These Northern Michigan natural areas and preserves offer some of the best birding in the state—from unique waterfowl to a wide array of migratory species. Start trekking and enjoy the sights and songs of spring in Northern Michigan.
Featured in the March 2021 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
Waldeck Island Nature Preserve // Cadillac
Waldeck Island Nature Preserve (also known as Rock Preserve), located at Stone Ledge Lake, includes an island, marsh and lakeshore. Waldeck is one of the most productive birding locales in the Cadillac area, featuring a variety of habitats including mature upland hardwoods throughout. The entire area, including the island, is accessible via a trail system—a land bridge allows access to the island and a viewing platform offers an overlook of the marsh. A wide range of birds can be observed, particularly during spring migration.
Kehl Lake Natural Area // Northport
The 100-year-old hemlocks and old-growth white pines that surround Kehl Lake provide ample food and cover for wildlife, particularly birds. Because of its proximity to Lake Michigan, Kehl Lake is part of a critical flyway for migrating birds (it’s also part of an extensive wildlife corridor of protected lands at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula). Bird species include canopy birds and waterfowl: look for blackburnian warbler, blue-headed vireo, hermit thrush and the common loon.
Chippewa Run Natural Area // Empire
Chippewa Run is a birding paradise where dozens of species visit or live, including green herons, which nest in a pine grove that was planted in 1953. Chippewa Run is a hotspot in spring and fall for the seasonal north-south bird migration. On a spring morning, you might hear 20 bird species singing—from the melodious meadowlark to the raucous red-winged blackbird.
Waldron Fen Nature Preserve // Alanson
This 145-acre preserve east of Petoskey lies along the Sunset Coast Birding Trail and includes two ponds, a large wetland-fen complex, native grasslands and associated forests that provide habitat for at least 116 resident and migratory bird species. The trail loop takes visitors around the primary wetlands, offering opportunities to see birds like the American kestrel and upland sandpiper.
Search Bay Nature Preserve // Hiawatha National Forest
Located west of Hessel, this preserve, positioned on the northern Lake Huron shoreline, is a migration hotspot and includes a nature preserve, national forest and campground. More than 18 warbler species have been spotted in a single day at this site, which sits along the North Huron Birding Trail. Philadelphia vireo, scarlet tanager, winter wren and raptors such as the broad-winged hawk and the northern goshawk can also be seen.
Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve // Arcadia
More than 250 species of birds have been spotted at this 313-acre nature preserve, including 17 listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern. A universal access boardwalk allows everyone to enjoy birdwatching at the preserve. While the center section of this boardwalk is closed from April 15 to July 15 to protect sensitive nesting birds, much of the boardwalk is still open and available during this time.
More Info: Arcadia Marsh Bird Guide
Chocolay Bayou Nature Preserve // Marquette County
The Chocolay Bayou Nature Preserve was acquired with significant help from the Audubon Society and local birding community. It provides critical stopover habitat for migrating waterfowl and protection for neotropical migrant warblers as they make their biannual treks. The preserve features a birding trail with 11 interpretive signs that describe typical birds seen there and their habitats.
Find this and more articles celebrating Northern Michigan’s outdoors in the March 2021 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine; or subscribe and get Traverse delivered to your door each month.