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The Festival of Birds’ first-ever overnight field trip included a stop at Oak Hammock Marsh in Manitoba.

Rain didn’t dampen Festival of Birds’ success

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Though rain was a near-constant presence at the 16th annual Festival of Birds, it didn’t dampen the spirits of the birders who flocked to Detroit Lakes for the four-day event.

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“The rain did not scare anyone away,” said Kelly Blackledge, visitor services manager for the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, who is also one of the principal organizers for the annual event.

“We had nearly 200 attendees from at least seven different states, plus Canada,” she added. “There were sunny skies on Friday, so we had some great field trips. In fact, on one of them (in the Mahnomen area), they had 118 species of birds that they saw.”

All of the programs and workshops held during the weekend were also very well attended, she added.

“On Thursday, Carroll Henderson (Minnesota DNR non-game wildlife supervisor) provided some great information on the research that’s happening with the loons in our area,” Blackledge said. 

Researchers have been using radio tagging and geo-locators on the birds for several years now, she added, so “the information coming back to them is really helpful in determining how and where loons migrate.”

Unfortunately, the data coming back to the researchers is also showing that the birds have suffered some ill effects from the oil spill that devastated the Gulf Coast region a couple of years ago (the loons migrate to the Gulf of Mexico in the winter).

“Preliminary information is showing that there are some remnants of petroleum in their systems from the oil spill,” Blackledge said.

Another presentation on Saturday by Cornell Lab of Ornithology director John Fitzpatrick “provided some pretty fascinating information about how ‘citizen science’ projects are making a critical impact on the information available to researchers in determining population changes in bird species,” Blackledge said.

Other presenters during the weekend included photographer Paul Sundberg of Duluth, who gave the birders some valuable tips for capturing great images in the field; and a workshop on “digiscoping,” which involves connecting your camera or smart phone to a spotting scope and using the scope as a telephoto lens for capturing close-up images from far away.

“The Detroit Lakes Photography Club had a display of bird photos at the event as well, so photography was really at the forefront of this year’s festival,” Blackledge said.

One new feature at the 2013 Festival of Birds was the addition of the first-ever overnight field trip for participants, which followed the Pine to Prairie International Birding Trail.

About 26 festival attendees and three expert bird guides embarked from the M State campus in Detroit Lakes Sunday morning for a two-day adventure that led them across the Canadian border into the wilds of Manitoba, returning Monday evening.

Blackledge, who was one of the attendees on the Manitoba trip, said it provided “wonderful photographic opportunities” for the birders.

A stop at Oak Hammock Marsh in Manitoba yielded opportunities for several participants to experience “life bird” viewing opportunities, Blackledge said.

“A lot of bird watchers will keep ‘life lists’ of all the different birds they see in their lives,” she added.

“We had a few participants who added birds to their lists that they’d never seen before in their lives,” which is what is meant by a ‘life bird’ sighting, Blackledge explained.

“One of the cool birds I got to see was a Baybreasted Warbler,” she said. “It was less than 20 feet away from several of our bird watchers, and lots of people got great pictures of it.”

Besides Oak Hammock Marsh, other stops included the Agassiz Audubon site near Warren, Minn., the Fort Whyte Alive Nature Center near Winnipeg, and the Narcisse Snake Dens.

The Narcisse site provided a unique opportunity for birders to view a slightly different type of wildlife, Blackledge said.

“It has the largest concentration of garter snakes in the world,” she said.

Overall, despite the rain that fell almost constantly until Monday afternoon, the trip was a great success, she said.

“For the amount of rain we had, we sure saw a lot of really neat birds. There were well over 108 species sighted” on the Canada trip alone, she added.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454
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