The not so rare or elusive birder

Over the weekend hundreds of curious creatures deposited themselves in places all over Iosco County, but most notably to Tawas Point. They were not feathered friends heading north again for the spring migration after a long winter, but birders following those beloved-feathered animals north and to the Point for the annual Tawas Point Birding Festival.

Just driving through the Tawases last week you could tell that the birders were out in full force. The motels were packed with cars, town was noticeably busy with people going about doing things, and you could spot birders from a mile off from their appearance.

They were everywhere, not just at the state park, but all over the Tawases and Iosco County, whether it was searching for a rare bird in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, or along US-23 and the bridge over the Tawas River at Gateway Park; nothing will stop a birder from seeing a rare bird and getting the chance to scratch that specimen off their “life list.”

The typical birder (they often travel in packs of two to upwards of 10) is easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for. They often wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots, for ease of access hard to reach places for better bird spotting. They are often pointing into trees or clumps of bushes and others in the pack will look excitedly in that direction.

Their outfits are much like their shoes – tough, durable and water resistant – and are tailored for comfort in the outdoors. Some will have water resistant cargo pants for carrying items that are needed in the field. They often have a nice water resistant spring windbreaker that is not too warm, but then again not too cold because spring weather in northern Michigan is unpredictable.

Birders are notorious for carrying around a field guide to birds and referring to it often. One thing that almost all birders have is something to look at the birds with, other than their eyeballs, which could include a huge set of binoculars or a really expensive camera. 

Venture out early in the morning and you, dear reader, will get a chance to spot one of these not so elusive creature trying to spot elusive birds. One way to tell the origin of the birder is, if you are lucky, to see their home state by seeing their automobile license plate, but the easiest way to get information from a birder is to just ask.

In my experiences working in Iosco County and covering the birding festival the best way to get information about people at the festival, or the birds they seek, is just to ask them. They will give you all the info you need, and enough to last a few more days.

I do not consider myself a very educated birder, but working with the newspaper you must know a few things about birds, which are mostly derived from field guides we keep at home or in the office. But there is always more information in an avid hobbyist’s head than in a book. I found that asking birders what they are looking at, why they are here, and where they came from, was as simple as just asking them.

I learned more about the hobby of birding spending a few hours at Tawas Point during the festival and talking to birders that I ever have from diving into a field guide. 

Over the years I have found people involved in the hobby of birding to be some of the most knowledgeable about their hobby, and some of the most willing to share information and their passion about what they love. You can really see that they love the hobby and are enthusiastic about it, and willing to share. 

I’m glad that birds flock to northern Michigan during the spring, but I’m also glad that the birders flock to the area, not only for the benefits of having tourists in the area for our local economy, but because they are just great people to have around.

Lets face it, sometimes people who come into northern Michigan to enjoy the area are not exactly the most gracious of guests in our area. Case in point the U.S. Forest Service’s decision (which was then rescinded) to disallow alcohol from the AuSable River in certain sections was based on drunken tourists on the river.

You’re not going to find that with birders, who are welcome in the community, not to say that other tourism isn’t welcome in the area. That being said, the birding festival always means that spring is in the air in northern Michigan, and that tourism season has started for the year, and birders are a way to get us ready for the incursion.