On a trip to Arizona 15 years ago, Carne Andrews started down the path that led her to becoming a passionate birder.
“Friends from Oregon who were originally from Wisconsin asked me and two others to join them on a spring camping and birding trip,” said the Manitowish Waters resident. “When I got back home, I took a new interest in the birds in my own backyard.”
Over the next few years, she returned to other birding hotspots in Arizona and New Mexico for more hiking, camping and birdwatching with her friends.
Around the same time, Andrews and about a dozen like-minded enthusiasts hatched the North Lakeland Discovery Center’s Bird Club. She currently serves as its president.
“Birding is my favorite pastime, and my passion for it has only grown since that first trip to Arizona,” she said. “It’s a hobby you can enjoy anywhere in the world. It’s connected me to nature, introduced me to new friends and increased my appreciation for the environment in general and particularly what we are blessed with in this part of the state.”
The Discovery Center and the club will host what members like to call the “best little birding festival in the Midwest” May 12-13 at the center. The Northwoods Birding Festival coincides with International Migratory Bird Day on May 12, which falls during peak warbler migration in the Northwoods.
These diminutive songbirds migrate great distances, with some of them wintering in South America and then traveling all the way to northern regions of Canada to spend the summer — a trip of more than 2,500 miles.
There are 56 warbler species in the U.S. and Canada, and Wisconsin is home to more than 30 species of these often showy songbirds, including the cerulean, prothonotary and hooded warblers.
Warblers have a distinctive song that varies between a trill and a chirp. They also tend to be a bit hyperactive, hopping from branch to branch and dashing from tree limb to trunk to branch and back.
As part of the festival, Andrews said Great Lakes avian experts will lead trips around the center grounds and into the Powell Marsh, which is several miles south of Manitowish Waters. They’ll also host seminars and workshops that are aimed at improving birding skills and teaching conservation practices and habitat protection and improvement measures.
She said the festival kicks off at 5 p.m. May 12 at the center with a welcome reception featuring appetizers, drinks and a bird slideshow by artist and photographer David Heritsch, who owns the Pike River Studio in Dunbar. Scott Walter, wildlife biologist for the the Ruffed Grouse Society’s western Great Lakes region, will speak about landscape ecology and habit management at 6 p.m.
Saturday’s activities begin at 6:30 a.m. with sunrise warbler walks, bird banding, breakfast and field trips on land and by canoe, as well as seminars, nature hikes, souvenir make-and-take projects and door prizes. The Saturday afternoon speaker is Patrick Ready, president of the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin. His talk will focus on attracting bluebirds to backyards and natural areas. Breakout sessions on different avian subjects will follow.
When the association was founded in 1986, the eastern bluebird population in its historic range had declined by as much as 90 percent since the 1930s for a variety of reasons, including changes in farming, competition from sparrows and other birds and loss of nesting sites such as tree cavities and hollow wooden fence posts.
Andrews, who moved from Wausau to Manitowish Waters in the 1970s, said one of the highlights of the gathering this year will be the capture, banding and release of warblers.
“The speakers are always interesting, too,” said Andrews, who has a birding life list that totals 585. She’s spotted 192 different species of birds in Wisconsin. She said one birder logged a whopping 255 species in Vilas County, home to Manitowish Waters.
“If you are interested in the birds that live in the Northwoods, this is a well-rounded festival to attend. Birding up here really is great. We have a really wonderful natural area that includes hundreds of lakes, a number of rivers, mixed forest and even old-growth. They attract a wide variety of birds and waterfowl,” she said.
Andrews paused for moment when asked to name her favorite bird and then said, diplomatically, “the one I happen to be looking at at the moment.”
Emily Anna, the center’s naturalist, said Manitowish Waters has been an official Wisconsin Bird City since 2010, recognized for protecting habitat, building nature trails and public education programs like the bird festival.
“With 1,300 lakes, Manitowish Waters is an awesome birding area, especially for waterfowl,” she said. “We have tons of loons and ospreys and mixed habitat, forest and wetlands.”
Vilas County was heavily logged in the 1800s, though remnants of old-growth forest remain, she said, noting that the logging that now occurs is done on a sustainable basis.
“It truly is pretty wild up here with big red pines, white pines, deep forest and lakes,” she said. “We aren’t that far from Presque Isle, which sits on the border of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and bills itself as the ‘last wilderness.’”
More information: Admission to the birding festival is $40 for members of the North Lakeland Discovery Center (dicoverycenter.net), $50 for non-members and $20 for students.
For other things to see and do around Manitowish Waters, see manitowishwaters.org.
Getting there: The North Lakeland Discovery Center, 215 County Highway W, Manitowish Waters, is 280 miles northwest of Milwaukee via I-41, Highway 10, I-39 and Highway 51.