Bird-watching haven
Hundreds of birders come to Whitefish Point Bird Observatory for Spring Fling.

By Howard Meyerson

When spring arrives at Whitefish Point, a sandy headland on Lake Superior north of Paradise, a tsunami of birds typically follows. Wave after wave of songbirds, raptors, waterbirds and waterfowl stop at or pass by the point, as they wing their way north during migration. 

The peninsula is home to Whitefish Point Light — the oldest lighthouse on Lake Superior — and the popular Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. But it also is the home for the lesser-known Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, an avian research station that, in recent years, has become a magnet for bird watchers.

Thousands of birders arrive throughout the seasons — some for spring migration, some for fall.  More than 300 are expected to show up for WPBO’s annual Spring Fling on April 29-30, a weekend of guided bird walks, workshops about owls, songbird vocalizations and endangered piping plovers, among others.
 
“It’s kind of the crown jewel of Michigan birding,” said Heather Good, executive director for Michigan Audubon Society, which helped create the observatory in 1979 and took over its operations in 2016. “Because of the location and geography, it (the point) creates a funnel effect for migrating birds and a unique opportunity to study them.” 

Avian researchers working there spend their days watching the skies and tallying what flies by or lands. The WPBO hawk count, water bird count and owl-banding efforts have established the area as a major North American birding resource. The Hawk Migration Association of North America (hmana.org) calls it “the most important spring flight corridor for raptors (birds of prey) in North America.” The nonprofit group compiles data from more than 200 hawk watches across the continent. Whitefish Point observers recorded 20,726 raptors in May 2016.

WPBO also was designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) in 2007 by the National Audubon Society, the U.S. partner to BirdLife International (birdlife.org), the global bird conservation organization that created the IBA program. IBA designations can be globally, continentally or state significant. Whitefish point IBA is globally significant, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  Between 25 and 40 percent of the North American population of Red-necked Grebes annually is observed migrating past. 

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