Grand Haven, Michigan, urban birding
On Saturday March 30, with the promise of some beautiful weather, I made a trip to Grand Haven, Michigan to spend the day birding. Grand Haven is the largest of three municipalities on the banks of the Grand River where it eventually empties into Lake Michigan. The other two are Ferrysburg on the north bank, and Spring Lake to the east.
I didn’t carry my GPS unit with me, as I was in town 100% of the time, so I don’t have a map of my walking that day, but I did take a photo of a map that shows the majority of the ground that I covered.
You can click on the photo for a larger photo with more details. You can see an extensive system of walking/bicycle trails, many right along the Grand River or its offshoots.
It’s been years since I visited Grand Haven, it used to be a place that I went very often, as the Grand River bayous are well-known for good bass fishing. It also serves as a good port to access Lake Michigan for salmon and steelhead fishing on the big lake.
I began the day on Harbor Island, part of which is shown on the map above. I don’t know if it was a real island, or if it was turned into one by dredging a channel through a marshy area to create more mooring slips for pleasure boats. You’ll get a better idea as I post more photos of the area. Since this post is about birding in the Grand Haven area, most of the photos will be of birds, but I’ll throw in a few of the other things to see and do as well.
I had just parked and gotten out of my vehicle, and I could see a few waterfowl in the south channel that makes Harbor Island an island.
I was standing on top of a railroad trestle for those, and the pilings from an earlier bridge caught my eye.
I walked most of the circumference of Harbor Island, it is a very marshy area, and I was hoping to catch a few early wading birds, but other than a few killdeer, none where to be found.
With the water level of Lake Michigan near an all time low, the ribs of an old boat that had been beached and left to rot have been exposed.
And since the next day was Easter, I thought this to be a fitting shot.
The flag and cross are atop a dune that rises above one of Grand Haven’s claim to fame, the world’s largest musical fountain. It’s quite impressive when they do their evening shows, but that’s all I have to say about it here.
I did spot a few more ducks as I walked the shoreline of Harbor Island.
There were other things to photograph as well, the tugs used to push barges of sand and gravel from a mining operation…
….another old boat left in the mud…
…and the old railroad swing bridge, which is still in operation.
It was a beautiful day, with birds singing everywhere…
…but I didn’t try very hard for better photos, I didn’t want to spook the birds and lose the music they were providing me. It’s been months since I’ve heard their songs, it was a day to enjoy them. Adding to the songbirds’ music was the warbling croaks of huge flocks of sandhill cranes headed north.
And the chattering of a pair of kingfishers who kindly made sure I got good photos of them by flying past me repeatedly.
Having made it all around Harbor Island, I drove to downtown Grand Haven to walk the breakwater there.
I began at the Coast Guard Station in town.
It was there that the red-throated loon made my day by flying past me for a great photo-op! I saw the loon, but it was really too far away for good photos. If as it knew my predicament, it launched itself into flight and flew past me at about the optimal height and distance for some very good photos, if I do say so myself. There was a couple standing near me, and after the loon had flown past, they asked if it had been a loon. My reply was yes, and it had made my day, for things were not going the best as far as getting good close-ups of birds. That didn’t change a lot, other than the loon.
Some people would say that it was much more likely that the loon took flight because the Coast Guard boat pulling out of its slip disturbed the loon…
…but I’d like to think that the loon was being nice, since it was the reason I went to Grand Haven in the first place. 😉
I walked all the way to the end of the breakwater.
On my way, a small raptor flew past me at speed, landing in a tree on the other side of the channel. I’m not 100% positive, and my photo isn’t very good, but I think that it was a peregrine falcon, which make their home in Grand Haven.
I wasn’t quick enough to catch it in flight, and that shot is cropped severely to show the bird. I should have brought my binoculars, but they were sitting in my Subaru, a great place for them while trying to ID birds.
After walking the breakwater, I headed over to the Pere Marquette Railroad display.
As always, there were plenty of gulls around who were willing to pose.
If you notice, the bottom of that last photo is darker than it should be, I think that my Nikon is dying. About halfway through the day, the shutter began making odd sounds when I was shooting, by the end of the day the camera was giving me error messages that I really didn’t want to see.
The turkey vultures must have sensed the imminent death of my Nikon, for a few of them began circling ominously close.
Thinking that I should give the camera a rest, and escape the vultures, I headed up to Mona Lake, and Lake Harbor Park to shoot a few photos of red breasted mergansers in flight.
Other than the mergansers and a sky full of gulls, there wasn’t a lot to see there, so I went on to the Muskegon Channel to see what I could find. Nothing really special at first.
I kind of like the effect of my shutter going bad made to this photo of some ducks too far away to ID.
I sat on a bench to take a break and soak up some very rare sunshine when a male mute swan decided to declare war on younger male who was some distance away, and minding his own business. The older male came at the younger one like a freight train!
The older swan had a head of steam behind it, I got the feeling that all the younger one wanted to do was to escape and be left alone, but that didn’t happen. It wasn’t much of a war, the older one was beating and biting the younger one, who was doing all it could to get away.
That’s all the photos for this one, but I do have a few more words to add about Grand Haven. It is a very popular summer destination for thousands of people, from both Michigan and surrounding states all week long, but especially on weekends. There will be a steady stream of boats going up and down the channel, and people will be shoulder to shoulder on the breakwater in town. It is not a place will you will find peace and quiet if that’s what you’re seeking, nor many waterfowl during the summer. That’s not a knock, but I think that you should know that it is a typical beach town, sleepy in the winter with many businesses closed, and a bustling city in the summer. You can see yacht from all around the world moored at the many marinas along the Grand River during the summer months.
Even on this early spring day, there were enough fishing boats going in and out of the channel to keep the waterfowl population at bay. If you’re thinking of birding in the summer, there are probably better places to go, but over the winter months, with the migratory waterfowl using the open water of the river as a rest stop, it can be a very good place to go.
One last thing, for most of the day I was wishing I had brought my kayak to get around rather than walking. I probably should have, it would have been a great day for it, although I’m sure that the water was still mighty cold! I’m thinking of going back there at least once during the early spring so that I can get back into the bayous of the Grand River. I picked up the crossbars that fit my Subaru when I had it in for its service, so I’m all set for kayaking this summer!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!