Spring migrations now underway in Michigan
LANSING – It may not be quite as dramatic as the swallows returning to Capistrano, but Michigan will witness spring migrations throughout the coming weeks that will offer bird fans an opportunity to see noteworthy numbers of avian creatures returning to their summer homes, or at least passing through as they move further north.
Spring migrations aren’t always as noticeable as fall migrations, certainly the waterfowl hunters are not out in the marshes taking advantage of the ducks and geese moving through, but they are every bit as moving and can be just as enjoyable, if you know what to look for.
Need an example? Tundra swans will soon move through, winging along the state’s eastern shoreline, often settling in to rest en masse in suitable habitat. Doug Reeves, assistant chief of the Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Division, said the swans will often take up residence in prodigious numbers at Fish Point State Wildlife Area on Saginaw Bay in Tuscola County.
“There can be 7,000 to 8,000 of them at a time,” Reeves said. “It can be a spectacle. You can see them, hear them, you can almost feel them.”
Michigan is probably most famous among birders as the summer home of Kirtland’s warblers, a rare species that winters in the Caribbean but nests in northern jack pine forests. Kirtland’s warblers attract thousands of viewers from all over the world who flock to the northern Lower Peninsula to get a glimpse of these endangered birds.
For those interested in a bit of help catching sight of the Kirtland’s warbler, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan Audubon Society offer (starting in mid-May) guided tours. Because of the popularity of the tours, reservations are recommended. For more information, visit www.fws.gov/midwest/EastLansing/te/ kiwa/tour.html.
In addition to the swans and warblers, far less exotic species attract crowds in other parts of Michigan, too.
Saginaw County’s annual Timberdoodle Festival at the Hartley Outdoor Education Center in St. Charles celebrates the woodcock, a game bird that is related to shorebirds but inhabits upland habitat. Woodcock return to Michigan from their wintering grounds (mostly in Louisiana) each spring to nest in early successional forests and will be seen as soon as the snow is gone.
Woodcock are known for their elaborate courtship ritual when males move into openings and begin calling, or peenting, to broadcast their presence. After calling, the birds rise 100 yards into the air, twittering with their wings, chirping and circling, and then stopping abruptly to coast back to the ground. The sky dance is a magic spectacle of spring. Best yet, woodcock can be found statewide, anywhere there is suitable habitat of thick stem density with appropriate openings.
An exciting birding destination is Whitefish Point, which juts out several miles out into the southern side of Lake Superior. From mid- March to mid-May as many as 3,000 raptors – most notably, sharp-shinned, broad-winged and red-tailed hawks – pass by. But Whitefish Point is also noted for owls – great-horned, great gray, boreal, short-eared and long-eared – as well as bountiful and diverse waterfowl.
To learn more about wildlife viewing opportunities year-round in Michigan, visit the DNR website at www.michigan.gov/wildlife and click on Viewing Wildlife in the left-hand menu. There, you can look up tips and suggestions; learn about the different seasons and species.