Dennis: Seventh annual Winter Bird Blast set for Feb. 19

·3 min read
Canvasback ducks
Canvasback ducks

Winter Bird Blast is the Blue Water area’s premier birding event and it combines a fun educational lecture, field trip, and this year it includes introduction of the St. Clair County portion of the new St. Clair-Macomb Birding Trail; all in a one day event.

This is a free, family oriented opportunity that is open to novice through expert “birders” as well as anyone that is interested in experiencing the natural features of our area that draw birding enthusiasts to St. Clair County, Michigan, especially in the dead of winter.

The weather is really shaping up nicely for this event with lake ice forming and pushing large quantities of waterfowl into the St. Clair River. According to the long-range forecast, we should have a relatively mild day for mid-February. So, if you can’t be in a warmer climate, come and enjoy this indoor and outdoor event, you’ll be glad you did.

We start the day with an indoor educational session and celebration of the new birding trail. Many people keep coming back year-after-year to participate in this fun lecture that is loaded with local information and beautiful bird photographs. It’s also a unique birding festival in that it includes an outdoor field trip in the “Frozen North” where most winter birding events are indoors and feature birding in the tropics.

Following the lecture, Blue Water Audubon members will lead a shoreline fieldtrip to enable viewing of the birds just learned about. Binoculars and spotting scopes as well as warm dress are recommended but if you don’t have optics the Audubon folks are prepared to share (and help with your optics on request).

The birds vary from year-to-year but we always count on some regular, special species, and a few surprises. We have had many recent sightings of relatively rare species including Harlequin Ducks, King Eiders, Iceland Gulls, Golden Eagles and more. There are no guarantees on specific sightings but we’ve never been disappointed.

This year, the featured species is the Canvasback, a duck that visits this area in large numbers in the winter. The Canvasback, one of our largest diving ducks, is a common year-round local duck that is easily recognized if you know what to look for. It has some unique features, including what may seem to be a strange scientific name. The genus is Aythya and the species epithet valisineria comes from the wild celery plant Vallisneria americana. This aquatic plant is abundant in the St. Clair River and the winter buds and rhizomes (specialized root form) are the Canvasbacks preferred food during the nonbreeding period.

Historically, the majority of these birds would migrate to the Chesapeake Bay but with its recent loss of submerged aquatic vegetation, this birds range has shifted. You will learn more about this special bird and why it’s affectionately known as “King Can” to bird lovers and duck hunters alike.

So, gather your flock and get a good night’s rest on Friday, Feb. 18 because… the seventh annual Winter Bird Blast will be held from 9 a.m. through noon on Saturday, Feb. 19, and all ages are welcome to come learn and view many of our local winter birds.

Doors open at 8:30 a.m. at the Donald Dodge Auditorium in the St. Clair County Building, 200 Grand River Ave., in Port Huron and an outdoor fieldtrip follows immediately thereafter with carpooling suggested.

Refreshments, hospitality, free raffle prizes, and a nice, warm starting location are provided this year through the courtesy of Blue Water Audubon Society, St. Clair County Metropolitan Planning staff and the St. Clair-Macomb Birding Trail.

Tom Dennis is a free-lance writer, passionate birder, zoologist, creation scientist and naturalist.

This article originally appeared on Port Huron Times Herald: Dennis: Seventh annual Winter Bird Blast set for Feb. 19

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