Trip Report — Michigan I 2024

May 6, 2024 to May 14, 2024
Guided by Cory Gregory

Without a doubt, the most enticing of the warblers we see on this trip is the range-restricted Kirtland's Warbler. This year, we had perfect views! Photo by guide Cory Gregory.

This tour was a great one for warbler diversity. This Black-and-white Warbler was one of 25 species of warblers we tallied! Photo by guide Cory Gregory.

This morning was the morning we had been waiting for.  Yes, we went birding in the Jack Pines near Grayling and you know what that meant, Kirtland's Warblers!  Once we got out there, not just one or two, but many of these attractive and rare warblers were singing all around us.  We ended up getting breathtaking views of one at an arm's reach; we were all speechless!  Once we had our fill of the Jack Pine Warbler, we focused on other species and ended up adding some feisty Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a couple Great Crested Flycatchers, Brown Creeper, and finally good looks at Ovenbird and Pine Warbler.  At the Houghton Lake Flats Flooding, we enjoyed watching nesting Ospreys, several Sandhill Cranes, a few ducks and also a gorgeous male Northern Harrier.  Just south of there, at the Houghton Lake Sewage Ponds, we witnessed several uncommon things like a gathering of 120 Black Terns!  Also present was a Common Tern which is very rare for this location.  After lunch at a famous local diner we made our way to some odd grassland habitat west of Gaylord where we were successful in finding Upland Sandpipers and Brewer's Blackbirds.
After birding our way north through the Lower Peninsula, it was time to head even farther north into very different habitats.  We left Gaylord and went north until we found ourselves along the south side of the Mackinac Straits.  We enjoyed views of the bridge but also views of Long-tailed Ducks and various mergansers before driving over the 5-mile long Mackinac Bridge.  The forest opened up and we found ourselves in a surprising grassland/farming area where, crouched in a grassy field was a major highlight, 10+ Sharp-tailed Grouse on a lek!  We watched with interest as they interacted a bit with each other.  Nearby, at the Munuscong Potholes, we had memorable views of Upland Sandpipers, including one that perched on the powerline right above us, and also a singing Clay-colored Sparrow.  Wow!  Along the Munuscong River, during our pleasant walk, we also had completely out-in-the-open views of Virginia Rail along with Marsh Wrens, various waterbirds, and a couple of Caspian Terns.  After lunch at a small cafe in downtown Sault Ste. Marie, we wound our way westward to the Point Iroquois Light Station and then on to Paradise, our home for two nights.  But we couldn't even make it to dinner without finding a major highlight along Preachers Road, a male Spruce Grouse!  That night we were in for a treat as well, the owl researchers at Whitefish Point had caught a Northern Saw-whet Owl and were willing to show us this tiny predator up close.  All this while overhead, a little bit of Aurora Borealis was trying to peek out from behind the clouds.  What a way to close out an epic day.
We enjoyed an entire, relaxed day to bird at the well-known Whitefish Point.  While Common Loons were migrating overhead through a bluebird blue sky, an observant Piping Plover stood nearby, kettles of Broad-winged Hawks gathered overhead, and even a late Rough-legged Hawk showed up.  We tallied a nice collection of warblers as well including Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Cape May, Nashville, and Tennessee.  Later on, the Shelldrake Lake area hosted a few notable things like Least Flycatcher, a flock of Pine Siskins, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch came in.  That afternoon we explored a different rural road through the northern bogs, the Farm Truck Trail.  Sure enough, it provided us with another notable sighting, a point-blank female Spruce Grouse.  Closer to dinner time, for those who wanted to explore the Tahquamenon Falls, we walked down the many steps and enjoyed close views of this roaring waterfall.  That night we enjoyed another bonus sighting, the owl researchers had caught a few more things that they were willing to show us, a beautiful Long-eared Owl and a huge, intimidating Great Horned Owl.  So cool!  For those out late that night, we closed out the day with some more awe-inspiring Northern Lights dancing over Whitefish Bay.
Our stay in the Upper Peninsula had come to a close and we headed south but not before stopping at Pointe LaBarbe where we hit a pocket of migrants such as Palm, Black-and-white, Nashville, and Black-throated Green warblers.  Across the bridge we visited yet another new habitat, this one hosting Northern Waterthrushes and a Chestnut-sided Warbler.  We wound our way down the Lake Huron shoreline until we arrived at Tawas Point, our home for a couple of nights.  The famed Tawas Point State Park was busy with migrants, even in the afternoon.  Our hour of birding there yielded 9 species of warblers including Blue-winged, Yellow-rumped, Tennessee, Nashville, and others.  The trees were full of Baltimore Orioles, Gray Catbirds, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks; talk about serious eye-candy!  What would the weather do?  Would it push in more migrants overnight?  We had to wait to find out.
The following morning we returned to Tawas Point State Park, eager to see what migrants had just arrived.  Needless to say, it was very birdy!  More than 20 Baltimore Orioles were all around, a variety of gulls and terns were present offshore, raucous Eastern Kingbirds dotted the trees, and the warbler migration was good indeed.  We ended with at least 11 species of warblers including Palm, Cape May, Orange-crowned, and Golden-winged.  That afternoon we returned to the park and over the course of 2-3 hours tallied nearly 60 species!  Although the highlights were too many to list here, we especially enjoyed getting good looks at Orchard Oriole, Scarlet Tanager, 13 species of warblers, and shorebirds such as Short-billed Dowitcher, Solitary and Spotted sandpiper, and Lesser Yellowlegs.  The ever-busy sandbar had 75 Bonaparte's Gulls mixed in with dozens of Common Terns which made for a full scope-full!  Although it became very breezy and storms moved in, we were thankful for the migration we were able to witness.
Although this following day was also our departure day, it wasn't without birding!  We stopped at Nayanquing Point SWA first thing and, over the course of an hour, added Willet to our list, 20 or so Dunlin, half a dozen American White Pelicans, and a variety of swallow species.  But yes, it eventually was time to depart and so we made our way back to the Grand Rapids airport where we parted ways.
I want to thank each of you for making this trip possible.  Michigan means a lot to me and I hope our sampling of the avifauna left you with  fun, lasting memories.  On behalf of Field Guides, we sincerely appreciate you choosing to enjoy some really fun birding with us!  I hope I get to bird with you again and I hope wherever your path takes you until then, good birding!

You can see my complete trip report on eBird at this link:

You can download a combined PDF of this page and the eBird report at this link:

--Cory Gregory (Curlew)