“Peregrine Falcon on Log”: “As a field ornithologist for Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, I took this photo last fall at Whitefish Point. Despite being on the state endangered list, efforts to restore nesting in Michigan have been successful and there is a decent migration of peregrine falcons at Whitefish Point. It is reputed to be the world’s fastest-flying bird.” Photography by Chris Neri; nightflightimages.com NATURE AND WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHERS like Todd and Brad Reed, Mark Carlson and Steve Gettle never know what awaits when they embark on a day in the field.
“It’s a great challenge and we love the adrenaline rush of finding them and getting a good environmental portrait without invading their space.”
— Brad Reed
Michigan’s most imperiled species can be elusive to find, much less photograph, which makes capturing a great image all the more rewarding.
“Beach Bird”: “This rare piping plover and its mate are among only about five-dozen breeding pairs identified by Great Lakes researchers. That is about five times more breeding pairs than in 1983 before protection measures were implemented. A wire cage enclosure over its nest helps keep out predators. The area is posted and roped off to protect these federal and state endangered birds.” Photography by Todd Reed; toddandbradreed.com
“It’s a great challenge and we love the adrenaline rush of finding them and getting a good environmental portrait without invading their space,” says Brad Reed.
With a window of only two weeks, the Reeds say it was a real treat to visually record the rare Karner blue butterfly as volunteers during a special count day. Carlson spent 25 years hunting for the threatened Michigan native orchid species Amerorchis rotundifolia, finally locating it in Schoolcraft County. And imagine Gettle’s delight standing in a snowy woods and seeing a lynx or gray wolf come into focus through his camera lens.
“Snuffbox in the Grand”: “Central Michigan University researchers survey mussels below Lyons Dam on the Grand River. The state and federally endangered snuffbox mussel is found in small- to medium-sized creeks in areas with swift current, along with Lake Erie and some larger rivers. The population of the snuffbox mussel, in terms of range and numbers, appears to have declined by at least 90 percent.” Photography by David Kenyon, Michigan DNR photographer
In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act to help protect the nation’s native plants and animals in danger of becoming extinct. Species can be endangered or threatened at the federal or state level, or both. Many of these species are endangered because of habitat destruction.
Endangered means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A threatened species means it’s likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. The ESA protects against practices that kill, harm or involve “take” of the species and requires planning for recovery and conservation actions.
In Michigan, a variety of mussels, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and plants are on both the state and federal lists. There have been some success stories in recent years, including the return of gray wolves and record numbers of piping plovers and Kirtland’s warblers observed in 2015, thanks to collaborative conservation efforts.
“The Kirtland’s warbler is doing really well and is a great success story,” says Barbara Hosler, endangered species coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s East Lansing Field Office.
“Forster’s Tern in Flight”: “This photo also was taken in south Texas. It’s an uncommon migrant at Whitefish Point. The day I took this photo we were near a small dam, and they kept going down and getting fish. It was neat to watch. This bird is threatened in Michigan, as nesting of this species historically has been limited to marshes around Saginaw Bay and in Lake St. Clair at the delta of the St. Clair River.” Photography by Nova MacKentley; nightflightimages.com
“A number of these species are at least stable and not declining anymore since they received protection. It’s really a big team effort to recover these species.”
“Migrant Loggerhead Shrike”: “We’re field biologists and move around seasonally. This photo was taken in south Texas when I was working down there with ocelots — another endangered species. We always have our cameras on us, and if we see other birds around we take pictures of those too. The loggerhead shrike is nearly extinct as a breeding species in Michigan and endangered in most Midwestern states as populations have shown statistically significant declines.” Photography by Nova MacKentley; nightflightimages.com “Long-Eared Owl”: “I saw this owl roosting one morning as I walked around birding after owl banding all night. This is another bird with a very good migration through Whitefish Point. In fact, it’s one of the best places in the U.S. in the spring. While not federally listed, the long-eared owl is listed as a species of special concern, or as threatened in most Midwestern, Eastern and New England states in which it breeds. It’s also threatened in Michigan and we don’t really get any breeding, but more than 170 long-eared owls have been captured and banded at Whitefish Point during one spring season.” Photography by Chris Neri; nightflightimages.com “Short-Eared Owl”: “Unlike other owls, the short-eared owl often forages during the day and early evening. They can be seen slowly gliding about five feet above the ground as they hunt on the wing in search for mice and voles that make up their diet. It is a state endangered bird due to scarce breeding areas and continued habitat loss of open grasslands. Although rare, the short-eared owl is found throughout the state during the breeding season from the lowest tier of counties north to Isle Royale.” Photography by Steve Gettle; stevegettle.com “Barn Owl”: “The barn owl is one of the most widely distributed owls in the world, but it is anything but common in Michigan. The last breeding pair was seen in the state in 1983. Now only single owls are seen in the state and then only rarely.” Photography by Steve Gettle; stevegettle.com “Protecting Michigan”: “In order to help protect this beautiful piebald deer, my dad and I have sworn not to tell people where we found it. We had received a tip from a family friend, and after almost two hours of searching for this elusive animal, we were getting ready to give up. Suddenly, I spotted it about 75 yards away in the woods. It wasn’t until I downloaded this image and saw it on my 30-inch monitor that I noticed the other two deer in the scene. Our perseverance and teamwork paid off.” Photography by Brad Reed; toddandbradreed.com “Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake”: “The massasauga rattlesnake is being proposed as a threatened species on the federal level. Habitat loss is the biggest threat to this snake as we drain its wetland homes to pave the way for more urban development.” Photography by Steve Gettle; stevegettle.com “Rendezvous, Gray Wolves”: “Wolves returning to Michigan is one of the state’s great recovery stories. In the 1970s, the estimated population of Michigan’s wolves was thought to be just six animals. Today, there are estimated to be over 600 gray wolves within the state. They are listed as federally endangered under the Endangered Species Act.” Photography by Steve Gettle; stevegettle.com “Kirtland’s Warbler – Snack Time”: “The Kirtland’s warbler is among the rarest wood warblers in North America and considered endangered at the federal and state level. It nests mainly in young jack pine forests on public lands and winters in the Bahamas. This photo was taken in the Grayling area. The bird nested right next to the two-track road and was easy to photograph each day I arrived. Only myself and one other birder were aware of this bird and its partner as we kept it a secret, knowing its location could mean disaster if humans frequented the area.” Photography by Gary Gee; photographyupnorth.com “Amerorchis Rotundifolia, Blossom Column”: “As a naturalist photographer, Michigan native orchid species have always captured my attention and fascination. Amerorchis rotundifolia is listed as state threatened, and as a result has eluded my viewfinder for over 25 years. I finally located and photographed it in Schoolcraft County. With tiny, delicate features and coloration, its beauty is enchanting, but its thick-vegetation habitat makes it a real challenge to photograph. I was very pleased to have finally made its acquaintance; climate change is playing a major role in its rapidly declining Michigan population.” Photography by Mark S. Carlson; markscarlson.com “Prairie Warbler”: “Michigan is at the very northern fringe of the beautiful prairie warbler. This endangered Michigan bird is most often seen in the southern Lower Peninsula. The male can often be seen as he sits on an open perch singing his loud, bright, cheerful song.” Photography by Steve Gettle; stevegettle.com “Mitchell’s Satyr”: “Mitchell’s satyr is a nondescript, low-flying butterfly that requires very wet fen habitat full of tall sedges and poison sumac. I was privileged to be invited by Michigan DNR specialists to accompany them during one of their annual species counts. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had in my naturalist photographer career. The Mitchell’s satyr is one of the world’s rarest butterflies, currently found only in Michigan and Indiana.” Photography by Mark S. Carlson; markscarlson.com “Michigan Monkey-Flower Colony”: “In super-cold springs that emerge from the ground and trickle through wet, mucky soil is where you’ll find the federally endangered Michigan Monkey-Flower. There are only three locations in Michigan that support such precise requirements and conditions; my favorite, and most scenic site, is beside a beautiful lake in Leelanau County.” Photography by Mark S. Carlson; markscarlson.com Marla R. Miller is an award-winning journalist and managing editor of Michigan BLUE.