Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Birding the Upper Peninsula: by Sunwiggy

I would like to take a moment to introduce my guest blogger, Sunwiggy, who obligingly wrote a nice summary of her Bird Off weekend in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a land characterized this time of year by snow, cold and darkness. The photos are supplied by my father. Thanks, both of you!

Since I didn't want to move to Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the first place (let's blame it all on my husband), I spent most of June sulking in my house, and it took a visit from Esmeralda Crow to get me outside and birding again. And birding in the UP in the summer is pure joy, especially once I started to find the really "birdy" places. While the bushes and spindly trees growing along an old railroad track turned into an ATV trail might not look especially beautiful to you or me, birds apparently view things differently. My first taste of UP birding heaven was in just such a place, named by me The Scrub. Warblers everywhere. Vireos and veerys and woodpeckers and herons and all manner of lovely birds. My husband and I found lots of other birdy places, and for a while all was bliss.

Came the sadness of the fall. I'm always sad in the fall, as first one loved species of bird, and then another, and then many others, migrates away. It makes me feel sad and hollow inside. Last fall I missed the little common yellowthroats the most; how I love those birds!

And now it is winter. It is great fun seeing life birds, pine grosbeaks and boreal chickadees and snow buntings, They're not new to the the UP winter scene, but I am! It is not great fun, in fact it's no fun at all, to have to wade in snow up to one's knees or thighs or even higher, to try and get into the woods. Almost all of my winter sightings have been made walking along the roads, looking into the woods, or (I'll confess it) driving by people's bird feeders and trying to spot who's there before the householders notice you peering in the direction of their house through a pair of binoculars, and call the police! Road kill, especially deer carcasses, attracts eagles as well as crows. In fact, drivers are warned to slow down for The National Bird dining roadside, as eagles are slow and cumbersome at take-off, and might fly into the side of your vehicle.

The biggest UP winter challenge is definitely the weather. It's sunless and gray and snowy and blowy, and if the birds don't get depressed, I do! But, there is spring and migration to look forward to. Hawks by the hundreds migrating over Brockway Mountain! Hundreds of warblers zooming over Whitefish Point! It will be glorious. That's the thing about birding; you never know, really, what exactly is coming next, and there's always something to look forward to. Sunwiggy


  1. Where, specifically, where you birding?

  2. Dear Sunwiggy,

    If you haven't already, you certainly might consider some snowshoes. Having lived in the UP for five years (and learning to really love the UP), I can say that the best way to combat any seasonal depression is to get outside. Bundle up, get some snowshoes or cross-country skis, and find those birds. This time of year, the deer and rabbits are everywhere, and what I love about the winter (versus the summer) is that you can see where the animals converge with one another and with us; the tracks in the snow are everywhere. The boreal forest is so alive, and the winter allows us to see just how rich it is. When all else fails, there is always the shoreline, frozen and brooding yet constantly moving. It will be, for me, always a source of inspiration. And I shall always miss it. Good luck to you there!


  3. I enjoyed reading your challenge and for myself I put out food and the birds come to me

  4. We live up by Traverse City Michigan, and for the first time are wintering down in Rockport Texas. All the birds from up north are down here with us. This place is a birders paradise. It is one of the largest wintering areas for birds in the U.S. We will follow the birds home in the spring, and spend quite a bit of time camping up your area this summer. We are past residents of Marquette. Ed and Carol

  5. SNOWSHOES! I have lived in the UP for over 30 years (transplanted from Chicago suburbs) and I also find the winters challenging. Last winter, while working for the US Census Bureau I was required to reach addresses that were impossible to get to without a snowmobile or snowshoes. I borrowed a pair of snowshoes and fell in love with them. I was surprised to see all the wildlife so close up. The quiet of the SS allows you to sneak up so much closer to birds, deer, etc, than you would ever be able to with any other means of transportation. They are a must for anyone wanting to get up close and personal with winter creatures and the beauty of the UP woods.