Saturday, September 18, 2021

Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need

There are several different levels or lists of species whose populations warrant some sort of monitoring and/or protections. These include federal and state endangered, threatened ("T&E") and special concern lists; and the species of greatest conservation need generated by the US state-level Wildlife Action Plans. I've served on the Michigan T&E technical committees for insects and birds (as co-chair or chair of birds) since 2014.

More recently, an effort has been underway to compile lists of Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need (RSGCN) to more accurately reflect species' ranges and harness the management power and shared priorities of multiple organizations across regional landscapes. These lists start with all the species listed on each of the states' Wildlife Action Plans, determine which have populations that are primarily within the Midwest region, and then utilize expert opinion regarding concern levels, threats, and other factors. Two of these lists have been completed: the 15-state Southeast Region and the 13-state Northeast Region

Over the past year, I participated on two taxa teams (birds and Odonata) for the 13-state Midwest Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need coordinated by the Midwest Landscape Initiative of the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (MAFWA). There were 21 experts on the bird taxa team; I represented Michigan along with Mike Monfils of the Michigan Natural Features Inventory.

13 states in MAFWA region

Data on Canadian provinces were considered although as this is a US-based initiative, representatives from Canada were not involved in the committees. Note that there is also some overlap in US states in the various regions, and some species included on the Watchlist were designated as deferred to a region that had more responsibility for the population.

Twenty-five Michigan bird species are on the list of Midwest RSGCN:

Another 8 species Michigan species were designated "Watchlist - Assessment Priority" due to there being concern, but insufficient of variable data across the states. Another handful were put in that "deferred" category because the regional responsibility was greater for the southeast or northeast.

These are (not so great) screen shots from the data table which can be viewed here. The table contains all the data on all taxa from all states. There is the ability to sort and filter, similar to spreadsheets like Excel. To just see Michigan's birds, go to Filter and choose Where Taxa is Birds and add the condition Where MI_Occurs is Yes. You'll see many other ways to filter and sort the list. There are a lot of columns, some of which indicate the various criteria used to make determinations. 

The project has a website, where you can view highlights and download the full report with appendices.

If you are interested in the Odonata (dragonflies) list, see this post at Urban Dragon Hunters.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Neotropic Cormorant: A new Wayne County species

Birder Robert (Bobby) Irwin found a Neotropic Cormorant (just assigned to a new genus, and now Nannopterum brasilianum) off Humbug Island at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge on 28 June 2021. The eBird checklist with photos is here. As of 19 September 2021, it was still being seen, at least sporadically.

This identification is not an easy call. I happened to have visited the Refuge the previous day, one of the first times I have returned after spending years doing bird and insect surveys for the USFWS prior to the Refuge opening to the public. Various habitat modifications have resulted in a nesting colony of Double-crested Cormorants just north of the new fishing pier, with nearly 30 nests that I could see. Most of the young have fledged, so there were dozens of cormorants in the trees, flying around, and in the water, all in various plumages. Neotropic Cormorants are smaller than Double-cresteds, have longer tails, and different plumage on the face, but these differences are not always obvious, especially when the birds are moving around or distant. Kudos to Bobby for picking this one out.

As you can see from the range map, this bird is well out of range. However, they are known to wander a lot, and there are a number of Michigan records, mostly from the past few years. In fact, there is a pair nesting at Lake St. Clair Metropark in Macomb County right now! 

I have maintained a comprehensive Wayne County checklist, including historical records, for many years. By my accounting, this makes species #352 for the county, of which 9 are extirpated/extinct, hypothetical, or not "countable." 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Varied Thrush: Dearborn and Wayne County records

Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius) is one of my favorite birds. Not just lovely to look at, but also listen to, if you happen to be within the breeding range of the species which is centered more or less in the Pacific Northwest. There are four records of Varied Thrush in Wayne County, two of which are from Dearborn. I'll start there, of course.

Dearborn's first Varied Thrush was a one-day wonder, a female along the edge of the Edsel Ford High School campus found by Jim Fowler, Jr. on 16 April 2004. It was only seen by a handful of us because as I recall it was late afternoon when it was found and we couldn't relocate it the next day. It's possible it was present before or after in the adjacent residential yards or just across Rotunda in the little woodlot on Ford engineering property.

Varied Thrush: 1st Dearborn record, 3rd Wayne Co. record,
16 April 2004. Photo by Darrin O'Brien

A much more cooperative bird showed up on 12 February 2021 at the feeders of a couple whose yard backs up against the Dearborn Hills Golf Course. The homeowners initially let birders come to view the bird from the side of the house, but after only a few hours the situation grew out hand. Observers were directed to the golf course, where on weekdays one can walk a half mile or so on a perimeter trail and look for the bird. It was still present on 4 March 2021, although not everyone is successful in seeing it, especially if care is taken not to aim binoculars or spotting scopes straight into backyards or kitchen windows. 

Varied Thrush: 2nd Dearborn record, 4th Wayne Co. record,
16 February 2021. Photo by Mike O'Leary

There are two previous Wayne County records for Varied Thrush. The first was a bird present from 9 to 31 March 1971 in Rouge Park near the old Nature Center (once at the southwest corner of W. Chicago and Outer Drive). This was found by Detroit birding legend Ernie Carhart (1911-1997), whose lived nearby and whose favorite birding spot was Rouge Park. All Wayne County, and especially Detroit, birders owe much to Ernie; here is a little write-up and photo of Ernie by Karl Overman (another pretty legendary guy).

And finally, a Varied Thrush was at the home of Rosann Kovalcik and her (then) husband Martin Blagdurn in Grosse Pointe Woods from 3 to 15 December 2000. My (then future) husband Darrin O'Brien and I were among the many people who sat in Rosann and Martin's bedroom looking out the window, waiting for this bird to show up at the feeders. We missed it on our visit, but we did get our picture in the paper because it got some good press coverage.

Although their home range is far, far away from Michigan, Varied Thrushes tend to wander a great deal and I'm a little surprised there are not more Wayne County records. This is one of the roughly 60 species in the county of which there are 5 or fewer records. 

That's out of 344 county species I have documented over the past 30 years or so (including historical records).  I am not sure I have the energy to publish a fully annotated checklist with citations to county birds, but I might -- if there is interest -- do one on the rarer species one of these days.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Banded Black-crowned Night-heron

Dearborn has an interesting winter roost of Black-crowned Night-herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) at a pond near the Rouge River inside the Ford Rouge Plant complex (scroll down in this post for a map and description). Access to this site is restricted, but Mike O'Leary as a former Dearborn police officer and current Ford employee has been able to periodically survey birds, and consequently the night-herons get counted at least once a year on January 1, the day of the local Christmas Bird Count. They were first recorded on the count in the 1980s, and then were nearly annual beginning in 2003. Peak numbers occurred around 2006-2009, when over 30 were found each year. Numbers have averaged much lower in recent years, often around a dozen. They can be very hard to see tucked into the Phragmites and other vegetation, not moving because as their name indicates, they are not really active during the day.

On 23 December 2020, Mike was scounting for the upcoming count when he tallied 8 night-herons at the ugly pond. It wasn't until he was looking over his photographs that he noticed one preening (or sleeping) bird was standing on one leg, and the other leg sported a color marker! When he sent me the photo, I immediately knew this wasn't a new marker, because the letters should have been dark black on a bright yellow band (example here). 

The invisible leg would be the one with the standard USFWS metal band with its identifying 9-digit number. However, there is a way to report just a color marker at the federal Bird Banding Lab website, which Mike did immediately.

Black-crowned Night-heron in Dearborn, MI. Inset shows color marker.

Mike received a prompt response that the bird had originally been banded as an adult of unknown sex on 29 May 2014 under the banding permit of colonial waterbird expert Dr. Francie Cuthbert at the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, MI.

The Zoo has had a colony of nesting Black-crowned Night-herons since around 1997, when the first juveniles were found there by Doris Applebaum; this was the first documented breeding of this species in Oakland County. At least 6 nests were found the following year. In recent years the Zoo has had as many as 50 pairs. This is one of the significant colonies in the Great Lakes and I believe the largest inland colony in Michigan (see a map of colonies on page 12 of this Audubon Great Lakes waterbird report). These birds have been banded and/or color-marked for a number of years.

Once again, Mike comes through with a great, interesting bird find in Dearborn!


Applebaum, D. 1998. Oakland County nesting of Black-crowned Night-Herons. Michigan Birds and Natural History 5(1):12.

Applebaum, D. 1999. Follow-up on Black-crowned Night-Herons at the Detroit Zoo. Michigan Birds and Natural History 6(1):20-21.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

New Dearborn species: American White Pelican

Many years ago, a group of Dearborn birders and RRBO banders submitted lists of the five bird species they thought might be the next to land on the Dearborn bird checklist*. I don't even need to dig it out to know that American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) was not on that list.

On the evening of 16 October 2020, Mike O'Leary happened to be outside when 12 pelicans flew south over his yard. The Dearborn checklist now is now 266 species (which includes two extirpated and two hypothetical species).

Perhaps if we were compiling that list today, one of us might have thought to add pelican. This species has undergone a remarkable expansion in the Great Lakes over the past decade or so. Take a look at these two maps from eBird, showing reports from southern Michigan. The first map has all the sightings from 1900-2000 and the second just the past 20 years (with the caveat that eBird only launched in 2002, although many historical sightings have been added). 

The expansion of breeding populations is well-documented in the two best small society journals in this region: the Passenger Pigeon, the journal of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (2014 article here); and Ontario Birds, the journal of the Ontario Field Ornithologists (2019 article here, and summarized in this article). 

Keep looking up! 


*As a reminder, you can download the most recent (2019) annotated Dearborn checklist for $5. Applicable for most species for all of southeast Michigan, it gives residency status, relative abundance, and dates of occurrence for over 260 species. You can read the details about how the data were collected and what is presented in this blog post.

You can go to the download page here. You will find the 2019 version as well as the 2007 version, which contains maps, some photos and illustrations, and other material. A description for each is available by clicking on the titles; there is also an option to purchase both for a discounted price.