Birding programs have enthusiasts flocking to Ottawa County

He’s an unabashed bird nerd.

“I’ve been labeled the bird nerd,” Curtis Dykstra, parks naturalist for the Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Commission, admits freely. “I have a T-shirt that says, ‘I see birds wherever I go.’ I take it a step further and add that I not only see them, but I hear birds at the park or at the back of my house.”

Dykstra is in good company.

Ottawa County has a plethora of bird enthusiasts of all ages whom Dykstra describes in two ways: bird watchers and birders. Bird watchers take a more laid-back approach, gazing at these feathered, say, from their window or back porch while birds peck for food from feeders. Bird watchers may not be able to identify the various species of birds.
A Cedar Waxwing
Birding is akin to a treasure pursuit. Birders comb birds’ habitats to pursue certain species or discover new ones. Some birders upload their observations to www.ebird.org, the National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s online database of bird observations that provides scientists, researchers and amateur naturalists with real-time data about bird distributions and abundance, long-term change and seasonal patterns.

Home to 338 species

A plus for avian enthusiasts is the variety of the featured creatures. In Ottawa County, there are some 338 species, offering an opportunity to take pleasure in the diversity of birds’ colors, sounds and habitats.

“It’s always a fun treasure hunt because you use your skills of identification, of seeing, or maybe hearing, the bird and knowing its habitat,’ Dykstra says.

“They’re pretty widespread. You will find or see birds wherever you go. It’s not like trying to find black bears.”

Ottawa’s Parks and Recreation Commission offers birding programs suited for the casual backyard bird watcher to the most serious of birders, including Coffee with the Birds at the Ottawa Park Nature Center where, over coffee and donuts, Dykstra discusses birding topics ranging from local birding information and bird identification to natural history and stories of bird adventures. Sessions include a question and answer time.
The nothern cardinal.
In the Mug Photo Contest, birders submit their original photos, a panel of judges selects the winner, and that photo is printed onto mugs. The recently announced 2022 winner (drum roll, please) is the cedar waxwing by Mike Bergeon.

Scheduled bird walks and field trips to observe waterfowl migration, including the Lakeshore waterfowl and wastewater waterfowl.

Christmas gift

Then there’s the Christmas bird count, which runs from Dec. 14 to Jan. 4. The annual bird count is performed by volunteer birdwatchers and administered by the National Audubon Society. Its purpose is to provide population data that’s used in science, such as conservation biology, though many people participate for recreation.

From hobby to daily passion Holland residents Carl and Judi Manning say birding has grown from a hobby 30 years ago to something they do every day to see if they can add to ebird’s checklist (Ottawa County’s is at https://ebird.org/region/US-MI-139?yr=all), whereas on the Christmas Bird Count Day, an individual count is performed in a “count circle” with a diameter of 15 miles.
Carl and Judi Manning
The Mannings are serious birders. In 2015 they co-authored “Birds of Ottawa County, Michigan: An Annotated Checklist,” which they updated in 2020.

“The intent of the book is to not to be a field guide to bird identification but to document birds seen in Ottawa County and put it all in one place, so it tells other birders when they can expect to see a bird, migration times to see them,” Carl Manning says.

A compelling draw to birding is taking in the flora and fauna, says Judi.

“I love to see the sparkle in the snow and dragonflies in the summer, depending on the season,” she says. “I’ve been interested in birds since I was 11 but didn’t do active birding until 1987.”
Carolina Wren
Birds in Ottawa County fall into four categories: resident, migratory, transient migratory, and those that are “lost,” such as an errant limpkin that had gone astray earlier this year.

“It was spotted this summer along the Grand River near Spring Lake, and it belongs in Florida,’ says Dykstra. “We don’t know why they show up, but they don’t belong here.”

As aesthetically pleasing birds are, they also have an intricate connection to the
environment.