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Michigan, May 2002

Part 6: Mitchell State Park 

All photographs ©2002 by Mary Beth Stowe

I had seen a reference to a walking trail by the lake, so on Saturday I swung down the road and serendipitously found the state park I was going to Monday! There was indeed a nice bike trail by a city park, so I started that and wound up on the nature trail in the state park! Was glad I brought my bins, too, for this "cheating" episode: once into the woods and on the boardwalk, several things "attacked" me, including lots of Butterbutts, another Red-breasted Nuthatch, and two new warblers: Pine and Black-and-white! In the marshy area a singing Palm Warbler had me thinking it was a Blackpoll at first (but Blackpoll is higher-pitched, the Lord reminded me; Palm's is pretty flat, but the cadence is the same), and further down the trail a Green Heron "skeowed" from a pine tree! Couldn't find him, though...


Nature Trail with Yellow Warbler

It was still drizzly when I left the motel on Monday, but by the time I got to the park, hallelujah it had quit!! The nature trail was much more quiet than on Saturday, but at least the two new warblers were still singing, in addition to both Black-throated Green and Blue, as well as Golden-winged.

The trail takes you through wonderful woodland at first, with Ovenbirds and Northern Waterthrushes all around. Then you come to the loop which encircles a marsh; here were the Yellowthroats and Redwings, Yellow and Palm Warblers, Swamp and Song Sparrows, plus a Green Heron that flew over. Another woodland trail takes you to an overlook, where I was thrilled to hear a bird I've only heard once before "live": American Bittern! A Sora also whinnied from up here, and a very forlorn-sounding Canada Goose beat by, looking for his mate I suppose...


Boardwalk into the bog with Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Palm Warbler


"Bittern" marsh with Tree Swallow (right)


More of the trail, with an Eastern Phoebe along the shortcut through the marsh   

Found a shortcut through the interior where a Redstart came down to pishing, and at the resting spot where it met up with the main trail, almost tuned out a state bird while I was studying the map: a Sedge Wren! A knockout Baltimore Oriole flew into the tree right next to me, and back near the trailhead several White-throated Sparrows popped up.


Typical conifer habitat as you go north, with American Robin and Redstart

Another Brown Bin Spot was nearby (Brandybrook Semiprimitive Area), so I tootled down M115 to M55, then up 31 Mile Road, stopping every half mile to listen. I was supposed to go straight at the next intersection, but made a left instead and ended up doing kind of a rectangular route through the National Forest (with lots of houses around) before having to turn back due to utility work. But it worked out great: similar boggy woodland habitat to the other areas I've visited, but there are a lot more conifers this far north, and besides the usual suspects picked up a pretty Veery, a delightful little Winter Wren for the trip, plus an in-your-face Bald Eagle who sailed by!

Made it back to 31 Mile Road (which had changed names by then) and hung a left, then another left on an unmarked "seasonal road", which is the road you're supposed to take to get into this area. Before long you come to a wide open bog, with a beaver lodge near the other side! They also had an Osprey nesting platform erected, but it wasn't in use yet. Along this road also picked up Hermit Thrush for the trip, plus an annoyed Sapsucker while I was trying to lure some warblers into view! (A Pine Warbler did practically land on me a couple of times!)


Bog and beaver lodge at Brandybrook Semiprimitive Area, along with a friendly Pine Warbler

This road dumped me out on M115 again, so I decided to head on to Houghton Lake and check out some of the Brown Bin spots over there. There's a whole chunk of 'em all together: the first one was Houghton Flats, reached by following 55 all the way to US27, where you go past that, then turn left on old 27. There's an observation deck down the road (a cute little gazebo-type thing, with plenty of iron-wrought benches to sit and watch the action); I scoped the area and found mama Osprey sitting on her nest (yes, on one of those platforms)! Nothing else out of the ordinary (and it was getting cold to boot: outside temperature was 44, but that wind chill was numbing!)


Houghton Flats and high-class observation deck


Double-crested Cormorants and Canada Goose family   

Up the road was Dead Stream Flooding: you keep going on Old 27, make a left on County Road 300, then right at the Brown Bin Sign (it's supposed to be Michelson, but I didn't see a sign). This takes you down to another little lake, but I didn't check it out thoroughly, cuz there were a couple of rough-looking guys there fishing (probably harmless...). I did pick up some wheeling Black Terns, and a huge Bald Eagle nest (with occupant) across the way! There was yet another Osprey platform here, but no Osprey; I can't think of any self-respecting Osprey that would build a nest next to the neighborhood bully, anyway! On the way out I did find a magnificent Osprey along the road with a not-so-magnificent nest, who didn't seem to mind the car at all as we snuck up for pictures!

The next spot was Backus Lake, which was definitely out of the way! Here you had to go all the way back to 55 and head east, through Houghton Lake, and then go north a little bit on M18. Just past the junction with 157 you hang a right on a dirt road, then after another mile hang a left (thankfully there's a Brown Bin sign there). When the road forks you can go either way: left goes to the dam (more like a teeny little spillway), where I parked, waded across that thing, and hiked a little of the trail next to the lake; what a pretty place! A Common Loon was snoozing in the middle, and not too far away was a Pied-billed Grebe. Three kinds of swallows wheeled around, and an Eastern Kingbird kept pace just ahead of me. The place was lousy with Butterbutts; they may be common, but they're still pretty! On the way back I was watching a Spotted Sand fly away when I caught a couple of Redwings chasing a Broad-winged Hawk in the distance!


Backus Lake had a nesting Osprey and an Eastern Kingbird


More views of the area with a Butterbutt  


Northern Rough-winged Swallow over the lake

Went down the other road after that, stopping at the overlooks and at one point hiking a little camp-spot loop road, where the picnic table was complete with tablecloth! No new birds except a couple of fighting Nashville Warblers, but did have a Double-crested Cormorant sporting his double crests. A friendly little Blue-headed Vireo came down to the car on the way out. Headed back into Houghton Lake for the night, having a wonderful buffet dinner at Coyle's (after which the rain did decide to come...)


Blue-headed Vireo and Tent Caterpillars

Continue to Fletcher Sharptail Area

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