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Birding festival already filling up, time to register

DETROIT LAKES - If you're interesting in birding, now is the time to sign up for the 11th annual Festival of Birds in Detroit Lakes.

Only two weeks into registration, 80 people have already registered, and some of the fieldtrips are already half full.

This year's theme bird is the Connecticut Warbler, and field trip sites have been added in hopes of spotting one.

"We'll be traveling to two sites where we think there's a good chance," festival organizer and Tourism Director Cleone Stewart said. An extra trip to Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge in Middle River, and one to Red Lake WMA/Beltrami State Forest, both places for the warbler bird, are planned.

A Connecticut Warbler hasn't been spotted during the past festivals, so this is the opportunity to check it off birding lists.

"We really do have a unique convergence of prairie, deciduous and coniferous," Stewart said, which makes birding very successful in this area.

Headquarters for this year's festival is in the Minnesota State Community and Technical College, and the featured speaker is author and active field researcher Scott Weidensaul. The event is set for May 15-18.

But the festival isn't necessarily just for birders, or just for experienced birders.

Thursday, May 15, Gregg Thompson from the Association of Metropolitan Soil & Water Conservation Districts will be here to speak on raingardens. Partnering with the city, Thompson will also be helping with the planting of a city raingarden near the Pavilion.

"This makes a statement that we want to protect our water," Stewart said. The Master Gardeners have also helped with the project.

That evening, University of Minnesota professor Lee Frelich will speak about the global change in Minnesota forests at The Lodge on Lake Detroit.

Stewart said organizers are hosting a broader scope of programs like global changes and raingardens to attract more than just birders.

Organizer and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge Ranger Kelly Blackledge said Frelich will discuss what will happen to birds with the changes in climate altering their habitats.

"It's profound how it could change in a short period of time," she said, adding there are already changes in migration patterns, population and timing for nesting.

Also on Thursday is a birding in the field beginner session, and for the more advanced, a digiscoping in the field session.

The beginning session is for anyone who wants to learn more or may just need a refresher course. The digiscope session is for those interested in hooking up digital cameras to spotting scopes.

Friday begins with field trips to Red Lake, Agassiz National Refuge and Itasca State Park.

Although the trips are kind of lengthy, those looking to cross a rare bird off their list will find it worth the trek.

"We're encouraging them to let us drive and they can sleep and wake up and be ready to bird watch," Blackledge said.

Five leaders accompany each fieldtrip, which "sets us above other festivals" because people can ask questions and get answers, she said. Leaders, who come from all over the Midwest, scope out the areas before birders come and also ask those on the bus what they are most interested in seeing.

That evening's guest speaker is University of Minnesota professor Clarence Lehman, who will speak on "Prairies: Fuel for Thought." Stewart said he will not only speak on using native plants as biofuel -- similar to using corn for fuel -- but he is also looking for feedback on the experiment.

Stewart and Blackledge said they are seeing more and more first-time birders during the festival. They said it's nice for beginners to sit with the experienced birders, because they can learn even more that way.

"Even if they don't have (all the equipment), they can come and find a way to be helped with needs and participate," Stewart said.

Saturdays' workshops are free to everyone and feature such topics as birding by ear and making dollars and sense of conserving habitat. There will also be a silent auction, and that night is a Native Harvest dinner with organic and local foods.

That evening, Weidensaul is the featured speaker. He has written more than two dozen books on natural history and was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction with his book, Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds.

"I think he'll be real personal and approachable," Stewart said.

Blackledge said the festival is always seeing return participants as well, "because we are always changing it up" with new speakers, topics and fieldtrips.

"This is a great example of natural resources and tourism working together," Blackledge said of the partnership, with Stewart at the Tourism Bureau and Blackledge with Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.

She said Becker County is an eco-tourism site, with numbers for hunting and fishing declining and bird watching growing.

The Festival of Birds is one of the most noted bird festivals in Minnesota. It was the first festival in the state. But that doesn't mean it's not getting talk in other locations too.

"You'll hear people in Florida and Texas talking about us," Blackledge said.

Birders and those interested in the workshops can register online at, or by calling the DL Regional Chamber of Commerce at 218-847-9202.

Sign up now, Stewart noted, because "to avoid disappointment, the sooner the better."