Naturalists are flocking to the region for what’s considered to be the one of the best weeks for bird watching of the year.
May 11 marks International Migratory Bird Day, an event founded in 1993 by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and now an educational project under Environment for the Americas.
The day is celebrated all across the Americas and is officially the second Saturday in May, though dates differ depending on location.
Wildlife refuges and nature centers around the Detroit River and western portion of Lake Erie are hosting festivals to offer bird watchers a chance to observe numerous species of birds as they pass by or stop to roost and feed.
Locations in the region hosting events include the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, Lake Erie Metropark Marshlands Museum and Nature Center, the Essex Region Conservation Authority’s Hillman Marsh Conservation Area and Point Pelee National Park (Leamington, Ontario).
“Birders” in Oakland County are preparing for the occasion as well, including Commerce Township resident Janet Hug, who is attending one of the largest bird watching festivals in the U.S. at Magee Marsh on the southern shore of Lake Erie just east of Toledo.
Hug, who is also the social media administrator for the Oakland Audubon Society, said one of the most helpful tools for birding at large festivals in recent years has been the use of social media to report rare finds such as Kirtland’s Warbler, a species that nearly went extinct in the middle of last century before recovering in recent years.
Quite appropriately, Twitter has been popular in recent years at the Magee Marsh event, as bird watchers at the festival will “tweet” their finds to @biggestweek to share with others.
Even after attending the festival, Hug plans to come back to Oakland County to watch birds that weekend as well.
“Oakland County’s just a beautiful county for getting out and seeing what’s out there,” hug said. “It’s always a different cast of characters depending on the month,” Hug said. “That’s what makes it so interesting.”
Lake Orion resident Laura Bringman is another avid bird watcher who also monitors the county’s nest boxes at Orion Oaks park.
“It’s been a fun hobby,” said Bringman, who started bird watching in her own back yard nearly 20 years ago. “I can’t imagine my life without them.”
“I started by identifying them as they came and went,” she said. “That turned into backyard birdwatching. It’s an excellent hobby, but it’s hard to get anything done because you’re running from window to window to where your bird feeders are.”
For the past four years, Bringman has volunteered — and been trained — to monitor federally protected bluebirds during their breeding season in the county’s 58 nest boxes at Orion Oaks. It’s part of a program that provides field data on bird nesting to NestWatch, a nonprofit organization associated with Cornell University.
“It just looks like somebody painted them with a paintbrush,” she said. “They’re so bright right now because they’re mating; they look like they don’t belong in Michigan.”
Bringman said it’s hit-or-miss when it comes to getting people involved in bird watching, but children tend to be easier to convince to join in an activity that promotes going outdoors and observing nature.
“You’re going to get your share of people who aren’t fond of the outdoors,” Bringman said. “But with kids, you make a game out of it.”
Bringman said she accomplishes this by offering an incentive such as a quarter to any kid who spots something unique, such as a rare species of bird.
It’s a great hobby and can spark a new perspective of nature in anyone who cares to give it a chance with or without a little guidance, according to Oakland Audubon Society president Don Burlett.
“If you can borrow some binoculars, we can teach you a little about how to do it,” he said. “It could open your eyes to something you might never have paid attention to.”
“A lot of people go through life and they don’t pay attention to anything around them,” he added. “All of a sudden when they go out into a nature area and somebody helps them, it’s amazing to see what’s out there.”
Oakland County is home to a number of parks where people can watch for birds during their migration, including:
— American Center Marsh, Southfield
— Bald Mountain Recreation Area, Lake Orion
— Carpenter Lake Nature Preserve, Southfield
— Drayton Plains Nature Center, Waterford
— E.L. Johnson Nature Center, Bloomfield Hills
— George W. Suarez Friendship Woods, Madison Heights
— Heritage Park, Farmington Hills
— Highland Recreation Area, White Lake
— Independence Oaks, Waterford
— Indian Springs Metropark, White Lake
— Kensington Metropark, Milford
— Lyon Oaks, Wixom
— Orion Oaks, Lake Orion
— Pontiac Lake Recreation Area, Waterford
— Robert Long Park, Commerce Township
— Lloyd A. Stage Nature Center, Troy
— West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve and Trail Network, West Bloomfield