Plan a visit to see a
Unfortunately, because of Covid, it appears that Kirtland's Warbler Tours will be limited in 2021. The Michigan DNR and Michigan Audubon will be conducting Kirtland’s Warbler tours at 7 a.m. on Fridays and 7 and 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays between May 28 and June 27. All tours will meet in the parking lot of the visitors center at Hartwick Pines State Park. There is no fee to take the tour, but a Michigan Recreation Passport or a park entrance fee is required. For more information, email Craig Kasmer of the Michigan DNR at kasmerc (at) michigan.gov.
The U.S. Forest Service does not plan to conduct tours from their office in Mio.
If you want to see a Kirtland's Warbler on your own
It's fairly easy to see Kirtland's Warblers if you know when and where to go. Kirtland's Warblers live in young jack pine trees that grow on the sandy soils of northern Michigan's outwash plains. If you find a stand of jack pines between five and 20 feet tall, you are likely to find Kirtland's Warblers. Exit your vehicle and listen for singing warblers to determine if they are at that specific location.
Under no circumstances should you enter the jack pine forest. Kirtland's Warblers nest on the ground, and it is possible you could accidentally step on a nest. Even if you do not step on a nest, you could accidentally chase a Kirtland's Warbler off its nest, potentially causing the pair to abandon the nest. Please plan to watch the birds safely from a distance by staying on the road.
If you're coming to see a Kirtland's Warbler
Plan to spend two nights in the area. The night before seeing a Kirtland's and the night after. There are plenty of activities to fill your day. Here are our suggestions of what to do, where to stay and eat:
36 hours in Grayling
Places to stay: There's a combination of chain motels and locally owned places. The chain motels are close to I-75 but farther away from Hartwick Pines.
Eats: Grayling has a wide variety of restaurants, from fast food near I-75 to sit-down spots around town.
Breweries: A visit to any of the three breweries - Rolling Oak, Paddle Hard, or Dead Bear - will give you that rustic "up north" feeling.
Things to do: Combine a day of birding with canoeing or kayaking on the Au Sable River, golf at Forest Dunes (Kirtland's Warblers nest right on the grounds!), or maybe take in a mountain bike race at Hanson Hills Recreation Area. See one of the last remaining stands of old-growth White Pines at Hartwick Pines State Park and marvel at their size. Visit the fish hatchery to learn more about how trout are stocked. Or, if you are a history buff, visit Wellington Farm USA to learn about what life was like during the Great Depression. For more information, visit the Grayling Visitor's Bureau website at https://grayling-mi.com/events.
36 Hours in Houghton Lake/Roscommon
Places to stay: No chain lodging in Roscommon; multiple chain and locally owned motels in Houghton Lake. http://www.visithoughtonlake.com/lodging.shtml
Eats: Our favorite is Fred's of Roscommon. The Hungarian mushroom soup is a specialty. After your meal, bowl a game or two. You can't do that at the local fast food joint!
Things to do: Attend the Kirtland's Warbler Festival on the first Saturday of June. Visit the Marguerite Gahagan Nature Center. Pay special attention to the differences in the bird life between the jack pine ecosystem and this example of an upland forest. Rent a pontoon boat and spend the day taking in the sun on Houghton Lake. Canoe the South Branch of the Au Sable River, which is designated a wilderness area. Visit the Fireman's Memorial. The Geocache Trail has become extremely popular. Events Calendar.
36 Hour in Tawas City/East Tawas
Places to stay: Tawas Bay Beach Resort is the choice of most birders since it's closest to Tawas Point State Park. There are few chain motels; most are locally owned.
Places to eat: Mr. Jack'ss in East Tawas is a sports bar with sandwiches and beer and a favorite of local birders. Breakfast at Augie's on the Bay in Tawas City for great food and views of Tawas Bay.
Brewery: Boat House Beer Company in Tawas City.
Things to do: Tawas Point State Park has excellent birding, particularly in spring migration. If you're a photographer, be sure to drive the River Road National Scenic Byway. Hike the Corsair Trail. Bird Tuttle Marsh, which always seems to attract rarities. Events Calendar.