Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Birding opportunities abound in Michigan state parks, trails and natural areas

Spring means bird migration, and that makes for prime birding opportunities in Michigan’s woods and waters. The Department of Natural Resources has pulled together some tips on enjoying this special time of year in state parks, trails and natural areas:Birders look through binoculars at a Michigan state park
  • May is the best month to be on the lookout for colorful warblers (more than 40 species of warbler have been observed in Michigan). Songbird (passerine) migration peaks in mid-May in southern Michigan and shortly afterward in northern parts of the state.
  • Watch the weather. Strong southerly winds can result in good overnight flights of birds (most passerines migrate at night – in fact, in a dark campground, birders might even be able to hear the flight calls and see birds passing in front of the moon). When southerly winds run into storm fronts at night, this can create “fall-out” conditions where migrating birds are forced to land. Fall-out can result in heavy concentrations of birds in their respective habitats.
  • Use your ears. Most spring migrants usually are singing. Once you start learning some of the songs, it becomes easier to seek out new birds when listening for songs that you don’t recognize.
  • Find the right location for the species you want to see. Just about any park will have decent habitat for spring migrants. Many of them eat bugs, so try to find southern-facing habitat along water bodies (lakes, rivers). Not sure what parks are near you? Visit www.michigan.gov/recreationsearch to find the perfect state park for your birding interests. In many parks, birding can be done right from a campsite, since the flocks typically will move around in the morning.
  • Make it a multi-day adventure. Campers can enjoy birding while enjoying breakfast and a fresh cup of coffee. Camping reservations can be made at midnrreservations.com or by calling 1-800-44PARKS (1-800-447-2757).
  • Join fellow bird watchers. The best way to see more birds is with an extra set of eyes, especially if you tag along with a more experienced birder.
  • Find a checklist for your area. There are regional field guides, and many of the mobile birding apps will allow you to filter by region. This helps you learn which birds are likely to be found in your area (rarities/vagrants are always a possibility).
Those who are new to birding and want to learn the basics of the activity before heading out should search the DNR’s Recreation 101 calendar at www.michigan.gov/rec101 for Intro to Birding classes. These free, hands-on classes cover everything a starting birder needs to know.
Here are a few other birding resources to check out before your birding adventure:
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/ – Cornell Lab of Ornithology – guides and more.
http://ebird.org/ – Online database for submitting bird sightings. Set rare-bird alerts for your area and view species maps, hotspots, etc.
http://mibirdrecords.com/ – Official keepers of the MI Checklist and rare bird documentation.
There also are many regional websites, email lists, social media accounts and other local resources for birders. Do some online searching to find out what’s available locally and then get outdoors to enjoy some birding this spring!