Bird’s-Eye View

Sunset Coast Birding Trail offers new birding adventures along Lake Michigan’s northeastern coast.
Red Tailed Hawk
Red Tailed Hawk // Photography courtesy of Lisa Hoyt

Catching an updraft, raptors can spread their wings and glide hundreds of miles along a continuous mountain chain. They often hug shorelines and find narrow strips of land between water bodies to conserve energy and avoid drowning on a long journey.

In Michigan, the Straits of Mackinac funnel thousands of raptors over the water during the fall and spring migration. And with two migratory flyways passing over the Great Lakes, every spring, colorful warblers, golden eagles, raptors and other neotropical migrant birds make their way back north after wintering in tropical climates.

Organizers of the Sunset Coast Birding Trail in Antrim, Emmet and Charlevoix counties, which includes stops in Mackinaw City where the popular Raptor Watch takes place, hope the state’s newest trail attracts visitors to take pictures of more than just sunsets.

Woollam Family Nature Preserve
Woollam Family Nature Preserve // Photography courtesy of Darrell Amlin

From Grand Traverse Bay all the way up to the Straits of Mackinac, the region offers diverse and protected habitats that attract a wide variety of Michigan’s 400-plus bird species.

“There are plenty of stops near the water, whether it’s Lake Michigan or some of the bigger inland lakes like Lake Charlevoix,” said Darrell Lawson, co-chair of the trail’s development team.

Michigan’s birding tourism has taken flight in recent years and led to several formal birding trails throughout the state. Sunset Coast Birding Trail opened last summer with a dedication, signage and other coordinated events, and trail maps and rack cards are available at local visitors centers and chambers.

Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanager // Photography by Lisa Hoyt

The trail features 35 primary sites identified by signs and marked on maps and the website (, with 30 secondary sites listed on the website. Stops include city, county and state parks, nature preserves, inland lakes and other natural areas.

Lawson, president of Petoskey Regional Audubon Society, and Lisa Hoyt, publicity coordinator, lead birding walks in the Petoskey area and worked with various organizations to spearhead the trail. Organizers selected accessible sites where people can park, get out and even take a walk. With nearby trails like Sleeping Bear Birding Trail and Beaver Island Birding Trail, the popular Mackinaw Straits Raptor Watch and organized bird walks and field trips, it made sense to create a formal trail and promote the area as a birding destination, Hoyt said.

“Certainly, during spring migration and fall migration, it is a great area and we wanted to promote that and bring in more visitors during the shoulder seasons,” she said. “That’s why you’re seeing more and more birding trails being established because it is something people are doing, and it’s a hobby that is growing.”

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