Go Birding on MNA Sanctuaries

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

Bust out your binoculars and bring your field guides! Spring is one of the best times to observe the abundance of birds to be found in MNA sanctuaries, including vast raptor migrations in the Upper Peninsula and the nesting habitats of hummingbirds, woodpeckers, warblers and finches throughout the rest of the state. Below is a list of several such sanctuaries noted to be particularly good destinations for spring birding starting in the Keweenaw and moving down to the Indiana/Ohio border.

Many more opportunities are to be found, however, so we encourage you to check out our list of other MNA sanctuaries specially selected for their seasonal offerings to those looking to enjoy the great outdoors.

 

Keweenaw Peninsula – U.P.

James H. Klipfel Memorial Nature Sanctuary

Keweenaw County

The drive along the mountain ridge top is often proclaimed to have the most outstanding scenery and provide the most dramatic in Michigan. A short 0.75 mile loop trail offers a breathtaking view of Lake Superior.

The outlook also provides an extraordinary opportunity to bird watch during their spring migration. Tens of thousands of hawks, eagles, vultures, falcons and other soaring birds funnel north onto narrowing landmasses, including the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Juvenile_Cooper's_hawk_(Accipiter_cooperii) Alan Vernon permission granted

Juvenile Cooper’s hawk. Photo: Alan Vernon.


Keweenaw Shores No 1 Nature Sanctuary

Keweenaw County

Along the shore of Lake Superior, there is a spectacular array of rocks covered with colorful lichens ranging from pink to orange, yellow and green. A natural cove along the shore is one of the few places in Michigan where it is possible to see both a sunrise and sunset without visual distraction.

In late spring, the showy white blossoms of the serviceberry, the earliest blooming shrub in the Keweenaw, greets the hiker. The trail winds over several ridges of Copper Harbor Conglomerate and traverses four different plant communities.

Many bird species, including ruby-throated hummingbirds, boreal chickadees and American redstarts build their nests in the lichens.

The rocks of the northern shore are more than 1 billion years old.

The best time to visit the sanctuary is in the spring during migration.

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Boreal chickadee. Photo: Claude Nadeau.


John J. Helstrom Nature Sanctuary

Keweenaw County

The John J. Helstrom Nature Sanctuary is located high along Brockway Mountain Drive; in fact, 3/8 mile of the scenic drive passes through the sanctuary. It is located just east of MNA’s Klipfel Memorial Nature Sanctuary.

Heart-leaved arnica, an endangered Michigan species, thrives in the dry, alkaline conditions.

This overlook provides an extraordinary opportunity to watch hawks and other birds during their spring migration. The birds use thermal updrafts created by topography and rising warm air. Thousands of raptors, owls, and other birds use this method of flying.

northern goshawk by kirk zulfelt

Northern goshawk. Photo: Kirk Zulfelt.


Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary

Keweenaw County

Two loop trails bring visitors through the towering pines and forest. The 1 mile Cathedral Grove loop passes some of the largest and oldest giant white pines, growing more than 125 feet tall and dating back 300 years. The two trails intersect and can be completed as a 2.5 mile hike.

More than 85 bird species inhabit the old-growth forest, including woodpeckers, hawks, and red crossbills. Despite thin soil and boreal climate, several wildflowers grow, such as asters, clintonia, baneberry, and violets.

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Red crossbill. Photo: gbmcclure.

Redwyn’s Dunes Nature Sanctuary

Keweenaw County

The 36.37 acre sanctuary is located on Keweenaw County’s Great Sand Bay. The shoreline of Great Sand Bay receives the full force of the strong prevailing westerly winds off Lake Superior and the shoreline has sand dunes up to 100 feet in height above the shoreline.

The back inner dunes are vegetated by juniper clones as large as 15 square feet, and by wind-contorted red pines and aspen.

The sanctuary is a favorite resting spot for the migrating waterfowl in the wetlands along the back dunes. Beavers, killdeer and songbirds are also present among the varied plant life.

A one-mile trail passes interdunal ponds and leads down to the Lake Superior shoreline where feldspar pebbles are often found. In the winter, the trail can be used for cross-country skiing.

The gently rolling topography provides a pleasant hike for visitors of all ages during any time of the year.

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Purple finch. Photo: Robert Royse.

Upper Peninsula (outside of the Keweenaw)


Braastad Nature Sanctuary

Marquette County

Located in the north-central Upper Peninsula, the 238-acre Braastad Nature Sanctuary contains amazing diversity in landscape. Part of the sanctuary features an old bog, with other parts forested. There is even an old lakebed filled with leatherleaf.

Throughout, deer and songbirds are plentiful. You may even see an occasional black bear.

A number of orchids, trailing arbutus and gentians call this place home as well.

Image result for Black-backed woodpecker. Photo: Greg Schneider

Black-backed woodpecker. Photo: Greg Schneider.


Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary

Mackinac County

The 36-acre sanctuary has no trails, but is easily navigable due to its openness. The prairie seems somewhat out of place in the Upper Peninsula, and it is suspected to be a result of human activity. The dolomite bedrock and karst features scattered throughout the sanctuary contribute to the grass-dominated, open habitat. The shallow, exposed bedrock and thin soils make it difficult for hardwood forests to fully develop. The karst features found in the sanctuary today may eventually turn into caves or sinkholes after centuries because of the eroding bedrock.

Many bird species can be found year-round at Fred Dye. Visitors can see many breeding and migratory birds in the summer, as they thrive in the sanctuary’s prairie habitat. Ruby-throated hummingbirds can be seen around the wildflowers.

The diversity of plant species at Fred Dye result in different sets of wildflowers blooming through all points of the growing season. In the spring, visitors are welcomed by round-lobed hepatica and wild columbine. In summer, pale purple coneflower, prairie cinquefoil, and toadflax are in bloom. The fall brings leathery grape fern, pale spike lobelia, and fringed gentian.

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Ruby-throated hummingbird. Photo: J.S. Jourdan.


Pat Grogan Shelldrake Nature Sanctuary

Chippewa County

Located about six miles northwest off Paradise of Vermillion Road, this sanctuary is home to numerous plant species, including pink moccasin flower, pitcher plants, small cranberry, and sundew.

A lucky visitor can also see sandhill cranes, gray jays, pine martins and American bittern.

Ancient lake levels created this beach bar, providing a narrow spit of pine-covered sand for the trail.

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Sandhill crane. Photo: MNA Archives.

Northern Lower Peninsula

Julius C. and Marie Moran Peter Memorial Nature Sanctuary

Alpena County

The Peter Memorial Nature Sanctuary is wild and remote. Those who walk on the old path to Grass Lake encounter many interesting plants, such as purple flowering raspberry, buffalo berry, columbine, and spurred gentians. In early June, the dwarf lake iris grows four to six inches tall, while the bird’s eye primrose flowers bloom beautifully. Both prefer this sanctuary’s alkaline soil.

The Grass Lake edge fluctuates from year to year and is home to sedges, pitcher plant, false asphodel, arrow grass, and sweet gale. The open sections are ideal for bird watching, as the lakeshore is home to ducks, shorebirds, hawks and warblers.

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Black-throated green warbler. Photo: Matthew Studebaker.

Southeast Michigan

Sharon Zahrfeld Memorial Nature Sanctuary

Genesee County

Rolling hills and wetlands make it an attractive spot for songbirds. There is a nature trail that runs through the sanctuary, giving visitors spectacular views of the forest and creek.

The lower areas of the sanctuary are seasonally wet and include ephemeral ponds and Save It Creek. The sanctuary is in the Shiawassee River watershed, with the creek eventually joining the Shiawassee River and then the Saginaw River. The southern half of the Shiawassee River basin, where the sanctuary is located, consists of alternating east-west fine or medium-textured ground moraines, till plains and outwash plains.

The seasonal variation of the creek’s water level plays a vital role in this southern floodplain forest community, which is one of Michigan’s most endangered habitats. The sanctuary’s several wetlands make it an attractive spot for songbirds and other wildlife.

Skunk cabbage, scarlet oak and the Michigan lily are a few of the species that call Zahrfeld Memorial Nature Sanctuary home. Spring visitors are greeted with a diverse wildflower display, including beautiful marsh marigolds.

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Black-capped chickadee. Photo: Rodney Campbell.


Elmer and Irene Jasper Woods Memorial Nature Sanctuary

St. Clair County

Red, white, and painted trillium all occur in Jasper Woods, each blooming at slightly different times of the season and in different habitats. Red trillium is earliest and can be found in the forest’s rich wet deciduous woods. It typically blooms in early May, depending upon spring weather conditions. White trillium begins to bloom a few days later and appears in drier woodlands, especially on the west side of the sand trail that ends at a private gate. Painted trillium appears latest, from mid- to late May.

Some of the sanctuary’s early flowering plants include wood anemone, blue cohosh, and saprophytes such Indian pipes.

Jasper Woods is an excellent place for bird watching and provides habitat for many species of nesting birds, including the wood duck, rose-breasted grosbeak, ruby-throated hummingbird and black-throated green warbler.

Jasper Woods has a short trail, but visitors are free to explore the sanctuary at their leisure.

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Rose-breasted grosbeak. Photo: Brian E. Small.


Goose Creek Grasslands Nature Sanctuary

Lenawee County

Over 200 plant species have been identified at Goose Creek Grasslands, including seven types that are classified as rare. Sedges and rushes are found among many fen plants, including buckbean and pitcher plant. Aquatic plants, such as pickerelweed and pondweeds, take advantage of the wet prairie, along with various types of goldenrods and asters. Adding color to the landscape are Goose Creek’s dozens of prairie flowers, including culver’s root, Indian paintbrush, sunflowers and Joe-Pye weed.

Goose Creek Grasslands is also an excellent location for bird watching. Sound carries well across the flat landscape, and visitors may hear the calls of sandhill cranes, yellow warblers and willow flycatchers. Hawks are regularly observed in the skies, with eastern meadowlarks, common yellowthroat and red-winged blackbirds below.

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Red-winged blackbird. Photo: G. Lasley.


Anna Wilcox and Harold Warnes Memorial Nature Sanctuary

Macomb County

One mile of trail takes visitors through a forest that supports an array of trees and wildflowers. Massive tulip trees and bottle gentian highlight the diversity of vegetative species present within the sanctuary.

The clear stream that runs through the southern part of the forest is also home to inhabitants of the sanctuary; the brightly colored Laura’s clubtail dragonfly is one of the species that relies on the high-quality water that the stream provides. The monkeyflower, which requires moist soil or even shallow water, also thrive in the marsh habitat.

Many wild turkeys and the occasional great horned owl are seen throughout the sanctuary. Visitors with a keen eye may be able to spot warblers and finches.

The abundance of large tulip trees highlights the incredible habitat and wildlife diversity of Wilcox Warnes Memorial Nature Sanctuary.

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Great horned owl. Photo: Ellen Hodges.


Timberland Swamp Nature Sanctuary

Oakland County

Timberland Swamp Nature Sanctuary is the Michigan Nature Association’s largest sanctuary in southeast Michigan.

Visitors can get a firsthand look at the hardwood swamp and second-growth hardwood forest on the two-mile loop trail. The path is often swampy and wet, so it is recommended to bring proper footwear and stay on the trail. Despite recent impacts to the understory due to a high deer population, numerous wildflowers, including trillium, maiden-hair fern, and wild geranium are present. Acadian flycatcher, scarlet tanager, and red-eyed vireo are found throughout the swamp in the spring and summer.

The habitats of swamp and forest provide an ideal environment for birds, mammals, and amphibians. The great blue heron, great horned owls, and several species of hawks call the canopy of Timberland Swamp home.

With its diverse habitat and incredible beauty, visitors will get a true glimpse into the past when they visit Timberland Swamp.

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Blue heron. Photo: Mike Baird.

 

Southwest Michigan

Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary

Cass County

The 384-acre Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary is considered a “crown jewel” of MNA’s sanctuaries.

The easily navigable 1.5 mile loop trail allows visitors to observe all the sights and sounds Dowagiac Woods has to offer. The path is complete with boardwalks over seasonally wet areas, as well as benches for visitors to relax and take in the beauty.

The larger size of the property is essential in maintaining the diversity of plant and animal life found here. A mixed matrix of floodplain, southern-mesic forest, and hardwood swamp allows for nearly 50 species of nesting birds and several reptiles, such as the black rat snake. Along with nesting birds like the barred owl and yellow-throated warbler, neo-tropical migrants use the river and forest habitat.

Spring in Dowagiac Woods offers an incredible wildflower display. More than 50 species of wildflowers carpet the forest floor, including the blue-eyed Mary, trillium, and dutchman’s breeches.

Both first-time guests and regular visitors to Dowagiac Woods will continue to find new discoveries in its impressive diversity.

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Yellow-throated warbler. Photo: Zak Pohlen.


Lawrence and Mary Bell Wade Memorial Nature Sanctuary

Allegan County

Wade Memorial is a fine example of a mesic-northern compound mix of deciduous trees with scattered hemlocks. The trails are flat and easy to navigate, consisting of a bisected rectangular loop, creating two square-shaped trails that total about one mile. The sanctuary is well-suited to the study of both terrestrial and aquatic plants. Flowering dogwood and trillium can be found in the wooded areas during the spring, while pickerelweed and bur-reed inhabit the shore and lake.

Waterfowl and other birds are a common sight throughout the sanctuary. Wood ducks, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers all inhabit the canopy and shoreline of Wade Memorial. Along with birds, various species of frogs and turtles also call the sanctuary home. Visitors are welcomed by an assortment of plant life, including skunk cabbage, marsh marigold, jack-in-the-pulpit, hepatica, blue flag iris, trailing arbutus, and dogwood, among others.

The beautiful lake views and varied plant life make Wade Memorial a destination for visitors looking to experience nature.

Image result for Red-bellied woodpecker. Photo: Ken Thomas.

Red-bellied woodpecker. Photo: Ken Thomas.


Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

Newaygo County

Prairies are one of the most endangered habitats in the state because many owners converted open acres to farmland in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Despite its size, Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary has no trails. However, the open landscape makes it easy for visitors to navigate and explore.

More than 100 prairie species survive here, including the porcupine grass, June grass, and Fall Witch grass. Prairie ragwort, rock spikemoss, goat’s rue, sand cherry, and prickly-pear cactus also contribute to the variety of plants.

Several species of birds rely on the open habitat at Newaygo Prairie for nesting and foraging. Bluebirds and grasshopper sparrows nest in the open areas of the prairie, while eastern towhees prefer the shaded areas near the wooded edges.

Image result for bluebird. Photo: Philip Schwarz.

Eastern bluebird. Photo: Philip Schwarz.


White Pigeon River Nature Sanctuary

St. Joseph County

Located just three miles southwest of White Pigeon off Burke Rd, White Pigeon River is a great place to go for a quick walk or spend all day. The sanctuary is home to more than 50 species of birds, snapping turtles, lizard’s tail, huge clumps of silver maple, green dragon, wild cucumber, and moonseed. The sanctuary contains floodplain forest with dry upland forest.

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Cerulean warbler. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Springtime Brings Bird Watching

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Now that spring is finally here and signs of warmer weather are in the air, birds will soon return north. We thought we would feature a few birds that can be seen throughout Michigan this spring. Keep a sharp eye out for them this season!

American Bittern

The American Bittern. Photo by Jerry Segraves via Wikimedia Commons

The American Bittern. Photo by Jerry Segraves via Wikimedia Commons

This well-camouflaged heron is difficult to see amongst the dense reed beds, but its distinct booming call carries far and can be heard throughout the marsh at dawn and dusk. This stocky heron is streaked with tan, brown and white over its body. Accentuating the plumage are darker wings and flight feathers, a black face and long neck streaks. The American Bittern has a three foot wingspan, but it only weighs about one pound.

The American Bittern breeds in wetlands across much of Canada and the northern half of the United States. They inhabit large, reedy wetlands and shallow freshwater marshes. Their camouflage makes the bird extremely difficult to see as it wades and stalks through the cattails and reeds. When alarmed, the bittern freezes with its head, neck and bill pointing straight up, making it become one with the reeds and almost impossible to see.

Pied-billed Grebe

A pied-billed grebe. Photo by Linda Tanner via Wikimedia Commons

A pied-billed grebe. Photo by Linda Tanner via Wikimedia Commons

The Pied-billed Grebe is a small, stocky and short-necked waterbird that measures only 11 to 15 inches in total length. They are dark brown with a black throat patch and the sides of their necks and flanks are grayish. Their tail is a tuft of sort wispy feathers of white. Their name comes from their pied, or two-colored, bill which is bluish-white with a distinct black vertical bar on either side. The bill is short, laterally compressed and slightly hooked downwards.

The Pied-billed Grebe is the most widely distributed grebe in the Americas. They breed in permanent ponds and marshes and require dense stands of deep water vegetation, such as cattail, for nesting and cover.  This bird is very secretive and is generally heard more than it is seen. they are most vocal during breeding season in late April and May. Their vocal array consists of a repeated series of soft and slow to start caow caow notes that build in volume and speed, followed by a series of long, wining kaooo notes.

Cooper’s Hawk

A Cooper's Hawk. Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

A Cooper’s Hawk. Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

The Cooper’s Hawk is a crow sized raptor that is found across the United States. This raptor is the scourger of the backyard bird feeder. They are 14 to 21 inches in length and have a wingspan from 27 to 36 inches. The eyes of the Cooper’s Hawk are large and yellow and a deep red. They have a black cap and a hooked bill that is well adapted for tearing flesh from their prey. Their tail is a distinct part of the breed, which can be identified by several dark bands and a white band at its tip. The white breast and belly of the hawk are crossed with reddish bars.

The Cooper’s Hawk is seen mostly flying with quick, consecutive wing beats and a short glide, though they may also soar. they occur in various types of mixed deciduous forests and open woodland throughout Michigan.

 

 Red-winged Blackbird

A male red-winged blackbird perches in a tree. Photo by Geoff Gallice via WIkimedia Commons

A male red-winged blackbird perched in a tree. Photo by Geoff Gallice via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most abundant birds across North America, the Red-winged Blackbird is a familiar sight sitting atop cattails and reeds. This stocky bird has broad shoulders with a slender, conical bill. Red-winged Blackbirds often show a hump-backed silhouette while perched and males often sit with their tail slightly flared. They can be found in fresh and saltwater marshes, along watercourses and drier meadows.

These birds are often hard to mistake if you are looking at a male. They have a jet black glossy coat with scarlet and yellow shoulder patches that they puff up or hide depending on the situation. They do everything they can to gain attention; they sit on high perches and belt their song all day. Females, which are subdued in color and are streaky brown with a paler breast and whitish eyebrow, stay lower and hidden through the vegetation while weaving their nests.

This spring, MNA is hosting a number of birding events for members and guests to enjoy. Be sure to check out some some out this season! For more information about these events, visit www.michigannature.org/events.

April 21 – Exploration Hike at Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary

April 25 – Whitefish Point Spring Fling

April 27 – Birding Hike at Columbia Nature Sanctuary

4 birds to watch for during springtime birding activities

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

As MNA gears up for some of its spring bird watching events, we thought we’d feature a few different birds that come back to Michigan in the spring. Keep an eye out for these four birds as you go birding this season!

Red-winged blackbirds can weigh roughly 3 ounces and can have a wingspan of nearly 14.5 inches. The male and female look strikingly different—the male is black with a large red spot on the shoulders, while females are brown and lack any red color. They prefer marsh habitats during the breeding season and open fields and croplands in the winter. While breeding, red-winged blackbirds can be found in cattail, tule, sedge and salt marshes, as well as wetlands. They begin building their nests between March and May.

Male indigo bunting

A male indigo bunting in breeding plumage. Photo by Kevin Bolton. Coutesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Indigo bunting males are easy to spot during breeding season. The adult males are small—their bodies only range from 4.5 inches to 5 inches—but they are a brilliant blue with a purple crown. Females and young are brown and have a tinge of blue on their tail and shoulder. Indigo buntings are mainly found through eastern North America and south of the coniferous forest region, though some breeding populations exist in the western United States. They winter in the coastal regions of Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the Caribbean. Indigo buntings breed between May and September in brushy and weedy areas at the edge of openings, or in weedy open areas like old farm fields or swamps.

Green herons, unlike great blue herons and other herons, are small and stocky. The green heron has relatively short legs and a body length that ranges from 16 to 18 inches. Adults have a greenish-black cap, a greenish back, wings that are gray-black and fade into green or blue, and gray undersides. Young herons have a white and brown striped neck and chest, and their backs are brown with white and beige spots. Green herons have a wide range and are generally found near wetlands in North America. They spend their non-breeding season in Mexico and Central America, but some live year-round in Mexico, Central America and parts of South America. Green herons that do migrate travel north from March to April, which is earlier than most other herons.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are tiny birds, with a body measuring between 3 and 3.5 inches long and weighing between 2 and 6 grams (0.071 to 0.21 ounces). Both males and females have an iridescent green back and head and a white belly. Males have a bright red, shiny throat and a forked tail, while females have a dull, grayish throat and a square, white-tipped tail. Ruby-throated hummingbirds breed throughout eastern United States and southern Canada and spend their winters in southern Mexico, Central America and the West Indies. These birds return to their breeding areas in April.

This spring, MNA is hosting a variety of birding events for members and guests. Be sure to check out one of MNA’s events this season!

For more information about MNA’s upcoming events, check out our website and events calendar.