Songbird Festival brings them in from all over the continent

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

The 23rd annual Songbird Festival took place this year on May 26 and 27, two lovely days with lots of songbirds in them.

Saturday’s events included a 6:30 a.m. start with the customary pancake-and-sausage breakfast cooked up on the Tolko grill by Bob Deacon, Terry Kristoff, Pat Potvin, Nelson Lutz and possibly others.

At about a quarter to seven, a rush of 15 or so avid early-birders arrived, all looking forward to the first guided bird hike of the day. If there was a prize for ‘furthest-away’ guests, it might have been won by Gerry and Anne Tenney, two Floridians who made the trip specifically for the festival.

“Oh yes!” said Anne cheerfully, when asked by a somewhat skeptical (and probably still half-asleep) reporter if they had really come all that way for a day of boreal-birding. “Last year we went to the prairie chicken festival in Nebraska, and before that we went to a bird festival in Alaska.”

“Have you seen ‘The Big Year?’”

“Yes, but the book was better.”

Leading the group was Margot Hervieux, an Alberta Environment and Parks employee based in Grande Prairie, who also happens to be a bird expert and volunteers every year at the festival.

“That’s a Tennessee warbler,” she said, pointing in the direction of a certain noise coming out of the bush.

“That one?” said one of the hikers, arriving on the scene just then.

“No, that’s an ovenbird,” said Hervieux “And that one from over there is a red-eyed vireo.”

None of these birds could be seen, though the members seemed quite hopeful of sighting something, judging by the impressive ocular equipment dangling from their necks.

The hike’s destination was the banding lab, a kilometre or two up the Freighter Lakeshore Trail. There, if luck was with them, they saw banders Richard and Nicole Krikun extracting and banding a songbird or two.

The hikes and bus tours to the banding lab went on until 1:30 p.m. that day. Happening concurrently were a nature photograhers’ showcase, backyard birding expert Myrna Pearman giving a talk, a ‘nature session,’ hosted by Alberta Parks, a hike focusing on traditional use of plants, courtesy of the Lesser Slave Forest Education Society, exhibits from the Grouard Native Cultural Arts Museum and a ‘nature kids’ program.

Also going on were children’s activities, including birdhouse-building.

On Sunday May 27 was the 14th annual Bird Run/Walk, of five or 10 kilometres, organized by Edith Mackenzie and Pat Potvin.

LSLBO Chair Bob Deacon says attendance at this year’s festival was down from last year’s surge, but it went well and everyone seemed to have a good time. He says the visitors from furthest away were not the above-mentioned couple from Florida, but a family from South Africa!

Birding expert Margot Hervieux leads the first group out on a bird hike at the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory Songbird Festival on the early morning of May 26. In the group was a couple who flew up from Florida for the occasion.

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