Autumn migration is well underway among shorebirds that nest in the far north and northern Great Plains. Shorebirds such as willet, sanderling, and others began their southbound trek to their wintering grounds just after the summer solstice in late June.The best areas to locate migrating shorebirds in Southwest Michigan are along Lake Michigan beaches. You must look for them at daybreak, before beachgoers arrive and scare the birds off. Laura Fuderer of South Bend found a piping plover at New Buffalo beach on July 22. The piping plover is threatened or endangered in nearly all parts of its range. The individual photographed by Fuderer has a white chest with a distinct black band across the upper portion of the chest, as well as a black band across its forehead.
If you look closely you can see leg bands attached on the bird's left leg. These leg bands are attached by Federal and State Wildlife officials so that the bird's movements may be monitored. The plover probably came from its nesting grounds in northern Michigan.In Berrien County, we typically see less than five piping plovers in migration each year. The species formerly nested along our beaches, but an increase in human presence led to local extirpation in 1981.Most piping plover sightings occur locally during August, but they are almost always seen alone and not in pairs. Occasionally the species is seen as late as October or November, before finally vacating Michigan to the shores of the Atlantic.Warren Dunes State Park and Weko Beach are perhaps the best locations for shorebirds in Berrien County, as they have relatively easily accessed remote beaches. During days of high human visitation to Warren Dunes, shorebirds will often be found to the north of the concession stand area away from the crowds.I have often found the western subspecies of willets at Warren Dunes in July and August. The willet is about 12-15 inches long and is easily identified when it spreads its wings, showing a black and white pattern.Brad Anderson of Bridgman photographed a pair of migrating willets on July 19 at Weko Beach. These birds are en route from their nesting grounds on the Great Plains to their wintering grounds along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.The annual photo period of their autumn appearance in Berrien County is from June 20 to early October. They are nearly always found along the shoreline.While shorebirds are already migrating southward, songbirds won't be departing the region for another three to four weeks. Many species are still nesting, including the eastern kingbird. A pair was photographed at a nest site, located on a branch of an eastern white pine on July 22 by Anderson. The eastern kingbird is a member of the flycatcher family and is a relatively common breeding species over a great portion of the U.S. and southern Canada. They feed primarily on insects and are a long-distance migrant, wintering in South America. The species can be identified by its distinct white band across the end of its tail. Male and females appear similar, with white chest and front and dark gray back. Red crown feathers are often concealed.The species arrives in Berrien County during the last 10 days in April and departs by September. Betty Timmerick of Eau Claire photographed a young American robin, having just fledged its nest, in her backyard. The American robin is of course known to all as a common songbird, seen hopping around yards on warm summer days looking for worms.A pair of robins may raise three broods per year in Southwest Michigan, beginning in March and continuing through early September. While many robins fly south of the Michigan line for winter, a good number will remain, but often go unnoticed. They spend the cold months among thick vegetation and feed on fruits and berries.
Jonathan Wuepper is an area naturalist. Report your sightings to him at email@example.com.