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Whitefish Point Bird Observatory

 

 



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Whitefish Point

Whitefish Point Bird Observatory

Hiking the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory

Directions:

From Paradise, MI travel north on Whitefish Road about 10 miles to Whitefish Point.

Size:

44 acres, includes the 2.7 acres owned by WPBO, plus 8.3 acres owned by Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, and 33 acres owned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service administered by Seney National Wildlife Refuge.

Facilities and Opportunities:

  • Restrooms – Indoor restrooms are available at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, adjacent to Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, and are open during business hours only. Whitefish Point Harbor, located 0.7 mile south, does have one pit toilet open 24 hours, year-round.
  • Trails – Three trails: The Hawk Dune Pathway consists of a trail and boardwalk/stairs to a hawk watch observation deck/hut on the dunes. The Waterbird Station Pathway is an undeveloped sand trail that leads to a water bird counting blind/hut on the northeast tip of Whitefish Point. The Beach and Lake Overlook Deck is located at the foot of the beach and is barrier free from the sidewalk on the old Coast Guard Station.
  • Picnic – Picnic tables are available near the Owl’s Roost Gift Shop.
  • Visitor Center – Owl’s Roost Gift Shop and interpretive center: Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends from mid-April to mid-October. From late June through September, hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.
  • Drinking Water – Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum during business hours only.
  • Barrier Free – Museum restrooms; boardwalk to the foot of the dune stairway; beach and lake observation deck near old Coast Guard Station power plant.

Description:

Whitefish Point is a narrow peninsula that reaches several miles into Lake Superior toward Canada. The geography of this location makes it a natural "funnel" for birds of all kinds as they migrate between their northern breeding grounds in Canada and warmer wintering grounds to the South. The distance between the Canadian coast and Whitefish Point is about seventeen miles. The habitat at the tip of the peninsula is primarily forested dune with jack pine being the dominant tree species. Small shrubby wetlands are found in low-lying areas.

Whitefish Point Wildlife

Wildlife Viewing:

Whitefish Point is a phenomenal concentration point for migrating birds. During spring and fall it is one of the best birding sites in Michigan and the Great Lakes region. Spring migration begins in mid-March and peaks in mid-May. During this time, up to 25,000 raptors pass by the Point–as many as 3,000 in a single day! Sharp-shinned, broad-winged, and red-tailed hawks are most common. Whitefish Point is also one of the best sites in the country for springtime owl viewing. Watch for boreal, great gray, great-horned, short-eared, and long-eared owls. The warmer days of May bring huge concentrations of small birds such as warblers, blue jays, grosbeaks, plus many species of shorebirds and waterfowl. Red-throated and common loons, scoters, and whimbrels are commonly seen. After about six weeks of little activity in June and July, the fall migration begins in early August. For sheer numbers of birds, the fall is unrivaled as huge flights of waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds push southward ahead of the freezing weather. The fall migration generally brings 50,000 to 100,000 water birds, with single day counts often reaching several thousand loons, grebes, geese, and ducks. In 1991, there were 10,000 red-necked grebes alone! A few other interesting species seen here are the boreal chickadee, spruce grouse, and bald and golden eagles. If the weather holds, viewing often remains good until mid-November. Birds are much less abundant in the winter, but the chances of finding northern species are relatively good. Regular winter visitors include the Bohemian waxwing, pine grosbeak, white-winged crossbill, and redpolls. Gyrfalcon, great gray owl, northern hawk owl, snowy owl, and gray jay are also found here although they are more often found in the Sault Ste. Marie area.

This site has a boardwalk and series of steps crossing and climbing the dunes up to a hawk-viewing platform. There is also a large, upper beach-level observation deck adjacent to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and lighthouse, which offers access to the beach. This deck is handicap accessible and another good spot for watching birds. No camping is available on site, but two state forest campgrounds, Shelldrake and Andrus, are located six miles south. In addition, Tahquamenon Falls State Park’s East Entrance Campground is located 14 miles south.

Whitefish Point, being a small piece of land protruding into a huge body of water, can have much different weather than the rest of the eastern Upper Peninsula. Temperatures are usually at least 10 degrees colder, and fog conditions are much more common here than just a few miles inland. Check the weather forecast before you come. It is best to come prepared for adverse weather, pack multiple layers of clothing, and bring along rain gear. Bug spray will be helpful in warmer months. It is helpful to check the daily bird lists posted on the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory (WPBO) Web site and at the outside bulletin board at the Interpretive Center before going out each day.

WPBO is a non-profit, membership-supported organization, and an affiliate of the Michigan Audubon Society. Its focus is research to document and study migratory bird populations and habitats in the Great Lakes region. WPBO has a nature-oriented gift shop at their research lab. The gift shop is open mid-April to mid-October, seven days a week from late June through September. The gift shop sells a few items through their on-line store found on their Web site. Research staff is on hand spring and fall. During these seasons and primarily on weekends, staff offers many free bird tours, bird banding demonstrations, and owl flight presentations. Whitefish Point Bird Observatory’s biggest birding event is their "Spring Fling," usually the last weekend in April. Check out their Web site for dates and details on special programs. There are many places to bird in the vicinity of the Point and staff at the gift shop have maps for, and enjoy directing birders to, these areas. Two favorites include "The Owl Road" 1 ½ mile south of the parking lot, and the Whitefish Point Harbor of Refuge (good for gulls) 0.7 miles south of the Point.

View/Download map of Whitefish Point Observatory

Information courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources

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