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Your Guide To The Ultimate Birding Experience in St. Ignace Michigan

Located at the southernmost tip of the Straits of Mackinac, St. Ignace is a hot spot for a large variety of unique birds. Over 275 different species either call St. Ignace home or use it as a rest stop during migration – making fall with its beautiful colors the perfect time to spot these rare birds. The best way to find them is by taking the North Huron Birding Trail. This trail includes six stops and spots within St. Ignace where you can hear, see, and discover the many birds of the Upper Peninsula and beyond. Here is your guide to the ultimate birding experience in St. Ignace.

 

Pointe La Barbe

Photo Credit: @reneemay13

Beginning off of US-2 on Boulevard Dr is the first stop on the North Huron Birding Trail. Pointe La Barbe is located on the southern “tip” of the Upper Peninsula. This location is the known as one of the Michigan’s best migration hot spots due to the large marsh area just off land in the lake. Just off the shore lies Green Island which offers great views of migrating hawks and shorebirds. The island is also where you can see one of Michigan’s largest colonies of Ring-Billed and Herring Gull – numbering in the tens of thousands! Don’t forget to check in the small trees and vegetation for hiding birds that line the shoreline!

The species of birds that can be found here are:

 

Western Sandpiper

Photo Cred: Deborah Freeman

 

Ring-Billed Gull

This bird is a medium-sized gull with a short, slim bill with long, slender wings. Adults are a clean-grey color on top with a white head. Their yellow legs match the color of their bills which have a little black band around it near the end of their mouth (which is where their name derives from!) You can spot the difference between young and adult gills due to the pink bill and legs of the youngsters. They are easily found in newly plowed fields, or on high-perched areas.

 

Herring Gull

This bird is a large gull with large bills and bodies. Adults have a light-grey back, white head, black tips on their wings, and dull-pink legs. They can be confused with the common seagull. While young (from birth to 4-years old) are usually different types of brown. You can find these birds coasting along the shoreline or feeding on the beaches. They prefer large bodies of water making this the perfect area for them.

 

Marsh Wren

You can spot these small, plump, and round-bodied birds by their rusty-brown coloring. A key-indicator of spotting these birds is their short tail that stands vertically. Since they prefer wetland vegetation, the marsh area here is the best place to spot them. They like to camouflage themselves in these marsh areas. Dawn and dusk is when they’re most vocal and the best time to catch them!

 

These birds can be seen annually:

 

Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle is one of the largest, fastest, and nimblest raptors within North America. Their typical wing span ranged from 72.8 to 86.8 inches. Adults are dark brown with golden hints throughout but mostly on the back of the neck.

 

Black-Bellied Plover

This bird is a large-headed, chucky shorebird with a short and thick bill.  They oddly have long wings and legs. Their name says it all, they are black-bellied with white and black spots on their back. Since they love beachy areas, catch them along the shoreline and in mudflats.

 

Be on the lookout for rare sightings of the Western Sandpiper or Eurasian Wigeon.
 

Western Sandpiper

The rare bird is a small shorebird with a long, thin, and black bill. The tip of their bill is slightly curved at the end. They are a mixture of black, brown, and gold spots on the back with a typically white-colored belly. These birds can be found in muddy or low tide areas. They tend to flow towards wetlands, muddy lakeshores, or ponds – making the marsh here the perfect place to catch a glimpse of them!

 

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Bridge View Park

Photo Credit: @stephabethanie

Continue on the North Huron Birding trail by heading east on Boulevard Dr along the shoreline of the Straits of Mackinac. Approximately one and a half miles down will take you directly to the Bridge View Park. It offers stunning views of the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge. Here, you can spot the largest rafts of Redheads in the entire state of Michigan. Waterfowl can be seen throughout the waters of the Straits, and depend on the incoming winds.

 

The species of birds that can be found here are:
 

Common Mergansers

Photo Credit: @elizabeth_hippensteel

They are large, long-bodied ducks that float gracefully on shallow shorelines. Unlike typical ducks, their bills are thinner and straight. Males are green head with a red bill that has a white tip at the end. You can differentiate the females by their shaggy-like hair on the top of their head that is typically a reddish color. You can spot these ducks either sitting on rocks, right by the bay, or flying around rivers or lakes.

 

Long-Tailed Ducks

These attractive ducks are a smaller, slender sea duck. Males are easily spotted due to their long tail plumes. In colder months, males are mostly black and white. Their bill is mostly black with a small pink band near the end. Females are brown in color without the easy-to-spot tail. These ducks can be found in the Great Lakes during the winter months and protected bays along the shores.

 

Redhead

Similar looking to the Merganser, the Redheads are a cinnamon-red head and grey, black, and white spotted body. Unlike the males’ black chest and color, females are a plain brown color all over. Find these birds during their migration period as they stop over medium to large bodies of water to rest. Or, find them in the Great Lakes during the winter months!

 

Straits State Park

Photo Credit: @steph_wag

This state park is the perfect place to stroll along the Straits of Mackinac and its small network of trails. Walk along the nature trails while indulging in the music stylings by the songbirds who reside there in both warm and early fall months. This area’s trails are a great way to become one with nature. Explore northern forest plants like beaked hazelnut, norther white cedar, quaking aspen, and more!

 

Since this is more of a sheltered area, a variety of birds tend to come here more often verses other areas that may not have much refuge. This is a great area for birds to come and take cover from the winds that can sometimes come billowing in from the east or west and across the Great Lakes. The largest number of migrant diving ducks in the state can also be found can be spotted here.

 

The species of birds that can be found here are:
 

America Redstart

Photo Cred: Dominic Sherony

From the Warbler family of birds, the American Redstart can be found hopping between trees, shrubs, or low-hanging lead canopies. The male Restarts are black in color with a white stomach and vivid orange colored spots all over. Females are similar in but with yellow/light orange-ish spots and a grey head and belly. This can be the ideal spot to discover these birds since they nest here in the spring, summer, and fall. Prime Redhead sightings are found in the waters near this park during fall and early winter in the numbers of the tens of thousands.

 

Black-Throated Blue Warbler

A small, well-proportioned warbler with a sharp, pointed bill. The male black-throated blue warblers are a deep blue color on their head and top of their neck, while their face and neck are black. Both the male and females have a small, distinct white “pocket” on their wings. Spring and fall bring these birds here. You can spot these birds in shrubs in woodlands, parks and gardens.

 

Cape May Warbler

This bird is a short-tailed warbler with a slim, and decurved bill. Their slender bill makes them stand out from other members of the warbler family. Males are a rich yellow color with hints of black throughout. There is a copper-like color around their eyes. You can differentiate a female by having a less vibrant yellow coloring. Spring and fall bring these birds here and you can spot them most days tree-hopping, so make sure to look up!

 

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Dock #3

Photo Credit: @willoutr

Continuing on from the Straits State Park, return to US-2 and head eastbound. Once you get to Ferry Lane, take a right. Head down the road until you reach the Coast Guard Station. The site also includes a picnic area, and a playground! While you’re birding – the kids can play.

 

Here, you can catch glimpses of passing by ferries, boats, and views of the Mackinac Island! When the wind is calm, this is one of the best places in Michigan to spot deep water diving ducks, Long-Tailed Ducks, Horned Grebes, Scoters, and Common Loons near the docks.

 

The species of birds that can be found here are:

 

Horned Grebe

Photo Credit: Scott Heron

 These small waterbirds have the infamous ‘horns’ on the top of their head. These ‘horns’ are just yellow colored feathers behind their ears. The males feature these yellow, horn-like feathers with a reddish and black mixed body. Females however can be differentiated by not having the unmissable yellow horns. You can catch these ducks closer to the docks.

 

Common Loon

These are large, diving waterbirds. They have a rounded head and dagger-like bills. Unlike other kinds of ducks, their feet stick out well past their tails due to their short-tails. Males can be easily spotted by their dark black heads, beat-red eyes, and their black and white ‘tuxedo’ spots through their body. Between September and March, the adults normally black head change to a plain, grey color. They can be very vocal and easy to locate during the warmer months.

 

Ruddy Turnstone

A shorebird which is said to look like a calico cat with their black and white head and black and copper-like colored body. You can easily spot these short and stocky birds by their bright-orange colored long legs. Find these birds on beaches, sandy shores, and near big bodies of water. Ruddy Turnstone’s can be seen taking a break from their migration travels at the end of this dock.

 

Huron Boardwalk

Photo Credit: @nailsbyamandacass

Continue following the shoreline via State St to business I-75. The scenic drive takes you on the coast of Lake Huron up to the Huron Boardwalk. This boardwalk is a mile-long and covers move of the downtown area. At the end of this boardwalk you can find the Wawatam Lighthouse. Near the boardwalk you can find the American Legion Park that contains picnic tables, a pavilion, grills, a playground, sandy bitch, and restrooms!

 

During peak migration seasons you can spot a large number of Swallows feeding near the boardwalk. Keep your eye out for the occasionally seen migrant Warblers near the scrubs.

 

The species of birds that can be found here are:

 

Red-Breasted Merganser

Photo Credit: Thore Siebrands

This diving duck is known for having a mohawk-like feathers on the stop of their head. This merganser is also known for its thin bill with sharp serrations which is where their nickname “Sawbill” comes from. Males have the distinct green head with a salt-and-pepper mixed chest. Females on the other hand are a brown/grey color with a longer, skinnier neck. You can see these birds near sheltered areas and bays swimming in small groups or by themselves.

 

Carp River Mouth

Photo Credit: @keller_joe

To complete the North Huron Birding trail, continue on I-75N, take exit 352 and head right on US-123. Head North on Mackinac Trail for about four miles until you hit Carp River Road. Follow the related signs for the boat launch until you reach the river. There you will find a fishing dock and exciting views of the Carp River. At the end of this road, you can find waterfowl and migrant passerines.

 

The open waters that await you here bring the beautiful melodies of the migrant song birds. This is a well-known spot to discover the must-see Broad-wing Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Bald Eagles. With the wide-open waters bring Fly Catchers, and Norther Harriers.

 

The species of birds that can be found here are:
 

Broad-Winged Hawk

Also known as “kettles”, these hawks are a small, compact raptor with chunky bodies and a large head. They can be differentiated by the black and white bands around the tails. Their wingspans range from 31.9 to 39.4 inches. These hawks can be found flocking along the shores of the Great Lakes so be sure to look up!

 

Cooper’s Hawk

These hawk’s tends to be larger than others in the hawk family. With large heads, broad shoulders, and a long, rounded tail. These hawks are among the most skillful fliers, so be sure to look up in the sky. They are mostly spotted prowling above the tree tops or fields in search of prey. You will be able to spot these hawks by their black-and-white checkered bottom side of their wings. They are a very stealthy bird so make sure to keep your senses sharp!

 

Bald Eagle

Photo Credit: @elizabeth_hippensteel

America’s favorite bird, St. Ignace is the best place to see the beloved Bald Eagle. You can spot an adult Bald Eagle by its dark brown body and wings, white head, and yellow bill. A full-grown adult’s wingspan can reach to 80.3 inches! The youngster Bald Eagle have darker heads and tails with white spots all over. To find these eagles, head to bodies of water. They will most likely be soaring through the air to find their next meal, which will be some sort of fish.

 

The St. Ignace block of the North Huron Birding Trail takes you from the southwest part of the Upper Peninsula and runs along US-2 through downtown St. Ignace, taking you up the entire east-coast. This trail is your six-stop-shop and an absolute must for seeing many unique and rarely spotted bird species. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars as some of these birds like to soar high in the sky or hide in the tree tops!

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