Midwest Warblers VENT Trip: Part II

By: Michael Jewell, Travis Audubon Master Birder

Read Midwest Warblers VENT Trip: Part I here.


After a night in Ann Arbor, Michigan, we headed north to the Drift Plains, Northern Lakes, and Forest Region of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

It was like driving toward early spring with the leaves getting smaller and fewer as we headed toward Grayling, Michigan. Our first stop was Waterloo State Recreation Area where we spent a beautiful morning in a field looking for, successfully I might add, Henslow’s Sparrows, a lifer for quite a few of us. We were also entertained by a number of Sandhill Cranes in the same field– I love hearing their call, especially in the morning.

Kirtland’s Warbler strategy with Michael and Louise among the Jack Pines.

Kirtland’s Warblers nest in large, dense stands of young Jack Pines, so Huron National Forest was our target area. After numerous vocalizations, but never actually seeing any, we moved on to Hartwick Pines State Park where we had wonderful looks at Rose-breasted and Evening Grosbeaks at the Visitor Center. I hadn’t seen an Evening Grosbeak since growing up in Ohio, so it was a thrill for me.

The last full day was spent mostly at Tawas Point State Park on Lake Huron in Michigan. It was our first time there, but I’m itching to go back soon. It reminded me a bit of Presque Isle in Erie, Pennsylvania, both fragile peninsulas on the Great Lakes. Tawas City looked like a midwest Great Lakes resort town, but has a birding festival each spring called Tawas Point Birding Festival. This year’s festival was May 16-18, just a weekend, but we loved the area and the people. It doesn’t have the craziness of Magee Marsh, but we had wonderful looks at a lot of warblers and many other birds, including large flocks of Blue Jays flying up and down the point, waiting for the right time to fly across Lake Huron.

Our final evening was spent at the Courtyard Marriott at the Detroit Airport. We had our last meal together and discussed our three favorite things about the trip. I think I ended up with ten on my list. The evening ended full of great stories, many hugs, and a few photos, and then we were off to our rooms to wake up early to catch our flights back home.

The point of Tawas Point, looking at Whimbrel, Dunlin and more.

Victor Emanuel Nature Tour’s Midwest Warblers turned out to be a wonderful adventure for Janel and I. We really enjoyed birding with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis. We learned so much along the way and it felt like birding with old friends. They both worked hard finding our target birds, especially the Kirtland’s Warbler; I would have given up, already having a wonderful trip with or without it, but they persevered and most of us had at least a quick look on the final day.

A bonus for me was hanging around my sister Jill, talking about growing up, family, life, and just about everything else we could think of, even birding.

I must also add, our group of people were all top notch, with a few really good birders and a few on their first tour. They were a wonderfully interesting mix of people: an engineer, a mathematician, a scientist, a few in the medical field, a woman from Australia, and one was born in Eastern Europe and escaped communism when her family fled and moved to Argentina.

We’ll be back to Magee Marsh. I already talked with my sister Jill about it and we really want to explore Tawas Point again. It may be our new favorite warbler spot, and we are thinking about doing another Victor Emanuel Nature Tour in 2021!