Join MNA for the 25th annual WPBO Spring Fling

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Just as birds migrate north when winter becomes spring, so will Whitefish Point Observatory members, MNA members and their guests—although their migration only lasts a weekend—as they head to Whitefish Point for the 25th annual WPBO Spring Fling. This weekend of birding activities from April 26-28 gives attendees a chance to learn more about avian migration and conservation in the Great Lakes from fellow birders, field trip leaders and guest speakers.

A Great Gray Owl. Photo by Marian Szengel. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Spring Fling features two main workshops on Saturday that teach participants about Great Gray Owls and some local bird species in the Whitefish Point area. Other special events include a talk on piping plover monitoring, bird walks around the point, and owl viewings at dusk and dawn. There are also optional pre- and post-Fling field trips: Birding in Paradise on April 26 and Searching for Spruce Grouse on April 28. Visit the WPBO website for a detailed events schedule.

This year’s banquet speaker is Alicia King, communications coordinator and Urban Bird Treaty coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Program. Alicia was the director of the Bird Conservation Alliance at American Bird Conservatory before joining the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, served as a host on the “BirdWatch” T.V. program for PBS and hosted the Bird Feature segment on “Discover the Wild” for Wyoming PBS. She is the author of the Orvis Beginners Guide to Birdwatching and has written several book chapters, educational brochures and magazine articles. And, to add to her avian experience, she currently serves on the board for the American Ornithologists Union Committee on Conservation.

Always something new

Spring Fling Chair Mary Wise’s favorite part of the event is that you never know what you’re going to get from the weather or the birds.

“It can be anything from freezing cold to 70s and sunny, and the birds just don’t care,” she said.

Spring Fling birdwatchers a few years ago saw a snowy owl—a species that only visits Michigan in the winter—and an avocet—a southern and western shorebird that doesn’t regularly appear in Michigan, especially in April—on the same stretch of beach in the same day. They didn’t see any incredibly rare birds two years ago, but they did have a strong hawk migration all weekend and witnessed a flight on Sunday with at least 13 hawk species.

Mary added that there’s something for everyone, whether they’re experienced birders or just beginning.

“If people are already into birdwatching, it’s a great place to hang out and see some really good birds,” she said. “If they are new, well, it’s a great place to hang out and learn birds! There’s always something to look at there.”

Registration is $25 for adults and $12.50 for children for Saturday workshops only. All participants must be registered by April 16. Contact Adrienne Bozic for more information at abozic@michigannature.org.

Hoo Goes There?

By Anna Graham

Not many of us think of Michigan as a winter destination. However, there are a number of species that flock to Michigan when the weather gets cold. Most notable of the migrants may be the various owls that spend winters in Michigan.

Both short-and long-eared owls seek refuge here from their summer range in Canada, generally migrating to the far southern part of the state. Long-eared owls bear a resemblance to the great horned owl and hunt primarily at night, while short-eared owls frequent open fields or marshes and can be seen hunting by day.

Snowy owls live in the extreme north during the summer months but migrate to areas throughout Michigan at the southern extreme of their range. These are the great white owls often featured in photos of the Arctic. They are liable to roam in open areas searching for rodents or other birds and can often be seen during the daytime. It is not uncommon to spot snowy owls by roadsides in the Upper Peninsula, near cow pastures or fields where livestock are kept and vermin feed on their grain.

Great grey owls may occasionally make it as far south as the U.P. during the winter, although they only migrate from their northern range when food is scarce. At more than two feet long with a wingspan up to 52 inches, they are the largest of the North American owl species and prefer to inhabit the edges of woods.

Boreal owls, a smaller, forest denizen, sometimes spend winter in the Upper Peninsula. The northern saw-whet will make it as far south as northern Indiana and Ohio. Both species prefer mixed conifer and deciduous woods and primarily eat rodents. A last occasional owl visitor to Michigan in the winter is the northern hawk owl, a medium-sized owl with a call similar to a snipe’s winnow call, or for that matter, the call of the boreal owl. Click here to hear the northern hawk’s call.

During especially harsh winters or when populations of small animals for food are scarce, any of these northern owl species may flock south in large numbers. Such migrations are called irruptions. Some owls will even remain at the southern extreme of their range to breed during the following season, and this is your best chance to spot them. Keep your eye on bird watching websites, like the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory website, for information on what species can be found when and where in the Upper Peninsula.

Visit one of MNA’s sanctuaries during the fall or winter if you want to add an owl to your must-see life list, and keep in mind that you will generally hear an owl before you see it. You will likely find the great horned owl and possibly the long-eared owl at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary, James Dorian Rooks Memorial Nature Sanctuary at Garden Brook, Upson Lake Nature Sanctuary and Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary. Happy owl watching!