April 27, 2019
Mel and I were up and out the door shortly past dawn so that we could attend the Ninth Annual Thornapple Woodpecker Festival in Middleville, Michigan. Neither of us had ever been to a Woodpecker Festival, nor had we ever heard of such a thing, but it sounded like fun!
We arrived at the Village Hall in Middleville in just under an hour and immediately joined a presentation on bird identification followed by one on bird photography. No matter how many times we go out birding or taking pictures, there’s always something new to learn and we enjoy talking with fellow enthusiasts about our common interests.
Afterwards, Mel and I headed out the door with several other participants, bundled up in our winter jackets, hats and mittens, to wander the nearby trail looking for woodpeckers and other birds that might happen along. The trail conveniently follows the edge of the Thornapple River and is bordered on the opposite side by a large marsh– a perfect place for birding! There were plenty of trees, lots of underbrush and plenty of water.
To help us in our search for birds, there were experienced birders all along the trail who had spotting scopes and/or binoculars and who were eager to point out all of the birds that we might otherwise miss. Experienced birders know what birds are in the area just by their vocalizations, their flight pattern, or a barely visible shape in the trees. It was great having their input!
Because this was first and foremost a Woodpecker Festival, the guides pointed out a variety of woodpeckers along the way. The best find for us was the Red Headed Woodpecker, which we rarely ever see. Our next favorite was the Pileated Woodpecker—which we would have missed altogether had it not been for one of the guides. The bird was so far across the marsh that I could barely see it let alone get a decent picture. To our credit, Mel and I found the Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Downy Woodpeckers on our own!
But the birds I liked finding the most were the warblers. There were dozens of them flitting around in all the trees and brush along the trail–Yellow-rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers and Yellow Warblers. They were in constant motion and hard to photograph—but every once in awhile I convinced a few of them to take a short break so I could take a picture!
Also with the help of one of the guides, I was able to get a million or more pictures of a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher– a bird I’ve never even seen before. The person who was helping us with this endeavor had an app on her phone with the gnatcatcher’s song. As she played the song, this curious little bird kept coming closer and closer by flying from one tree to the next hoping to see what bird might be singing. It was pretty amazing to watch! Eventually, he came in close enough for me to get some really good shots! Sweet!
In addition to all the woodpeckers, warblers and gnatcatchers, Mel and I also saw Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Wood Ducks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Robins, Song Sparrows, Common Grackles and a Sandhill Crane—plus a muskrat and a mink!
It was the best day ever! (Not unlike all the other ‘best days ever’ that we’ve had outdoors!) We learned a lot, met some new birders, and found out about a number of other places we’d like to visit that would be great for future birding adventures—and photography!