Every fall, thousands of redhead ducks and other waterfowl flock to the Straits of Mackinac in their annual migration south for the winter. From the Mackinac Bridge east to Drummond Island and north throughout the eastern Upper Peninsula, more than 250 bird species find a safe haven in the protective habitats along Lake Huron’s northern shore.
The scenic 150-mile stretch is called the North Huron Birding Trail, and there are 30 designated spots where birders can stop and look for a variety of known inhabitants including sparrows, owls, warblers, raptors, woodpeckers, songbirds and waterfowl.
Dedicated last spring, the area is creating a buzz among birders. It is Michigan’s newest birding trail, and it highlights the area’s special features as well as some of the country’s most sought-after bird species.
“During the fall migration, we basically have all these species coming down from Canada, and they are migrating back south, passing through two major migratory flyways that intersect in Michigan,” says Elliot Nelson, an avid birder who grew up in the area and helped research and develop trail sites as a graduate student. “You get so many birds you can see them on Doppler radar.”
Nelson spent the summer of 2015 scouting the whole eastern Upper Peninsula and had other birders take him to their favorite spots, then planned out the route and wrote the interpretative information about the birds and natural features. The signature sites are his top picks for those who don’t have time to do the entire trail, and he hopes the stops give people a sense of pride in and awareness of the great conservation lands in the area and how important they are.
Nearly 20 years ago, Dave Ewert — a biologist for The Nature Conservancy’s Michigan Chapter — and others identified the region as prime for birding. They found the area is a
critical migratory stopover and breeding ground for songbirds, waterfowl and birds of prey. It’s since been heralded by the organization as one of the “Last Great Places” in the Northern Hemisphere.
Divided into five zones, the trail starts in St. Ignace, heads east along M-134 through Cedarville, Les Cheneaux and east to DeTour and Drummond Island, then north to the Pickford and Munuscong wildlife areas. The self-guided tour allows birders to explore one zone or visit several sites over several days. Some stops offer easy viewing from the car; others are more remote and require binoculars or a tripod spotting scope.
Drummond Island offers adventure birding on ATVs, and the Munuscong Wildlife Management Area is great for a canoe or kayak trip. Little Traverse Conservancy, the Harbor Springs-based land trust, owns and manages more than 2,000 acres along the way so birders can hike, kayak or camp.
“It’s a really cool way to get out there,” says Anne Fleming, communications coordinator for Little Traverse Conservancy. “Once your eyes are open to it, it’s like learning about the stars. It adds another layer of understanding and appreciation of our natural world.”
People who want to plan a trip can find maps and rack cards at various tourist organizations or visit the website north huronbirding.com.
— Marla Miller, Michigan Blue Magazine – (Photography) courtesy of Julie Covert & Darrell Lawson
Top 5 Spots on the
North Huron Birding Trail
St. Ignace Area: Bridgeview Park and Pointe La Barbe offer year-round birding for waterfowl, warblers, songbirds, marsh birds and shorebirds.
Les Cheneaux Area: Search Bay National Forest Campground in Hessel is a hotspot for warblers and raptors in spring and fall. Great breeding songbirds in summer, too.
DeTour Roadside Park: One of the easiest spots to see warblers, vireos, tanagers and woodpeckers in spring and fall.
Drummond Island: Adventure birding along Glen Cove Road, where all-terrain vehicles or big four-wheel drives are recommended. There are sharp-tailed grouse, northern goshawks, sandhill cranes — and black bears. Embrace your spirit of adventure.
Pickford Grasslands: The Munuscong State Wildlife Management Area is a sprawling complex of coastal wetlands, sedge meadows and boreal forest loaded with every type of bird imaginable.