NMU bird watching club takes flight

Audrey Menninga

The Northern Parulas is a new club on campus made up of people who share a common interest in bird watching.

Last spring, 15 birdwatchers enrolled in Associate Professor Alec Lindsay’s Field Ornithology class that was offered through the Northern Field Institute. For four weeks, three days a week, the students camped out and participated in different activities.

“We would do everything from getting up at the crack of dawn chasing warblers to staying up late at night to watch owls get banded at Whitefish Point,” said Lindsay.

Students were able to get in-depth experience with identifying birds in the U.P. After about the first 10 days, however, students started to talk about how disappointed they would be when the class ended. Before the class was over, the Northern Parulas was formed.

“It started during Field Ornithology. Everyone in the class really loved bird watching,” said Quentin Sprengelmeyer, a sophomore biology major and the club president. “I was surprised to find there wasn’t already a club dedicated to birds, so I decided to start one.”

Just like the Field Ornithology class was made up of bird watchers who had different levels of experience, so is the club. The goal of the Northern Parulas is to set up a group where bird watchers, no matter how much experience they have, can get together and share their knowledge and joy in bird watching, Sprengelmeyer said.

The Northern Parulas has joined up with a local group to spread their own bird sightings. Melinda Stamp, an employee at WNMU-TV Public TV 13 and a former chairman of the Laughing Whitefish Audubon Society, created a website called upbirders.org with the help of Sky Haas, a lab instructor for the Field Ornithology class and the water bird counter at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. The website allows people to post their bird sightings and bird pictures, whether they are common or rare birds. The website is helpful to bird watchers to help keep track of migrations and see what species are around the area.

“When I moved to Marquette in 2004, bird watchers had no central repository for or direct way for birders to communicate sightings with one another,” said Haas. “With the creation of the website, we started an e-mail list server that allowed for better communication between birders around the U.P.”

The website provides a picture album that bird watchers can load pictures so that fellow bird watchers can see birds that are in the area. It also keeps up to date announcements about events sponsored by the Laughing Whitefish Audubon Society. Haas’ plans for the website include finding more information on where to find birds in the U.P.

The name of the club has special significance according to Brian Dibbern, the club vice president. A Parula is a warbler that has coloring similar to that of NMU colors.

“(The Northern Parulas) are a bunch of really active, good-hearted people, who are a lot of fun to hang out with in the woods. They’re open to beginners and advanced birders coming out with them and just enjoying U.P birds,” Lindsay said.

The Northern Parulas have a tentative meeting every last Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. Anyone interested in joining is welcome to join the club on Sept. 17-18 for their camping trip to Whitefish Point. E-mail Quentin at [email protected] for more information.

“We have about 15 dedicated members thus far though, most of whom were apart of the Field Ornithology class over the summer,” Dibbern said. “We are hoping to see that number grow with each outing.”