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Wonderful Birding opportunities throughout the year!

Benzie County, though the smallest of the 83 counties in Michigan, offers wonderful birding opportunities throughout the year but especially in Spring and Fall.

About 270 species have been recorded in the county, and about 220 of these may be seen in a given year. The Benzie Audubon Club hosts a Big Day Count in the middle of May each year and has recorded as a group many as 168 species in one day.

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Highest total species

Individual birders have recorded as many as 132 species in a day. The Benzie Club and the Manistee Audubon Society to the south have consistently recorded the highest species total on their Christmas Bird Counts of any other count in Northern Michigan.

With rolling hills covered by forests and fields, interspersed with numerous lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams Benzie County is perfectly situated for spring and fall migrants. Marshes and a long coastline along Lake Michigan also make Benzie River the first choice for many bird species to migrate to.

Spring migration

The spring migration begins slowly in March, builds from mid-April until early May and peaks the middle of May. After the peak, the migration winds up quickly so that by the end of May it is essentially over.

Fall migration

During the fall, migration begins as early as July when a few shorebirds, having already completed their nesting in the Tundra begin a leisurely southward trek. The entire fall migration is much less frenetic than the spring migration and lasts into December. The peak migration is difficult to define as different species seem to peak at different times, but usually, the best overall birding can be seen from mid-September through mid-November.

Weather

Through the early part of the spring migration and most of the fall migration weather is extremely variable and birders should be prepared for a wide variety of conditions. Weather, especially wind direction, also plays a large role in the movement of the birds.

Prime months

Those interested in observing migrating waterfowl should find April, October and November as the prime months. The best observation points are Platte Point at the mouth of the Platte River and Point Betsie where you will also find the most photographed lighthouse on the Great Lakes.

Platte Point in the winter often holds huge concentrations of waterfowl. Over 20,000 Greater Scaup have been seen here along with thousands of Common Goldeneyes and Buffleheads as well as many other species. Up to 350 Common Loons per hour have been seen passing Point Betsie as well as hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks. Many Scoters are also seen here occasionally.

Fine selection of field birds

The Elberta Marsh and Betsie Bay area is a great place to see Dabbling Ducks, Shorebirds, Herons and Sandhill Cranes.
The Otter Creek area offers a fine selection of field birds along M-22 and Each Rd., and great birding for spring warblers and other passerines in the wooded areas nearer the lake.

Canoeing and kayaking

The Grass Lake flooding on the upper Betsie River is a wonderful place to bird in the month of May for canoeists and kayakers. Many animals like Eagles, Osprey, Rails, Pied-billed Grebes, Herons and passerines such as Yellow-throated Vireos that seem to prefer more inland areas away from Lake Michigan can be seen here. Canoeing or kayaking at the Elberta Marsh is another worthwhile trip.

On the southern border of Benzie County is the Arcadia Marsh and Lake, just a couple of miles south of the county line in Manistee County. Both spring and fall in this area harbors many migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, cranes and many other birds. Viewing is easy from M-22.

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