Birding Soars in the Straits of Mackinac Area

Birding is currently the second fastest growing hobby in the United States after gardening, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service who also reports that over 2 million Michigan residents are birdwatchers. There are countless opportunities for viewing these winged wonders in and around the Mackinaw City area during the coming warm weather season.

While no longer protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle remains protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Here in Michigan, the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch takes place every day in Mackinaw City. The group conducts scientific studies of hawks and owls migrating through this region of northern Michigan and educates the public about the birds and their migration. They count northward-bound hawks in the spring and survey owls both spring and fall, recording and reporting the data for free professional and public access.

The Michigan Audubon Society represents nearly 40 local chapters throughout the state, with individuals participating in local, state and national bird counts, as well as sanctuary stewardship initiatives and community events. Among the northern chapters are the Petoskey Regional Audubon Society, Petoskey; Straits Area Audubon Society, Cheboygan; Thunder Bay Audubon Society, Alpena; AuSable Valley Audubon, Oscoda; Kirtland’s Warbler Audubon Society, Marquette; Sault Naturalists Club, Sault Ste. Marie; and Laughing Whitefish Audubon Society, Marquette.

The Sunrise Coast Birding Trail takes flight at the mouth of the famed AuSable River in Oscoda and wings its way north all along the Lake Huron coast to Mackinaw City, encompassing more than 145 miles along US-23. Birders will delight in observing the common, threatened or endangered birds of these freshwater coastal and inland locations.

Founded in 1966, the Petoskey Regional Audubon Society offers monthly indoor programs and over 30 year-round field trips for its 200 members and guests throughout Emmet, Charlevoix and other nearby counties. Efforts are currently underway by this group to develop a “Tip of the Mitt” birding trail.

Up over the famed five-mile Mackinac Bridge in the Upper Peninsula, additional birding sites can be found within a few hours of Mackinaw City.

The North Huron Birding Trail includes five unique zones associated with nearby communities in the Les Cheneaux Islands area, east of the Mackinac Bridge on the northern shore of Lake Huron. Once a summer vacationing spot for conservationist, forester, philosopher, professor, ecologist and author of the A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold. This region celebrates the life and legacy of this noted naturalist, May 31-June 3, during the Aldo Leopold Festival.

The Superior Birding Trail in this area covers 150 miles, from the Seney National Wildlife Refuge to Whitefish Point, with more than 300 bird species can be found.

Located on Lake Superior (next to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum), the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory conducts two of the longest-running point counts in North America. The site is a globally-significant migration funnel for raptors, waterbirds, shorebirds and passerines.

To book lodging reservations during your summer birding vacation, visit


Discover Michigan’s Only Internationally-Designated Dark Sky Park—The Headlands—in Mackinaw City

A conversation with Mary Stewart Adams, Director – The Headlands Dark Sky Park

For visitors coming to the Mackinaw Area and may have never heard of a “Dark Sky Park,” what is it and what should they expect?

A Dark Sky Park is an area of land over which the night sky has been protected from light pollution, which is stray light that spills up into the sky, diminishing views of the stars. Most residents of the United States now live where they can’t see most of the stars at night.

Given that the stars and a striving to understand them has motivated some of the highest achievements in humanity, this poses a significant threat to culture everywhere. Conscientious use of light at night also helps us support and sustain healthy habitat, particularly for bird migration through the Straits area; it allows us to be better stewards of natural resources that are used for energy; and it supports human health and well-being, since we now know that exposure to artificial light at night disrupts the production of important sleep hormones.

Michigan is home to only one Internationally-designated Dark Sky Park, and to several thousand acres of state park lands where the night sky is celebrated and protected. What visitors can expect at The Headlands is several miles of hiking trails where they can take in some of the area’s best old-growth untouched forest and maybe catch a glimpse of the rare Dwarf Lake Iris, which only grows in this region of the world. The Headlands also has two miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline which is dedicated to night sky observing, taking in beautiful sunsets, wishing on stars, watching the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).

This summer we are also opening our new Waterfront Event Center and Observatory, where we will host regular programs, both indoors and out, as well as public viewing nights with the telescopes, to enhance the experience of the natural environment.

What makes a Dark Sky Park so unique? This is the only one in Michigan and one of only how many in the US and the World?

An internationally-designated dark sky park such as The Headlands is owned and managed locally (in this case, by Emmet County) but reports annually with sky quality meter readings and hosts regular educational program to sustain a standard and quality of dark commensurate with the rigors of the designation.

Headlands is still the only internationally-designated Dark Sky Park in Michigan (it was the 6th in the US and 9th in the world) when it was designated in 2011. There are now over 40 international Dark Sky Parks worldwide, and they can be found at the website

How accessible is the facility – the trails, the viewing areas, the new Waterfront Event Center.

The Headlands is located just two miles west of downtown Mackinaw City at 15675 Headlands Road. Guests to the park can drive in and park near the Waterfront Event Center and access the grounds by sidewalks, or park near the entrance and walk the beautiful one mile route to viewing areas along the shore. We have 24-hour ADA accessible restrooms; and the building is also universally accessible, both lower and upper levels. However, there are 20 steps up into the Observatory, so guests who cannot handle stairs for programs we offer with the telescope can view the screens in our event space.

What can people find inside the new waterfront event center – in terms of exhibits and events?

The Waterfront Event Center is designed for rental and is not open daily like a visitor center would be. When we host programs in the space, visitors can take in the exhibit area and restrooms. We have two large format screens in the event space that will display what is being seen by our 20-inch PlaneWave deep space imaging telescope. There is a commercial kitchen; and an indoor/outdoor fireplace.

What is planned regarding this August’s Solar Eclipse?

During the Great American Eclipse on Monday, August 21 the Sun will appear to be about 80% eclipsed by the Moon. We have a terrific solar telescope through which we will be projecting images, and we intend to have live stream from the path of Totality on screens in the event space.

What about this Pure Michigan Award you received earlier this year?

The first Pure Award was presented in 2016, and the second was awarded earlier this year to The Headlands, at the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism held in Detroit in April. The Headlands was selected “based on its recognition of the night sky as a vast and vanishing natural resource that is essential to today’s global conversation about habitat protection, energy resource management and tourism.” The award itself was designed specifically for us by artisan glassblowers at Greenfield Village and is a single blown piece in the shape of the north star, inlaid with silver leaf to evoke a sense of the Milky Way.

Final thoughts on admission, accessibility, hours and such?

Visitors to The Headlands can always access the site free of charge. We are busiest through the summer months, so even though we have paved parking near the Waterfront Event Center, the lot gets full, which means guest park at the entrance and walk one mile to the shoreline viewing areas. It’s a beautiful walk, but you should be prepared with things you can carry, like chairs or sleeping bags, and red filter flashlights (see below). The park is always open, and you should come by in the day the first time, so you can see the lay of the land, because it gets really dark at night.

Some things to note:

Occasionally we host programs that are ticketed, and there will be a fee for public viewing in the Observatory. These things can be check ahead of time on our website at