Nov 29, 2009

Whitefish Point Bird Observatory

In April 1978, as part of an ornithology class at Central Michigan University, I went on a field trip to observe the spring bird migration at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, just north of Paradise, MI.  This is the northeastern-most tip of Michigan in the upper peninsula and it's proximity to the Canadian shoreline makes it a natural fly way for tens of thousands of migratory birds.   The observatory is especially famous for the spectacular concentration of hawks, falcons, eagles, falcons and owls.  The field trip was everything it was billed to be.  The sky was peppered with birds all day, making their way from Canada to the south.  I saw my first bald eagle, golden eagle, peregrine falcon and osprey that day.  We also were able to watch wildlife researchers use their mist nets to capture owls in the woods so they could be banded and let loose for a variety of studies.   It was a memorable experience and it was the catalyst for my life long fascination with birding, especially raptors.  

Fast forward 30 years, my birding expeditions were few and far between.  My son Jack had just begun his birding studies at 
Goodwillie Environmental School, an awesome program in the Forest Hills School District.   I dusted off my old Peterson Field Guide to the Birds and out dropped my birding list from my 1978 trip to Whitefish Point.  It couldn't been more obvious if I had opened a Chinese fortune cookie and found a message; You will leave on Saturday for Paradise!  After a couple of phone calls I had a hotel room and received the good news that the migration was peaking.

A week later we left immediately after an early morning soccer game under grey skies. About six hours later we were nearing Paradise and the fun began. Cars were randomly pulling off the road and there were people with binoculars spread out in fields and by the many marshes and rivers.  In the water were various waterfowl and wading birds, taking a break from the strains of the  migration.  In the sky you would see sharped shin hawks zip by and higher up would be the eagles and ospreys loping around, sometimes circling a few times before straightening out and heading south.

Although I love birding, I am far from an expert and rely on my guidebook and the kindness of strangers to help identify the many different species.  We spent the next two days driving between 
Whitefish PointParadise and the beautiful Tahquamenon Falls  Stopping often to identify a bird.  While at the Observatory we participated in a hike through the woods with field naturalists.  A highlight being able to observe through a spotting scope,  a long-eared owl tucked away in tree branches, just chilling out.   Besides the Observatory, which sits right on Lake Superior, the Great Lakes Ship Wreck Museum and the Whitefish Point Lighthouse Station  are at the same location. Fascinating history, especially with the cold wind and waves whipping over Lake Superior and the frequent passing of giant freighters out in the lake. Although we ran out time, about ninety minutes away is also a premier wildlife and birding destination, Seney National Wildlife Refuge.  Many of the folks we met were making the drive to Seney for more birding and hiking.  Maybe next time.

As icing on the cake, the weekend we visited, the 
Tahquamon Falls Brewery and Pub had just opened for the season.  Can you imagine?  A day of birding and hiking followed by dinners at a micro-brewery located in the heart of a state park?  Yes, I was in Paradise.   It's been my experience that rarely does a second attempt of capturing the magic of a long ago trip happen.  But this was an exception.  Sharing a weekend with my 11 year old son, in a beautiful natural setting, and recapturing my love for birding,  surpassed anything I could hope for.  

About the author:

John Rumery is an entrepreneur and champion barbecuer living in Allegan , Michigan. Visit his BBQ website

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