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'There's always a new discovery'

Becky Vargo • May 5, 2017 at 2:00 PM

Rain and chilly northwest winds slowed the spring bird migration, “but they are coming,” Ottawa County Parks Naturalist Curtis Dykstra told the 21 area residents he led on a bird walk at Kirk Park on Wednesday morning.

The next bird walk, for beginners, is at 10 a.m. Saturday at Hemlock Crossing Nature Education Center in West Olive.

The outing started cold — some participants said they had to scrape frost off their windshields. But the sun came out strong for the first time after several days of rain, allowing birders to rack up a list of about 35 species.

That’s a relatively slow day for May, Dykstra said. “Some parks we can amass lists of 50-60 species,” he said.

Some of the highlights of the morning walk included seeing a red-headed woodpecker, black-throated green warbler (the first of the year for many participants), a pine warbler at the end of the walk and horned grebes in breeding plumage on Lake Michigan.

“Where the sun hits the trees first is where you want to start,” Dykstra said, noting that he could hear a black-capped chickadee, a phoebe, a bluebird and a pine warbler.

The parks naturalist said he’s been bird watching for 20 years, but it takes time and practice to match the calls to the birds and to be able to pick out different species — when, to the average person, the birds all look the same.

Grand Haven resident Pat Bazany said she listens to recordings of bird calls. It all connects on a walk like this, Bazany said as she stopped, listened for the bird call that the naturalist noted, then put her binoculars to her eyes to scan for the bird.

“Put your eyes on the bird first, then bring your binoculars up,” Bazany said. “Then you won’t lose it.”

Bazany said she started bird watching after retirement because she was bored.

“This becomes obsessive,” she said, noting that she has seen 700 different species out of the more than 10,000 birds in the world.

Some of the regular birders attending Wednesday’s walk were well above 4,000, she noted.

Kevin VandeVusse, 26, carried a camera with a big zoom lens, as well as his binoculars. When he’s having trouble identifying a bird, the Grand Rapids man takes pictures and then asks people with more expertise to help. That’s how he got a Michigan record by sighting a sharp-tailed sandpiper last summer at the Muskegon Wastewater Treatment grounds.

VandeVusse said he became interested in bird watching while on a study abroad in Costa Rica when he saw a resplendent quetzel. He said he went home, bought a field guide and a decent pair of binoculars, and was hooked.

“I always loved being outside,” he said. “There’s always a new discovery.”

Dykstra said he enjoys leading the walks.

“The community aspect of the birding crowd tends to be inclusive,” he said. “There’s a mix of veterans helping the beginners. There’s a really strong birding community in Ottawa County.”

Several more bird walks and field trips are being offered yet this spring through the Ottawa County Parks Department.

Beginners bird walk

Saturday, May 6, at 10 a.m. — Hemlock Crossing Nature Education Center

Birding walks

Wednesday, May 10, at 8 a.m. — Mount Pisgah

Wednesday, May 17, at 8 a.m. — North Ottawa Dunes (Coast Guard Park entrance, Ferrysburg)

Pigeon River Birding Blitz

Bird count to celebrate International Migratory Bird Day: Saturday, May 13 (registration required)

— 7-9 a.m. at Olive Shores and Port Sheldon pier

— 9:30 a.m. at Pine Bend Park

— 11:30 a.m. at Hemlock Crossing

— 2 p.m. at Pigeon Creek Park

Big Day Birding Field Trip

How many birds can be found in Ottawa County in one day? Find out Friday, May 19, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Various locations. Registration required, fee.

Here’s a link to the Ottawa County Parks calendar: https://www.miottawa.org/EventRegistration/loadCalendar.action.

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