her interesting Dearborn sightings.

On her survey forms in 1948 she made a convincing although cautious report of a Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) in her yard on 11 April 1948.

Survey forms including Bewick's Wren submitted by Alice Miller.
The penciled description on the back of thin paper are hard to read, so here is a transcription:
Bewick's Wren - probable
1st observation 4-11 Naked eye - on bare ground directly under living room window - brown - slender - positive white eye stripe (over) - whitish underparts - long tail - out of range
2nd observation - in spirea bush - extemely quick nervous movements up down in and about - out of range
3rd ob. atop low stone wall back of lot - same as 1st plus definite and prominent side to side tail movement. But never saw white in tail to make it positive - I had just returned previous week from Tennessee whre I saw Carolina's for positive study - This was not a Carolina and it's back was plain and not striped so it couldn't have been a marsh wren
This report did not get published in the spring 1948 bird survey. However, although this form was dated for summer 1948 (see top portion of photo above), all the records on the pages were from spring 1948. She notes she had been travelling, so perhaps she missed the spring deadline. Normally, significant reports that were omitted were mentioned in the following survey when published, but the summer 1948 survey itself was not published on schedule, and appeared in condensed form along with the fall 1948 survey.

The neighborhood where Alice lived (and the surrounding area) were far less developed than today, of course. Below is an image from 1949. Her house is marked 1, Dearborn Country Club 2, and major roads marked.

Whether a paperwork foul-up or a decision not to publish the record due to uncertainty we will never know. Nonetheless, Alice Miller was an experienced and careful observer, and her description rings true and seems adequate to me. It's validity is supported by the fact that Bewick's Wrens were much more common in the eastern U.S. decades ago, and rare but regular in Michigan during that era. In their 1959 publication, A Distributional Check-list of the Birds of Michigan, Zimmerman and Van Tyne considered Bewick's Wren a "rare and irregular summer resident" with "most records in April and May". Alice Kelley noted 22 records in the region between 1945 and 1974 in her book Birds of southeastern Michigan and southwestern Ontario, while The Birds of Washtenaw County lists at least 7 records there up to 1970. There have been very few since then.

Based on these facts, I consider this a valid record for Dearborn.

Read more about the status of Bewick's Wren in the eastern U.S.:
  • This paper by Michael Hodge and Gary Ritchison appeared in the state journal The Kentucky Warbler in November 2007: Bewick's Wren in Kentucky and Tennessee: distribution, breeding success, habitat use, and interactions with House Wrens. It gives an interesting summary on the history of this species in the eastern U.S.
  • So does this earlier paper from 1978 from the Carolina Bird Club journal, The Chat: Ecological factors contributing to the decline of. Bewick's Wren as a breeding species in the southern Blue Ridge (PDF).

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