EAST TAWAS – “What a festival, right?” expressed Elliot Nelson at the finale event for the 13th Tawas Point Birding Festival. “I feel super blessed.”
Nelson, an educator with Michigan Sea Grant, assisted with tours during the occasion and also served as emcee of the tally rally. This was the final activity of the festival, where participants swapped stories and added up the different bird species they detected.
In just three days, the birders saw and/or heard 178 species. This is up from the count of 152 during the biennial festival in 2017.
“I think that is pretty spectacular,” Nelson remarked at the tally rally, which was held at the festival headquarters, the Tawas Bay Beach Resort in East Tawas.
Of the highlights shared, attendees reported spotting such species as the Kirtland’s warbler, long-tailed duck, blue-headed vireo, Virginia rail, common loon, Kentucky warbler, goshawk, bobolink, trumpeter swan, American bittern, little gull – which Nelson said is very rare for this area – and multiple others.
The impressive diversity of species which can be found throughout Iosco County is what makes the Tawas Point Birding Festival such a draw for visitors.
AuSable Valley Audubon (AVA) Vice President Sue Duncan, who helped organize the festival, said that the 2019 birders hailed from more than 10 different states in the U.S., including California, Massachusetts, Texas, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Additionally, there were visitors who came from as far as Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom to take advantage of Iosco’s birding opportunities.
The Michigan Audubon Signature event – supported by the local AVA chapter – boasted dozens of tours and workshops for birding fans during the festival, which ran Thursday through Saturday, May 16-18.
This included guided tours of numerous go-to locales throughout the county, such as Tuttle Marsh National Wildlife Area, Eagle Run Trail, Clark’s Marsh, Little Loon Lake Nature Area and Pine River Kirtland’s Warbler Management Area.
It was at Eagle Run Trail on Friday morning when Nelson assisted with the tour, which was led by Michigan Audubon Conservation Program Coordinator Linnea Rowse-Chriest.
The pair explained that the trail, which runs along the AuSable River, features a vast mix of habitats ranging from swampy areas, to fields, to hardwood forest land.
This habitat diversity can be credited for the Eagle Run tour participants having marked off more than 60 species during the excursion.
As this reporter can attest, activity from the birds in the area was noted from the moment the tour began.
Guests were able to view field sparrows collecting materials for their nests; see evidence of pileated woodpecker activity in the trees; observe wood ducks flying overhead; hear the sounds of ovenbirds; and appreciate the powerful drumming of ruffed grouse, which thundered throughout the trail.
Other species noted at Eagle Run Trail included the common yellowthroat, veery, American goldfinch, turkey vulture, redstart, chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, eastern towhee, brown thrasher, ruby-crowned kinglet and great crested flycatcher.
Rowse-Chriest and Nelson also provided information on the plant life in the area, the other wildlife which reside near the trail and the destruction of trees by the emerald ash borer.
As Nelson pointed out during the tally rally, what makes such events as the Tawas Point Birding Festival so exceptional is that there are not only amazing experiences to be had because of the birds, but everything else that the natural world has to offer.
When he asked participants about some of the other wildlife they encountered during the festival, responses included porcupine, skunk, fox, muskrat, deer, squirrel and various turtle species.
While there were plenty of adventures available throughout the county this past weekend, Tawas Point State Park in East Tawas was among the most popular stops for birders.
As described by Nelson, the Great Lakes are one of the most spectacular places for migrating birds, who follow the shoreline and are essentially funneled in, stopping on areas of land which stick out the most – such as Tawas Point.
The birds often rest and refuel here, while also spreading out in search of breeding grounds.
Birders were out in droves at Tawas Point State Park, where both guided and self-guided tours of the trails were offered, in addition to bird experts being on hand to answer questions.
“This is the hot time of the year,” said Kathy Moran, Ortonville, of spring birding at the point.
Moran, who also has a place in Hale, shared that she has attended as many of the Tawas Point Birding Festivals as she can.
In addition to the multiple tours which took place during the affair, attendees could also enjoy workshops on warbler, raptor and waterbird identification; walk along the AuSable River corridor while learning about wildflowers; hone their skills at a birding 101 lesson; take part in various social events with fellow birders; learn about conservation efforts in Michigan; and receive information and/or purchase merchandise from vendors, nature artists, nonprofit groups and educational organizations.
One of the entertainment highlights was the birds of prey presentation, hosted on Saturday by representatives of Wildlife Recovery Association in Shepherd.
The program was both humorous and informative, as Joe Rogers, Barb Rogers and Joanne Williams educated the audience on such species as long-eared owls, eastern screech owls, various falcons and more.
Joe explained that the animals involved in the program have all been injured in some way and cannot be released back into the wild.
Instead, they are cared for at the Wildlife Recovery Association sanctuary, which also rehabilitates injured and orphaned hawks, owls, eagles and falcons.
The birds of prey lesson featured details on how such species raise and care for their young, protect and camouflage themselves, hunt for food, communicate with each other and more – in addition to educating the crowd on the habitat decline of these birds, much of which is due to human activity.
For more information about the research, rehabilitation and recovery efforts of the organization, visit www.Wildliferecovery.org.