Leelanau County
  • Register

Birding Leelanau County: Hotspots near Sleeping Bear Dunes


(A) Chippewa Run Natural Area ★★

Celebrated for its colorful array of wildflowers, Chippewa Run Natural Area is a beautiful preserve with an excellent diversity of habitat. Many species of trees highlight the park’s forests, including poplar, maple, black cherry, ash, and dogwood. The area is popular with birders looking for grassland species such as Eastern Meadowlarks and Grasshopper Sparrows. Wilson’s Warblers have nested at Chippewa Run Natural Area in years past. There is a 1.25-mile long loop trail available, which provides an excellent place to walk while sighting additional species.

Website: goo.gl/XdE0vh | Map: Click here
Directions: Click here

Grasshopper SparrowGrasshopper Sparrow


(B) Little Glen Lake Picnic Area & Pond ★★

Located next to the popular Sleeping Bear Dune Climb, the Mill Pond is a small lake that provides habitat for herons, egrets, and rails, and beavers. The best time to visit is towards the end of summer, when low water levels expose the mudflats. Sandpipers, plovers, and American Pipits can be seen darting around the exposed pond weeds, searching for food. The pond can easily be viewed from the road.

For those who do not mind a little exercise, the nearby dune climb is an exhausting trek but well worth it—there are scenic views and usually a hawk or two soaring by overhead. Most visitors climb the dune expecting Lake Michigan to be on the other side, and are surprised to find out the lake is 2 miles away.

Map: Click here
Directions: Click here

American PiptAmerican Pipt


(C) Pyramid Point ★

Scenic views of Lake Michigan and an active bird population make Pyramid Point an essential stop to any birder visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Unfortunately, the water is too far away to get a good view, so enjoy the hike and leave the scope behind. Steep bluffs and mature hardwoods provide birders with opportunities to see Bank Swallows, Black-billed Cuckoos, and Black-throated Warblers.

Map: Click here
Directions: Click here


(D) Shalda Creek Access ★★

Shalda Creek is a great place to look for flycatchers, warblers, and thrushes, which gravitate towards areas with riparian habitat. The park protects a remote area next to Lake Michigan. There is a short trail present which starts from Lake Michigan Road and leads to the lakeshore. Nearby is another small, two-track road leading to a small parking area at Shell Lake. If heavy rain has recently fallen, be sure to drive with caution. No amenities are available at Shalda Creek Access.

Map: Click here
Directions: Click here


(E) Good Harbor Bay Trail ★★

Towering White Pines, cedars, and scrub mingled with sand dunes help to make Good Harbor Bay Trail’s diversity of habitat unique. The area is famous for its population of nesting Prairie Warblers, listed as endangered in Michigan. The warblers nest on the ground, so do not stray from the trail when walking through the oak-pine forest.

Watch for Merlins, an uncommon raptor which nests locally every spring. The baby nestlings can be quite noisy—try to listen for them while walking the trail. The 2.8 mile loop leads to Good Harbor Bay, which is an excellent place to scan for shorebirds and ducks.

Map: Click here
Directions: Click here


(F) South Manitou Island ★★

Part of an island chain reaching north to the Straits of Mackinac, South Manitou Island is covered with a pristine, fragile dune landscape. On the southwestern corner of the island, a spectacular grove of virgin White Pines reaches up towards the sky. A recently toppled pine was shown by its rings to predate Columbus. Be sure to visit Florence Lake and check for ducks and other birds. Since the ferry makes regular visits, South Manitou Island is a much better choice than North Manitou Island for birders who do not wish to stay overnight.

Website: manitoutransit.com
Fees: A park entrance pass costs $10
Directions: Click here

Long-tailed DuckLong-tailed Duck


(G) North Manitou Island ★★

Composed of mostly forest, North Manitou Island’s terrain is hilly, with the highest point reaching 430 feet above Lake Michigan. There are a number of old buildings positioned across the island.

Because of its remote location, North Manitou Island is able to provide visitors with a true wilderness experience. Bald Eagles can frequently be seen flying overhead. Every year, three to four pairs of Piping Plovers nest on the island’s beaches.

One of the best birding hotspots on the island is Dimmick's Point, which juts out from the southeast side of the island. Visitors to North Manitou Island should plan on staying overnight—the ferry does not make the trip every day.

Website: manitoutransit.com
Fees: A park entrance pass costs $10
Directions: Click here


(H) Kehl Lake Natural Area ★★

Kehl Lake Natural Area is a protected preserve covering 100 acres of boreal forest and grassy fields. Many species which usually shy away from human activity can be found at Kehl Lake, such as Bobolinks and Dickcissels. There is a short nature trail for visitors to walk, leading 1.25 miles through the woods to a small lake. Black-throated Blue Warblers and Blackburnian Warblers nest at Kehl Lake Nature Area every year.

Website: goo.gl/9VHKVx | Map: Click here
Directions: Click here


(I) Lighthouse West Natural Area ★★

An excellent birding hotspot, Lighthouse West Natural Area's position on a land peninsula uses natural occurrences to funnel thousands of migrant songbirds towards its tip. The preserve covers 42 acres alongside 640 feet of pristine Lake Michigan shoreline, showcasing a variety of habitats.

The best time to look for birds is in May, when flocks of migrating warblers rest in the thickets before crossing the lake. Summer visitors will enjoy watching Chestnut-sided Warblers and Black-billed Cuckoos flit through the woods as they bring food back to their broods. In the fall, hawks can regularly be seen flying overhead. Birders should be careful not to trespass on a private beach adjacent to the park.

Website: goo.gl/i9rsgB | Map: Click here
Directions: Click here


(J) Leelanau State Park ★★

Divided into two sections, Leelanau State Park consists of 1,350 acres on the tip of Leelanau Peninsula. The area acts as a staging ground for migrants waiting for calm weather before crossing Lake Michigan. This natural occurrence helps to create some fabulous birding opportunities. When visiting the northern section of the park, check the rocky shoreline for shorebirds and the shallow offshore waters for ducks. The Petoskey Stone can be found on the beaches of Leelanau State Park.

The south section of the park, located 4 miles from the north side, features hardwood forests, dunes, and wetlands. There are six miles of color-coded trails for birders to explore, making it easier to find Scarlet Tanagers, Blackburnian Warblers, and other songbirds.

Website: michigan.gov/leelanau | Map: Click here
Phone: (231) 386-5422
Fees: Recreation Passport required ($11 resident, $31.10 non-resident)
Directions: Click here

Blackburnian WarblerBlackburnian Warbler


(K) Woolsey Memorial Airport Fields ★

The Woolsey Memorial Airport Fields are a good place to search for cranes, Horned Larks, sparrows, and other grassland birds. The airport is visible from Howell Road. Another place from which to search for birds is a half-mile east on Woolsey Lake Road, a half-circle parking lot is provided (45.1626, -85.5709).

Directions: Click here


(L) Omena Beach & Bay ★

A long, narrow beach on the south side of Omena Road provides birders with a good place to search for sandpipers. Gulls, terns, and waterfowl are often present.

Directions: Click here


(M) Charter Sanctuary ★★

Charter Sanctuary is a 44-acre nature preserve dedicated to preserving habitat for birds. The staff from Saving Birds Thru Habitat center regularly lead field trips through the sanctuary, helping children and new birders learn more about nature. Charter Sanctuary’s habitat consists primarily of woodland and fields, making the park a great place to see most of Michigan’s common summer residents.

Before leaving to visit Charter Sanctuary, birders should check the calendar on Saving Birds Thru Habitat’s website to see if any events are taking place during their visit.

Website: goo.gl/lEb74F
Directions: Click here


(N) Graham-Greene Park ★

Stretching across 15 acres of forest, Graham-Greene Park is a quiet park located on the rocky shoreline of Grand Traverse Bay. Picnic tables and porta-potties are available. A marina with a rock pier, which lies a short distance south of the park, provides a good spot to search for sandpipers and gulls.

Directions: Click here


(O) Lake Leelanau Boat Launch ★

Lake Leelanau Boat Launch is near north side of Lake Leelanau, where a channel of water passes under the road. The open waters near the boat launch are a good place to search for Hooded Mergansers and other duck species.

Directions: Click here

Hooded MerganserHooded Merganser


(P) Suttons Bay Boardwalk ★★

Sutton Bay Boardwalk is a good place to search for migrating waterfowl and sandpipers during the spring and fall. The boardwalk leads visitors through a small marsh to an observation deck near Grand Traverse Bay. The best time to look for shorebirds is from late July to early September.

Website: goo.gl/c69ZSt
Directions: Click here


(Q) Suttons Bay Sewage Ponds ★

Most wastewater facilities are off limits to the public, and the Suttons Bay Sewage Ponds are no exception. Fortunately for birders, the ponds can be easily viewed from the nearby Leelanau Trail, where ducks and other waterfowl can be seen in March and April. There is a total of four ponds—two on the east side and two on the west. To view the ponds, walk 0.7 of a mile south of Eckerle Road on the Leelanau Trail. The ponds on the trail’s eastern side are only visible from a small hill.

Directions: Click here

Greater YellowlegsGreater Yellowlegs


(R) Veronica Valley Park ★★

Formerly a golf course, Veronica Valley Park allows visitors access to a thick white cedar forest, open meadows, and marshy wetlands. Some of Veronica Valley Park’s highlights include seven ponds and Mebert Creek. There are two bridges available, providing birders with additional views of the park. The habitat is typical of new-growth forest, with an abundance of small shrubbery and trees. Some of the bird species which populate the scrubland are Gray Catbird, Yellow Warbler, Brown Thrasher, and Eastern Kingbird.

The park is visited every year by birders from Leelanau Michigan Birding Festival. Because of its popularity, local naturalists are developing Veronica Valley Park to be more attractive for both for human and avian activity. Soon, elevated boardwalks and neatly-designed wood chipped paths will give visitors easy access. A youth education center will soon be built, featuring educational displays on ecology, wetlands, and birds.

Map: Click here
Directions: Click here

Brown ThrasherBrown Thrasher


(S) DeYoung Area & Fulton Park ★★

DeYoung Natural Area is a 145-acre nature preserve with many kinds of habitat for birders to explore. The combination of forest and swampland hosts nesting flycatchers, woodpeckers, and herons every year. One of the best birding spots is a platform with views of Cedar Lake, which can be accessed through the cedar forest area via a quarter-mile loop trail.

Fulton Park is several miles south of DeYoung Natural Area. The small park has a single loop trail which winds by several ponds and streams on its way through the forest. It takes about 2 hours round trip to walk the paved trail from Deyoung Nature Area to Fulton Park.

Website: goo.gl/YbUA4o | Map: Click here
Directions for Fulton Park: Click here
Directions for DeYoung Natural Area: Click here


(T) Harbor West Yacht Club ★

The main feature of Harbor West Yacht Club is a breakwall, providing American Wigeons and other ducks with a small, sheltered cove. The yacht club is next to the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay.

Directions: Click here