Sunday, November 20, 2011

Birding and more on the Mission Peninsula

[It's been way too long since I updated this thing. I hope to correct that by being less of a perfectionist about long, involved posts, and just tell you about some cool stuff I've found. I know I shouldn't sacrifice quality for quantity, but I'm guessing you'd like to have at least some quantity!]

Ask a Michigander where he lives and he’ll proudly use the palm of his right hand as a map to point out the location. The lower peninsula of Michigan is shaped remarkably like a hand, with Saginaw Bay the opening between the thumb and index finger and the tip of the middle finger the spot where the Mackinaw Bridge crosses the straits to the Upper Peninsula. If we take the hand/map analogy a bit further, we could imagine a bay between the pinky and ring finger slicing due south into the west coast of Michigan. This is Grand Traverse Bay.

Jutting out from Traverse City at the base of the bay is a thin sliver of land that extends northward for 18 miles, splitting Grand Traverse Bay into two arms. This is the Old Mission Peninsula, a cluster of small farms, vineyards, and wineries. At the very tip lies a largely undeveloped area, Lighthouse Park. Two sand spits extend several hundred meters north from the end of the peninsula. The spits and the surrounding shallow water and mudflats make for excellent birding in almost any season.

Looking through my lists, I’ve nabbed my lifers of Greater Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, American Golden Plover, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, and Orange-crowned Warbler here over the last few years. (eBird makes looking these things up so easy!)  My skills and ambition for birding are greater than for photography (so far), thus you’re stuck with more scenics than birds for the photos here.
Looking south from the tip of the eastern spit.

If you put your face really close to the screen (or click on it to make it bigger), you'll spot a Greater Yellowlegs.
I love the varied habitat here.

Killdeer nesting among the rocks.
(This was taken at a respectful distance.
Nesting birds should never be approached.)
Walking the spits in the spring is a delightful stroll as you’re serenaded by song sparrows, yellow warblers, and red-winged blackbirds, all the while scanning the mudflat for nearly invisible shorebirds. Invisible, that is, until you get your eyes in “shorebird mode” and realize there are dozens or hundreds of the little characters walking around. The path through the woods between the two spits passes some enormous oak, pine, and spruce. There’s lots of good woodpecker and forest bird action here, not to mention tons of moss, ferns, and lichens for the botanists.


The Mission Peninsula makes a great day of adventure. Bird the sand spits in the morning, do some wine tasting at stops like 2Lads Winery, grab a lakeside dinner, and return to the point for sunset. Just be careful of the zebra mussels. Bare feet and sharp mollusks are a bad combination.

Yay for imaginary lines!

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