Two of a Feather: Great Birding, Sights in Traverse City

Many things signal the start of warm weather in Michigan, but maybe none more iconic than the chirping of birds during a gentle spring morning. From chickadees to eagles, and many species in between, Michigan offers birding enthusiasts a view of stunning feathered-fowl unlike anywhere else. Read more on birding in the Traverse City area, as told by guest blogger Mike Norton.

Spring must be here. I heard my first loon of the season this morning, that funny little hiccup of laughter echoing back from the harbor. And when the birds return, can the borders be far behind?

Each year, hundreds of people make their way to Traverse City with binoculars and notebooks to enjoy its many birding opportunities.

Some come for the annual spring migration (between mid-April and mid-May) when all kinds of migratory birds congregate along the nearby islands and peninsulas on their way north. Others wait until the end of May for nesting season.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

The Traverse City area hasn’t been numbered among the world’s traditional birding hotspots; it’s not on any of the main migratory flyways, and until recently it hasn’t really known what to make of visiting birders. But it has an amazing amount of bird-friendly habitats within a short distance — almost all on public land to which birders have easy access. And birders are paying attention, thanks to the new Sleeping Bear Birding Trail, a 123-mile online guide to over 27 birding sites.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

At the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, for instance, birders will not only find a large variety of warblers and other songbirds, but a chance to spot the Great Lakes piping plover – a tiny shorebird whose habitat has been wiped out in much of its range. An hour’s drive to the east, in the jackpine plains near Grayling and Mio, is the home of the Kirtland’s warbler, a reclusive songbird that requires frequent wildfires to germinate the gnarled pines on which its survival depends.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

But Traverse City itself is a year-round birding area, thanks to its location on Grand Traverse Bay and a significant number of parklands, preserves and greenways.

The city’s bayshore, for example, is rich with waterfowl. In winter and spring there are White-Winged Scoters, Horned Grebes, Red-Breasted Mergansers, and Goldeneyes. Terns can be found on the nearby beaches, and loons are often seen out beyond the breakwater, and in winter large rafts of redheads and scaup can be seen, sometimes numbering in the thousands.

About 20 minutes away, Lighthouse Park at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula is a fantastic place to find shorebirds during spring migration, when exposed mudflats attract a spectacular variety of sandpipers and plovers. The trails in the park’s interior are home to large numbers of forest birds, including pewees, phoebes, Red-Headed Woodpeckers, Black-Throated Green Warblers, and both Warbling and Red-Eyed Vireos.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

The Boardman River, which empties into the Bay near the city’s downtown, is a particularly rich area for birds. Upstream, it broadens into Boardman Lake, whose southern end is probably the city’s best birding area. Over 160 species of birds have been logged here, and there’s good birding in every season. (During the spring migration, the number of different of warbler species found here can be fantastic.)

On the city’s west side, the most productive birding is on the 500-acre campus of the Grand Traverse Commons. Its miles of trails offer redpolls, grosbeaks and waxwings in winter, a huge selection of migrating warblers in spring, and summer nesters like flycatchers, warblers, vireos, cuckoos, hummers, and several species of woodpeckers. The campus is also home to herons, hawks and the occasional owl, and is one of the area’s best spots for viewing orioles and Indigo Buntings.

Even casual birdwatchers will enjoy a chance to see some of the many lovely birds that make their own “spring break” stops in Traverse City!

Blogger Bio:

Mike Norton spent 25 years as a newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations manager at Traverse City Tourism. An avid cyclist, kayaker and hiker, he lives in the village of Old Mission.

Why Smallmouth Bass Fishing is Perfect in Traverse City

If you’re looking for a Pure Michigan destination with bountiful fishing to enjoy this fall, look no further than Traverse City. The Traverse City area, in Michigan’s Northern Lower Peninsula, is a perfect location to drop in a line while enjoying the beautiful changing colors and cool, crisp weather. Read more as guest blogger Captain Chris Noffsinger shares the many fishing opportunities and other things to enjoy when visiting Traverse City this season.

There are many places to fish for smallmouth bass in the great State of Michigan, but one of the very best is the Traverse City area. Not only is Traverse City’s smallmouth fishing world class, but the opportunities for recreation, dining, wineries and craft beer nearby are almost endless. From kids to adults, there is something for everyone here.

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Starting off the day with a beautiful sunrise overlooking the calm waters of East or West Grand Traverse Bay is a breathtaking experience in itself. But the thought of a trophy smallmouth breaking the calm by leaping into the air and back into the water is what every smallmouth fisherman dreams of. I have been fortunate to experience this firsthand on Grand Traverse Bay and on the surrounding inland lakes.

Photo courtesy of Captain Chris Noffsinger

Photo courtesy of Captain Chris Noffsinger

Traverse City is uniquely intriguing to any angler in search of trophy smallmouth. We have caught smallmouth in the 4-7 pound class every year in the Traverse City region.  They are plentiful and very willing to bite.

The waters here are extremely clear, with visibility reaching depths of 30 feet in some locations. Smallmouth live in most of the inland lakes that surround Traverse City, and the clarity of that water gives you an unparalleled ability and opportunity to sight these trophy bronzebacks. Watching a 4-7 pound smallmouth swim from over 100 feet away to strike is amazing to say the least. This happens every spring and fall, and it never gets old.

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

As fall approaches, some of the best bass fishing of the season takes place. Fall colors begin to transform the lush green forest that stood tall all summer long. The reflections of colors on a calm lake in the fall are an unforgettable sight, and as the leaves fall from the trees, the smallmouth sense that winter is coming. This triggers a feeding frenzy that smallmouth fisherman like me look forward to every year.

One of the most notable bass anglers in the world, Kevin VanDam, will visit also visit the Traverse City area this fall to take part in this amazing autumn fishery while filming an episode for “iFISHIGAN.” He will have a special guest this year, Gov. Rick Snyder, who will be joining Kevin on a fishing trip that most anglers only dream of – fishing with one of the most notable bass in the world’s best smallmouth fishing waters.  Catch the action of “iFISHIGAN” on the World Fishing Network when the second season starts in January 2016.

Photo courtesy of Captain Chris Noffsinger

Photo courtesy of Captain Chris Noffsinger

I look forward to smallmouth fishing in this area every year and hopefully I will be able to for many years to come. The Traverse City area is a truly special, world-class, Pure Michigan fishery.

What is your favorite Michigan fishing destination?

fishingAbout the author: Captain Chris Noffsinger has more than 20 years of experience on the water. His knowledge of both inland and Great Lakes fishing is extensive and is used daily to charter tours for Northern Adventures Fishing.




Walking With Nature: Destination Traverse City

The spectacular landscape that embraces the Traverse City area is an ever-changing masterpiece created over centuries by the earth-moving power of ice, wind and water. No matter what the season, nature lovers will find trails and natural areas to fuel their passions. Read more on the beauty of TC, as shared by guest blogger Jonathan Schechter.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”  — John Muir

Spring is the gateway to wildflowers and migratory birds at places like the Grass River Natural Area. Summer allows explorers to roam the Manitou Islands in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Autumn is perfect for a paddling trip down the Platte River, and in the stillness of winter, the multitude of cross-country ski pathways and snowshoe trails is proof that the outdoor lure of Traverse City is strong and growing.

Look Out

Why wait? Today is the perfect day to walk with nature.

The Grass River Natural Area is a hidden treasure of Antrim County encompassing 1,433 acres. Spring is the perfect season to view the moss-covered hummocks of land along the clear waters of Finch Creek. Sit silently on a bench under the sweetly scented cedars; nature will share her secrets. During my last visit I watched a mink bound over the boardwalk, heard a hidden grouse drumming from behind lush vegetation and found fresh bobcat tracks – all in a matter of five minutes.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore with its 70 miles of shoreline, magnificent sand dunes and trails for every taste, lures millions of outdoor enthusiasts.  Two of its beautiful treasures are the Manitou Islands – and a visit to these isolated spots makes a rewarding summer adventure.


South Manitou Island is a perfect destination for a day hiker with its lighthouse – a stark reminder of the stormy seas and shipwrecks of the Manitou Passage – and the wreck of the Francisco Morazan, a favorite haunt for cormorants. For a more rugged adventure, North Manitou offers opportunities for backpacking treks – just remember that your visit might be extended an extra day or two if the waters are too rough for the ferry to return.

The crystal-clear Platte River is well known among anglers for steelhead, salmon and trout, but it can get busy on summer days as kayakers and canoeists paddle downstream. A much better option is to go in the autumn, when the wildlife returns and the fall foliage puts on a brilliant show. Bring your own craft or rent at Riverside Canoe Trips. Seekers of solitude and wildlife may want to paddle during the morning mist; dawn is an unforgettable moment to embrace this landscape, which defines the essence of Pure Michigan.


In winter Traverse City has miles and miles of woodland trails for skiers and snowshoers to explore. In the Brown Bridge Quiet Area you can even witness the rebirth of Traverse City’s Boardman River, whose system of dams is being removed, returning this beautiful stream to a time when she was wild and free.  You can get a close-up look at this process at Brown Bridge, a 1300-acre nature preserve just south of town. This broad river meadow, surrounded by high hills, was once the site of a wide forest pond, but today you can hike along its former shoreline and see how nature (with lots of human help) has been healing and renewing the valley.

On my last visit it was winter, and I made my way through deep snow, warmed by the sweet scent of cedar and balsam fir and invigorated by the bounding tracks of a river otter.  It’s a wonderful wild place in the shadows of Traverse City!

bioJonathan Schechter is a Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Parks, a member of the Wilderness Medical Society and an avid hiker and trail-explorer at Sleeping Bear Dunes.