The Best of the Midwest:
Birding Michigan and Ohio
May 11 - 17, 2023
$2,500 per person | Single supplement: $450
($500 deposit due upon registration)
7 participants max
Prairie potholes, boreal bogs, enigmatic endangered warblers– birding in Michigan and Ohio has surprises around every corner. Our trip will take us to a wide variety of habitats including open prairies of Oak Openings, the boreal bogs of the Upper Peninsula, and the pine-oak woodlands of central Michigan. With such a diversity of habitats, we'll see a great diversity of birds: Sharp-tailed Grouse, American White Pelican, Western Meadowlark, Dickcissel, Kirtland's Warbler, Lark Sparrow, Acadian Flycatcher, and Red-headed Woodpecker. With some luck, we may encounter Connecticut Warbler, Yellow Rail, and even Whooping Crane. A truly exciting week of Midwest birding!
Chip Darmstadt is the "emeritus" executive director of the North Branch Nature Center and an avid birder and naturalist. Chip has led birding trips in the US and across the world with NBNC for the last two decades, observing over 2,000 bird species along the way. When not guiding trips, Chip works on extending his streak of over 1,400 consecutive days of eBird checklists!
We’ll be staying at Holiday Inns and equivalent lodging throughout the trip. We selected our lodging to ensure clean and comfortable accommodations situated strategically near the heart of the birding hotspots we’ll be visiting.
We will typically have picnic breakfasts (including coffee) and lunches in the field each day, and we provide a range of options to accommodate preferences and dietary restrictions. Our dinners will typically be at restaurants back in town.
Be prepared for mosquitoes and other biting insects! While no strenuous hiking is expected, we will spend plenty of time walking on park trails.
We’ll leave the hotel to begin our search each morning at sunrise to encounter birds when they are at their most active. We’ll travel from place to place throughout the day, with plenty of stops for refreshments and restrooms along the way, and return to our lodging with time to freshen up before dinner. We don’t include mid-day siestas on this action-packed trip, but our pace is generally slow, relaxed, and casual.
While we spend each entire day birdwatching, we will not be “rushing” from place to place. Our goal is to enjoy spending time with these amazing animals. We are searching for rich experiences and astonishing biodiversity, and not necessarily the longest species list.
- All lodging and some breakfasts at hotels
- Expert naturalist guide
- Any entrance fees and park admissions, including a Kirtland’s Warbler tour
- Transportation in a 15-passenger van
What is not included:
- Airfare (and airport departure tax)
- extras in hotels (e.g., room service, laundry, etc)
- most meals and any alcoholic beverages.
Ready for the Midwest?
Email [email protected] to get signed up.
Day 1 (Thursday, May 11): Arrival in Detroit; Southern Forests (Oak Openings and more)
After our arrival in Detroit, we’ll spend most of our day at Oak Openings in Ohio. Oak Openings is a unique park home to an array of rare and endangered flora and fauna, including Prickly pear cactus, Karner Blue Butterfly, and Blanding’s Turtle. It is also a breeding site for Summer Tanager, Red-headed Woodpecker, Blue Grosbeak, Lark Sparrow and occasionally, Henslow's Sparrow. We’ll spend the entire morning wandering the park before heading to either Pearson Metropark, a patchwork of woods and wetlands where Acadian Flycatcher and Yellow-billed Cuckoo are possibilities or north to Lake Hudson recreation area. Overnight Toledo.
Day 2 (Friday, May 12): Lakeside Marshes (Magee, Ottawa, Howard Marsh, OH)
Our first full day of the trip takes us to the marsh-lined southern shore of Lake Erie, where we’ll explore a series of conserved marshes including Howard Marsh, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the famous Magee Marsh. Throughout the day we’ll search for waterfowl, wading birds, and migrating shorebirds. Targets include King Rail, Wilson’s Phalarope, Black-necked Stilt, Common Gallinule, Forster’s Tern, and Ruddy Duck. Our last stop of the day, Maumee Bay, has extensive sandy beaches where we can enjoy Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, and Red Knot before returning to our hotel. Piping Plover is even present there some years. Overnight Toledo.
Day 3 (Saturday, May 13): North to Michigan
This morning we head to Michigan, our first stop being Waterloo State Recreation Area, an over 20,000 acre park with miles of trails weaving through open woods and along numerous small lakes. This will be our chance to find some more southern songbirds, such as Kentucky, Cerulean, and Prothonotary Warblers, as well as Acadian Flycatcher and White-eyed Vireo. We’ll continue north from here to Sharonville State Game Area, a grassland with a high density of nesting sparrows. Scanning the open fields might yield Henslow’s, Grasshopper, Field, Clay-colored and Savannah Sparrows, as well as Dickcissel, Bobolink, and Eastern Meadowlark. After dinner in Grayling there will be an optional evening outing to the Grayling State Forest, just five minutes from our hotel. Here we may see our first Kirtland’s Warbler, singing before sunset. It is also a great spot to find Common Nighthawk and Eastern Whip-poor-will. Overnight Grayling.
Day 4 (Sunday, May 14): The Search for Kirtland’s Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler is the star attraction for day four. We’ll be packed up and out early to explore Goose Creek Road and Hartwick Pines State Park. In addition to Kirtland’s Warbler, we hope to find Upland Sandpiper, Brewer’s Blackbird and Vesper Sparrow. Afterwards we head further north to the Upper Peninsula where we will spend the next two nights. After lunch in Saint Ignace, and depending how much time we have, we’ll head to Seney National Wildlife Refuge or Whitefish Point on the Upper Peninsula Michigan. Whitefish Point is home to Whitefish Bird Observatory, which has monitored and documented the point’s legendary spring and fall migration on the point for 40 years. Overnight Saint Ignace.
Day 5 (Monday, May 15): Exploring the Upper Peninsula
Wake-up early and tune your ears! Arriving at Munuscong Potholes before dawn gives us our best chance to hear the enigmatic Yellow Rail, a seldom seen and much sought after skulker of the prairie potholes. Walking the road around the potholes provides an opportunity to see Sharp-tailed Grouse, Sedge Wren, LeConte’s Sparrow, and Upland Sandpiper. Just down the road, a trail to the mouth of the Munuscong River may have riparian songbirds as well as herons and Black Tern. We head west from here and have a bag lunch along the Dryburg Grasslands. Here we have another chance to find Sharp-tailed Grouse, Sedge Wrens, Golden-winged Warbler and Clay-colored Sparrows. After a busy day of birding we’ll return to the hotel by 5pm. Overnight Saint Ignace.
Day 6 (Tuesday, May 16): More Wetlands and Warblers
After an early and busy day yesterday, we’ll have a later start and a more leisurely day today. On our way south we’ll make two or more birding stops. One option includes Houghton Lake Wildlife Research Area, a sedge marsh with an extensive boardwalk trail. Virginia Rail and Sora are possibilities, as well as Sedge Wren and American Bittern. Perhaps not the best pre-lunch birding spot, the nearby Houghton Lake sewage ponds have good numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds and is open to the public. We’ll get lunch in Houghton Lake before heading further south. Our last stop is at Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, where Wildlife Drive loops around wetland impounds and flooded forests. We may see Forster’s Tern, Least Bittern, and American White Pelican.