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Michigan, May 2002

Part 9: Seney National Wildlife Refuge

All photographs ©2002 by Mary Beth Stowe

I hadn't originally planned on visiting Seney NWR, but after reviewing my itinerary that night I realized I'd probably miss the Trumpeter Swans if I didn't go (I know, I know: their countability is debatable...), so I changed my mind once again and headed up there from Manistique. It was still pretty cold (in the 40s), and the wind was kicking up, but at least it wasn't raining! Picked up a singing Magnolia Warbler on the way in first thing, and pulling into the Visitor Center parking lot, the first things to greet me in the little pond was a pair of Ring-necked Ducks, a Great Blue Heron, and "singing" Pied-billed Grebe. Took their wonderful little 1.5 mile nature trail, but this morning it proved less than productive only because of the weather, I'm sure: Swamp Sparrows were all over the place, of course, along with Red-winged Blackbirds, but for the most part the songbird population was laying low. A Bobolink decided to fly over at one of the resting spots, a Chipping Sparrow hid in one of the firs, a Purple Finch sang from somewhere during one of the lulls in the wind, and, not to disappoint, a pair of the regal Trumpeters flew in, dazzling white against the cold gray clouds! At one of the ponds another snipe nyep-nyep-nyeped, and a cluster of five or six Spotted Sandpipers flew back and forth on their stiff, bowed wings as if they couldn't figure out where to alight, calling the whole time; I don't think I've ever seen that many Spotties all at once! Close to the residence a pair of Black-capped Chickadees came in close to pishing, followed rapidly by yet another friendly Pine Warbler or two; one of these days I think one of those buggers will land on me! Ironically, the most songbird action was back at the office, where a bare-branched tree held a flock of goldfinches and several Pine Siskins fed in a nearby pine. A pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches were having it out as well, chasing each other from tree to tree.


Entrance sign, pond at the visitor's center, and scenes from the nature trail



L-R:  Pine Warbler, head-on  Black-capped Chickadee, and Red-breasted Nuthatch


A pair of Trumpeter Swans wheel in; this refuge pioneered the reintroduction of this bird into Michigan

Took the wildlife drive after that and tried getting out to listen every half mile, but that wind was just too frigid, so I opted to do my listening from the shelter of the car! They had closed off part of the wildlife drive due to nesting eagles, but even the detour gave you plenty of viewing opportunities: plenty more Trumpeters around (and they were much more vocal today than on any of my previous visits), along with the expected Canada Geese and occasional Mallard. A male Wood Duck went scurrying into hiding, and in one canal I was very pleased to get a pair of Hooded Mergansers, a hoped-for trip bird here. Yet another American Bittern pumped from one of the marshes, and a cooperative Common Loon fed close to the road, while Tree Swallows fed low over the water. Several Caspian Terns hogged a spit of driftwood further out, while in another pond a single Black Tern fluttered about. An unidentified flock of shorebirds wheeled around up in the sky (my guess was yellowlegs of some sort), and then I saw the probable cause: a big Bald Eagle lumbering past! At one point a flock of little guys jumped up into the nearest pine, and a little pishing brought in a big flock of Butterbutts at point blank! About the only "songbirds" brave enough carry on in the hurricane were the grackles!


Trumpeter Swan skirmish, and peeking through the bushes at a Common Loon  


Pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers (aka Butterbutt); the one on the left is a probable female (may be  a male not quite fully into breeding plumage), while the one on the right is a definite, no-doubt- about-it male


Great Yellow Rail habitat (try to find one, though...)

Decided to drop the checklist off at the Visitor's Center, but got waylaid on the way in by a funny warbler song: pulled over and braved the gale by getting out, but that didn't stop the little guys from coming in to pishing: mostly Butterbutts, of course, but among them came a drop-dead gorgeous Blackburnian! (The Palm Warbler was content to just sing...) Back at the center, a Beaver was making his way across the pond, and an Osprey wheeled overhead as I was filling out the checklist.

Headed up to Pictured Rocks after that to do the Sand Point Nature Trail, my favorite trail of the place (and the only one really mentioned in the BBB). On the way, though, I couldn't believe what I was seeing: it started to snow!! And I don't mean kinda slushy half-rain/half-snow stuff: these were the big, fluffy flakes!!! This is the middle of May for cryin' out loud!! It was on and off the whole rest of the way, and by the time I got to the trailhead north of Munising, it was "on" again, but not too bad: at least picked up a couple of Redheads for the trip in the wild and windy surf of Lake Superior! The crazy kid part of me wanted to hike the trail anyway (how often does a San Diegan get to hike in the snow?), so off I went, but the stuff quit almost immediately, and at that point the sun even came out! Even so, I knew I wasn't gonna get any Alder Flycatchers this time: it's a great boardwalk loop through the marsh, and the first time I ever came here the place was alive with fee-BEE-ohs! This time I managed to kick up a Lincoln's and White-throated Sparrow, and spooked a pair of Blue-winged Teal in one of the ponds, but that was it for the bird life.


No, the pictures aren’t grainy—that’s really a blizzard! (In May yet...)

By the time I got back to the car it had started up again, and before long I was in a mini-blizzard! But since I still had time, decided to try the BBB-recommended Songbird Trail south of Au Train, in the Hiawatha National Forest. It was pretty much clear sailing all the way there, and the forest road (and the BB spot itself for that matter) is clearly marked, unlike many forest roads! The trail itself is a two mile loop with various songbird placards along the way, but again the birds were pretty quiet: picked up a pair of Hermit Thrushes on the way in, but the most incongruous thing was watching an Ovenbird strut along a branch through the falling snowflakes! (I felt like breaking into a chorus of "I'm Dreaming of a White Memorial Day...")


Road into the Hiawatha National Forest and the start of the Songbird Trail, showing the famous "Brown Bin Sign" designating an official Wildlife Viewing Area


Record-high temperatures earlier in the spring   caused massive flooding, uprooting many trees.  Portions of the trail go through meadow-like habitat


Many of these national forest hiking trails  double as cross-country ski trails during the winter, and are marked with blue diamonds for easy spotting.  On the right is a beaver dam.

It was a great walk through the mixed woods, with scattered bogs and a creek with beaver dams, but I just walked straight through for the most part, seeing as it was getting late. Again, the most action was almost back at the trailhead, where a flock of Butterbutts also brought in three Black-throated Green Warblers and a Black and White, plus two Blue-headed Vireos. Another Brown Creeper sang and hitched up a tree, and somewhere a Winter Wren gave his delightful little song.

Headed into Escanaba for the night, picking up a Sharpie flapping over the road on the way in. Had the best fried chicken I've ever had in a long time (they call it "broasted") at the little restaurant next door to the motel!


  Creek along the trail

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