Go Birding on the Great Lake-to-Lake Trail

Go Birding on the Great Lake-to-Lake Trail

Macomb and St. Clair counties are teaming up to create a coastal birding trail

A young birdwatcher meets some ducks in St. Clair County.

 

This article is part of Inside Our Outdoors, a series about Southeast Michigan’s connected parks, greenways, and trails and how they affect residents’ quality of life. It is made possible with funding from the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance.

Southeast Michigan birdwatchers will soon have an easier time locating great places to enjoy their hobby. That’s because Macomb and St. Clair counties are teaming up to create a new birding trail that will cover portions of both counties. 

The project, which doesn’t yet have a formal name, won’t involve building a physical path. Instead it will be focused onBelted kingfisher identifying and marking different areas of interest where birds can be found. In addition to the two counties, Huron-Clinton Metroparks and several regional Audubon conservation groups will be assisting with the establishment of the birding trail.

Winter Bird Blast is an annual event in Port Huron sponsored by the Friends of the St. Clair River and the Blue Water Audubon Society.

“We all feel that a formal birding trail through both counties is long overdue,” says Dave Struck, planning director and deputy county administrator for St. Clair County. “We’re located at the intersection of two major flyways: Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River Corridor. Those are prime locations for spotting migratory birds.”

The effort got rolling in 2019, when Macomb County officials approached their counterparts in St. Clair County with the idea of collaborating on a birding trail. Both counties have been actively building up outdoor recreational infrastructure in recent years, and officials liked the thought of making the hobby more accessible to enthusiasts. With birdwatching tourism generating around $40 billion annually in the United States, officials were also intrigued by the economic opportunities that birdwatching infrastructure might be able to bring to their respective regions. 

Belted kingfisher

Discussions between the two counties eventually led St. Clair County’s Metropolitan Planning Commission to apply to the American avocetsMichigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) for a $13,200 Coastal Management Program grant to establish and promote a birding trail on the coast of southern Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, and the St. Clair River. The grant was approved by EGLE in October 2020.

“Both St. Clair County and Macomb County are providing matching funds for the grant,” says Struck. “Each county is contributing $2,500 in cash match and $2,500 in in-kind services for a total of $5,000 match from each county. The remaining matching funds are made up of in-kind services from our other project partners.”

With $19,266 in matching funds taken into account, the birding trail project will have a total budget of $32,466.

The project’s partners are now in the process of identifying 30 birding hotspots, which will most likely be divided equally between the two counties.To do this they’re making use of an online birdtracking platform called eBird that’s managed by Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab, as well as gathering input from local birdwatching groups. Possible sites on the route could include Harsens Island, The Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, and Lake St. Clair Metropark, where over 285 different bird species have been sighted.

American avocets

After these spots are identified, the project partners will put together a field guide brochure pinpointing their locations and highlighting amenities like parking, restrooms, and non-motorized paths. A website with field guide information including individual sections for each county should be online this summer. There are also plans to install physical signage at each birdwatching site in late summer or early fall this year. The birding trail partners are also looking into holding celebrations in the two counties once the project is complete, depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic develops.

Photos by Roy Churchill and Laurie Dennis/St. Claire County
A pair of male goldeneyes.