Spring brings variety of birds flying back to Michigan

Greg Tasker
The Detroit News

Spring means it’s time for birds to migrate from south to north, and southeastern Michigan’s metroparks offer some great spots to observe waterfowl, songbirds and warblers in flight and at rest.

A variety of bird-watching activities begin this month and continue through the end of May, when most traveling birds will have arrived at their northerly destinations. Birding events range from a walk to see woodcocks at Oakwoods Metropark near Flat Rock to a guided hike to see migrating waterfowl and other birds at Stony Creek Metropark in Shelby Township.

“We’re offering quite a bit of programming at a variety of metroparks this spring,” says Jennifer Hollenbeck, interpretive services manager for Huron-Clinton Metroparks, which includes 13 recreation areas in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne, Livingston and Washtenaw counties. “Birding is different for everyone. Someone might want to find a rare bird or a variety of birds on their to-see list. Some might just want to see birds in migration. There’s just a huge diversity of birds in the metroparks.”

One of them is the annual Owl Fest at Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township. The highlight for many is a walk in the woods to see a pair of great horned owls nesting in a bucket pinned between trees.

One of the most entertaining seasonal rituals occurs Saturday at Oakwoods Metropark: “In Search of the American Woodcock Walk.”

The woodcock, or timberdoodle, began arriving to Oakwoods Metroparks two weeks ago, parks staff member Roni Hutchinson says.

“They’re interesting birds, I’ll tell you that,” says Roni Hutchinson, a staff member at Oakwoods. “There’s this little sky dance they do and that’s what people look for. They do this dance on the ground and then take off like a shot in the air — 200 feet in the air — then start spiraling downward. It’s really something to see.”

It’s the male’s ritual to attract females and occurs only in the spring, Hutchinson says. The woodcock, also called timberdoodle, began arriving at the 1,756-acre park about two weeks ago. Although known as shore birds, they prefer wetlands and muddy areas. The woodcock walks begin in the evening because that’s prime time for the dancing routine.

Across the region at Stony Creek Metropark, Ruth Glass, an avid and well-known birder, will lead a guided hike on April 9 to see migrating waterfowl, including common loons, horned grebes and red-breasted mergansers. The hike includes viewing waterfowl on Stony Creek Lake and songbirds in the woods.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of migrating waterfowl this time of year, and we’ll be looking at about 20 species. They’re stopping here to rest and feed. All the birds we’ll be watching will be feeding,” says Glass, who notes the first common loons returned to Stony Creek last week. “Lot of them are diving ducks — you’ll see them one minute and the next they’ll be diving into the water to feed on plant life, fish and crustaceans, depending on the duck.”

Most of the waterfowl and other birds are heading north and will turn in easterly or westerly directions in Canada, after passing through the Great Lakes.

Glass is hopeful the returning waterfowl will entice a pair of nearby nesting bald eagles to hunt at the lake. “We hope with that many birds on the lake, the eagles will come and pick off ducks to take back to the nest. We hope the osprey will be back and hope to catch them over the lake too.”

The eagles have been nesting in Stony Creek’s Inwood area the past few years. It’s the first eagles’ nest in northern Oakland and Macomb counties in more than 100 years, she says. Although eagles do migrate, the pair at the 4,461-acre Stony Creek park has remained because the winter food source has been adequate.

“They’re something to see,” Glass says. “They evoke a sense of patriotism. ... No one saw eagles when we were growing up. They’re making a spectacular comeback.”

There’s no need to wait for an organized event to see the birds. Prime bird-watching metroparks include Hudson Mills near Dexter, Kensington near Brighton and Lake Erie Metropark, a prime spot for migrating waterfowl in the spring and fall. The spring is a great time to see warblers and passerines.

Bird watching, Glass says, is a great way to spend time outdoors.

“My bottom line is that it’s a way to connect to nature and the outdoor world,” she says. “Birds specifically are more accessible wildlife for people. They’re easier to find than a fox or coyote in the wild kingdom.”

Greg Tasker is a Metro Detroit-based freelance writer.

Bird Events

American Woodcock Walk

6 p.m. Sat.

Oakwoods Metropark

(734) 782-3956

Owl Fest

Noon-4 p.m. Sat.

Lake St. Clair Metropark

(586) 463-4581

Owls of Michigan

1 p.m. Wed.

Lake St. Clair Metropark

(586) 463-4581

Birdin’ with Ruth

Loons, Grebes, Spring Waterfowl and Early Passerine Migrants

8:30 a.m. April 9

Stony Creek Metropark

(586) 781-4242

Next month

May Bird Count

7 a.m. May 7

Kensington Metropark

(810) 227-8910

Welcome Home, Birds

7 a.m.-5 p.m. May 14

Lake Erie Metropark

(734) 379-5020

Note: Call park for entrance and registration fees.