Birding trails and festivals abound for Michigan bird-watchers

Looking for spring migrants, a bird-watcher stops to see a bird singing in the forest. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Looking for spring migrants, a bird-watcher stops to see a bird singing in the forest. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Peggy Ridgway is no laggard when it comes to organizing bird-watching events. The 73-year-old retired Oscoda school teacher founded the Tawas Point Birding Festival that celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The popular Lake Huron shoreline event, May 14-17, draws hundreds of bird-watchers from as far away as California.

They arrive annually in East Tawas with their binoculars and field guides, hoping to view Sunrise Coast Birding Trail 17536316-largespring migrant birds as they wing their way up Michigan’s northeast shoreline, headed for summer nesting grounds. Festival goers spotted and recorded 188 bird species in 2014.

“We’ve had people from 17 states and five countries over nine years,” said Ridgway, past president of Michigan Audubon Society and a member of the AuSable Valley Audubon chapter.

Ridgway’s Audubon chapter is one of three, including Thunder Bay Audubon Society and Straits Area Audubon Society, that have been working for 15 months to develop the Sunrise Coast Birding Trail, a 28-stop, 145-mile, bird-watching trail stretching from Oscoda north to Mackinac City.

The route incorporates the best birding spots on the Sunrise Coast and makes them readily accessible to those traveling by vehicle and bicycle.

Formal dedications for the new trail will be held at 10 a.m. May 2 at Duck Park in Alpena and at 1 p.m. May 2 at Shoreline Park in Oscoda and Mill Creek Historical Park in Mackinac City.

The Audubon chapters received financial help from Consumers Energy and the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments. The funding paid for site signs and the development of a four-color map showing the route and birding locations. A copy can be downloaded from the trail website. 

Maps also will be available at area Chamber of Commerce offices and visitor bureaus.

The Sunrise Coast and Saginaw Bay birding trails are two of five that can be found in Michigan. Others include the Beaver Island Birding Trail and Sleeping Bear Birding Trail which opened last year — and the 150-mile Superior Birding Trail in the Upper Peninsula. Details on each can be found on Michigan Audubon’s “Go Birding” page and on the Michigan DNR’s website. Continue reading

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Grand Rapids’ Nature Centers Offer Outdoorsy Fun For All Ages

Take a peaceful stroll on the trails at Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve. Photo by Howard Meyerson

Take a peaceful stroll on the trails at Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve. Photo by Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Two minutes from the traffic on East Beltline Avenue is a peaceful, natural setting full of surprises. In spring the woods fill with natural sounds – sweet bird songs by day and a chorus of frogs and toads at night.

For Jeanette Henderson, it is a special season at the 100-acre Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve, where she is program manager. Wood-chip pathways lead visitors to more than a dozen ponds and vernal pools, all set back from the highway in the hush of a mature forest.

The preserve was established in 1985 to protect a special habitat, the temporary home for more than 140 bird species plus white-tail deer, raccoons and possums, blue-spotted salamanders and flying squirrels and mink.

The Calvin College preserve is one of four great area nature centers within 30 minutes of downtown Grand Rapids. They offer miles of hiking trail, wild animal displays and an assortment of fun, outdoorsy things to do. To learn more about where they are and what they offer check out my latest blog post on the Experience GR Blog.

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Bird-friendly Communities Coming of Age

More and more Michigan communities are working out how to be more bird-friendly.

More and more Michigan communities are working out how to be more bird-friendly.

By Howard Meyerson

Royce Ragland is proud that her village of Elk Rapids —population 1,642—is working to improve conditions for birds. The Antrim County community has the unique distinction of being the “first community in the world” to be certified by Saving Birds Thru Habitat (SBTH), the Omena-based nonprofit that promotes saving bird habitat. Elk Rapids is part of a growing movement in the U.S. to make communities friendlier for birds.

“We decided it was important to raise people’s appreciation of birds,” explains Ragland, vice-chair for the village planning commission and founder of Green Elk Rapids, a volunteer group working to raise awareness about environmental issues. “Birds are an indicator of environmental health. We are right in the middle of amazing natural attributes—beaches, woods, ponds, and streams. We’re encouraging people who live here to treasure and preserve them.”

Two Elk Rapids parks were certified in September 2014. Each is filled with native oak, cherry, and willow trees, all known to host an abundance of lepidoptera, the butterfly and moth caterpillars which neo-tropical migrant and/or resident birds often eat. Their presence, along with other native plants, made each of the parks a high-quality bird habitat, according to Kay Charter, executive director of SBTH. The organization has certified industrial and private land sites, but not municipal properties, until now.

“Our bird population is declining and the number-one reason for that is habitat loss, specifically the loss of native plants,” Charter declares. “Non-native plants don’t support the insect abundance that birds need.

“Elk Rapids took the initiative to become certified. They have native trees and bushes and committed to replace those that are not native. Some residents have (since) called and want to work with us to have their properties certified. It’s the ripple—like throwing a stone in a pond.” Continue reading

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Major work this summer coming for Hart-Montague and White Pine Trails

Cyclists and skateboarders regularly use the paved portions of the White Pine Trail. Critics suggest skateboarders and others will not be able to use the segments that will be surfaced with crushed limestone. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Cyclists and skateboarders regularly use the paved portions of the White Pine Trail. Critics suggest skateboarders and others will not be able to use the segments that will be surfaced with crushed limestone. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

Two popular west Michigan rail-trails are scheduled for major work this summer. The 22.6-mile William Field Memorial Hart-Montague Trail will be widened and repaved while two unfinished sections of the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail, just over 40 miles, will be surfaced with crushed limestone.

“The Hart-Montague has reached its lifespan – it’s over 20 years old – and it has gotten to the point that it needs to be redone,” said Matt Lincoln, grants coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The project is expected to cost $4.45 million. “The paved portion is now eight feet wide and we plan to make it 10 feet wide with two feet of clear space on each side.”

Construction is expected to start mid-June, according to Annamarie Bauer, the agency’s development planner for state parks. It will take place in segments and portions of the trail will be closed during construction.

“Our goal is to have the work completed by November 2015,” Bauer said. “We’re going out for bids a little later than planned. They (the contractors) will have to close sections as the work is done, but our goal is for the other sections to stay open.”

The Hart-Montague Trail was dedicated in 1989. It is Michigan’s first paved rail-trail. The trails were built narrower then and to different specifications, according to Lincoln. Users now complain about its highly worn surface.

More cyclists expected

Hart City Manager, Stan Rickard, called the reconstruction “a golden opportunity.” Traffic on the trail has diminished over the years due to its condition. He anticipates a resurgence of interest once the reconstruction is complete.

“I met two people last summer who love the trail, but their friends don’t come any more. That hurts because you know it will be repeated many times,” Rickard said. “People will miss it this coming summer, but I think the Grand Opening in the spring of 2016 (after reconstruction) will be a huge success.” Continue reading

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Nature Nearby: Parks, Trails, Woods and Wildlife Within 10 minutes of downtown Grand Rapids

Stop and have a snack, or listen to the birds, along the Hodenpyl Woods trail. Photo by Howard Meyerson.

Stop and have a snack, or listen to the birds, along the Hodenpyl Woods trail. Photo by Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

Though Grand Rapids’ downtown is often bustling, nature is never far away: green havens can be found throughout the city and all along the Grand River corridor. More than two dozen natural environs can be found within 10-minutes of Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids. Several are within easy walking distance, and the rest are close enough to visit on your lunch break or during a lull in your conference schedule or trip itinerary! – Read more on the Experience GR Blog at: Nearby Parks and Trails.

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Bass Rules: Year-round catch-and-release proposed

Fly anglers who enjoy smallmouth bass fishing, like Wayne Andersen shown fishing Hamlin Lake, will be able to target them all year under the expanded catch-and-immediate-release season proposed. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Fly anglers who enjoy smallmouth bass fishing, like Wayne Andersen shown fishing Hamlin Lake, will be able to target them all year under the expanded catch-and-immediate-release season proposed. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

Michigan bass anglers could soon be enjoying more time on the water. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is floating a proposed rule change to allow catch-and-immediate-release (CIR) bass fishing all-year, statewide – except on specific waters that are closed.

The proposed expansion of the CIR season would go into effect April 9, 2015, immediately following an approval by the state’s Natural Resources Commission. It was presented to the commission on March 19 at its Roscommon meeting. A final decision is expected at its April 9 meeting, in East Lansing. Meanwhile, the public has until then to comment.

Keeping bass is currently verboten outside of the possession season, which begins May 23 on most Michigan waters, and June 20 on the St. Clair and Detroit rivers and Lake St. Clair. That’s because bass are usually on the beds spawning at that time. Not allowing anglers to keep them makes the fisheries more robust.

But CIR fishing is allowed some weeks earlier, once the walleye season opens on the last Saturday in April for Lower Peninsula waters, and May 15 on Upper Peninsula waters. The proposed change would allow CIR fishing year-round

The changes will expand fishing opportunities and simplify rules, according to DNR officials. The proposal comes after 15 months of discussion by agency fisheries and law staff, stakeholder groups, and public input. Continue reading

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Found at Paddle Canada on Facebook.

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Prices Rising: National park senior & other passes a great way to save money

Looking out from one of the cliff dwellings at the remnants of the circular pueblo dwellings where a community of people once lived. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Looking out from one of the cliff dwellings at the remnants of the circular pueblo dwellings at New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

A few weeks ago I let you know that many U.S. national parks are proposing to raise entrance, camping and other fees  in the next couple of years. Most are looking to make improvements for the National Park Service centennial celebration in 2016, and the last fee increase was five years ago.

In some cases, those entrance fees will rise substantially. Annual passes for Rocky Mountain National Park, for instance, are proposed to increase from $40 to $60. The seven-day vehicle fee would go from $20 to $30. New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument, one of my favorite ancestral pueblo sites, is proposing to increase their seven-day vehicle pass from $12 to $20; and from $30 to $40 for an annual pass.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, both very popular destinations, propose to raise their seven-day, two-park entrance pass from $25 to $50. Yellowstone now plans to offer a three-day Yellowstone-only vehicle pass for $30 and an annual pass for $60.

Those increases are likely to give some pause – particularly older individuals living on a fixed income, but, there are ways to save money if you plan to visit the parks. If you are 62 years or older, consider buying a senior interagency lifetime pass. It costs $10 if purchased at a park, $20 by mail. That’s what one MLive reader, Joe Zurawski and his wife, Sue, did this year when they visited Haleakala National Park, in Hawaii.

“I discovered I could purchase a lifetime pass for all the national parks for $10,” Zurawski said. “Now whenever we go to any U.S. National Park all we have to do is show them our passes and picture ID. I thought it was fantastic.

“Visiting the national parks has been on my to-do list for several years. My wife and I are retired and plan to travel and take in some of the other parks. For this trip, the pass didn’t make a difference, but it will for others. Every little bit helps. It’s a little extra we will have to spend on other things.” Continue reading

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Fly Fishing: Equipment swap meet planned

Float tubes are a great way to fish small ponds, lakes and easy flowing rivers. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Float tubes are a great way to fish small ponds, lakes and easy flowing rivers. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Maybe you have an old float tube you are looking to get rid of, hoping to upgrade to a solo pontoon. Or, if this is even possible, you have just too many fly rods or are looking for a new bench vise but don’t want to shell out a lot of money.

Fly anglers looking to offload  gear that has stacked up over the years will be gathering at the Birch Run Expo Center, 11600 South Beyer Road, on March 21, for the first annual Fly Fishing Equipment Swap Meet / Garage Sale. The event  runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. Admission for the general public is just $2. Kids 18 and under get in free.

The meet is the brainchild of Jeff Johnson, a jeweler from Imlay City and the owner of Brookhaven Lake, in Farwell. Brookhaven is a private lake where Johnson offers guided opportunities to fish for giant Lake Nippigon brook trout and arctic grayling.

“People always have stuff they want to get rid of. It’s only $10 a day to rent a table to sell your gear or promote your club,” Johnson says.

The meet should be a great opportunity for people to mingle and buy sell and swap  used fly fishing equipment. Johnson is hoping to make it an annual event.

To reserve a table, contact Johnson at jeffjohnsonriverguide@yahoo.com or call him at 313-510-0928.

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Birds are Big Bucks

Dollar origami cranes CYMK by Ann Mai M

Dollar origami cranes by Ann Mai 

By Howard Meyerson

Kay Charter recalls her “epiphany,” the moment she knew she wanted to do something for birds. It was 1992. She was poking around the lot behind her Northport home. A family of Winter Wrens emerged from under a brush pile. Charter found herself deeply moved.

“They are one of my favorite birds,” explains Charter, who started birdwatching 30 years ago. “Not many get to see Winter Wrens come out of a nest. I was saddened to realize that we are losing these little birds to people who are developing their habitat. I felt an uncontrollable urge to do something to make a positive difference for birds.”

She and her husband, Jim, decided as a result of the experience to sell the house and buy 47 acres of mixed habitat near Omena. The property would become Charter Sanctuary, home to 60 nesting bird species and a stopover spot for many others. It would also become the eventual base for a non-profit she helped form in 2001 called Saving Birds Thru Habitat.

That organization today, with its dedicated nature center and three-acre parcel deeded to the non-profit by the Charters, attracts more than 1,500 human visitors each year. What began as a personal endeavor to protect birds has since become a popular travel destination for birding enthusiasts around the country.

They come from as far away as Washington DC and the state of Washington, according to Charter. Some arrive in the area for the Leelanau Peninsula Birding Festival every May, but others visit the sanctuary for nature photography workshops or birding walks, or to tour the property and learn how they can manage land for the good of birds. School groups also regularly visit to learn about bird conservation.

“Our reach goes from California to Connecticut,” said Charter, the executive director for Saving Birds Thru Habitat. “We have member support from all over the country.”

Birders spent an estimated $15 billion on their trips and $26 billion on equipment in 2011.” 

–U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2011 report “Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis.”

Continue reading

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