2017-04-06 / Front Page

Raptor Fest Gives Look at Birds of Prey

By Erich T. Doerr

The birds of prey migrating high above the Straits of Mackinac will be a star attraction in Mackinaw City and this weekend as it hosts its second annual Mackinaw Raptor Fest. Space is the limited, but the event will feature a variety of raptor-related programs, a chance to watch this year’s migration count in progress, and a presentation featuring live birds of prey.

The festival “is shaping up fantastically, even better than last year,” Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch secretary Kathy Bricker said. “I’m overwhelmed by our response. We have a lot of repeat people (registering) from last year.”

The festival will run from Friday, April 7, through Sunday, April 9, with most activities taking place Saturday,

April 8, at Mackinaw City Public Schools. Most of the programs and classes offered will take place in the sclassrooms with larger lessons like the live bird presentation held in the multi-purpose room. There are not many repeating programs from 2016, except the live bird presentation featuring Rebecca Lessard and creatures from her nonprofit Wings of Wonder raptor sanctuary.

Limited space to attend the event is still available. Those who are interested must e-mail Mrs. Bricker at kathynaturelover@gmail.com to secure a spot. The cost of admission is $30 a person for either Saturday’s programming or the banquet, or $55 for both. Mrs. Bricker said Raptor Fest aims to give people a quality learning experience about birds of prey with both indoor and outdoor events.

The festival will begin Friday, with the public and participants welcome to attend the hawk watch and waterbird count efforts, watching as professional counters track spring migration. The waterbird count will run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. while the hawk watch starts at 10 a.m. and goes through 4 p.m. The times will be the same for the counts on Saturday and Sunday. The early figures for both counts have been encouraging this year, as about 400 red-tailed hawks were spotted flying above Mackinaw City on Wednesday, March 29, alone. The migration counts will be weather-dependent events; hawks typically hunker down in trees and don’t fly if it is raining.

Once the sun goes down Friday, there will be an owl banding and constellation-locating program at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park at 7 p.m. for those who registered in advance. Registration is not required to attend the park’s Statewide Astronomy Night programing at 8 p.m., as it is a free public event.

Saturday’s programming at the school will start at 8:30 a.m. with registration and a silent auction alongside a light breakfast of Danish, fruit, and coffee. Participants will have the option of attending a variety of classes throughout the day or visiting with an interpreter at the migration counts. The first class from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. focuses on using video to identify birds of prey. Three options are available from 10:15 a.m. to 11 a.m., with programs relating to bird photography, how migration data is used, and an overview of the Midwestern raptor migration. The last programs of the morning will run from 11:15 a.m. to noon, repeating the data use and overview courses while offering new ones on loon research and the special challenges of photographing hawks. A lunch period will run from noon to 1 p.m.

Ms. Lessard’s live birds of prey presentation will run from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.. The afternoon will then feature programs from 2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 3:15 to 4:15 focusing on peregrine falcons and the owl migration plus repeats of some morning programs for those who may have missed them earlier.

Saturday’s programs will be followed by a buffet dinner from 5:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. The keynote speech will be at the dinner as Minnesota’s Mark Martell gives a presentation about American golden eagles. The day’s activities will close with a photograph review at 7:15 p.m. for those who took photography classes earlier.

A second free owl banding and constellation-locating program will take place at the Headlands Saturday, April 15, with both the public and festival participants welcome to attend. Those who wish to attend are again encouraged to e-mail Mrs. Bricker before Wednesday, April 12. Space is limited to the first 40 to register for the program. The program will focus on targeting northern sawwhet owls but capturing owls is not guaranteed. The activity is free with the option for a $15 donation to the raptor watch to support owl research.

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