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Meet Au Sable’s 2017 Kirtland’s Warbler Team!

Mar 07, 2017

Endangered species become endangered for at least one of three reasons: (1) they have small populations everywhere they occur; (2) they have a very limited geographic range; or (3) they are extreme habitat specialists, only able to use very specific types of vegetation. It’s little wonder that Michigan’s Kirtland’s warbler is endangered, as it fits the profile for all three of these traits. This is particularly the case in habitat, where the Kirtland’s warbler has long been known for its specialized use of 5-15-year-old jack pine stands. But as its populations have now begun to recover, there is mounting evidence that Kirtland’s can use red pine stands as well as jack pine. If the warbler can nest and raise its young as productively in red pine as jack pine, a wildlife manager suddenly has many more options for increasing populations of Kirtland’s warblers. And because red pine is a more commercially valuable tree, planting red pine could attract the support of commercial foresters for creating more habitat for Kirtland’s warblers.

            With these considerations in mind, Au Sable begins its second year of a study on comparative use and reproductive success of Kirtland’s warblers in jack pine and red pine habitat, in cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. This year’s team of Michael Hindy and Alyssa Sargent will be in the field collecting data about Kirtland’s warblers by mid-May. We’d like you to meet them.

            Michael Hindy comes to the study fresh from Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he completed a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Biology in December 2016. Familiar with Au Sable as a former student in Environmental Chemistry and Environmental Applications for Geographic Information Systems in 2015, Michael comes to the Kirtland’s study already in possession of considerable experience in bird studies and in habitat restoration. A member of a student team directed by Au Sable faculty members Darren Proppe (Calvin College) and Rob Keys (Cornerstone University) on mechanisms of habitat selection in grassland songbirds at the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in southern Michigan, Michael has also worked as restoration intern under Calvin College and Au Sable faculty member Dave Warners, an experience that provided him with extensive skill in plant identification, knowledge he will need in the Kirtland’s study on a daily basis. As Michael said about his new opportunity with Au Sable, “I cannot express how excited I am to be part of a team researching one of Michigan’s prized warblers, as well as being able to be part of a community which loved God and cared for his creation.”

            Alyssa Sargent joins Michael from Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Initially a student with a focus in chemical and microbiological research, Alyssa became interested in conservation biology through her Departmental Honors Research project on the Panamanian golden frog in which she studied methods of individual identification that could be used for monitoring and managing captive and wild populations of this IUCN Red List (critically endangered) species. Alyssa perfected bird identification skills through her work at Messiah’s Oakes Museum where she was responsible for the care of the museum’s bird collection, not only learning how to identify adult birds but the nests and eggs of different species, a skill of immense value in finding nests of Kirtland’s warblers in red pine and jack pine habitat. Alyssa also recently completed a field natural history course in New Zealand where she continued to sharpen her skills in bird species identification. Looking forward to her role as a Research Assistant in Au Sable’s Kirtland’s warbler study, Alyssa noted, “Au Sable has a very impressive research program, and I am excited to be a part of it – I can’t wait to be in the field and learn about the Kirtland’s warbler firsthand.”

            Dr. Fred Van Dyke, Au Sable’s Executive Director and Principal Investigator in the Kirtland’s warbler study, is enthusiastic about having Michael and Alyssa on the warbler research team. “It’s rare,” said Van Dyke, “to find individuals this young who already have so much useful, practical experience in precisely this type of research, combined with a focused interest and very specific goals for a career in conservation science. We really have two remarkable people for this study in Michael and Alyssa.” Great to have you both on board! See you in the pines in May!

This is the second in a series of stories that will introduce the Au Sable Research Teams for every study. Watch for the next story about our research on the restoration of the Arctic Grayling in Michigan.