Written by guest blogger Elliot Nelson Sea Grant Extension Educator, Eastern Upper Peninsula at Lake Superior State University
As the air turns crisp and the leaves change, a large variety of bird species descend across the area. A large number of waterfowl migrate through our area making for excellent birding wherever there is open water. One of the most exciting things about this time are rare birds from around the country are often found in and around Sault Ste. Marie.
St. Marys River: The St. Marys River is an excellent place to view migrating waterfowl and songbirds. As the birds migrate south they often follow the edge of the shoreline and congregate in the many bays and protected harbors that can be found in the area. The boat launch at Ashmun Bay Park on the west side of downtown Sault Ste. Marie is another excellent waterfowl hotspot. Here you can see Scaup, Bufflehead, and many other species in the bay. The wetland at the back end of the bay is also a great place for Herron and rail species.
Brimley State Park is one of the great places in the Bay Mills area to view Waiska Bay where a variety of birds like Bonaparte’s Gull and Common Loon can be found.
Rudyard Fields: There are a variety of roads that travel along the hay fields and cattle farms of Rudyard, Michigan (20 minutes south of Sault Ste. Marie) that make it an excellent place to view a large variety of migrating grassland birds. The highlight is the 500-1500 Sandhill Cranes that congregate in these fields during September and October. These massive birds form large groups before they head south to their wintering grounds, and can be seen feeding in the open fields around Centerline Rd., Hantz Rd., and Jarvi Rd.
In addition to the impressive crane congregation, a variety of raptors such as Northern Harrier, Rough-Legged Hawk, and American Kestrel move through the area as well. Keep a close eye on any plowed or muddy fields as well. Particularly on rainy days shorebirds passing through will land on these bare fields.
American Golden Plover, Black-belled Plover, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper are all birds you might stumble upon as you scan the open fields of Rudyard.
Whitefish Point: Easily the best fall birding locations east of the Mississippi, Whitefish Point is world renowned for the birds that pass through during spring and fall migration. While spring is known primarily for raptor migration, fall is highlighted by water birds flying in a near constant stream past the tip of the point. Red-necked Grebes pass through here in numbers that are nearly unimaginable.
Long-tailed Ducks, Scoters and a huge diversity of other water birds can be found here during this time. In addition, the woods at the point can be filled with fall warblers as they pass through. Whitefish point is also known as a great place to have the chance to catch a sighting of extremely rare birds who get lost. Birds like Short-tailed Hawk, Lucy’s Warbler and Sagebrush Sparrow have all shown up during late October and November.
The amazing colors of fall aren’t just limited to the leaves. Make Sault Ste. Marie your hub for lodging and restaurants this fall and witness the spectacular fall migration unlike no place else in Michigan.