33 Whitefish Point
wildlife viewing |
directions and facility information
The habitat at the tip of Whitefish Point’s peninsula
forested dune with jack pines. The dunes have undergone
extensive restoration, thanks to the observatory and
Michigan DNR. Photo: © Dave Case
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
The hawk owl is one of the few owls that
flies by day instead of by night. It is a
northern species, not often seen in
Michigan, but it is just one of many owls
that can be seen at the observatory
during spring and fall migration.
Photo: © Whitefish Point Bird Observatory
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.
Birders are welcomed by local businesses
when they come to catch the spring bird
migrations at Whitefish Point. Unfortunately,
the weather is not always as welcoming—
so come prepared for rapidly changing
conditions. Photo: © Dave Ewert,
The Nature Conservancy
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.