Grit

New Festival for Birders

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.

But the
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
birding experience.”

The festival’s
menu of excursions includes 12 guided trips to such popular birding spots as
the Leelanau State Park at the peninsula’s tip (known for scarlet tanagers and
Blackburnian warblers), Good Harbor Bay (prime habitat for prairie warblers)
and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, home to one-third of the
surviving piping plovers in the Great Lakes region.

Organizers also
plan to offer three “premium” excursions at an added charge, including a
pontoon-boat trip to the Cedar River Preserve near Lake
Leelanau, an expedition to the Arcadia
Dunes Prairie Installation to spot upland nesting birds and a voyage by
two-masted schooner to Gull
Island near Northport to
view the nesting grounds of Caspian terns, gulls and cormorants.

The BirdFest
will operate out of Fountain Point, a classic “Up North” resort near the village of Lake Leelanau, where participants will
gather each evening after their excursions to listen to presentations on such
subjects as climate change, North American swallow species, and a historical
survey of the birding movement by Birding editor and Bird Watcher’s Digest
columnist Paul Baicich.

The festival
schedule also includes a number of seminars, a traditional Great Lakes Fish
Boil dinner and – since the Leelanau Peninsula is one of the Midwest’s
premiere wine-growing areas – a series of wine & cheese receptions.

Like most
birding festivals, the Leelanau Peninsula BirdFest requires participants to
pre-register for almost all events and functions. Participants can register for
all four days of activities for a fee of $75, or pick and choose among various
talks and excursions, but several of the excursions are offered free of charge
to the public. A detailed schedule and registration form can be found online.

For help with
lodging and dining options, and to learn about other adventures, activities and
attractions in the Traverse City
area, contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at
1-800-TRAVERSE or online at the website.

  • Published on Mar 8, 2011
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