New Festival for Birders
Northwest of Traverse City, Michigan, the Leelanau Peninsula is a prime rest stop for migratory birds, and a new festival celebrates the beauty of nature.
Wading birds like this great blue heron are a common sight on Michigan’s scenic Leelanau Peninsula, where local birders are launching the four-day Leelanau Peninsula BirdFest in June.
CITY, MI – Each year, hundreds of birdwatchers migrate to the
dunelands of Northwestern Michigan with their
binoculars and notebooks to enjoy the region’s many birding opportunities.
they’ll get a little extra help from their fellow birders on the scenic Leelanau Peninsula, who are organizing a four-day
“festival” of lectures and guided excursions to some of the area’s birding
hotspots. The inaugural Leelanau Peninsula BirdFest is scheduled for June 1-4,
and is sponsored by a coalition of local community groups who want to draw more
attention to the area’s wealth of bird species.
“We think this
will be a uniquely conservation-themed festival,” says BirdFest organizer Dave
Barrons. “We have some great trips planned, and our focus is going to be on
what we can do to help reverse the decline of some of these species.”
A broad wedge of
glacier-carved land northwest of Traverse City,
the Leelanau Peninsula has long been a favorite
vacation destination for well-heeled Midwestern urbanites. But it’s also a
popular resting spot for migratory birds and an important refuge for one
endangered shorebird: the tiny piping plover, which nests on open beaches.
But the same
natural features that attract avian migrants to Traverse City’s beaches, lakes and forests
also make it a favorite destination for the humans who follow them. The local
tourism industry is belatedly taking notice of the phenomenon – and rightly so,
since birding is now the country’s No. 1 outdoor sport. The U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service estimates that there are currently 51.3 million birders, and
the number is still growing. Several local resorts and lodges list nearby
birding areas in their promotional literature, and a few even arrange guided
outings on request.
The Leelanau Peninsula is also home to the 44-acre
Charter Sanctuary, established by veteran birders Jim and Kay Charter as a safe
haven for over 130 species of migrating, nesting and resident birds – including
black-billed cuckoos, grasshopper sparrows and bobolinks. Next door to the
sanctuary is the Charters’ educational center, Saving Birds thru Habitat, which
teaches private landowners how to adapt backyards, woodlots and vacant property
as bird habitat.
peninsula’s greatest asset is the diversity of its terrain, and the fact that
much of it is in public hands and is accessible to birders at no cost.
“We don’t really
have what you’d consider world-class birding here, but we have almost unlimited
access to over 80,000 acres of public land, with a tremendous variety of
habitat and more than 300 bird species,” Barrons says. “Some festivals have to
make do with a single small private preserve, but we can provide a very diverse