Birdwatching is a hobby taking flight along the Saginaw Bay Birding Trail, which includes Bay County

The next time you’re out running errands in the region, scan the sky. You may catch a glimpse of an eagle, a falcon, or even a pelican. The Saginaw Bay Birding Trail runs right through Bay County, giving us the unique opportunity to see a number of different bird species from our own backyards.

Birdwatching is a hobby that takes little money or equipment to get into, and is a catalyst for getting people back into nature. It’s growing in popularity in the region, and from Tawas to Port Austin, there are a number of places to enjoy the pastime.

Trevor Edmonds is Program Director for the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy and an avid birder. He says the Saginaw Bay Birding Trail, which got its start in the area a little over five years ago, is a collection of spaces, nature preserves, state parks, and access points where people can get a look at the various species of birds.

He says springtime is one of the best times of the year, too, because so many birds are coming back to the region.

“Spring is usually when there is the most activity,” says Edmonds, adding that the spring migration is in full swing, and the Lake Huron coastline is a good stopover point for birds. “It’s part of our birding trail as well, and it’s a really good spot just because of where it’s situated. We get a lot of different species that congregate in that area as they’re making their way north.”

The hub of the Saginaw Bay Birding Trail is the Discovery Preserve located at 1701 S. Euclid Ave. in Bay City. From there, Edmonds says enthusiasts can head east to the tip of the Thumb, or north to East Tawas. At the Discovery Preserve, there is a map of the entire trail including a description of all the sites and information of the some of the different bird species to be found along the trail.

The trail takes in 142 miles of shoreline along the Saginaw Bay including a handful of sites in Bay County. While birds are everywhere, specific birding site locations aren’t hard to spot, Edmonds says. Site managers post blue signs at site entrances. The map also is available on the Land Conservancy website.

The blue signs are posted at Bay County sites including the Quanicassee State Wildlife Area, the Joseph M. Soehnel Nature Trail/Hampton Township Nature Trail, Middlegrounds Island, Golson Nature Area, Bay City State Park, Linwood, Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area, Pinconning County Park, Pinconning Nature Preserve, and Wah Sash Kah Moqua Nature Preserve.

The Saginaw Bay Birding Trail passes over and through Bay County, making the region a prime viewing place for birdwatchers.If you know where to look and what to look for, birding is an inexpensive hobby.  Edmonds offers a few tips to get you started.

Edmonds says he sees people starting out without even a pair of binoculars. You can invest in expensive spotting scopes, but they’re not necessary.

“It’s a pretty low-bar for entry,” he says. “The main thing is giving your time to it, having the patience for it, and when you’re out being considerate of other people.”
It’s also something that can be done just about anywhere, he says.

Whether it’s a solitary pursuit or a group activity, Edmonds says there are a lot of resources available to help people get started, including a couple of websites he finds invaluable.

The Cornell Lab of Orinthology has two websites, AllAboutBirds.org and EBird.org to help identify birds by habitat, markings, the color and shape of their bill, and their calls.

He says there is also a free smartphone app called Merlin that’s like having a field guide on your phone. The app helps even the most inexperienced birder get an idea of what birds they’re seeing.

What to look for

There are a few species of birds that people may not realize aren’t native to Michigan, but that have started to show up in the area. Edmonds says websites such as saginawbaybirding.org have videos, photos, and other resources for helping the beginning birder figure out what to look for.

One species of bird that people might see here and mistake for something else, Edmonds says, is the American White Pelican. Similar to the brown pelican found in Florida, this bird has been nesting out on the bay on Charity Island.

“They’ll stick around through the summer then migrate south,” he says, adding a lot of people don’t know they’re here. The birds will fly over in flocks and are quite large.

He says to keep an eye toward the top of Bay City Hall, 301 Washington Ave., and Our Lady of Czestochowa, 1503 Kosciuszko Ave., for a bird of prey that likes to roost in towers and spires.

“The last couple of years there have been different pairs of peregrine falcons that have been spotted around Bay City,” he says.

Birdwatching requires little equipment, so it's an easy hobby to try.The raptors can catch people off guard as they travel across the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

“We actually saw one, and I don’t know if it was a morning dove or a rock-dove, and it caught and was eating it on top of a light pole right across the street from the (Dow Bay Area Family Y), so they’re around.”

Edmonds says along with the falcons there are a lot of songbirds, waterfowl and other raptors, including nesting pairs of bald eagles that are making their homes in the area.

Where to look

The website SaginawBayBirding.org not only has the Bay County birding locations, but also the rest of the trail including Arenac and Iosco counties and Tuscola and Huron counties. Edmonds says they’ve recently included some sites in Saginaw County.

He also encourages birders to get outside of the local area to spot bird species.

“If you spend a lot of time in Michigan and get the opportunity to go farther afield, it’s just a whole other slate of birds.”

Whether birding alone or in a group, Edmonds, who has been a bird enthusiast since he was about 12, says there are many benefits to the hobby.

“It’s a good catalyst for getting outside and is one additional thing to pay attention to when you’re out on a hike,” but also, “there is always something to learn.”