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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Rapai

A Kirtland's Warbler was found ... WHERE?

It's only the second week of September, but the Kirtland's Warblers are on the move. Two have been spotted in the last couple of days. One was in Monroe County, Michigan, just a mile north of the Ohio border. That's not out of the ordinary, but the other? Well...

Most mature Kirtland's Warblers don't leave the jack pine until late September or the first week of October, which just happens to be after the peak of Atlantic hurricane season. But it seems that hatch-year Kirtland's Warblers like to wander the landscape and see the world. You know how those teens are; you can warn them about the dangers of the world, but they won't understand unless they experience them themselves.

That helps to explain the location of the second bird found this week. It was found on -- ready for this? -- Mantinicus Rock, a tiny island that is 25 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine. Mantinicus Rock has a lighthouse, a gravel airfield, a population of 53 people who make their living from the ocean, and now Maine's second recorded sighting of a Kirtland's Warbler. (Many thanks to Katie Stoner for finding this bird.)

We just happen to know a little bit about this area from a previous life hanging around with lobstermen and harbor seals on a nearby island. Mantinicus Rock is not the most remote spot on the coast of Maine, but it's pretty close. Even the Native Americans understood its remoteness. Translated from the local language of the indigenous people, "Mantinicus" means "far out rock."

It's impossible to know the origin of this particular individual. Could it have been hatched in Michigan or Wisconsin and just wandered east? It's ... possible. Could it have been hatched in eastern Ontario near the population that occupies Garrison Petawawa, the Canadian Forces base northwest of Ottawa? That seems more plausible.

More importantly, does this individual know that it has put itself in a pretty bad spot? Does it understand that it needs to turn back toward the mainland? Let's hope. We know the Blackpoll Warbler can jump off the southern coast of New England and fly nonstop to Brazil. Could this young Kirtland's make it all the way from Maine to The Bahamas? That's not likely, particularly with Hurricane Lee soon altering its path northward toward the northeastern U.S. and the Canadian Maritimes.

So, at this point all we can do is hope, wish it safe travels and invoke the advice of Horace Greely: Go west, young bird. Then go south.

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