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Michigan, May 2002

Part 7: Fletcher Sharptail Area

All photographs ©2002 by Mary Beth Stowe

Woke up to a beautiful (albeit frigid) morning and headed out to the Fletcher Sharptail Area west of Houghton Lake. This is an area specially managed for the Sharp-tailed Grouse, and while I figured my chances of kicking one up were pretty slim, I was looking forward to the different habitat. The hen Turkey on the way there was a nice addition to the list! And speaking of turkeys, the Turkey Vultures circling around the gas plant reminded me of those stories where TVs would help the gas guys find the leaks in their pipes! I could have sworn I saw a Raven, but they aren't supposed to be this far south, and since it was one of those "hanging out the window while you're driving" looks I let that one go, figuring I'd pick it up later!

The road going in isn't the greatest: it's another one of those "seasonal roads" and actually doubles as a snowmobile trail during the winter. At the parking area the wind was whipping fierce (don't ask me what the wind chill was) but I hiked the road out into the habitat anyway, picking up singing Vesper Sparrows right away. A few Clay-colored Sparrows joined in with their buzzy song, a Brown Thrasher sang hidden in one of the bushes, and of course the Eastern Meadowlarks were all over the place. Learned something about their vocalizations, too: they have a two-toned whistle that sounds incredibly like a Varied Thrush, and they also have a loud "che-beck" call that, if heard at the proper distance, sounds deceptively like a Henslow's Sparrow (and out in the open field, that can get your juices going)! At the resting spot was thrilled to get something almost as good as the grouse: singing Upland Sandpipers!


Sharptail Area from the parking lot, with Vesper Sparrow and Downy Woodpecker


One of Michigan’s famous "seasonal roads", with another view of the area managed for Sharp-tailed Grouse

The official Brown Bin Sign is at the intersection of two of these primitive roads, so after a short rest I hiked the continuation of the road I had driven in on, which had more Sharptail habitat on the right and small trees on the left. Heard a Purple Finch on this trail, and a cute little Downy Woodpecker worked one of the small trees. I then hiked the trail that went alongside the big woodland, and was happy to finally get out of the wind (at least for a bit)! Picked up fighting Chippies in here, as well as a single Field Sparrow (had heard them coming in), a Black and White Warbler, and back at the car, an Orange-crowned.


Another "seasonal road"; this one doubles as a snowmobile trail during the winter!


Tree Swallows checking out the place...


Entrance to Higgins Lake State Park

Decided to check out the last Houghton Lake area Brown Bin Spot before heading to Kalkaska, which was Higgins/Marl Lake. [Note:  since updating these pages, I notice that the Michigan DNR pages split Higgins Lake into North and South; I linked to North Higgins Lake as their pictures looked closest to what I visited...]  Higgins was open but closed, if you know what I mean: I was the only one there, the picnic tables were still on their ends, and the wind whipping off Lake Higgins was arctic!! At least got the two gulls and Canada Goose for the day; their nature trail was short, and not too productive.


Start of the dinky little nature trail and Higgins Lake

Marl Lake, on the other hand, was terrific! A smaller lake, out of the wind, it had a series of loop trails that, like that system at Binder Park, overlapped each other, so you had a choice of a two, three, or five mile loop. I took the shortest one (of course), but it was wonderful: it starts out along the lake on your left, with a bog on your right. In the lake was a pair of Lesser Scaup (for real) and several Bufflehead. In the bog I got several Swamp Sparrows excited, plus a Yellow Warbler and Red-winged Blackbird. On the crossover I ran into a flock of mostly Butterbutts, but they were very friendly and cooperative, and with them came a pair of Pine Warblers nearly landing on me again, plus a male Redstart. On the return leg a Nashville sang and then came out, and I thought I was hearing a Red-headed Woodpecker when I suddenly heard all this chatter and a woodpecker did indeed come screaming in, only it was a Sapsucker! I had never heard that before, but since then I have indeed heard several good recordings with this territorial call; lessons learned!


Another Eastern Chipmunk at Marl Lake


Bog on the nature trail with Swamp Sparrow


L-R:  Red-winged Blackbird, Black-capped Chickadee, Pine Warbler, and Butterbutt


Scenes along the trail (above and below) with Blue Jays


I was really shot after that (kicked up a Spotted Sand along the lakeshore back at the car), so headed on towards Kalkaska. I still had time, however, so I thought I'd check out the Sand Lakes Quiet Area west of town, picking up a few Bluebirds on the way. This area has quite a network of trails from the one trailhead, but I only did a short hike and never made it to the lakes; it was indeed quiet as the only birds to be had were a singing Pine Warbler and a TV sailing over.


The trail at Sand Lakes Quiet Area (no snowmobiles, etc., allowed), and the road to Sand Lakes, with Elk Lake in the distance

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