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.

| March 11, 2011

  • A Blue Heron surveys its surroundings from a top a pine tree.
    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. Cardiff

  • A Blue Heron surveys its surroundings from a top a pine tree.

TRAVERSE 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.

This spring 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.

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