Michigan in September (part 1)

Mallard & ducklings_Muskegon-MI_LAH_4858I was excited to finally be going to Michigan, my 48th state. While the trip wasn’t exclusively a birding trip—we also had people to see—it was new territory for me. I was sure to get at least one lifer, and hopefully many more. On the other hand, my expectations had been tempered by the less-than-spectacular birding at Magee Marsh a few days earlier. At this point, I just wanted to see birds, any birds.

Our first stop was Muskegon, on the shores of Lake Michigan. We were only there overnight, visiting friends, but they took pity on me and arranged a few sightseeing stops on the way to and from dinner. First was a park on Muskegon Lake, where a flock of Mute Swans bobbed tail-end-up, feeding in the shallow water. Mute Swans in North America are all descended from birds brought over from Europe over a hundred years ago. This was only the second flock I’d seen, the first in the U.S., and the first I was able to photograph.

Mute Swan_Muskegon-MI_LAH_4778

Herring Gull_Muskegon-MI_LAH_4840After an excellent meal, we headed for the shore of Lake Michigan. Having grown up in Southern California, it was strange going to the beach so far from an ocean. In some ways, it felt familiar, but the waves were all wrong and there were no racks of drying seaweed, or any other sign of a high tide mark. Most of all, it just didn’t smell like the beach—it was all fresh-water smells, not salt and sea life. Yes, there were dozens of Herring Gulls, mostly in their non-breeding plumage. But there were also several Mallard families—birds I’d never see on a Southern California beach! We stayed to watch the sun set over the water, then headed to bed and an early morning alarm clock.


I was delighted to discover that our hosts had a bird feeder, so as soon as it was light, I was outside, hopeful. But with the exception of a cardinal, all the birds were ones I could easily see at home in Colorado. Then we were off to Grand Rapids.

Since my husband would be in a meeting all morning, he dropped me off at Reeds Lake, in the center of town. There was a boardwalk over a small marshy area, a trail through a section of tangled, thick growth, and, if I ran out of birds, some park benches where I could sit and read. Perfect.

ReedsLake-GrandRapids-MI_LAH_4921The day was warm and sunny, so I started off in the forested area. Since we’d had to drive from Muskegon, it was already mid-morning, and disappointingly quiet. As I walked along, I admired the late summer flowers, the lush foliage, and even the squirrel who scolded me from an overhead limb, but I didn’t see—or hear—a single bird.

Eventually, the trail turned into wood planks and I found myself in the marsh. Again, the plants were lovely (especially the goldenrod (left) and smartweed), but the only birds I found were some Mallards. You can only take so many photos of Mallards, and I already had plenty.

ReedsLake-GrandRapids-MI_LAH_5008Once out on the open lawn, things picked up slightly. On a dead snag, a Blue Jay was trying to juggle an acorn in its beak, while a Downy Woodpecker slowly made its way up the bare trunk. An immature cardinal harvested berries from a viburnum. That pale yellow bird was a female American Goldfinch, and a bedraggled Eastern Phoebe was clearly in mid-molt.

Far across the lake I could see a few more birds. The Northern Shovelers were easy to name, with their distinctive bills, but my telephoto lens wasn’t adequate for identifying the swans and some large, gray geese. Looking up, I spotted a few immature gulls (not something I’m good at identifying!), and a kingfisher darted from tree to tree.


By now it was almost noon, and getting uncomfortably warm. I poked around a bit more, mostly looking for insects, then settled down on a shady bench to wait for Pete. It wasn’t the best morning birding, but I was outside on a gorgeous day enjoying nature. Even a mediocre time birding is pretty darn wonderful.

One thought on “Michigan in September (part 1)

  1. Ah…making me nostalgic for the mute swans (and cardinals!) I used to see when out on Long Island. The swans used to bring their babies along to the individual beaches each morning in hopes of handouts.

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