The last of Michigan’s fall colors have been washed away in a week of wind and rain. Matching the drabness of the now barren landscape, many of the state’s birds have exchanged their bright summer plumage for duller, winter feathers. And without the pressure to attract a mate, their songs have gone quiet, leaving the day to break in silence.
Late autumn is indeed a peculiar time of year to take up birding in Michigan.
But what autumn birds lack in color or song is made up for in variety and diversity, making it one of the most exciting times of the year to observe birds – especially rare or infrequent birds.
Autumn is a time of transition for Michigan birds. Despite the cool weather, many species of summer birds can still be found rooting among the forest floor or under backyard feeders for bugs or seeds. Red-winged blackbirds and grackles can still be found, but probably not for much longer. They join robins and starlings, often considered summer birds even though many don’t migrate south – choosing to spend the winter near areas with large concentrations of fruit trees, a favorite source of winter food.
These summer holdovers join birds like dark-eyed juncos and tree sparrows that make their winter homes in southern Michigan, having migrated from summer ranges far to the north.
Both summer and winter birds are occasionally joined by birds that are simply passing through southern Michigan – birds that spend their summers farther north and their winters farther south. This latter category can vary widely and makes autumn birding especially interesting.
To draw attention to Michigan’s autumn birding opportunities, Michigan Audubon recently hosted a beginners birding workshop at the Bengel Wildlife Center in Bath, Michigan.
Offered four times per year, these full day workshops provide a combination of classroom lectures and hands-on outdoor birding.
The classroom portion of the workshop covers topics ranging from selecting the best optics, how to use a field guide and where to find other birding resources. Identifying birds by their appearance, song, flight patterns, silhouettes and behavior is covered in detail as well as learning proper birding etiquette – how to observe birds without disrupting, disturbing or altering their natural behavior patterns.
The hands-on bird observation portion of the workshop is conducted in the woods, bogs and meadows of the Bengel Wildlife Center where attendees get a chance to apply many of the skills learned in the classroom.
Wendy Tatar is the Program Coordinator for Michigan Audubon and has taught classes and seminars for more than four years. Tatar especially enjoys teaching the beginning birder workshops because of the opportunity to introduce new people to birding. “These workshops are a great way for people to increase their knowledge about birds they see on their backyard feeders”, said Tatar.
Tatar also cited plans to add more educational opportunities in response to an increased interest in birding throughout the state, especially among young people.
In the meantime, she’s busy working on the curriculum for the next beginners birding workshop, to be held during the winter birding season.