The repetitive, nightly hoots of owls at Whitefish Point are the only hint that within a backroom of a tiny gift shop is housed the number one owl banding location in the country. Visitors can watch the process all night, spring through fall. And owls aren’t the only critters they’ll likely spot. Unique land and water features at the point create a natural migration corridor, funneling tens of thousands of hawks and songbirds. More than 330 species are regular seen here, making the region a great focus for birding hot spots and trends. Story possibilities might focus on:
History of the region’s Nature Tourism initiative
A plan launched to diversify an economy based on perch in the tiny Les Cheneaux islands has evolved into the major tourism initiative now known as The Great Waters. The plan was launched around the time The Nature Conservancy named the region among the world’s last great places for its rare land formations and abundant wildlife. Tourism was a natural fit in this long-time summer playground notable for a wooden boat heritage and colorful boathouses. The ethic of growing visitor traffic without damaging the ecosystem also has a strong heritage, starting with the principles of the region’s original inhabitants, the Anishinabeg. The area also inspired famed preservationist Aldo Leopold, who summered in the island archipelago as a child.
Whitefish Point Spring Fling and Owl Banding
Look around the Great Waters for a “highway,” and locals are more likely to point you skyward than to a road. In spring alone, some 25,000 hawks pass here, to and from summer homes in Canada’s boreal forest, creating what birders call a freeway of the skies. Expert counters and owl banders take up residence here for much of the year, offering programs and consultation to visiting birders and press.
• Whitefish Point has been designated an important bird area by the National Audubon Society, underscoring its global significance.
• It’s the No. 1 site in the country for owl banding, (640 one recent spring count alone) and also one of the nation's most diverse migration spots for owls. Eight species have been banded here during the 20-plus years of this ongoing study tracking population trends.
• Visitors can watch banders weigh and measure the owls, dusk to dawn nightly, and may even get to personally send them skyward.
• Whitefish Point Bird Observatory’s annual Spring Fling is a good time to catch migration at its peak and attend seminars like bird identification by sounds
Seney National Wildlife Refuge
A visitor’s center featuring educational displays and scopes often trained on an osprey or eagle’s nest is a great first stop, but Seney’s story possibilities extend across the 95,000-plus acres set aside in 1945 to protect migratory birds and other wildlife. The refuse also hosts several ongoing research projects.
• Seney was once a bustling logging area boasting 13 saloons, 3 hotels, 11 houses of ill repute. Along with notable birds, mammals including bobcats, black bear, white-tailed deer, eagles and osprey, can be seen in the wildlife area.
• Notable programs include annual monarch tagging (which visitors can participate in), weekly ranger-led wildlife spotting trips throughout the preserve; free nature photography and watercolor classes; and river floats through the wildlife area on the Manistique River, offered daily by Northland Outfitters, occasionally with a ranger along as a guide.