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Birding Grand Traverse County: Hotspots near Traverse City


(A) Petobego State Game Area ★★

Petobego State Game Area is a large wilderness preserve with diverse habitat for birders to explore. The hunting preserve is popular with local birders because of its hundreds of acres of marsh and sedge habitat. Species known to nest in Petobego's wetlands include Black Terns, Virginia Rails, American Bitterns, and Least Bitterns. While hiking through the swampland, keep watch for Bald Eagles perched near the tops of white pine trees.

Directions: Click here

Black TernBlack Tern


(B) Maple Bay Natural Area ★★

Famous for the pretty sunflowers planted on both sides of US-31, Maple Bay Natural Area is a large, 451-acre preserve adjacent to the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay. The natural area is home to several different kinds of sensitive dune habitat. There is a trail which descends steeply from the bluffs near the parking area down to the beach. The hike can be extended by a walk alongside the shoreline of Grand Traverse Bay.

There are many kinds of birds to search for when visiting Maple Bay Natural Area. The preserve is an especially good place to find sparrows and other grassland birds.

Directions: Click here


(C) Yuba Creek Natural Area ★★

Located next to Petobego State Game Area, Yuka Creek Natural Area holds a large watershed which drains into the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay. From the parking area on US-31, visitors can access a half-mile long trail leading to Yuba Creek. When following the trail through grassy meadows, visitors will encounter several interpretive displays.

Birders in search of a longer hike should leave their cars at the parking area on Yuba Road, where a trail leads visitors for 2.8 miles, traversing nearly the entire length of the valley. The valley is a good place to find grassland species of birds. A pair of Bald Eagles recently nested at Yuba Creek Natural Area.

Map: Click here
Directions: Click here


(D) Deepwater Point ★★

Located on the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay, Deepwater Point hosts a small 17-acre park. Owned by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, the park provides guests with a short hike through an aging pine plantation to frontage on the bay. The point is a good place to check for waterfowl and gulls.

Directions: Click here


(E) East Bay Harbor Marina ★

The East Bay Harbor Marina provides birders with access to the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay. The open water is a good place to scan for gulls and ducks. Several species of swallows can usually be seen.

Directions: Click here

Common GoldeneyeCommon Goldeneye


(F) Reffitt Nature Preserve ★★

Adjacent to Traverse City State Park, 87-acre Reffitt Nature Preserve comprises wetlands, forests, and a creek. There is a 1.7 mile loop trail available that provides birders with a chance to explore the different types of dune habitat and walk over swale complexes (small, forested hills). Part of the trail consists of a narrow three-plank boardwalk that assists visitors in keeping their feet dry. Birds to watch for include Green Herons, Great Egrets, and Swamp Sparrows.

Directions: Click here

(G) Old Mission Point Lighthouse Park ★

Located on the northern end of Old Mission Peninsula, Mission Point Lighthouse is a classic icon of Grand Traverse history. Originally built in 1870, the lighthouse operated until 1933. Today, visitors can take a tour to experience what life was like for lighthouse keepers over a hundred years ago.

In front of the lighthouse, there is a shallow, muddy area that provides migrating sandpipers with an excellent spot to stopover for the night. Species commonly seen near Old Mission Point include Wilson’s Snipe, Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, and Greater Yellowlegs.

Hours: From April to October, the lighthouse is open from 10am to 5pm, every day of the week. From November to December, the lighthouse is open only on weekends.
Fees: Adults are $5 each, children are $3 each, and kids ages five and under are free.
Directions: Click here

Wilson's SnipeWilson's Snipe


(H) Open Space Park ★

Open Space Park hosts frontage on the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay. The marina and Clinch Park are a short walk to the east. Birders visiting the park should look for ducks, gulls, and terns.

Directions: Click here


(I) Medalie Park ★★

Medalie Park is a 15 acre park located on Boardman Lake’s south side close to a shopping center. The park is infamous as the original release site for the pesky Mute Swans.

A strong current keeps the water ice-free water, making the Bowman River a good place to look for waterfowl during the winter. Dozens of gulls congregate on the river in January and February.

Directions: Click here


(J) Boardman River Nature Center ★★

Part of Grand Traverse Natural Education Reserve, Boardman River Nature Center features 7 miles of neatly maintained trails following alongside the Boardman River. Close by the nature center, a pair of dams form Sabin Pond (north of Cass Rd) and Keystone Pond (south of Cass Rd).

Visitors will enjoy walking on over 1,200 feet of boardwalk, which eventually pass by mud flats. On the north side of the preserve past the dam, there is an area with significant white water rapids. The river is an excellent place to search for migrating ducks as the water usually remains ice-free throughout the year.

Hours: The nature center is open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 4pm, and irregularly on Saturdays as well.
Fees: There are no admission fees.
Directions: Click here

Least SandpiperLeast Sandpiper


(K) Lone Pine Trail & Keystone Pond ★★

The Lone Pine Trail provides birders with access to the Boardman River. The best birding spot on the trail is the mudflats near Keystone Pond. Look for Least Sandpipers and other kinds of shorebirds.

Directions: Click here


(L) Mayfield Pond Park ★★

From the parking area at the west end of Mill Street, birders will have to cross a railroad track and bridge to reach Mayfield Pond Park. Swainson Creek flows out of the southern end of Mayfield Pond. The combination of forest and open water help to create an excellent birding hotspot where many species can be found, including Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, and Willow Flycatchers.

Directions: Click here


(M) Sand Lakes Quiet Area ★★

Designated in the 1970s as a “quiet area”, Sand Lakes Quiet Area is governed by regulations that restrict the use of motorized vehicles. The lack of noise pollution creates an unusually peaceful atmosphere. When visiting Sand Lakes, birders should look for Bald Eagles and Common Loons, which both prefer secluded nesting sites.

The park’s geography consists of rolling hills covered with a mixture of aspen, oak, and jack pines. There is also a marsh located next to the second of three “Sand Lakes”. Close by Guernsey Lake State Forest Campground, there are “hike-in” campsites available. Be sure to print out a map before leaving to visit the wilderness area, which can be confusing to navigate.

Directions: Click here