Review: “Michigan Shrubs & Vines”

The University of Michigan Press recently released Michigan Shrubs & Vines: A Guide to Species of the Great Lakes Region by Burton Barnes, Christopher Dick, and Melanie Gunn. This is a companion volume to Michigan Trees by Burton Barnes and Warren Wagner.

Species accounts are similar to the ones in Michigan Trees. Two pages for each species with a page describing size and form, bark, leaves, stems-twigs, winter buds, flowers, fruit and distribution. The section on site-habitat shows that the authors know these plants in the field. A notes section contains interesting tidbits that might include: growth habits, origin of common and scientific names, world distribution, or uses by Native Americans. A second page shows line drawings of the shrub and its key characters. I applaud the authors decision to use drawings instead of photographs. The selected drawings show the key characters and are excellent. Not every shrub is treated at this level. Some are only mentioned under the heading similar species.

From the species accounts I learned that Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) occurs in bogs in Japan. That Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) seeds “may remain viable in the soil for decades.” Also, that there are 58,000 Bearberry seeds to the pound. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) contains “methyl salicylate, closely related to the main ingredient in aspirin.” Leatherwood’s (Dirca palustris) fruit is correctly described as “pale green to yellowish-green when ripe.” Many guidebooks get this wrong stating it is purple or dark red which the fruit becomes if dried or rotting.

Michigan Shrubs and Vines contains a set of workable keys (and a section on how to use them including line drawings of many of the plant parts). The keys stress vegetative characters and allow identification without flowers and most of the time without fruit. I ran a dozen species through the keys and they worked flawlessly.

The final section of the book is headed “Ecology of Shrubs and Vines.” It distills some of Burt Barnes’ insights regarding ecology in a manner that laypersons will understand. This section alone is worth the price of the book. Shrub reproduction strategies, climate change, specific site factors, and Michigan’s four regional landscape ecosystems are among the topics discussed.

This book will allow you to identify Michigan’s shrubs and vines and then place them into the bigger ecological picture. It can be ordered from the University of Michigan Press and should be in the library of every naturalist in Michigan.

Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Review: “The Kirtland’s Warbler”

William Rapai’s book The Kirtland’s Warbler: The Story of a Bird’s Fight against Extinction and the People Who Saved It covers the first 170-years of the Kirtland’s Warbler from the first specimen in 1841 through the 2010 warbler census. The University of Michigan Press is to be commended as it continues its tradition of providing sound scientific writings in a readable format. The known population has fluctuated from approximately 330 birds in 1974 and 1987 to over 3500 by 2010. After the 1987 census Doug Middleton (an amateur ornithologist) remarked to me that there were more Kirtland’s Warblers in museum cabinets that currently alive. Since the book was written the population has increased to over 4000 birds.

As I write this review, I sit in the heart of “Kirtland Country.” I am only 15 miles from where Norman Wood discovered the first Kirtland’s Warbler nest. A small plaque marks the location. Across the road is Doug Middleton’s stone cabin used for many years as a base for his studies of the Kirtland’s and other Crawford County warblers. I’m in the Jack Pine Plains and during the spring I often hear Kirtland’s Warblers singing.

Nathan Leopold was one of the first to study the Kirtland’s life history. Leopold is better known for the Leopold and Loeb murder in 1924. Before committing this crime, Leopold collected and had mounted a Kirtland’s nest, young, and a male and female adult bird. Through Doug Middleton’s intervention, this habitat study was presented to the Cranbrook Institute of Science and was on display for many years. I saw it numerous times as a boy.

Rapai documents several unique attempts to study the bird. Both Josselyn Van Tyne (curator of birds at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology) and Harold Mayfield (another amateur ornithologist) attempted unsuccessfully to hand rear young birds. Another plan put forward was to trap the warblers and keep them in captivity each winter. This would remove the hazards of migration and the mortality on the wintering grounds but the plan was never implemented.

In 1971, the Kirtland’s Warbler Advisory Committee was formed. They recommended a Cowbird trapping program and a plan for managing Jack Pine habitat. These have been the keys to the bird’s recovery.

The tragic 1980 Mack Lake fire is also mentioned. Started as a “controlled burn” it lost containment, burning 20,000 acres and killing one firefighter. I walked the area of the fire a week after it burned helping to assess the plant life. I also helped to cut cross-sections of downed, dead trees to determine their ages. I visited the area several times over the next few years as the Jack Pine and other vegetation regenerated.

Rapai points out that the Robin is not technically Michigan’s State Bird and chronicles the attempts to name the Kirtland’s Warbler as the state bird. The Robin was designated the “state bird” via a non-binding resolution and retains that status largely because of tradition.

Rapai mentions the past studies of the warbler’s droppings and current studies being done with pieces of warbler toenails, feathers, and blood samples. Isotopes from these samples reveal what types of food the birds eat, even months earlier when they were on their wintering grounds. He outlines future threats to the bird and calls for continued vigilance to protect the bird’s population

This excellent book preserves the story of the bird’s recovery and the people that worked to make it happen.

Reviewed by Donald Drife

Copyright 2013 by Donald Drife

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