Bird Watch: Introducing the New Sleeping Bear Birding Trail

Just in time for spring, Michigan’s first “birding trail” has been formed. The website of the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail offers a guide to 34 recommended birding sites scattered throughout the lakeshore, along 123 miles of Michigan's Highway M-22. And there’s more.

The new website comes equipped with many resources —including a smartphone app.  You’ll have the tools to become a bird-watching extraordinaire.

If you’re not a bird watcher, it might be difficult to comprehend the incredible amount of revenue this activity generates for local economies. The last time the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service provided a national measure for bird-watching expenditures, America’s 42 million birdwatchers annually spent around $32 billion in travel and hobby-related purchases.

Even before the region was named the “Most Beautiful Place in America,” the dunelands of Northwest Lower Michigan was one of the most popular destinations for birders in the state. The fields, forests, and beaches of Leelanau County and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, in particular, are home to some 321 species.

Birding trails are popular from i nAlaska to California to th eFlorida Gulf Coast. Now, according to chairman and co-founder of Michigan’s first birding trail, Dave Barrons, the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail has been formed to connect and promote tourism through the area’s exceptional birding opportunity.

The M-22 Connection

"I always knew we had the resources to add birding to the area's tourism brand,” Barrons told MyNorth  earlier this month. “But the surprise was just how much access to diverse, public land there is along M-22…This is not just a single trail where you get out and hike around looking for birds. It’s a travel route, a way of connecting a number of birding sites in a way that allows you to include them in your itinerary and enjoy some incredible scenery.”

The trail’s new website, sleepingbearbirdingtrail.org, is designed to help guide birders to 34 birding hotspots scattered along 123 miles of Michigan Highway M-22. In addition to bird identification photos and information about peak migration patterns in the area, the website is smartphone compatible and includes a web-based map that will lead travelers from Manistee, northward through Benzie County, around the Leelanau Peninsula and eventually to Traverse City.

The Trail is anchored by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which has over 71,000 acres of public land and 35 miles of beaches, including vital habitat for the Piping Plover.

Partnering…For the Birds 

The Homestead is one of roughly a dozen, conservation-minded organizations that saw the value of helping sponsor and promote Barrons’ grassroots initiative. The Homestead is not some Johnny-come-lately to the birding community; the grounds of The Homestead have always been managed with wildlife foremost in mind. The Manitou Passage Golf Club has been erecting birdhouses and naturally improving the property with the goal of being accepted by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses.

The Homestead is located in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes on M-22—right in the middle of this birding paradise. To kickoff the bird-watching season, The Homestead is in the process of putting together some great accommodation and tour packages for birders this summer. Keep an eye out for future eNewsletter offers.