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Nettie Bay, Michigan: May 2014!

For the past four years, I've been leading natural history tours in Presque Isle County, Michigan in conjunction with Mark and Jackie Schuler, the owners of NettieBay Lodge. I've written about past trips many times here, and if you type in "Michigan" in the search box in the upper left corner of this page, you'll easily find those accounts. I'll be guiding trips there again next year, on the dates of May 15th thru 18th, and a second trip from May 19th thru 22nd. The lodge is our base of operations, and we make forays throughout the county each day, as well as nocturnal trips for those who are interested. By the way, epicures will become rapturous over Jackie's cooking. She's world class and the food is out of this world. I can't find a restaurant around here that can produce such scrumptious fare.

That's the grounds of NettieBay Lodge, above, with its lakefront cabins bordering Lake Nettie. Towering oaks and white pine support lots of birds, including the resident pair of Pine Warblers. American Woodcock display in the front yard. Eastern Whip-poor-wills carry on in the woods, sometimes upstaged by the local Barred Owls. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (the commonest breeding woodpecker), Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and Purple Finches are common yard birds. Much more, too, and we haven't even made it out of the "yard"!

When I first went up there, in 2010, I wasn't sure what to expect. Presque Isle County is wedged in the far righthand corner of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, hard against the blue waters of Lake Huron. No one I talked to knew much about the area. It seems that birders and natural history buffs generally blow right by in their rush to get up to the Upper Peninsula. Having been up there a number of times, too, I can tell you that the UP has little or nothing on Presque Isle County. When it comes to sheer biodiversity and diversity of habitats, it's just hard to beat.

On my inaugural trip into the county, I quickly saw that things were going to be awesome when I found a completely unexpected (to me) population of Kirtland's Warblers within a half-hour of the lodge. And it only got better from there.

Mark Schuler prepares the pontoon boat for launch. Our groups are small - we keep them to about eight people - so we all easily fit on this boat, and don't overwhelm our resources and one another when on trips further afield.

After dinner on one of the nights, we walk out back, hop on the boat, and work the lake. For several decades Common Loons have nested on a nearby island, and the birds know the Schulers and their boat and often swim right up, as this bird has done. You'll also have no problem hearing their loud, eerie yodeling every night - a true sound of the wilderness. We find scads of other interesting birds from the boat, including nesting Ospreys, Sedge Wrens, Virginia Rails, Alder Flycatcher and more.

Ocqueoc Falls, a beautiful spot not far from NettieBay Lodge, and I believe the largest waterfalls in the Lower Peninsula. We always take time to visit and hike the trail along the stream. There are always interesting birds and plants to be found here.

Chestnut-sided Warblers are very common breeders, one of 19 nesting warbler species. Specialties include the aforementioned Kirtland's Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, and occasionally the hybrid Brewster's Warbler. Sometimes we catch huge movements of migratory warblers along the shores of Lake Huron, too. Last May, one of our groups was dazzled by hundreds and hundreds of warblers of many species streaming by in the trees. At one point we had eight species in one tree! You can read an account of that experience RIGHT HERE.

There is much more than birds to see in Presque Isle County. This is a Badger den, with fresh tailings from the beast's excavations. This sandy woodland lane has a few dozen dens along its length. No guarantees we'll see the burly mammals, but we'll certainly try.

Another interesting mammal is the Porcupine, and we're almost sure to see one. They're quite common. We know where a few active den trees are, too.

A typical total bird list for one of the three day excursions is about 150 species. While we largely do know what to expect, and where to look, you never know exactly where things will turn up. This American Bittern - a common breeding bird - was standing in the middle of Rainy Lake Road when we turned the corner.

I'll promise you a good time if you can make the trip, and lots of opportunities to see and learn about birds, other animals, and plants. To sign on, touch base with Jackie Schuler at NettieBay Lodge, RIGHT HERE. So far, we've filled each of the trips in short order, so if you're interested, I'd check into it pretty soon.


Bonnie said…
Wow, does that ever sound awesome. Something for my lifetime to-do list!
jaredmizanin said…
Agreed. Sounds awesome. I was thinking about planning a trip to Algonquin in Ontario in late spring, but this sounds good, too. If gray jay, boreal chickadee, spruce grouse, or moose occur here, too, then I have something to think about...
Jim McCormac said…
Hope you can make it someday, Bonnie! Jared, We're just a bit south for the jay and chickadee. Spruce Grouse are very spotty and local in lower peninsula; don't know of any in Presque Isle County. Nor moose. On the upside, we've got Kirtland's Warbler, Brewer's Blackbird, Least Bittern... The following post has a complete list of bird species from 2011:
Brent Kryda said…
What I love about this blog is the level of detail you give to greater Michontarhio with suitable Appalachian references thrown in. While your excursion here seems to include distant boreal elements, it is only a hundred miles north of some very similar Ohio scenery.

Jared, there is an Elk breeding range near Gaylord in the central northern lower peninsula but no moose. The moose in the upper peninsula, in fact, were themselves imports from Algonquin a few decades ago (they got shot out of the place in the preceding century). You will definitely find the jays, chickadees, and even some grouse in lower areas north of Standish. Look for black spruce and they are never far away. You will find an abundance of all of the above north of the Mac, with moose being heavily concentrated near Newberry.
Larry said…
There is quite a bit of mis-info in the above post. The area is over 250 miles north of Toledo and there is no similar habitat in northern Ohio. As Jim stated, you need to go north of the bridge for any realistic shot at the boreal species, not just north of Standish in the Saginaw Bay region.The eastern range of the elk herd actually reaches within 15 miles of the lodge and there are elk in the woods between Onaway and Atlanta where I believe Jim goes for the Kirtland's.
Jim McCormac said…
You must know the area well, Larry! You're of course exactly correct - no real chance of the Gray Jay or Boreal Chickadee south of the UP, at least insofar as I know (other than perhaps small winter incursions to the northern Lower Peninsula. No Spruce Grouse in the Presque Isle County area that I know of, either. Elk are in the area, but there aren't many and we have yet to see any on our forays.

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