Blooming Cherry Trees on the Old Mission Peninsula

Blooming Cherry Trees on the Old Mission Peninsula


The sun is shining, the Bay is a beautiful blue, and the flowers are blooming away just as though this past weekend never happened. But it DID happen, and it was ugly! Cold, cold winds, rain and even big gobs of snow that would have been very scenic in December, but were just WRONG in May.

And there I was, escorting a visiting outdoor writer who was in town to gather material about all the lovely things to do here in spring!

So what did we do? Well, we shopped in the Mercato at the Grand Traverse Commons. We tasted wine at Left Foot Charley and L. Mawby, and beer at Right Brain Brewery and Short's. We sampled TC's fabulous food at The Silver Swan and the Peninsula Grill. And when the rain slacked off, we hunted for wildflowers (pretty successfully) and morels (pretty unsuccessfully) at the Commons and the Grass River Natural Area. Oh, and we drove around looking at the blossoming cherry orchards, which don't look nearly as wonderful on a cloudy day as they do today in the sunshine.

But the whole experience got me thinking about those rainy-day places I don't usually check out.And one of the best is the Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College. Since its opening in 1991, the Dennos has become one of northern Michigan’s most significant cultural centers. In addition to a collection that includes over 1,100 catalogued works of artworks from the Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic, it has hosted several major traveling exhibits, from works by studio glass artist Dale Chihuly to artifacts of ancient Egypt and gold from pre-Columbian Panama.

Another of those blockbuster exhibits is about to open next month at the Dennos. It's “Birds of Paradise: Amazing Avian Evolution,” a traveling exhibition from the National Geographic Society, and it'll make its national debut here June 16.

Interior of the Dennos Museum Center

Interior of the Dennos Museum Center

In 2004, National Geographic photographer Tim Laman and Cornell University Lab of Ornithology scientist Edwin Scholes began a series of 15 targeted expeditions to document these bizarre birds. Eight years and 37 distinct geographic locations later, they completed the first comprehensive study of all 39 known species of birds-of-paradise.

The fascinating stories of ground breaking research and adventure paired with amazing footage and photography are the foundation of this highly interactive exhibition. “Birds of Paradise” is a story of daring expeditions, world culture, extreme evolution and conservation, as only National Geographic can present -- with stunning imagery, compelling video, soundscapes, artifacts, and engaging educational activities for all ages.

The interactive exhibit -- equal parts natural history, photography and science – provides an in-depth look through photographs, videos and sound recordings into the lives of all 39 species of these exotic New Guinea birds. From June 16 to Sept. 22, visitors will be able to follow the groundbreaking research of photographer Tim Laman and Cornell ornithologist Edwin Scholes into their fascinating behaviors.

“We were pleased to be invited by National Geographic, to be the opening venue for the national tour of this informative and fun exhibition,” says Gene Jenneman, the museum’s executive director. “We are excited to partner with National Geographic to bring this truly special exhibition to the Grand Traverse area and the State of Michigan.”

Red Bird of Paradise

Red Bird of Paradise

Known for their spectacular plumage – especially the long and elaborate feathers on the tails, beaks, wings or heads of the males – birds-of-paradise live exclusively on New Guinea and a few surrounding islands, usually making their home in dense rainforest where they feed on fruits and insects. Scientists have long been interested in their strange mating rituals and dances.

As they enter the exhibit, visitors will be greeted with natural soundscapes, traditional wood carvings and a montage of the various bird-of-paradise species. They’ll experience the bizarre courtship dances that male birds perform to attract the females -- through a unique “female’s eye view” video and with the help of interactive games like “Dance, Dance Evolution” that allow humans to learn the birds’ signature moves by dancing along with them.

Photos, videos, bird specimens and a kinetic sculpture of a riflebird (one bird-of-paradise species) also show the transformations that birds-of-paradise undergo to attract their mates and the various moves that make up their mating rituals. Visitors can also manipulate artificial tree branches to trigger video footage of different birds displayed on their perches, with commentary from Scholes.

Other facets of the exhibition highlight the importance of birds-of-paradise to New Guinea. Maps and diagrams of the birds’ ranges across the country explain how the country’s environment allowed the birds to adapt and evolve over time. Legends and folklore about the birds are shared from past generations of New Guinea natives..

Admission to the Museum Center during the run of this special exhibition will be $10 for adults and $5 for children.

The Dennos Museum Center is open daily 10 AM to 5 PM, Thursday’s until 8 PM and Sundays 1-5 PM. For more information on the Museum and its programs, go to or call 231-995-1055.