Click here for a printable birding checklist
Key Observation Sites:
1. Kipling Point
A stop at the DNR’s public access and the nearby fishing pier in Kipling can be rewarding for migratory ducks and during the spring and summer season for two local breeders; Brewer’s Blackbirds nest in the grasslands adjacent to US 2 and Michigan’s only regularly breeding Red-necked Grebes on small islands in the bay.
2. Saunders Point
This site can be excellent for waterbirds and landbirds during the spring and fall migrations. Travel west from Saunders point along the south shoreline via a nature trail to the Gladstone Bay Campground. Van Cleve Park and the city marina are both well worth exploring. Red-headed Woodpeckers and Pine Warblers breed in this beautiful city park among stately Red Oaks and White Pines.
3. Escanaba River, Pioneer Trail Park, and North Shore Boat Launch Site
The Escanaba River provides some nice birding opportunities at the North Shore Boat Launch Site (City of Escanaba), Pioneer Trail Park (Delta County) and upstream of the paper mill between the two dams. The latter is an example of a rare alvar grassland-shrub community, a globally rare ecotype found where thin soils occur as a result of extensive limestone flats. The river is very productive for geese (Snow Goose in the spring and fall) and ducks year round, raptors (Bald Eagle, Osprey, Broad-winged Hawk), and landbirds (warblers, sparrows, and winter finches). The open water in the winter makes this a particularly interesting place to check for out-of-season species with Northern Pintail, Belted Kingfisher, and Ruddy Duck having all been found on local Christmas Bird Counts.
4. Ludington Park, Aronson Island, and Veteran’s Park
This large and easily accessed public park prominently features Escanaba’s waterfront and provides many birding opportunities including habitat enhancements implemented specifically to benefit migratory birds. The park hosts the only known Purple Martin colony left in the Upper Peninsula (check the nest box on Sand Point past the lighthouse). The best birding areas in the park are found on Aronson Island, accessed over a limestone bridge. The best time of year to see migrants is April (swallows, sparrows, and ducks) and May (warblers, vireos, orioles, shorebirds).In fall, warblers are numerous in August and September yielding to sparrows in early October. During low water years, the sand islands to the south of Aronson have supported nesting Common Tern and the Federally-endangered Piping Plover. Veteran’s Park, located just south of Ludington Park on Lake Shore Drive, shares many of the attributes of Ludington Park for migratory birds combined with a large coastal marsh that hosts both American and Least (rare) Bitterns, and Marsh Wren.
5. Portage Marsh State Wildlife Management Area
This 600-acre coastal marsh located just south of Escanaba is one of the best birding sites in the region. For breeding birds, this is one of the best locations in the U.P. for Willow Flycatcher, Marsh Wren, American and Least Bittern (rare), Sora and Virginia Rails, and American Bittern. If water levels on Lake Michigan are low the inner lagoon accessed from the parking lot can be productive for shorebirds including Hudsonian and Marbled Godwits (both uncommon), Willet, and Long-billed Dowitcher (fall). From the parking lot, either walk towards the beach (south) or east along the dike towards the point (1 mile); migrants (warblers) often concentrate in the willows adjacent to the point and the first “island” of vegetation northeast of the parking lot (0.6 miles). A migration “spectacle” that has been recently documented in the Portage Marsh in the spring (late April-May) is the nocturnal roost of Tree Swallows, sometimes by the thousands. Other large concentrations of that can be observed here include Broad-winged Hawks and Sandhill Cranes in the fall, Common Nighthawks in August, and Common Goldeneyes off the south beach in early spring.
6. O.B. Fuller Park
Located 15 miles south of the city of Escanaba, the park has 82-acres of wooded land along the Green Bay shoreline at the mouth of the Bark River with modern campground facilities. Birding in the dune-swale complex along the shore can be very productive for migrants. In spring and fall large numbers of Sandhill Cranes can be observed migrating high overhead along the shoreline along with Broad-winged Hawks (fall only). Fuller Park is also one of the more accessible areas to observe the UP’s only lizard, the Five-lined Skink.
7. Cedar River Mouth
About midway along the U.P. Hidden Coast Recreation Route is the community of Cedar River. The Cedar River is high in tannic acids, coming from the surrounding vegetation along the route, making the water a root beer color. The smallmouth bass fishing is extraordinary. Check the marina and river mouth for waterbirds (including American White Pelican and Caspian Tern) and landbirds during migration.
8. J.W. Wells State Park
The 678-acre park has 3 miles of lakeshore, modern camping, rustic cabins available year-round, ample sandy beaches and picnic areas. With over 6 miles of hiking trails, part of which go through an old growth forest, the park is an ideal escape. Like other natural sit
es along the U.P. Hidden Coast Recreation Heritage Route, the coastline can be good for concentrating migrant songbirds, cranes, and raptors during migration.
9. Airport Park
This county-owned park on Green Bay features rock shores, mudflats and shallow water making this a good site for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. Willow shrub along the shoreline provides habitat for Northern Cardinal, Yellow Warblers and sparrows. Airport Park is located approximately 5 miles northeast of Menominee and has a paved parking and public boat launch.
10. John Hene’s Park
This Menominee City park is a unique elevated glacial till point on Green Bay, with a mixture of forest, ponds and open sites. The park includes more than 20 undeveloped acres with trails winding through diverse habitat. Orchids, orioles and many other northern forest and shoreline species can be found in the park in addition to great birding opportunities during migration. Access is via Henes Park Drive.
11. Tourist Park, Harbor Drive and Lighthouse Pier
In Menominee, turn east off 1st Street on Harbor Drive next to the Credit Union Office to access Tourist Park, a good viewing spot for migrating shorebirds and water birds. Continuing along Harbor Drive to Lighthouse Pier Walkway, expect to spot gulls, terns and waterbirds. Grebes and loons are seen in migration here, while in early winter, Snowy Owl, American Kestrel and Peregrine Falcon are often seen in the cottonwoods along Harbor Drive.
12. Chappee Rapids Learning Center
The Center is located on eleven acres on the Menominee River that includes old field successional habitat in the uplands and lowland deciduous forestlands along the river. This is a quiet site offering views of jays, bluebirds, Bald Eagles, Cooper’s, Osprey, broadwings, as well as good warbler viewing during migration. The Center is located approximately 5.5 miles north of Menominee on River Road. There is a s
mall parking area at the entrance and a trail leading down to the river.
* Peninsula Point
This observation site, on the Stonington Peninsula, is one of the most well-known birding sites in the Upper Peninsula. It has been referred to as the “Ellis Island” for spring migration in the Northwoods.
Thanks to Joe Kaplan of Common Coast Research & Conservation and Chappee Rapids Audubon Society for their expertise and guidance in choosing observation sites.
All of the bird photos were taken and kindly shared by Skye Haas.