It is peak bird migration season throughout Michigan. As West Michigan Pike communities begin to reopen for the season, what better way to enjoy our wealth of natural resources than with a brisk hiking or biking trip through wide-open spaces, a camera and a pair of binoculars?

“I do most of my birding in Charlevoix and Emmet counties,” said Lisa Hoyt, Petoskey Regional Audubon Society board member and Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce membership director. “Right now is prime time to be birding.”

Hoyt collaborated with several organizations, including the Michigan DNR, to launch the Sunset Coast Birding Trail in 2017. The trail meanders throughout Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse and Kalkaska counties. It comprises 35 primary spots and a number of secondaries well worth exploring.

One of Hoyt’s personal favorites is the 22-acre Spring Lake Park in Petoskey, featuring wetland boardwalks, picnic tables and a fishing platform.

“The Little Traverse Wheelway runs along there, so it’s a nice paved path for people to walk,” Hoyt said. “It’s easy to access if someone would happen to have difficulty walking.”

Photos: Lisa Hoyt

Look for yellow warblers, eastern kingbirds, American redstarts and common yellowthroats along the boardwalks in the wetlands between Spring and Mud lakes during breeding season. Many songbird species can be found in these wetlands and the surrounding trees during migration.

Eastern phoebes, northern cardinals, Baltimore orioles and warbling vireos frequently nest near the picnic area. The vireo certainly is not the most colorful bird around, but one that makes up for its lack of flash in other ways.

“They have a unique call — a unique song — otherwise they’re kind of nondescript,” Hoyt said.

Nestled on the other side of Little Traverse Bay, the Thorne Swift Nature Preserve in Harbor Springs is another popular trail destination. The 32-acre site features 1.5 miles of trail, dune and pond observation platforms, a pavilion and wooded walkways. Waterfowl and wood ducks are frequent guests there, in addition to winter wrens, cedar waxwings, pileated woodpeckers and several species of warbler.

Check out the feeders near the parking lot for a chance to spy both species of nuthatch and tufted titmice.

“That one is great because you have a diversity of habitats and it’s adjacent to Lake Michigan,” Hoyt said.

Looking ahead to summer, the 290-acre former site of Little Traverse Bay Golf Club in Harbor Springs is expected to reopen in June as the Offield Family Viewlands. The Little Traverse Conservancy plans to build trails open for running, biking, snowshoeing, birding and other activities.

 “There are amazing vantage points looking at the water and across the bay,” Hoyt said.

To learn more about the Sunset Coast Birding Trail, its dozens of sites and various species that have been sighted, visit sunsetcoastbirdingtrail.org.

Article written by Aaron Ogg, media consultant

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