After enduring a couple of years of rain and mud, participants at Detroit Lakes’ 19th annual Festival of Birds were rewarded with sunny skies and picture-perfect birding conditions.
“We had more than 225 attendees this year,” said festival committee member Cleone Stewart, tourism director at the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In addition, a special presentation was given to nearly 200 area middle school students to help educate them about birds and their habitat.
“The festival committee continues to engage younger people in the world of bird watching and bird conservation,” said festival committee member Kelly Blackledge of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. “Retured U.S. Fish & Wildilfe Service Refuge Manager Michael Murphy shared some of the more intesting facets of birds to nearly 200 middle school students. They were impressed by the strength of raptors, loons and other birds as they fight for territories and their prey.”
Festival favorite Carroll Henderson was Thursday’s featured speaker, delivering a fascinating, first-hand account of his and other researchers’ efforts to successfully bring back the trumpeter swan population in Minnesota a quarter century ago.
Saturday’s keynote speaker, Scott Wiedensaul, said that he had been one of those who looked forward to returning to the festival this year.
“I was here in 2008 and had a wonderful time,” he said.
Wiedensaul gave a fascinating two-hour presentation on one of nature’s most mysterious birds, the owl.
“I’ve been messing around with owls for 22 years now,” he said, noting that there are “over 300 different species of owls around the world.”
Roughly a quarter of those are highlighted in Wiedensaul’s latest book, “Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America & the Caribbean.” (He has written about a dozen others.)
Owls have been in existence in one form or another for thousands of years, he added, and can range in size from about the size of a songbird to roughly 10 pounds. Though most of them are nocturnal, some are not.
“We don’t know what we don’t know about these birds,” he said.
Dr. Joshua Stafford’s presentation on Friday night focused on how radar technology can be used not only to predict weather patterns, but also bird migration patterns.
A waterfowl ecologist at South Dakota State University, Stafford participated in a study at Franklin College in Illinois that used weather surveillance radar to “capture clouds of birds in the same way that we capture clouds of rain.”
He said that the radar enabled them to “passively count” flocks of birds.
“We let the radar do our work for us,” he said.
A total of seven field trips took place over the course of the weekend, to destinations including the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center (Fergus Falls), Hamden Slough and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuges (two separate trips), Kelly’s Slough NWR, Turtle River State Park, Itasca State Park and the LaSalle Lake Recreation Area.
“Black-billed magpie, upland sandpiper and a mating pair of loggerhead shrikes were seen within 30 seconds of each other on the Felton Prairie tour (Friday morning),” said festival co-chair Stacy Salvevold, who works as a deputy project leader at the Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District as her “day job.”
In addition to Friday’s Felton Prairie tour, Salvevold was also a field trip leader for Saturday’s “Local Hot Spots” tour. Though the shortest of the bunch at just under 4½ hours, the “hot spots” tour also proved to be one of the most prolific, with 64 different species of birds spotted — all within a five-mile radius of Detroit Lakes.
Dunton Locks County Park proved to be a particularly fruitful stop, as did a water body known as “Lake 413” — a tongue-in-cheek reference to Becker County’s moniker as the “land of 412 lakes,” the spot is perhaps better known as the Detroit Lakes municipal wastewater treatment pond.
“Treatment ponds are always very ‘fertile’ spots for birds,” joked field trip guide Beau Shroyer (a White Earth police officer and avid birder) during the tour — though he added later that he wasn’t really kidding about it being a favorite hangout for birds.
“Folks enjoyed watching a Baltimore Oriole and American Redstart building their nests at Dunton Locks,” Salvevold said later. “People continue to come to our festival to see Golden Winged Warblers (at Tamarac NWR) and Chestnut-Collard Longspur (at Felton Prairie, as well as the huge diversity of species they can accumulate in four days.
“One birder from New York had just traveled to three consecutive bird festivals and thought that Detroit Lakes’ was the best. I heard numerous people say, ‘You totally exceeded my expectations.’”
In all, a total of 176 different species were sighted or heard.
“It was a great festival,” said Doug Buri, who presented a “Shorebird ID” workshop on Thursday as well as taking part in several field trips.
“I heard no complaints from anyone.”