Saginaw Bay – Spring

Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay, found in the central Lower Peninsula of Michigan, is the largest contiguous freshwater wetland complex in the United States. In general, Michigan is well-positioned for maximum diversity of migrating flycatchers, vireos, wrens, thrushes, mimids, sparrows, wood-warblers, tanagers, orioles, and grosbeaks as migratory routes of over-wintering birds from Central and South America converge with Neotropical migrants from the Caribbean. Where land meets water, one finds the greatest diversity of birds as passerines and raptors follow and concentrate along this natural ecological barrier. The middle of May is a magical time to bird anywhere in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes but is particularly rewarding along Saginaw Bay. Overall mid-May birding in this region produces daily lists of over 100 species as migrants are particularly abundant and diverse.
This trip will be centered around Tawas, Michigan, which is located at the northern extent of the Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron. With our focus in a narrow geographic area, it will allow participants to have multiple opportunities to see the diverse birds making passage through Michigan’s Saginaw Bay region.
NEXT DEPARTURE DATE: To be confirmed
DAY 1: Bay City SP, Nayanquing Point SWA
After an early morning pick-up in or near MBS International Airport (07:30), we will begin the day at Bay City State Park. With its proximity to Saginaw and mixture of habitats, this very accessible park will allow us to encounter our first passerine migrants as well as shorebirds, gulls, terns, and herons along the lakeshore and interdunal wetlands. This is the most consistent location in Michigan for Cattle Egret. With Great Lakes’ water levels currently high, this will be one of the best locations for shorebirds along the Saginaw Bay!
After a quick lunch in Linwood, we will visit Nayanquing Point SWA which is known for its collection of waterfowl and waders. If water levels have been controlled, shorebirds should be excellent. Recent springs have produced rarities such as White-faced and Glossy Ibis, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Willet, Red Knot, Red-necked Phalarope Hudsonian Godwit, Marbled Godwit, Franklin’s Gull, and Laughing Gull and Eurasian Wigeon. The small, wooded areas of this marsh complex contain excellent pockets of migrating passerines. This is the best location to see Yellow-headed Blackbird, which is at the eastern limit of its range. This is a relatively large area, so we will sample the more easily accessible habitats. If time allows, we may visit Pinconning County Park and check for late afternoon migrants.
Dinner will be along Tawas Bay where we can watch for migrating Common Nighthawks!

Accommodation: East Tawas, MI
Sunrise: 06:13; Sunset: 20:47

DAY 2: Tawas Point SP, Kirtland’s Warbler restoration lands, Tuttle Marsh
After a 05:00 breakfast, we will begin the day at Tawas Point State Park. This is one of the premiere migratory stopover sites in the Great Lakes boasting a park list of nearly 300 species! One can see over 100 species just in the park in one day! This narrow peninsula funnels northbound migrants into a small area with short trees allowing for optimal viewing. As well, an extensive sandy beach that projects into Tawas Bay ensures loafing gulls, terns, and shorebirds such as Common, Forster’s, Black and Caspian Terns as well as migrating Whimbrel. The beach at Tawas Point routinely hosts a pair or two of the rare Great Lakes’ population of Piping Plover The unique position of this park attracts any number of migrant species, including more southerly breeding over-shots (like Hooded, Prothonotary, Yellow-throated, and Prairie Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat, White-eyed Vireo, Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Mockingbird, and Summer Tanager), rarities and vagrants. In recent springs, notables such as Tricolored Heron, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Western Tanager, Painted Bunting have been recorded.
Lunch will be in Tawas.
In the afternoon, we will visit Tuttle Marsh, a series of extensive diked pools known for waterfowl, rails, and if the water is drawn down, excellent shorebirds. We should easily find breeding Osprey, Common Loon, Wilson’s Snipe, Blue-winged Teal, Virginia Rail, Sora, and Black Tern. Notably, the marsh has hosted, not once but twice, Purple Gallinule. The coniferous woods will also contain passerine migrants.
Dinner will be in Tawas.
If the group has the inclination, we will call for nocturnal birds locally with hopes of hearing and seeing: Barred, Great Horned, Eastern-Screech, and Northern Saw-whet (uncommon) as well as Eastern Whip-poor-will and American Woodcock.

Accommodation: East Tawas, MI
Sunrise: 06:12; Sunset: 20:49

DAY 3: Tawas Point SP, Au Sable River & Lumberman’s Monument, Wurtsmith AFB, Clark’s Marsh
After another 05:00 breakfast, we will begin the day at Tawas Point State Park, checking for new migrants and experiencing anew the more common passerine migrants. Depending on the activity of the birds at the park, we will then have an early or late lunch in Tawas.
After lunch, we will explore the Au Sable River Valley which has a series of dams on the Au Sable River with multiple scenic pull-outs and parks. Not only we will learn a little about the lumber era in Michigan, but also look for migrants along the way. During our tour of the Au Sable River Valley, we will check several jack pine restoration areas for Kirtland’s Warbler, a guarantee in this area! On our return towards Tawas, we will take a short diversion to Wurtsmith Air Force Base. Its grasslands provide opportunity to see Grasshopper and Vesper Sparrows as well as other open field species like Upland Sandpiper. Nearby Clark’s Marsh is one of the better locations for now-localized Red-headed Woodpeckers.

Accommodation: East Tawas, MI
Sunrise: 06:10; Sunset: 20:50

DAY 4: Tawas Point SP, Au Gres area (Midland)
Our last morning will begin at 05:00. We return once more to Tawas Point State Park, looking for new migrants as turn-over is very high day-to-day.
After lunch in Tawas, we will explore shoreline, grassland, and forest habitats near Au Gres including Noggle Road, Point Au Gres and the Big Creek/Manor Road area. In particular, we will be looking for Cerulean Warbler along Big Creek Road, where they have nested the last several years.
Afternoon return may afford us to stop at Whiting Overlook Park in Midland, known for attracting late waterfowl and possibly shorebirds.
Guests will be dropped off in the evening at or near MBS International Airport.

Sunrise: 06:09; Sunset: 20:51

Do you have a quick question about this birding tour? Speak to a specialist at  

Also see the Saginaw Bay Birding website for the most recent sightings in the region!