Karl Overman: Birds and more


Two photos below are exactly thirty years apart. When someone has been fortunate enough to bird in one region for that period of time, it becomes apparent that bird distribution is not static.  Hudsonian Godwit is a case in point.  The 1979 photo of four of seven birds  present reflects a roughly 15 year period--1970-1985 when the species was markedly more common in the Great Lakes area than it was before or since.  The 2009 photo is typical of the current status of the species in the Great Lakes area--a single bird with an observer being fortunate to find even one these days.

N.A. Woods only listed one record for southeast Michigan, a September 12, 1932 record of a single bird by Trautman from Monroe County.  N.A. Woods, Birds of Michigan 200 (1951). Even into the 1960s, Hudsonian Godwit was viewed as a very rare bird in the Great Lakes area.  For example in the fall survey for Ontario in 1968, a Toronto record was italicized to underscore the rarity of the report.  Aububon Field Notes 23 1 p44 (1969).  With Joe Kleiman, I saw my first Hudsonian Godwit on September 15, 1969 in a flooded field adjacent to the south side of Hillman Marsh, Ontario. We were ecstatic to find the species.  The late sixties turned out to be the beginning of a significant increase in the species in the Great Lakes area. See also R. Curry Birds of Hamilton and Surrounding Areas 198 (2006). In Michigan, southern Monroe County on the Lake Erie shoreline was where Hudsonian Godwit could be counted on in the 1970s and 1980s during fall migration. 

Ann Arbor birders discovered that godwits were frequenting Allen’s Cove at Luna Pier in Monroe County in 1970.  Following up on that find,  Joe Kleiman, Jeff Greenhouse and I had 4 Hudsonian Godwits there on September 20, 1970 plus another along Bay Creek Road further south.  On September 26, 1970 we plus several Ann Arbor birders had eleven Hudsonian Godwits at Allen’s Cove (referred to generically as “Erie Marsh” by Alice Kelly, Birds of Southeastern Michigan and Southwestern Ontario 36 (1978).   Here are some other multiple counts in the 1970s and 1980s from Monroe County for the species:

  3 September 16 to October 28, 1972 Monroe  Al Maley Dick Dean American Birds 27 1 p.64 (1973)

5 October 6, 1974 Erie, Michigan [observer?] American Birds 29 1 p62 (1975)

5-43 October 5 to November 6, 1975 Monroe Co. Al Maley Tex Wells, Joe Kleiman Jeff Greenhouse American Birds 30 1 p74 (1976)

5 October 6, 1975 Pointe Mouillee Joe Kleiman JPW 53 1 p27 (1975)

4 September 6, 1976 Erie Road, Erie, Mi. Karl Overman

10 September 10, 1978 Erie Marsh, Monroe Co. Joe Kleiman JPW 57 1 p18 (1979)(cited by Granlund Birds of Michigan 106 (1997) as being at Erie Marsh Preserve--surely erroneous as the species has never been seen inside the preserve to my knowledge)

7 October 20, 1979 Erie Road, Monroe Co. Karl Overman (same birds cited in JPW 58 1 p22 (1980) as 7 Oct. 13-16, 1979 Ernie Carhart and Al Maley)

1980 no sightings?

3 October 2, 1981 Pointe Mouillee Paul Young JPW 60 1 p36 (1982)

10 October 30. 1983 Hugh McGuiness personal notes

39 October 6, 1985 Bay Creek Road by Erie Marsh Preserve Karl Overman

7 September 30, 1989 Pointe Mouillee Tex Wells Vic Jansen, Phil Chu (Tex Wells notes)

Assuming the 1975 entry from American Birds refers to one or more of the four listed observers as seeing 43 birds on one date  in October or early November of 1975, that would be the highest count for southeast Michigan.  Probably not coincidentally, the fall of 1975 brought the highest count to the Hamilton, Ontario area as well: 61 on September 28, 1975.  R. Curry Birds of Hamilton and Surrounding Areas  198 (2006) and to the Toledo area: 143 on September 28, 1975 at Ottawa NWR.  Birds of the Toledo Area 71 (2002)  It is also intriguing that another bump in numbers in the Hamilton area occurred in 1985 with 25 on October 4, 1985 (Id.) which coincides with a similar bump in numbers in Monroe County, namely 39 on October 6, 1985.  

After 1985 counts of Hudsonian Godwits in the marshes of southern Monroe County dwindled to a range of 1-3 with a few exceptions (e.g., 5 on October 1, 1995 on Bay Creek Road by Tex Wells and Ed Smith). Fall records from the southern Monroe County marshes basically ended in 1998.  Fall records after that date along Michigan’s Lake Erie shoreline were at the northern end namely at Pointe Mouillee, the mouth of the Huron River and Lake Erie Metro Park.  There was one large count in the past 10 years from Pointe Mouillee, namely 24 on August 19, 2001. Kevin Thomas, Adam Byrne et. al.

The disappearance of fall concentrations of Hudsonian Godwits from the marshes of southern Monroe County I believe can be explained by one word:  Phragmites.  This noxious alien plant, the common reed of Eurasia, has choked out the native cattails from these marshes and eliminated the mud flats that godwits and other shorebirds need.  The 1979 photo below is a case in point.  The habitat at the end of Erie Road is still undeveloped.  However the open, shallow water depicted in the photograph has been replaced with a sterile forest of phragmites that has eliminated the mudflats there.  The same fate has befallen the once fine shorebirding area at Allen’s Cove in Luna Pier and essentially all the coastal marshes of Monroe County.

Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica)

modified May 19, 2018