For the Birds
It’s spring which means time for the northerly bird migrations to begin. Whether you're a birding enthusiast or just an interested observer, the Saugatuck, Douglas, and Fennville areas abound with many species of beautiful birds to behold.
Those new to birding may wonder why this is such a popular hobby. After months of confinement, few things that can stir the soul or ease the mind like a connection with nature. With such diversity in plumage colors and patterns, in voice and song, and in antics, birds offer a new perspective and a mental escape to those who are fortunate enough to witness them in their habitat.
And it doesn’t take much to get involved. Download the free Audubon Birds Field Guide app on your phone and grab a pair of binoculars. To further help you along, we’ve compiled a list of some area parks and hotspots where you’re sure to find flashes of feathered inhabitants. Just remember that birds tend to be most active early morning and then during the late afternoon/early evening.
Saugatuck Dunes State Park
More than 200 species of birds have been recorded on ebird.org as being sighted at this birding hotspot. Scale a sand dune to scan for migrating birds, including Bald Eagles, Double-crested Cormorants, American White Pelicans, Least Sandpipers, Blue- and Green-winged Teals, Downy Woodpeckers, White-winged Crossbills, and Red-breasted Mergansers. Located on a secluded 2.5-mile strip of Lake Michigan beach, this park features rolling hills and coastal dunes and is a prime spot to observe migrating hawks, ducks, and shorebirds during the spring and fall.
Mt. Baldhead Park
Climb the 300 steps to the top of Mt. Baldhead and look above. You may be lucky enough to find hawks, vultures, and other raptors gracing the Michigan sky. Yes, it’s a trek—but the views are well worth it. Other species observed at Mt. Baldhead Park include Tufted Titmouses, Scarlet Tanagers, American Redstarts, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Eastern Bluebirds, and Indigo Buntings.
Oval Beach is recognized for its beautiful sugar sand strip of shoreline and sandy dunes, but the lesser-known treasure is what flies above this hotspot. Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-throated Loons, Horned Grebes, Redheads, Buffleheads, Cedar Waxwings, Nashville Warblers, and Evening Grosbeaks have all been spotted here.
Saugatuck Natural Harbor Area
This 173-acre protected natural area of unspoiled dunes and delicate wetlands has 188 different species of birds in recorded sightings, including Gadwalls, Horned Larks, Black-capped Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, American Kestrels, Great Blue Herons, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.
Douglas Beach Park
This park is a “local secret,” as it’s less crowded than similar Lake Michigan beaches. Birders will enjoy searching the shoreline for Red-Breasted Mergansers, Hooded Mergansers, Black Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Redheads, Sandhill Cranes, and a host of other waterfowl and gulls. After your search, you can enjoy a packed lunch or dinner on one of the park’s many picnic tables.
The beautiful Schultz Park is a 20-acre nature preserve located on the banks of the Kalamazoo River. The water is relatively shallow, creating an excellent place to find shorebirds–which boast over 15 different kinds of sandpipers and plovers every year. The park also has many amenities available, including a boat launch, picnic pavilion, restrooms, a playground, and a dog park.
Wade’s Bayou Memorial Park
A tributary of the Kalamazoo River, the slow-moving waters of Wade's Bayou are a great place to look for waterfowl species. The area’s mudflats can be very productive for migrant shorebirds. In the past, birders recorded sightings of Bald Eagles, Purple Martins, Red Knots, Marbled Godwits, and Baird’s Sandpipers. Also, look out for terns and rails, as they are also common sightings.
West Side County Park
Famous for its beautiful sunsets, West Side County Park gives visitors a place to search the shoreline for waterfowl. A wide variety of duck species have been spotted near the park’s shore, including Great Scaups, Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common Goldeneyes. In addition to these winged wonders, visitors can also find a number of amenities available, including picnic tables, pavilions, restrooms, and a playground.