Festival Of Birds in Detroit Lakes Minnesota

Detroit Lakes is nestled in the heart of a transition zone between tall grass prairie, northern hardwood and conifer forest ecosystems. That means there are lots of kinds of birds! Which, in turn, means a lot of serious birders flocking here each spring for the annual Festival of Birds.

The 24th annual Festival of Birds is scheduled for May 19-21, 2022. Check back for updates on presentations and field trips.

Highlights from the 23rd annual Festival of Birds:

Thursday, May 20, 8:00 am-9:00 am: Randy Kolka, Project Leader and Research Soil Scientist at the SPRUCE Climate Change Experiment enlightened us about the experiment in the Marcell Experimental Forest north of Grand Rapids MN. The one-of-a-kind science experiment in a true bog involves scientists from around the world who are conducting research in ten temperature controlled chambers. The presentation helped us learn what the responses to warming and increased CO2 concentration has on climate and therefore birds and wildlife. Presentation was brought to you by Prairie Woods Chapter of Izaak Walton League.

9:30 am-11:00 am: Warbler identification challenges were tackled with Kevin T. Karlson’s virtual workshop. Species were presented in photos with plumage comparisons of breeding male/female, nonbreeding and immature. Similar species appeared together for comparison of differences. Quiz photos at the end tested i.d. retention. Kevin T. Karlson is an accomplished birder, professional tour leader, wildlife photographer/instructor and author of a dozen books, including the next release, Bird Families of North America with Pete Dunne.

5:00 pm-6:00 pm: Naturalist Mike Havlik lead a fun virtual program that provided field marks for identifing different hawk species in flight. Participants made their field guide as he guided us through each hawk’s unique behavior and patterns. This presentation was brought to you by Friends of Tamarac.

Friday and Saturday mornings, May 21/22: Birding in the field. Two separate locations to choose from each morning.
Friday: Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge OR Felton Prairie
Saturday: Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge OR Felton Prairie

Friday, May 21, 6:30 am-11:30 am: Field trip to Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge OR Felton Prairie.
Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge is host to 25 species of warblers in their pristine woodlands including: Northern Parula, Blackburnian, Cape May and Golden-winged. Local guides will direct you to key habitat hotspots in pine and hardwood forests, lakes, rivers, marshes and brushy grasslands. Bring sturdy boots or knee-high rubber boots for short hikes through wet grassy/brushy terrain. This 43,000 acre refuge has a bird list of 258 species. Birds we’ll be looking for: Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Solitary Sandpiper, Trumpeter Swans, Ruffed Grouse, 25 species of warblers including Golden-winged, nesting Bald Eagles and Common Loons.

Felton Prairie – After a long pause due to the pandemic, we’re going birding! After arriving at our designated location, we’ll break into two groups to bird specific areas, then switch. Experienced leaders who have birded these sites for several years will assist each group in landing life birds. The tour traverses the historic Lake Agassiz beach ridge from Felton Prairie in Clay county and north to the Fertile area, where many large blocks of grassland habitat have recently been protected in perpetuity. Felton Prairie serves as an island for endangered and threatened bird species and is a jewel of Important Birding Areas in Minnesota. Felton is known for its dry, short prairie intermixed with shallow wetlands and prairie streams. The tour continues on the newly acquired 960 acre Cupido WMA Complex comprised of a mix of sandy interbeach lobes with large areas of remnant wet prairies. Walking this site, we’ll look for Greater Prairie Chickens and Marbled Godwits. Next on our tour is the recently formed and protected Prairie Dunes WMA, a large 640 acre tract with more than 52 recently restored shallow wetland basins, which attracts migrating birds. One of last dry prairies in Minnesota is included on this field trip. The strangely unique dry Prairie Smoke Dunes SNA is a mix of dry shrub oaks and dune sands, where we look for Vesper Sparrows. The combination of open prairie, river woodland and open marshes is expected to bring our bird list to 100. Birds we’ll be looking for: Greater Prairie Chickens, Western and Eastern Kingbirds, Orchard Orioles, Upland Sandpipers, Chestnut-collared Longspurs, Loggerhead Shrikes, Black-billed Magpies, Western Meadowlarks, Brewers Blackbirds, Sandhill Cranes, a myriad of migrating warblers, Marbled Godwits, Greater Yellowlegs and many shorebirds and waterfowl. Field trips to Felton Prairie proudly sponsored by Pine to Prairie Pheasants Forever.

Saturday, May 22, 6:30 am-11:30 am: Field trip to Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge OR Felton Prairie (see description above)
Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge, a designated Important Bird Area by Minnesota Audubon, boasts restored tallgrass prairie and wetlands that attract a plethora of bird species. Guides will lead you to a Greater Prairie Chicken lek, to be captivated by the mating antics of the males vying for females, while nearby Bobolinks and a variety of prairie sparrows perch on grasses. The marshy environs of Bisson Lake offer looks at waterfowl, shorebirds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, rails and bitterns. The changing landscape of the refuge brings the opportunity for a variety of marsh and water birds at beautiful wetlands and a small woodland acts as a migration trap for warblers and other songbirds. Birds we’ll be looking for: Greater Prairie Chickens, LeConte’s Sparrows, American Bitterns, Marbled Godwits and Sandhill Cranes.

Friday, May 21, 5:30 pm-6:30 pm: Author, accomplished birder and wildlife photographer/instructor Kevin T. Karlson virtually presented a photographic celebration of Hawks, Eagles, Falcons and Vultures of North America. Based on content in the book Birds of Prey by Pete Dunne and Kevin Karlson it featured some of the most spectacular raptor images by 19 of the top North American photographers. This presentation was brought to you by Friends of the Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District.

Saturday, May 22, 5:00 pm-6:00 pm: After a year-plus of pandemic inactivity, we enjoyed a belly laugh with humorist Al Batt. From Hartland MN near the Iowa border, Batt writes a number of popular cartoon strips, columns for newspapers and magazines, is author of A Life Gone to the Birds, and speaks about nature on radio shows. He has received several awards for his lifetime contributions to birding. Al Batt’s presentation was brought to you by Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society.

During the 2021 festival, field trip species counts ranged from 74-90. Due to a lack of spring rainfall, many shorebird species were not recorded.
Friday, May 21, 2021 Ulen Felton Prairie checklist
Friday, May 21, 2021 Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge checklist
Saturday, May 22, 2021 Ulen Felton Prairie checklist
Saturday, May 22, 2021 Hamden Sough National Wildlife Refuge checklist

Festival attendees throughout the years have learned much about birds, wildlife and the environment through presenters such as John Fitzpatrick, John Marzluff, Joel Greenberg, Melissa Groo, Rosalind Renfrew, Sue Leaf, Drew Wheelan, Charlie Walcott, Richard Crossley, Scott Wiedensaul, David Sibley, Bill Thompson III, Laura Erickson, Don and Lillian Stokes, Kenn Kaufmann, Dr. Paul Johnsgard, Stan Tekiela, Dr. James Grier, Sharon Stiteler, Al Batt, Jeff Gordon, Joe Hautman, Jeb Barzen, Ernesto Reyes, Noah Strycker, Lyanda Haupt, Kevin Karlson, Randy Kolka and Mike Havlik.

If you would like to receive future Festival of Birds programs and are not on the current mailing list, please contact us at dlchamber@VisitDetroitLakes.com or call 218-847-9202. For updates, “like” us on facebook. Enjoy our small town hospitality while in Detroit Lakes, including several lodging options.

In recent years, birders have checked these species off their list: Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Rough-legged Hawk, Chestnut-collared Longspur, LeConte’s and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows, Rock Wren, Golden-winged and Northern Parula Warblers, Alder Flycatcher and Black-backed Woodpecker.

Any time of year, we welcome you to check out several sites along the Pine to Prairie International Birding Trail that are near Detroit Lakes. For more birding opportunities in Minnesota, see the MOU website.

Everywhere you go in Detroit Lakes’ bird paradise, you’re guaranteed to see birds to check off your bird list. We welcome you to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Happy birding! 


May. 20, 2021

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