A Birder’s Paradise

Marquette area’s blend of natural settings provides hot spots for finding interesting species // Photography by Beth Olson
A common yellowthroat.

Birders love to discover new sightings they can joyfully add to their personal lists or detail in their birding journals.

That’s why the Lake Superior region around Marquette rates as such a popular area for birders of all experience levels, says Jeff Towner, chair of the Laughing Whitefish Audubon Chapter of Marquette and Alger counties.

“We’re a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts of all types and a great area for birders, especially during spring and fall migration periods,” he says. “Marquette is surrounded by public land that’s accessible to anyone,” so birders have lots of opportunities to spread out and explore.

Marquette is located in the North Woods biome, so the species differ from those usually found in southern Michigan. “There are also boreal forested wetlands that provide habitat for species normally found farther north, for those who are looking to add noteworthy species to their life list,” Towner says.

A golden-winged warbler

Time to Explore: “Some of the best places to bird are situated within the city limits, while others are less than an hour’s drive away,” adds self-described dedicated birder John Pepin, deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources office in Marquette.

He also says birders in Marquette are keenly focused on the spring and fall migrations, as numerous bird types — from warblers to hawks and shorebirds — arrive to nest or pass through the area. He strongly recommends visitors bring binoculars and keep them handy, even if they’re just out riding around town, because you never know what you might see.

With hundreds of miles of trails, 77 waterfalls, and great access to Lake Superior, “there are numerous places to chase interesting species. Our area has a great blend of high bluffs, coniferous and deciduous forests, riparian habitats, open shorelines (83 miles in Marquette County alone), and various parks to explore,” Pepin says.

The city is centrally located in the Upper Peninsula, with superb day-trip opportunities available to nearby well-known bird migration meccas.

A golden-crowned kinglet.

Pepin’s Favorites: “In the city, birders will enjoy the Presque Isle Bog Walk and Presque Isle Park, which are good places to view wetland, woodland, and shoreline species. Peregrine falcons nest in this area, and the bog walk’s wetlands have provided sightings of uncommon species such as least bitterns. I’ve seen various warblers, merlins, and soras. I also have the feeling that when (you’re) birding here, almost anything might happen to show up,” he says. His other preferred spots for birding, especially if birdwatchers have limited time, include the trails along the Dead River, the upper and lower harbor breakwaters, Park Cemetery, Founders Landing, and small city parks.

Towner’s Picks: “My favorites also include Presque Isle and the nearby Peshekee Grade and Kate’s Grade. An option a little farther to the east is Whitefish Point, which is a great place for viewing migrating birds, especially in the spring and fall. Another favorite location to the north is Brockway Mountain at Copper Harbor (735 feet above Lake Superior), at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, especially for migrating raptors,” he says. “Try birding in areas that offer something different than your home areas.”

A northern parula.

Their other hot spots include:

  • The designated songbird trail along Harlow Creek at the Little Presque Isle Recreation Area, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the watercourse of the Carp River, where a harlequin duck recently was a long-term winter visitor.
  • The trails to Miners Falls and Miners Lake, near Munising and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, are ripe for fun sightings. Pepin reliably finds black-throated blue warblers, one of his favorite birds, along the Miners Falls trail, as well as yellow warblers along the trail to Miners Lake.
  • Grassland birds, including bobolinks and sharp-tailed grouse, often are spotted at the AuTrain Wildlife Management Area and Refuge near Limestone in Alger County.
  • “The beauty and magic of Peninsula Point on Delta County’s Stonington Peninsula is an incredible place to find spring migrants,” Pepin says.
  • About an hour to the west, birdwatchers can experience the beauty of the Peshekee River and the Michigamme Highlands, which are home to various boreal species, including boreal chickadees and gray jays. The McCormick Tract wilderness area and Craig Lake State Park, Michigan’s most remote state park, are nearby.
  • Towner says the Seney National Wildlife Refuge is another great birding spot, with opportunities to see trumpeter swans, common loons, and bald eagles. It has a very informative visitor center.
  • Pepin reports that “Marquette County also has been home in recent years to nesting Kirtland’s warblers in small numbers, scattered widely throughout various young Jack pine stands. There’s typically a handful of sightings reported in the region each summer,” he says.

Recommendations: “For beginners,” Pepin suggests, “the Presque Isle Bog Walk or the trails at Little Presque Isle or Au Train Lake would be great places to start. The Laughing Whitefish Audubon Chapter offers birding outings, which are great opportunities for birders to ask questions and learn from patient, experienced leaders. Experts may enjoy picking through the numerous herring and ring-billed gulls along Marquette’s shores in search of rarities, heading to any of the local riparian areas to look for spring migrants or chasing various accidental species, some of which seem to always turn up somewhere in the area during the spring migration or the weeks following.”

After a day of birding adventures, Towner tells out-of-town birders to relax and enjoy the charms of Marquette, dine along the sidewalk at a downtown restaurant, or visit one of a growing list of brewpubs to toast their new bird sightings.

For the next day, he says, “choose to do things in our beautiful natural environment that you can’t do at home.”


Laughing Whitefish Audubon Chapter

The group provides regular programming on birds from September through November, and January through April. Its Facebook page features member photos, rare bird alerts, and advice from accomplished local birders. The chapter also funds graduate-level bird research.

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