The Sleeping Bear Birding Trail
Michigan has a lot of great birding locations. Each year, hundreds of birdwatchers migrate to the dunelands of Northwestern Michigan with their binoculars and notebooks to enjoy the region’s many birding opportunities.
Many come for the annual spring migration, between mid-April and the middle of May, when a diverse population of migratory birds congregate on the triangular Leelanau Peninsula west of Traverse City. Others wait until the end of May for nesting season – and for the annual Leelanau Peninsula Birding Festival, a three-day cornucopia of field trips, talks and socializing designed with birders in mind.
Now they’ll also have a new Internet tool to help them find prime birding sites: the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail, a web-based “road map” to over 120 miles of shoreline. The trail includes almost 40 birding sites within a short distance of state highway M-22 from the Traverse City limits to Manistee.
The Trail is anchored by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which has over 71,000 acres of public land and 35 miles of beaches, including vital habitat for the Piping Plover, an endangered shorebird that needs vast stretches of undisturbed beach. It also encompasses the homes of the Wings of Wonder raptor rehabilitation center and Saving Birds Through Habitat, a non-profit organization devoted to the protection and restoration of critical bird habitat.
Electronic birding trails have been launched successfully in Texas, Montana and Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Birding Festival organizer Dave Barrons, one of the minds behind the new trail, says the Sleeping Bear area’s distinct seasons, diverse topography, extensive shoreline and large number of natural areas with public access make it a naturalist’s paradise.
“This is not just a single trail where you get out and hike around looking for birds,” he says. “It’s a travel route, a way of connecting a number of birding sites in a way that allows you to include them in your itinerary.”
One key feature of the 123-mile trail is what Barrons and fellow birder Mick Seymour call “citizen science.” Over time, individual birders who use the website will report their sightings and observations into a large electronic database that can be used by researchers.
"We now have the ability to meticulously record what we see and hear,” says Seymour. “Birders all over the world are recording where, when, and how many and this data is enormously valuable to the science and understanding of species distribution and abundance.”
Birding is now the country’s number-one outdoor activity. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there are currently 51.3 million birders, and 16 million Americans say they look for birds when they travel. Several Traverse City area resorts and lodges list nearby birding areas in their promotional literature, and a few even arrange guided outings on request.
If you've never been to the Traverse City area it's a great place to visit whether you're looking for birds or not. For help with lodging and dining options, and to learn about other adventures, activities and attractions in the Traverse City area, contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-TRAVERSE or on line at www.TraverseCity.com
For information about the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail:
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