Make St. Ignace your home base for an Upper Peninsula birdwatching adventure.

“This island right here is kind of a rookery this time of year.”

It’s late morning on a crisp and sunny spring day and I’m at Pointe La Barbe, overlooking lakes Michigan and Huron. John Texter, a St. Ignace resident, avid bird watcher and passionate volunteer with the North Country Trail Association, is pointing toward a slender stretch of land—the 16-acre privately owned Green Island—that’s not far offshore and a mile west of the Mackinac Bridge. “A lot of birds use it for nesting,” he says as he hands me his black binoculars for a closer look.

“If you scan that island, you’ll see how populated it is,” John says, explaining that a rookery is a breeding colony of birds typically seen as a collection of nests high in a clump of trees. “The birds, they like to set up shop there.”

Indeed, in sharper focus, the brush-like trees are peppered with clusters of nests.

Pointe La Barbe, located a little over four miles southwest of downtown St. Ignace and known as one of Michigan’s best bird migration hotspots, is the first stop in our birdwatching tour. The point is a part of the North Huron Birding Trail, which is a birder’s paradise thanks to the distinct changes in seasons, diverse habitats, sprawling miles of shoreline and extensive natural areas with public access.

St. Ignace is the ideal home base for your bird-watching adventure. From here, you can follow the North Huron Birding Trail to more than two dozen prime birding locations that cover 150 miles on the north side of Lake Huron along Michigan’s Scenic Byway M-134. The trail runs from St. Ignace on the western end, along the southern coast of the Eastern Upper Peninsula, through the towns of the Les Cheneaux area to DeTour Village, up to the Pickford Grassland Area, and all of Drummond Island.

North Country Trail near Castle Rock // Photo by Heather Johnson Durocher

North Country Trail near Castle Rock // Photo by Heather Johnson Durocher

St. Ignace Birdwatching

John and I spend our birdwatching tour In St. Ignace, where the North Huron Birding Trail runs from the southwest part of the Upper Peninsula and along US-2 through downtown. There are several spots along this section, though we are focused on Pointe La Barbe during this mini-tour. Avid birdwatchers will tell you the St. Ignace portion of the trail is an absolute must for seeing many unique and rarely spotted bird species. Pro tip: don’t forget to bring your binoculars as some of these birds like to soar high in the sky or hide in the treetops.

To reach the incredibly scenic Point La Barbe (you can expect impressive views of the open water and the “Mighty Mac” bridge in addition to various birds), you’ll take the second exit (344B) after crossing the bridge into the U.P. Then, turn left (west) off the exit onto US-2, followed by another left turn onto the first road you approach, which is Boulevard Drive. Keep going past the four-way stop with Densmore Drive to find Bridge View Park on your left and travel another mile or so to reach Point La Barbe.

It’s common for people to visit Pointe La Barbe to catch views of migrating raptors, John tells me as we walk the rock-strewn shoreline. Red-tailed hawks are the popular migrating raptor this time of year. “Different species of raptors come through here because it’s a narrow point,” says John. “They like to come across where there’s not as much water and this is the narrowest point. They come up from the south and cross here because it’s the most comfortable for them.”

Some of the annual species include Whimbrel, Golden Eagle, Golden and Black-bellied Plovers and Peregrine Falcon. More rare species such as Western Sandpiper or Eurasian Wigeon have also been recorded at this spot.

In addition to waterfowl and shorebirds, Point La Barbe is a great place to see small trees and shrubs that line the shoreline. After south winds in the spring months these trees can be thick with Warblers, Flycatchers, Tanagers and Orioles.

I’d hoped we’d get to see the elusive Western Sandpiper—this rare bird is a small shorebird with a long, thin, black bill—but no such luck on the day we visited Pointe La Barbe. These birds can be found in muddy or low-tide areas. They like wetlands, muddy lakeshores or ponds, which is why they can be found here.

Heading Inland

From Pointe La Barbe, John suggests we leave the North Huron Birding Trail and drive about five miles north of St. Ignace to an inland trail—the Castle Rock Trailhead of the North Country Trail—for additional birdwatching. This will be our second and final stop during our morning birding tour.

As the vice president of the Hiawatha Shore to Shore chapter of the North Country Trail Association, John knows these pathways winding through the forest well. “I take care of the trail pretty much from the south end of the Mackinac Bridge all the way to the mouth of the Two-hearted River—a little over 130 miles,” he tells me after arriving at the trailhead and starting our hike.

As we walk this single-track through the Hiawatha Forest, we hear various birdsongs. The birds remain elusive, though. I ask John what he likes most about birdwatching. “I’m always fascinated by what they’re going to do next,” says John. “Depending upon the species, they have different ways of interacting with humans. Most of them try to get away, but not all of them. And out here, I actually encountered a Spruce Grouse—they are not afraid of humans.”

John goes on to share a story of being on the trail with his dog, cutting trees and doing other maintenance, when he crossed paths with the Spruce Grouse. “She stood right there and just started to squawk, squawk, squawk,” he says. “That bird would not move. She stood there and cackled away. Finally, I had to go out through the brush to get around and then she followed along on the brush on the other side, and I assumed she was protecting her chicks.”

Grouses tend to wait until you get close—they’ll sometimes startle you—before they fly off. “It makes your heart jump a little bit,” John says with a laugh.

With other birds—those that want less to do with humans—pausing on your hike can help, John adds. “Usually if you stand still, you’ll start to see the birds come in,” he says. “There are a lot of Oriole Chickadees, Nuthatches and Juncos, which is a little black bird.”

After a while, at a crest in the path, we turn around and make our way back toward the trailhead. We continue hearing bird calls now and again, but the creatures remain hidden from sight—no grouse greets us on the trail, either.

But the breeze moves through the newly budded leaves and the sun pierces through the long branches, spooling on the dirt path. Nearing the trailhead, a garter snake slithers across the path into the brush. Whether you see many birds, or only hear them overhead, just being out here, tuning into the sounds, is a reminder of just how pleasant birdwatching—and bird-listening—can be.

Discover more great places to go birdwatching in St. Ignace at and at the North Huron Birding Trail’s website at