Birdwatching in Grayling MI – Birding is excellent throughout the county because it has a heavy forest growth. Enjoy some casual bird watching or work on your Life List! The sites below represent known locations where specific species have been spotted. The birds listed are just a sample of what can be seen; many more species live in those areas.
Click Here for a .pdf flyer outlining the birdwatching opportunities in the Grayling area.
- Kirtland’s warbler Tours: The panoramic forests that cover the hills and valleys of Northern Michigan are home to Michigan’s rarest bird, the Kirtland’s warbler. Special areas are being managed through timber harvest, tree planting and controlled burning to maintain the world’s only nesting grounds for the elusive bird. (As of October 2019, the warbler has been removed from the Federal Endangered Species list with an estimated population of 2300 pairs. All regulations and conservation efforts still apply.) Warbler nesting grounds are found primarily in the many acres of Jack Pine forests around the Grayling Area and are off limits during the nesting season, except in guided tours. The female Warbler builds her nest of leaves and grass below 5-20 foot tall Jack Pines in the midst of dense undergrowth. In the fall, Kirtland’s Warblers migrate to the Bahamas. The Warbler’s threatened extinction is being caused primarily by loss of its very selective habitat. Managed timber harvest, tree plants, and controlled burning have helped double the number of Kirtland’s Warblers from 1961 to now. Tours are available Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m., and Saturday & Sunday, 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., June 1-30 from the Hartwick Pines State Park for $10 per person. You need a Recreation Passport to enter the park. They sell them at the park entrance – $11 Michigan annual, $31 out of state annual, $9 daily. For groups of five or more, please email the Mi.Audubon to make reservations email@example.com. Individuals can just show up at the Park. 4216 Ranger Road, off of M93. For questions call the Park Visitors Center at 989-348-2537. For more information on the Kirtland’s Warbler visit these sites:
- AuSable and Manistee Rivers: Numerous public access sites are available. Look for Mallards, Black Ducks, Mergansers, Great Blue Herons, Baltimore Orioles, Sandpipers, Downy, Hairy,and Pileated Woodpeckers, Red Winged Blackbirds, Black-capped Chickadees, White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Turkeys, and Eastern Kingbirds. A canoe float trip is a quiet trip and one of the best methods of viewing the many species.
- Deward Watchable Wildlife Site: A non-motorized area, all dirt road driving. At the flashing light in Frederic drive .4 miles to Hulbert Road on the left. Drive .6 miles to the stop sign at Kolka Creek Road, turn right. Drive .7 miles to Cameron Bridge Road on the left. Drive 5 miles and turn right onto Manistee River Road. Drive approximately 3 more miles and watch for the binocular sign on the left. This is a two-track. There is a parking area and it’s about a short five minute walk to the river. Look for Belted Kingfishers, Downy, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers, Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Hermit Thrushes, Veeries, Eastern Phoebes, Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Evening Grosbeaks (fall, winter) Eastern Kingbirds, Ruffed Grouse and Turkeys.
- Dyer Truck Trail/Connor’s Marsh: A large marsh can be seen on the right side of Dyer Truck Trail shortly after entering the road. This is a non-maintained trail: there are a couple of areas you can pull off the road right before the marsh, ½ mile after you leave North Down River Road. If you don’t want to drive down a two-track, park on the shoulder of N.Down and walk in. The other side of the marsh can be accessed by Connors Flat Road, also a dirt road off of McMasters Bridge Road, 20 miles east of Grayling. Hawks, American Bitterns, Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroats. Song Sparrows, Savanna Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows and Turkeys.
- Hanson Hills Recreation Area: Miles of walking trails through rolling oak hills offer possible sightings of Woodpeckers, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, Ovenbirds, Eastern Phoebes, Nuthatches, Chickadees, Wood Thrushes, Veeries, Hermit Thrushes, Brown Thrashers, Song and Field Sparrows, Turkeys.
- Hartwick Pines State Park: Enjoy birding at Michigan’s 5th largest State Park (9,672 acres). Rolling hills to flat landscapes with a wide variety of forest types offer excellent habitat for birds. A section of the East Branch of the AuSable River, three lakes and 49 acres of old growth conifer forest are just an example of the kinds of habitat that can be found at the park. Three hiking trails (7 miles) and three mountain biking trails (15 miles) run throughout the park for those interested in actively searching for birds. For those who prefer the comfort of indoors, the Michigan Forest Visitor Center has a bird feeding station and a bird monitor so that visitors can watch the birds as well as listen to them sing…… Downy, Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, Ovenbirds, Hermit Thrushes, Veeries, Wood Thrushes, Brown Thrashers, Turkeys.
- Mason Tract Pathway: Look for Belted Kingfishers, Eastern Kingbirds, Bald Eagles, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Downy, Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers, White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Veeries, Hermit and Wood Thrushes, and Turkeys in this non-motorized area with over 11 miles of hiking trails that run near the AuSable River.
- Rayburn Estate: Walk or bike this two mile paved trail off of North Down River Road that leads to the AuSable River and look for Turkey Vultures, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, Field, Savannah, Chipping and Song Sparrows, Great Blue Herons, Rufous-sided Towhees, Brown Thrashers, Ovenbirds, Hermit and Wood Thrushes, Veeries, and Turkeys. There is a parking area, however, this site is not marked. The parking area is directly after the MATES facility on the right. (There is a 1.4 mile walk or bike to the river on a paved trail.) Look for a couple of military tanks on the left. To access from M72 East, drive 1.3 miles from the overpass and turn left at the stone pillars. There is a parking area and a short walk (.8 miles) on a non-maintained trail to the river. A bridge allows you to cross the river on foot or bicycle.
- Sewage Pond, City of Grayling: 1.4 miles south on Industrial Drive, M72 East. Partial pavement. Pond on the right, parking in the grass. Multiple water birds.
- Wakeley Lake: A loon nesting area, this is federally owned property with over 16 miles of trails and is non-motorized. There is a regulation to use artificial baits only for fishing. All fish caught must be returned to the water. Look for Common Loons, Woodpeckers, Ruffed Grouse, Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Cedar Waxwings, Rufous-sided Towhees, Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Hermit and Wood Thrushes, Veeries, and Turkeys.
NOTE: Follow any public two-track road in the County (except where signed off-limits) for excellent bird watching. Most of these roads are on state or federal land and open to foot traffic. Many are also open to vehicular traffic.
The AuSable Birding Trail Maps
- Deward Watchable Wildlife Site
A non-motorized area, all dirt road driving. At the flashing light in Frederic drive 0.4 miles north to Hulbert Road on the left. Drive 0.6 miles to the stop sign at Kolka Creek Road, turn right. Drive 0.7 miles to Cameron Bridge Road on the left. Drive 5 miles and turn right onto Manistee River Road. Drive 2.6 more miles and watch for the binocular sign on the left. This is a two-track. There is a parking area and it’s a short five minute walk to the river. Look for Belted Kingfishers, Woodpeckers, Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Hermit Thrushes, Veeries, Eastern Phoebes, Baltimore Orioles, Eastern Kingbirds, Ruffed Grouse and Turkeys.
- Hartwick Pines State Park
A destination well known for the diverse ecosystems it offers. Northern hardwoods, Old Growth white pine forest, lowland conifers, lowland hardwoods, upland conifers, oak/pine communities, open grasslands as well as riparian corridors along the East Branch of the AuSable River offer birders the chance to see a wide variety of birds. Stop at the Visitor Center during the spring and summer months to check off the Evening Grosbeaks on your Life List. They visit the window feeders daily. The Kirtland’s Warbler Tours are led out of the Visitor Center during June. The most accessible of the four lakes in the park are Bright & Glory. Early spring, from the floating docks, a variety of waterfowl like scaups, ducks, loons and mergansers can be seen. Throughout the summer, Kingfishers, Great Blue Herons, Eagles and Osprey can be seen “fishing” on these lakes. Plentiful passerines call from the forests that surround these lakes. The park is almost 10,000 acres. Michigan Recreation Passport required. Located off M-93 northeast of Grayling.
- Hanson Hills Recreation Area
20 Miles of walking trails through rolling oak hills offer possible sightings of Woodpeckers, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, Ovenbirds, Eastern Phoebes, Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Wood Thrushes, Veeries, Hermit Thrushes, Brown Thrashers. From M-93 west of Grayling, take Old Lake Road east to Hanson Hills.
- City of Grayling Sewage Pond
1.4 miles south on Industrial Drive (turn south off M72 East). Partial pavement. Pond on the right, parking in the grass. View a variety of water birds at this site.
- Rayburn Property
M-72 East 1.3 miles from the overpass to a parking lot on the left that is marked with stone pillars. The trail is not maintained but easy to follow down to the Main Branch of the AuSable River. A bridge crosses the river and a small hill offers a great view of the river with typical river birds as well as Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, Rufous-sided Towhees, Brown Thrashers, Ovenbirds, Hermit and Wood Thrushes.
- Connors Marsh
A large marsh can be seen on the right side of Dyer Truck Trail shortly after entering the road from North Down River Road. This is a non-maintained trail; there are a couple of areas to pull off the road right before the marsh, ½ mile after leaving North Down River Road. The other side of the marsh can be accessed by Connors Flat Road, also a dirt road off of McMasters Bridge Road, 20 miles east of Grayling. Typical birds as well as Hawks, American Bitterns, Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroats are frequently seen.
- Wakeley Lake Foot Travel Area
This area is managed by the US Forest Service and offers visitors many trails to choose from. A few trails allow the opportunity to bird watch along the shore of Wakeley Lake where eagles, ospreys, common loons and other water-loving birds are common sights. Another trail also meanders through mature hardwood forest where American Redstarts, Scarlet Tanagers and Baltimore orioles can be seen and heard. The total hiking/biking trails are 16.5 miles. National Forest fee.
- Mason Tract
Walk into a piece of northern Michigan that has relatively gone unchanged for decades. A wide variety of wood warblers, sparrows and waterfowl (along the AuSable River’s edge) make this a must-see birding destination. East of Grayling, this non-motorized area with over 11 miles of hiking trails offers viewing of over 100 species. The terrain is a bit hilly; it’s a mixture of hardwood, Jack Pine and river system. There is a well-maintained parking lot and primitive campground. Michigan Recreation Passport required. Trailhead on Canoe Harbor Road (turn south from M-72).
- North Higgins Lake State Park
More than nine miles of trails are open to the public in this 429-acre park. The trails are groomed for skiing in the winter. Common sightings at this location include the Common Loon, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Winter Wren, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Blackthroated Green Warbler. A Recreation Passport is required for entry.
- Marguerite Gahagan Nature Preserve
This public wildlife sanctuary is located just outside the Village of Roscommon on 209 Maplehurst Drive. The property’s mature pine forests and cedar swamps can be enjoyed from the one mile paved ADA trail with self-interpreting signs, or the color-coded paths through the woods where you will find woodpeckers, warblers, owls and more.
- South Higgins Lake State Park
South Higgins State Park has almost one mile of shoreline along Higgins Lake where you can observe water fowl or walk through the 1000 acre park that is forested with maple, oak and pine. The bird count is highest in the summer. The drumming of woodpeckers and flickers can be heard everywhere, while the call of the loon, squawking of the gulls and quacking of the ducks resound closer to water’s edge . A Recreation Passport is required for entry.
- Marl Lake
Marl Lake is the 700 acre part of South Higgins Lake State Park. There is a small boat launch and dock occupied by ducks when canoers and fisherman are not there. It is a quiet non-motorized lake with a 5 mile hiking trail skirting the lake and park benches that are good for observing the kingfishers and water fowl. Marl Lake offers a good opportunity to view Bald Eagles. April and June are the best months for this since eagles nest nearby and spend considerable time fishing in this shallow lake. A State Park Recreation Passport is needed.
- Michelson’s Landing
There is a small pull-out on the circular drive at the end of North Michelson Road where you can view the Dead Stream Flooding, an impoundment of the Reedsburg Dam. An active Bald Eagle nest is visible on the opposite shore from the site. Nesting Pileated Woodpeckers, warblers during migration, and breeding and migratory waterfowl, herons, bitterns, and wrens are among the more than 170 species identified in the area.
- Reedsburg Dam
There is a state forest campground near the Reedsburg Dam on the south end of the 30,000 acre Dead Stream Swamp flooding. Species that may be seen here include Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes, Wood Ducks, Canada Geese, American Black Ducks and Mallards. Spring is a great time to view waterfowl because many of them are in their colorful breeding plumage. Several Osprey platforms have been placed in the flooding and most of them are used each year by nesting Ospreys. A Recreation Passport is required.
- Houghton Lake Flats Observation Deck
The Houghton Lake Flats is located on Old 27 north of M55. There is an observation deck and parking available. It is open to the public year round. This large, flooded marsh is home to numbers of breeding dabbling ducks. Nesting platforms are used by several pairs of Ospreys and Bald Eagles. Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons also breed here. 165 different species of birds can be found here.
- Houghton Lake Wildlife Research Area
The sedge-grass marsh is located at the eastern edge of the Houghton Lake Wildlife Research Area. Park at the turn-around and walk roughly west over a short, overgrown sand berm to a trail. Care should be exercised on the boardwalk. Sightings include Ruffed Grouse, American Bittern, Green Heron, Osprey, rails, wrens, warblers and the rare Yellow Rail.
- Houghton Lake Sewage Ponds
Located on Old 27 south of M55, Houghton Lake. Number one hotspot in Roscommon County. Birders welcome. Sign in at office. Open 8-4 M-F. Good diversity and numbers of both waterfowl and shorebirds. Grassland birds are in fields and warblers are along woods. Recurring rarities include Dickcissel, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, American Golden-Plover, and Phalaropes are all possible.
- Old 76 – St. Helen
Near Lake St. Helen on Old 76 is an inactive eagle’s nest, but there are many sightings of eagles in the area along with other birds of prey including the Red-shouldered hawk.
- F97 – St. Helen
Osprey nests can be viewed from the road. Head toward Kirtland Community College on N. St. Helen Road (F97) to find osprey nests on platforms and power poles on both the east and west sides of the road.
- Backus Creek Flooding
Backus Creek Flooding is a reservoir located just 4.3 miles from Prudenville on M18. There is moderate accessibility. 39 species can be found. Loons nest on Backus Lake. An Osprey nesting platform is close to the road. An Eagle’s nest is found nearby.
- Denton Creek Flooding
Denton Creek Flooding is a cultural feature (reservoir) off M18, Denton Township. There is moderate difficulty in accessing it. 124 species can be found with the top birds found being Swan, Duck, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Grouse, Grebe, American Bittern, Osprey and warblers.
- Lost Twin Lakes
Lost Twin Lakes is located 7 miles south of Houghton Lake on Reserve Road (County Road 400). 44 species can be found. This 3 mile loop trail winds through an old growth pine forest. Designed for hiking and cross country skiing, the trail has several bridges. It also co