By Howard Meyerson
Peggy Ridgway is no laggard when it comes to organizing bird-watching events. The 73-year-old retired Oscoda school teacher founded the Tawas Point Birding Festival that celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The popular Lake Huron shoreline event, May 14-17, draws hundreds of bird-watchers from as far away as California.
They arrive annually in East Tawas with their binoculars and field guides, hoping to view spring migrant birds as they wing their way up Michigan’s northeast shoreline, headed for summer nesting grounds. Festival goers spotted and recorded 188 bird species in 2014.
“We’ve had people from 17 states and five countries over nine years,” said Ridgway, past president of Michigan Audubon Society and a member of the AuSable Valley Audubon chapter.
Ridgway’s Audubon chapter is one of three, including Thunder Bay Audubon Society and Straits Area Audubon Society, that have been working for 15 months to develop the Sunrise Coast Birding Trail, a 28-stop, 145-mile, bird-watching trail stretching from Oscoda north to Mackinac City.
The route incorporates the best birding spots on the Sunrise Coast and makes them readily accessible to those traveling by vehicle and bicycle.
Formal dedications for the new trail will be held at 10 a.m. May 2 at Duck Park in Alpena and at 1 p.m. May 2 at Shoreline Park in Oscoda and Mill Creek Historical Park in Mackinac City.
The Audubon chapters received financial help from Consumers Energy and the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments. The funding paid for site signs and the development of a four-color map showing the route and birding locations. A copy can be downloaded from the trail website.
Maps also will be available at area Chamber of Commerce offices and visitor bureaus.
The Sunrise Coast and Saginaw Bay birding trails are two of five that can be found in Michigan. Others include the Beaver Island Birding Trail and Sleeping Bear Birding Trail which opened last year — and the 150-mile Superior Birding Trail in the Upper Peninsula. Details on each can be found on Michigan Audubon’s “Go Birding” page and on the Michigan DNR’s website.
Birding is big business in Michigan. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reports about 2 million residents and non-resident watched birds in Michigan in 2011. About 1.6 million watched birds around their homes, but about 818,000 traveled to see birds. Those findings were reported in the agency’s 2011 report “Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis.”
The report found “Wildlife Watching” — the broader category tracked by USFWS that includes bird-watching, along with feeding, photographing, and traveling to see other wildlife — accounted for $1.2 billion spent in Michigan. The average away-from-home trip expense was $425 per person.
Many who travel to see birds also attend bird-watching festivals in and around Michigan. There are 17 scheduled between now and October. You can find them on the accompanying Birding Festival Calendar.
New this year are festivals like “Warblers on the Water” at Beaver Island, the “Aldo Leopold Festival” in the Les Cheneaux Islands and the Midwest Birding Symposium in Bay City. Birdwatcher’s Digest, the national magazine, is a major symposium partner.
“That’s an exciting development,” said Wendy Tatar, program coordinator for Michigan Audubon Society. “The symposium happens every other year and moves around the Midwest. It brings the best speakers and birds into an area and supports bird conservation. The event hasn’t been in Michigan since the 1990’s. The last one in Ohio in 2013 had over 800 people.”
This year is going to be a big year for birders in Michigan. There are more events, trails and places to enjoy bird-watching. With so many destinations beckoning bird-watchers from across the Midwest, U.S., and afar, Michigan is proving not only to be a major trail state, but a major U.S. bird-watching state, as well.
2015 BIRDING FESTIVAL CALENDAR
• 24-26: 27th Annual Spring Fling, Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. See wpbo.org
• 25: 5th Annual Thornapple Woodpecker Festival, Middleville Village Hall. See woodpeckerfest.webs.com
• Month of May: 9th Annual Keweenaw Migratory Bird Festival, Copper Harbor.
• 1-18: Festival of Birds 2015, Pointe Pelee National Park, Leamington Ontario, near Windsor. See friendsofpointpelee.com
• 2: Ziibiwing Annual Bird Celebration, Saginaw-Chippewa Indian Tribe event from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Ziibiwing Cultural Center, 6650 E. Broadway, Mt. Pleasant. See sagchip.org/ziibiwing
• 7-10: Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Porter, Indiana. See indunesbirdingfestival.com
• 8-17: The Biggest Week in American Birding, Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Magee Marsh, Oak Harbor, Ohio. See bwiab.com
• 14-17: Tawas Point Birding Festival, Iosco County, a Michigan Audubon Signature Event. See tawasbirdfest.com.
• 22-24: Warblers on the Water, Beaver Island. Guides birdwatching hikes, field trips and presentations on the new Beaver Island Birding Trail. See beaverislandbirdingtrail.org
• 28-31: Leelanau Peninsula Birding Festival. See mibirdfest.com
• 5-7: Cerulean Warbler Weekend, Otis Farm Bird Sanctuary, 3560 Havens Road, Hastings, a Michigan Audubon Signature Event. See ceruleanwarbler.com
• 5-6: Kirtland’s Warbler Festival, Roscommon. See kirtlandswarbler.org
• 19-21: Aldo Leopold Festival, Les Cheneaux Islands, Cedarville/Hessel. Morning bird-watching field trips and other events scheduled. Call 906-484-3935 for details. See michiganaudubon.org/calendar/aldo-leopold-festival
• 15: Birds, Blooms and Butterflies Festival at Dahlem Center, Jackson. See dahlemcenter.org
• 10-13: Midwest Birding Symposium, Bay City, Expert presentations, clinics and bird-watching field trips, hosted by Michigan Audubon Society. See midwestbirding.org
• 19-20: Lake Erie Metropark Hawkfest, Lake Erie Marshlands Museum, Brownstown. See metroparks.com/Lake-Erie-Metropark-Marshlands-Museum-and-Nature-Center. Call 734-782-3956 for times and information.
• 10-11: 21st Annual Sandhill Crane and Art Festival — “CraneFest,” a Michigan Audubon Signature Event, Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary, Bellevue, Calhoun County. See cranefest.org.