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Falcons and starlings and prairie chickens — oh my! Detroit Lakes' 22nd Festival of Birds opens this Wednesday

The Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds, which begins its 22nd year this Wednesday, May 15, attracts birding enthusiasts of all ages. (Submitted photo) 1 / 5
You can always spot a group of Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds attendees by the fact that their eyes are trained on the skies above. (Submitted photo)2 / 5
Birder, adventurer and longtime Minnesota DNR Nongame Wildlife Specialist Carrol Henderson will kick off the 2019 Festival of Birds in Detroit Lakes with a Wednesday night presentation at Maplelag Resort. (Submitted photo) 3 / 5
Humorist Al Batt, who wrote the book "A Life Gone to the Birds," will be Friday night's speaker at the Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds. (Submitted photo)4 / 5
Lyandra Haupt, author of "Mozart's Starling," is seen here with her own starling, Carmen, whom she rescued in 2013. Haupt will be the keynote speaker at the Festival of Birds on Saturday. (Submitted photo)5 / 5

Spring migration is underway in Minnesota, and that means the birders will be converging on Detroit Lakes for its 22nd Annual Festival of Birds.

The festival opens this Wednesday, May 15 with an afternoon social at Richwood Winery.

"It's free and open to the public," says festival organizer Cleone Stewart, though those who would like to sample some of the unique vintages bottled at the winery will have to purchase a wine tasting flight for $6.

After the social, which runs from 3-4:30 p.m., the birders will be headed over to nearby Maplelag Resort for a 5 p.m. dinner and 6 p.m. program, featuring avid birder and longtime DNR Nongame Wildlife Specialist Carrol Henderson.

Henderson will share the history of the peregrine falcon in Minnesota, whose recovery is one of the state's great wildlife restoration success stories, after being nearly pushed out of the region entirely during the early half of the 20th century.

After learning all about the peregrine falcon on Wednesday, birders will have an opportunity to attempt to spot one Thursday morning, when there are no formal field trips scheduled. A wealth of birding hot spots are available within an hour's drive of Detroit Lakes.

"We have seen a few peregrine falcons during the festival," Stewart notes, adding that Hamden Slough in rural Audubon and Bank of the West in Fargo are some of the best bets for spotting the majestic bird, which is considered to be one of the fastest movers in the avian world (up to 241 mph).

A map of birding hot spots is available at the Chamber of Commerce, where those who pre-registered for the festival can pick up their welcome packets between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.

Online registration for the festival is still available at the Chamber's website,, through this Monday, May 13. After that, latecomers can sign up in person at the Chamber office, 700 Summit Ave., or call 218-847-9202. Ticket prices for all festival activities can be found on the Festival of Birds webpage, which is located under the "Events" tab on the Chamber website.

Also on Thursday, the festival is offering a brand-new event — a bus tour of "Detroit Lakes area gems" from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"We'll be stopping by Becker Pet & Garden first," says Stewart, adding that owner Scott Sonstegaard will be on hand to discuss bird feeding tips.

After that, the group will head over to Hub 41 for lunch, followed by a trip to Forest Edge Gallery in Vergas. The gallery's rural setting may offer opportunities for spotting some rare birds along the way.

"You can do some birding on the grounds, or shop inside the gallery, or both," Stewart says.

After returning to Detroit Lakes, festival guests can enjoy another evening social at Hub 41 and "birding by pontoon," departing from the dock just across the street from the restaurant.

"Last year we saw about 50 species of birds during just that little trip around the lake," Stewart says.

Then on Friday morning, the real hard-core birding gets underway, with two field trips departing from the southwest parking lot at M State College (near the conference center) at 5 a.m. sharp.

One trip will feature the nearby national wildlife refuges at Hamden Slough and Tamarac, while the second will venture a little further afield, to the North Ottawa Water Impoundment, which lies about two hours away from Detroit Lakes by bus, near Wendell, Minn.

Birds spotted during the Hamden-Tamarac trip in the past have included bobolinks, prairie chickens and golden-winged warblers, while the North Ottawa trip could include marbled godwits, ruddy turnstone, western kingbird and more.

Both of these trips are expected to last until early afternoon, after which festival guests can enjoy a little rest and relaxation before the 5 p.m. dinner and program which will be held at the Detroit Country Club.

"That's a new location for us this year," says Stewart.

The featured speaker will be "A Life Gone to the Birds" author and humorist Al Batt, who will share some stories "peppered with comical situations we can all relate to," says Stewart.

Saturday's field trips, which also start at 5 a.m., will feature the nearby Blue Stem Prairie and Buffalo River State Park, and the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge near Thief River Falls, which is about a two-hour bus trip away.

"The Agassiz trip is nearly full," says Stewart, noting that it is one they haven't offered for a few years, so many birders were eager to sign up for it.

Meanwhile, the Blue Stem Prairie trip will also feature a little mini-tutorial on how to use the popular "eBird" mobile app for posting your birding exploits online, she adds.

That afternoon, M State will once again be hosting the popular Birder's Bazaar and silent auction from 1:30-4 p.m., with a special "meet the author" autograph session featuring festival speakers Batt, Henderson, and Lyanda Haupt, who will give the Saturday evening keynote presentation.

"All of the afternoon activities are free," Stewart says.

The dinner starts at 5 p.m. in the M State cafeteria, followed by Haupt's 6 p.m. presentation in the conference center.

Haupt will talk about her book, "Mozart's Starling," and the unlikely bond that developed between famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the starling that became his closest companion for more than three years.

Haupt, who rescued a starling of her own in 2013, is a well-known naturalist, speaker and author of several award-winning books.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454