Natural wonders abound at Mich. wetlands

The Detroit News

For years, Brian Siess has been one of the many visitors to revel in the splendors at Saginaw County’s Shiawassee River State Game Area.

An egret perches in the man-made wetlands on the grounds of Woodside Bible Church in Troy in this file photo from June 23, 2009.

The Leonard, Mich., resident loves heading to its nearly 10,000 acres of managed waterfowl habitat for bird-watching, nature walks and other rustic activities.

“It’s just a great all around place,” he said. “It’s as fine a place to go as you can get.”

The site is among Michigan’s “Wetland Wonders”: seven managed waterfowl hunt areas the state Department of Natural Resources oversees across the southern Lower Peninsula. And since May is designated as American Wetlands Month, officials are encouraging residents to trek to those sites as well as signature wetland habitats around the state to experience their natural offerings.

“These wetlands are truly world-class,” said Russ Mason, wildlife chief for the DNR. “There is nothing like them literally anywhere else in the world.”

The Wetland Wonders were created in the 1960s to provide top-notch waterfowl hunting opportunities, department officials said. They include: Fennville Farm Unit at the Allegan State Game Area in Allegan County; Fish Point State Wildlife Area in Tuscola County; St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area on Harsens Island in St. Clair County; the Muskegon County Wastewater Facility; Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area in Bay County; Pointe Mouillee State Game Area in Monroe and Wayne counties.

Sunrise over the wetlands along the Maple River, near Bridgeville, MI.

Today, those spots are ideal for outdoor pursuits such as hiking, birding, kayaking or fishing.

“Each one of those areas have a variety of unique features,” Mason said. “They are spectacularly abundant with birds during migration both in the fall and spring. … There are ‘birders’ out seeing things you literally can’t see anywhere else in Michigan.”

Bird-watching is frequent at St. Clair Flats, which includes more than 3,300 acres on Harsens Island that DNR leaders consider part of the largest freshwater delta in the United States.

The island’s setting means close encounters with wildlife are common.

“You come over and there are numerous fishing spots. You can hunt rabbit, squirrel, pheasant, duck, deer,” said Leonard Sandbank, president of the Harsens Island Waterfowl Hunters Association. “When you cross that ferry, you come over to an island that for all intents and purposes is a wild place.”

The island is uniquely situated, DNR officials say, since Lake St. Clair and St. Clair River waters are along an annual ancestral migration route for thousands of ducks, geese, swans as well as shore and wading birds.

An annual report for the St. Clair Flats mentioned how waterfowl populations appear lower in some spots now compared to the 1990s. However, migrations from Canada and elsewhere have shifted, said John Darling, the wildlife technician who authored the analysis.

Still, he added: “We have really high Canada geese numbers on the island and a lot of goslings have hatched. If the goose numbers are any indication, it looks like we’re going to have a productive spring at least for waterfowl.”