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From birds' eye views to up close and personal: DL's Festival of Birds brings visitors from across the U.S. and Canada

This young birder was fascinated by the Tennessee warbler that stopped by the Festival of Birds Thursday night, and the bird was rendered docile enough by its encounter with a nearby window that he was able to pet it. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)1 / 5
This beautiful Tennessee warbler gave Festival of Birds guests an up-close and personal view on Thursday night at Hub 41, after being stunned by a collision with a restaurant window. After recovering, the little guy flew away to rejoin his migrating friends. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)2 / 5
About 50 birders from across the country attended Carrol Henderson's opening night Festival of Birds presentation at Maplelag. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)3 / 5
Minnesota birder Carol Henderson, who helped to revive the state populations of many different species of birds during his tenure with the DNR nongame wildlife program, talked about the recovery of the Peregrine Falcon during his opening night Festival of Birds presentation at Maplelag. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)4 / 5
Birding by pontoon was a popular activity for Festival of Birds attendees late Thursday afternoon, as they drifted quite close to shore to view about a half dozen different varieties of warblers that had taken refuge in some willow trees near the Pavilion. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)5 / 5

Detroit Lakes area residents may have noticed quite a bit of activity out on Big and Little Detroit Lake late Thursday afternoon, as about a half dozen pontoons and motor boats ferried visitors around the lake to view dozens of different varieties of shore birds and waterfowl.

It was all part of Detroit Lakes' 22nd Annual Festival of Birds, which wraps up Saturday with the Birder's Bazaar, a silent auction, book signings and an evening dinner and program at Minnesota State Community & Technical College.

"It's been really good birding this year," said Carrie Johnston, president of the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the annual event. "There hasn't been a lot of leaf out, so you can see the birds really clearly."

In addition, there has been a huge influx of migrating warblers, orioles and other colorful birds into the Detroit Lakes area over the past couple of weeks, she added.

About 200 people participated in this year's festival, coming from eight different states and Canada to enjoy programs that featured such well-known authors and birding enthusiasts as Carrol Henderson, a longtime festival favorite, who started the Minnesota DNR's nongame

wildlife program back in 1977; humorist Al Batt, who traveled from his home in Hartland, Minn., near the Iowa border, to join in the festivities; and 'Mozart's Starling' author Lyandra Haupt, who gave festival-goers a closer look at the starling, an oft-overlooked and misunderstood bird.

"We had people from all over this year," said Johnston, "including a group from California. They were a little chilly, but they enjoyed their time here."

Henderson's opening-night presentation on Wednesday at Maplelag provided attendees with a wealth of knowledge about the peregrine falcon, a bird that was all but wiped out in Minnesota by the 1960s, due to the ravages of DDT poisoning — until a statewide recovery program was launched in 1982, through funding from the state's Nongame Wildlife Checkoff program.

Though the peregrine falcon is only sighted in this area during its migration season, there have been a few spotted during Festival of Birds field trips over the years, mainly in the Hamden Slough and Fargo-Moorhead areas.

Henderson noted during his presentation that peregrine falcons are one of the subjects of the DNR's live webcams — in fact, he revealed some "breaking news," that the eggs were just starting to hatch when he left his home to attend the festival early Wednesday morning.

The Falcon Cam can be found on the Minnesota DNR's website at

Thursday's activities included a midday excursion to scope out "Detroit Lakes Area Gems" — also known as local birding "hot spots" — which included stops at Becker Pet & Garden in Detroit Lakes and Forest Edge Gallery in Vergas as well as frequent roadside stops to explore local birding opportunities.

Late that afternoon, the group enjoyed birding by pontoon, where a variety of warblers, Baltimore orioles, red-winged blackbirds, common loons and many others were spotted. Some birders even got an up close and personal view of a Tennessee warbler that was picked up by one of the festival guides after it collided with a restaurant window, leaving it stunned and unusually docile for about half an hour before it finally flew away again.

Friday's and Saturday's activities always feature early morning field trips to local destinations such as Hamden Slough and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, Blue Stem Prairie and Buffalo River State Park, as well as a couple of destinations further afield; the North Ottawa Water Impoundment near Wendell, Minn., and the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge near Middle River, Minn.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454