Guest blogger Dave Barrons explains how the new trail from Traverse City to Manistee makes it easier to find the area’s best birding sites.
By DAVE BARRONS
Let’s start with this interesting set of facts: Michigan is home to the seventh most sought-after bird in the continental U.S. – the Kirtland’s Warbler – and is ranked seventh in the total number of reported birders. On the other hand, when it comes to the number of out-of-state birders our state attracts, we’re fourth from the bottom: 46th out of all 50 states. It doesn’t make sense.
So last year a small committee of Northwest Michigan birders launched the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail, the first in Michigan. A birding trail is a travel route: a route that connects recommended, high quality birding locations where walking trails already await avid birders, year round. Ours follows highway M-22: 123 miles of scenic roadway along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Traverse City to Manistee County.
At its northern end, M-22 wraps both sides of the Leelanau Peninsula, running along the open waters of Lake Michigan and West Grand Traverse Bay, ending at the intersection of M-22 and M-72. Just north of that intersection, near Carter Road is Fulton Park, one of the trail’s least know sites, but one that offers fine birding possibilities very close to downtown Traverse City. The park’s single trail passes over secluded, open water in the middle of the property, connects with the paved Leelanau Trail (providing easy bicycle access from town) then swings back around through hardwood wetland to the parking lot.
Along its middle stretch, M-22 runs through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, whose famed beaches include the home of the Piping Plover, one of Michigan’s most endangered birds. To the south are the prime birding locations of Benzie and Manistee counties, including the splendid Arcadia Marsh and Grasslands, a 300 acre prairie-grass complex that’s home to more than 20 ground nesting species, including Bobolinks. Both the marsh and grasslands are managed by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, one of the Trail’s major partners.
At the southern end of the Trail, on the north side of the city of Manistee, is Lake Bluff Sanctuary, a Michigan Audubon property. Michigan Audubon is also a major partner in the Trail initiative. Lake Bluff Sanctuary is open to the public and offers upland habitat trails for birding and exquisite picnic grounds on the high bluff above Lake Michigan, as well as a bed and breakfast lodging.
The Trail website, www.sleepingbearbirdingtrail.org, is the most important tool for birders wishing to get out to any of the recommended Trail locations. A customized BirdTrax widget is located right on the home page for a quick look at all recent sightings along the trail. Click on the Bird Search tab at the top of the home page to find complete descriptions of the 321 species of birds seen along the trail; click on the Birding Sites tab to find descriptions of each of the recommended birding locations. Under that same tab you’ll find a map and site descriptions for the Benzie Bonus loop: an additional 13 birding locations located on a separate route leading into eastern Benzie County and back to M-22. Additional Bonus Loops are under development, to be launched soon.
For serious field birders who wish to keep a list of all the sightings along M-22, a paper checklist covering 321 species is available at the Trail Headquarters office in Glen Arbor, at Lake Bluff Sanctuary in Manistee, and at the Traverse City Visitors Center.
Best known to Traverse City residents as chief meteorologist for TV 9&10 News, a position he held for 19 years, Dave Barrons grew up in Midland and moved to northern Michigan in 1982. He holds degrees from Miami University of Ohio, Purdue and the University of North Carolina, and is one of the developers of the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail.