The 16th annual Festival of Birds offers birders various field trips, including Seven Sisters Prairie, to spot many varieties of birds.
DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — Filled with plenty of knowledgeable speakers and prime spots for birding, this year’s Festival of Birds has a major addition — a trip into Canada.
The festival is May 16-19, and people from throughout the United States and Canada are already signing up.
For the big Canada trip, those participating will board a coach bus May 19 and make three birding stops. The first will be Agassiz Valley Impoundment near Warren, Minn.
“There is a dike around the whole thing, so it keeps the water from flooding,” organizer Cleone Stewart said.
It is a prime location for spotting pelicans, sandpipers, ravens, owls, eagles and more.
The group will then travel to Winnipeg to spend the night. Participants will need a passport.
“In other words, get it now,” Stewart said.
The next morning, birders will visit Oak Hammock Marsh Wildlife Management Area in Manitoba.
“It really is a neat stop along the way,” she said.
Oak Hammock is one of the best migratory bird viewing areas in North America. The three-level building was constructed with a 28,000-square-foot planted roof where birds nest.
The building blends in with the 8,600-acre marsh surrounding it.
Inside are an interpretive center, café and gift shop; Ducks Unlimited is housed there as well.
During migration, about 400,000 waterfowl are in the marsh. There will be about 280 species of birds to view.
The group will then travel another 45 minutes north to Narcisse Wildlife Management Area. There are developed trails among the trees, “so it’s good birding.”
Besides the birding offered at Narcisse, only for those interested, there is also a viewing platform of the world’s largest concentration of red-sided garter snakes.
“We want people to know if they’re not into snakes, they can stay and bird,” Stewart said.
The group will then return home that day.
Expert birders Carrol Henderson, Sharon “bird chick” Stiteler and Erik Bruhnke will lead the trip.
“We need 25 people for sure and have a good start,” Stewart said of those registered for the Canada trip. “We can take 50 people.”
The registration deadline for the trip is Thursday.
Henderson to speak on loons
Though the big trip may be at the end of the festival, plenty of other activities will be going on the days before.
The festival kicks off May 16 with a beginning birding workshop and a raptors workshop with Bruhnke.
There will then be a social, dinner and program that night beginning at Forest Edge Gallery near Vergas.
Copper artist Patrick Shannon and his partner, Helena Johnson, will open their gallery and outdoor gardens for browsing during a social time.
Complimentary light snacks and wine will be available.
After the social, participants will head over to Five Lakes Resort for supper and to hear Henderson speak.
“These are new locations. We try and move around and give new exposure to helpfully get people to come back again,” Stewart said of Forest Edge Gallery and Five Lakes Resort.
And since the two spots are somewhat difficult to find if you’re not from the area, the festival is providing a bus from Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Detroit Lakes to the two destinations.
Henderson will speak that evening about migratory birds, and specifically loons, and how the oil spill in the Gulf Coast has affected them.
Getting youth interested
The mornings of May 17 and 18 will be filled with various field trips.
“There are some new areas and some favorites,” Stewart said of the field trips. “We always try to mix it up.”
Friday trips include Mahnomen area and Maplewood State Park.
Festival organizers also received a grant to educate young birders, so there will be a Young Birders Adventure on May 17 for youths ages 12 to 18.
“Our goal for the last five years is to introduce more free events to get them interested,” she said.
That evening’s program hosts photographer Paul Sundberg of Grand Marais. One of Sundberg’s favorite places to capture nature is the North Shore of Lake Superior. He also worked for 28 years at Gooseberry Falls State Park.
Favorite, local field trips
May 18 starts off with “our favorite field trips again, Hamden and Tamarac,” Stewart said.
Besides those two trips — and one to the Smoky Hills Forest — May 18 will be packed with mini-workshop sessions, a silent auction, a free workshop on the decline of the meadowlark (the theme bird for this year), a free Birder’s Bazaar and a book signing by Robert Taylor, Henderson and Stiteler.
The newly formed Lakes Area Photography Club will also have photos on display at M State, headquarters for the festival.
John Fitzpatrick, Louis Agassiz Fuertes director at Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., will be the the keynote speaker May 18.
“He has revolutionized how people can find out about birds more quickly than they used to,” Stewart said.
Fitzpatrick developed eBird and other Internet-based “citizen science” projects as tools for bird monitoring.
When a new species of bird was discovered in 2012 in Peru, it was named after him, the Sira Barbet, or Capito fitzpatrick.
Stewart said festival committee member John Voz invited Fitzpatrick to come see the prairie chickens here because he hadn’t, so he’s making a family vacation of the festival.
Itasca trip, registration
For those not interested in the Canada trip, there will be one last field trip to Itasca State Park. This location is known for a chance to see a black-backed woodpecker.
Registration for the Festival of Birds can be done online at http://www.visitdetroitlakes.com or by calling the chamber of commerce at 847-9202.
Register by May 3 and be in a drawing for a pair of free binoculars courtesy of Eagle Eye Optics.
May 10 is the deadline to register for the festival.