To say that Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator Elliot Nelson loves birds would be an understatement. Based in the eastern Upper Peninsula, Elliot shares his passion for all things avian by hosting bird-watching walks, meeting fellow enthusiasts at festivals, and driving across the state to pursue rumors of rare bird sightings.

This September, Elliot is gearing up for Michigan Birding 101, a pair of free virtual classes focusing on fall birding tips and local raptors. Register to tune in on September 7 and 14!

But back in July, Elliot headed down to the Lower Peninsula to join Michigan State University (MSU) Extension 4-H Winged Wonders Camp. This traveling summer camp was hosted by MSU’s Tollgate Farm and Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. The camp teaches kids aged 10-13 about wild and domestic birds by exploring forests, fields, and farms. During the five-day session in July 2022, kids visited multiple sites, camped outdoors, interacted with research scientists, met raptors, made friends, and became ornithologists.

Here are some of Elliot’s highlights from the week, along with pictures from Elliot and the other camp hosts!


At Tollgate Farm, campers got to interact with local wildlife:

A blonde camper holds a reddish-brown chicken in front of a chicken coop made of wood and metal mesh


The campers created life-sized nest replicas and then created a skit to teach the other campers about their nests:

A camper sits in a large ring of tree branches while other campers stand nearby in the woods
Campers pose near a large nest made of branches. One camper has large wings strapped to their arms.


Kellogg Bird Sanctuary has captive raptors that would not be able to survive or thrive in the wild because of illnesses or injuries. The red-tailed hawk is the sanctuary education bird:

A long-haired camper smiles next to a young person holding a red-tailed hawk in the woods.


The campers caught fish to feed to the captive eagles at the sanctuary:

A camper proudly smiles with their freshly caught fish next to a pond
A camper smiles with their freshly caught fish next to a pond

Campers lean over a table to see a fish placed on a measuring board

An eagle perches on a branch in a tree-filled enclosure while a person approaches with a bucket


The campers grabbed sampling nets to investigate life in the lower food web of a pond, a crucial part of the habitat that supports bird populations:

Campers in shorts and bathing suits stand at the edge of a pond with skimmers and nets


The campers used microscopes to take a close look at feather structures:

A camper looks at a striped feather under a microscope at a wooden table
A group of campers sit at a table holding feathers and writing in notebooks


The group visited the Michigan Bird Observatory where Dr. Jen Owens was banding songbirds. Campers got to watch the process up close and even released some banded birds from their own hands:

A group of campers cluster around a woman holding a small bird in a barn

Two campers and a researcher cup their hands together as a small bird flies away from them


Elliot took some campers on an early morning birding walk:

Four campers with binoculars stand on a path through a wooded area
Four campers point their binoculars at a tree next to a pond


While the Summer 2022 camp season has wrapped up, watch the “Camps” page on the MSU Tollgate Farms website for details about upcoming 4-H camps, offered during school breaks and summers.