The Kirtland's Warbler isn't Michigan's State Bird, but in the hearts and minds of many state residents it is just that. Once living on the brink of extinction, the Kirtland's Warbler has taken significant steps toward recovery, though it remains on State and Federal Endangered Species lists. A few counties in the northern Lower Peninsula represent its primary nesting area, but in recent years nesting pairs have been recorded in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin, and Ontario.
Michigan Audubon employs a seasonal guide to lead Kirtland's Warbler tours from Grayling, MI, working in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The tours for 2015 will be based at Hartwick Pines State Park just north of downtown Grayling. These tours are free of charge, but you must have a Recreation Pass to enter the State Park. If you are a Michigan resident and do not have a Recreation Pass, you will be required to purchase one (2014 fee was $11). If you are not a resident of Michigan, a daily pass will cost $9 or an annual pass is $31.
Reservations are only required for groups of more than 5 individuals.
Tours will meet at the Michigan Forest Visitor Center within Hartwick Pines State Park where participants are given a brief orientation to the Kirtland's Warbler and the Jack Pine habitat. Afterwards, participants caravan to protected pine barrens for the chance to view the endangered warbler.
Tours begin May 15 and are scheduled daily at 7:00 a.m. On weekends and holidays (Memorial Day and 4th of July) there will also be tours at 11:00 a.m. The last day tours will be offered is Independence Day.
The entrance to Hartwick Pines State Park and the Michigan Forest Visitor Center is located on Hartwick Pines Road (aka M-93) just east of I-75. A map and detailed information regarding Hartwick Pines can be found on the Michigan DNR Website.
Tour duration: 2.5 to 3 hours.
We have a high success rate of seeing the Kirtland's Warbler. Weather plays an important role in seeing the bird, as they tend to stay down in the pine branches during inclement weather and severe heat. Our guides have even been able to locate the bird during inclement weather, so don't cancel your plans because the sun isn't shining.
Please be advised that you will park along the road and walk into the Jack Pine habitat on sand trails. Walking distance is usually less than one mile. The distance of foot travel will depend on where in the Jack Pine the birds establish their territory for the nesting season.
Out of respect for the bird and its well being our guide will not make special accommodations for professional photographers.
For additional information regarding the tours, or to schedule a group reservation, send Wendy Tatar an e-mail or call her at the Michigan Audubon office (517) 580-7364.
Michigan Audubon is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service to survey Michigan's Upper Peninsula for nesting Kirtland's Warblers. Kirtland's Warblers have been growing in numbers and have recently expanded their range into Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Volunteer surveyors are coordinated by the Conservation Director. If you are interested in volunteering, surveys take place annually during the second week of June.