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Festival of Birds

Whether you're a diehard birder or just getting started, the 14th annual Festival of Birds in Detroit Lakes has something for everyone.

Slated for May 19-22, the event draws participants from all over the United States and Canada. In fact, the first registrant for this year is from New Mexico. So far eight states and Canada will be represented, but Tourism Director Cleone Stewart said in the past they've had 28 states represented at one birding festival.

Fieldtrips are categorized according to what types of birds will be seen -- shorebirds, prairie and woods, and that is what makes the Detroit Lakes and surrounding area an excellent one for birding, Stewart said. With the convergent of three major biomes -- coniferous forest, deciduous forest and tallgrass prairie -- the variety of birds being seen is vast.

People from all over the United States and Canada will converge in May for the birding festival, just waiting to see what Becker County residents so often don't realize is in their own backyard.

"Residents take our resources for granted," Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge Ranger Kelly Blackledge said.

They too can join the Festival of Birds trips, workshops and outings to either remember or be informed for the first time what this area has to offer. There will be multiple trips to see various types of birds, several guest speakers to entertain and informational booths to educate.

Thursday, May 19

"Thursday is a good option for people to attend, especially if they're not heavy into birding and just want to see what it's about," Stewart said.

With Minnesota State Community and Technical College serving as headquarters for the event, Thursday begins with registration from noon to 5 p.m., and offers the workshops Beginning Birding in the Field and The Social Network of Birding.

That afternoon is something new this year, a wine tasting at Richwood Winery.

"Do some sampling, buy it and bring it along," Stewart said of the next event of the evening, dinner at Maplelag Resort.

Speaking during the pan-fried walleye dinner at Maplelag is Al Batt, with Bird Stories from the Batt Cave. A native of Hartland, Minn., Batt has spoken at the Festival of Birds in the past.

"He is very funny. He talks about life in the country, not just birds," Stewart said. "You don't need to be a birder to enjoy him. It's for someone who just wants to have fun."

"He sheds a fun light on birding," Blackledge added.

Friday, May 20

Friday kicks off the fieldtrip portion of the festival. There is a trip to Fargo and one to Felton Prairie. Both leave at 5:30 in the morning, and both are new trip locations.

"If you want to see the birds, that's when they'll be out there," Stewart said of the early hours.

Back at the Student Life Center in M State, that afternoon will consist of a free Understanding Optics session with Eagle Optics. Find out what binoculars are best for you and your birding needs. Tom Kuenzli will also discuss new digital camera adapters.

Friday night's main speaker -- hosted at The Lodge on Lake Detroit -- is return speaker Carrol Henderson, who will talk about migration in Costa Rica.

"The whole theme is about migration and this will highlight where birds are going in the winter," Blackledge said.

Henderson and his wife have been leading trips to Costa Rica for over 30 years, and he will talk about forest layers and the variety of food available to migrating birds.

Also new this year, and free, is a chimney swift sit.

Built in the 1930s, the Bergen's Greenhouse chimney was struck by lightening in the 1970s and retired in the 1980s when Bergen's expanded. Since then, chimney swifts have taken over nesting in the chimney, a rare task now days since chimneys are built to prevent birds and other animals from entering them.

"They only come out at night, so we'll be there to see them off," Blackledge said.

Saturday, May 21

Bright and early on Saturday again, there will be a few fieldtrips offered. The repeat sites include Hamden Slough and Tamarac national wildlife refuges.

In the past, Hamden Slough birders have seen over 100 species at a time, including American bittern, Wilson's phalarope, upland sandpiper and 20 waterfowl and 20 shorebirds species.

At Tamarac, look for American woodcock, rose-breasted grosbeak 25 species of warblers, trumpeter swans and more.

New this year is also a trip to Smoky Hills Forest. Located along the Lake Country Scenic Byway, the forest has many varieties of birds to offer.

At M State, there will be several free events, including Birders' Bazaar, Ducks on a Stick challenge and a silent auction. There will also be mini-workshops on the chimney swift and sandhill cranes.

Saturday night will feature Drew Wheelan, speaking on the perils of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf.

"It will help people understand where the birds are going and how their nesting grounds effects them," Blackledge said.

"He'll have pictures and video of what it was actually like for the wildlife, birds, habitat" after the oil spill, Stewart added.

Sunday, May 22

A shorter day, Sunday offers two last fieldtrips, one to the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge and Agassiz Dunes and Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. Possible sightings at Glacial Ridge include prairie chickens, bobolink, black-billed magpie, short-eared owl, sparrows and more. Sightings at Agassiz Refuge include Nelson's sharp-tailed and swamp sparrows, ruddy duck, cape may and Canada warblers.

To register for the Festival of Birds, visit or contact the chamber at 847-9202 and have a brochure sent to you. -- Pippi Mayfield