My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Michigan, why I love it

I started this post on a slightly different topic, but then began adding some facts about the State of Michigan, where I live. Because of questions and comments that I’ve gotten over the last few years I’ve been doing this blog, I thought it would be a good idea to do a post about this great state.

I am going to start with a map and some facts from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.



Michigan is a state located in the Great Lakes region of the Midwestern United States. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning “large water” or “large lake”. Michigan is the 9th most populous of the 50 United States, with the 11th most extensive total area. Its capital is Lansing, and the largest city is Detroit. Michigan was admitted into the Union on January 26, 1837, as the 26th state.

Michigan has the longest freshwater coastline of any political subdivision in the world, being bounded by four of the five Great Lakes, plus Lake Saint Clair. Michigan is one of the leading U.S. states for recreational boating. The state has 64,980 inland lakes and ponds. A person in the state is never more than six miles (9.7 km) from a natural water source or more than 85 miles (137 km) from a Great Lakes shoreline.

It is the largest state by total area east of the Mississippi River.

Michigan is the only state to consist of two peninsulas. The Lower Peninsula, to which the name Michigan was originally applied, is often noted to be shaped like a mitten. The Upper Peninsula (often referred to as “the U.P.”) is separated from the Lower Peninsula by the Straits of Mackinac, a five-mile (8 km) channel that joins Lake Huron to Lake Michigan. The two peninsulas are connected by the Mackinac Bridge. While sparsely populated, the Upper Peninsula is economically important due to its status as a tourist destination as well as its abundance of natural resources.

The Great Lakes that border Michigan from east to west are Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

The heavily forested Upper Peninsula is relatively mountainous in the west. The Porcupine Mountains, which are part of one of the oldest mountain chains in the world, rise to an altitude of almost 2,000 feet (610 m) above sea level and form the watershed between the streams flowing into Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. The surface on either side of this range is rugged. The state’s highest point, in the Huron Mountains northwest of Marquette, is Mount Arvon at 1,979 feet (603 m). The peninsula is as large as Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island combined but has fewer than 330,000 inhabitants. They are sometimes called “Yoopers” (from “U.P.’ers”), and their speech (the “Yooper dialect”) has been heavily influenced by the numerous Scandinavian and Canadian immigrants who settled the area during the lumbering and mining boom of the late 19th century.

The Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten and many residents hold up a hand to depict where they are from. It is 277 miles (446 km) long from north to south and 195 miles (314 km) from east to west and occupies nearly two-thirds of the state’s land area. The surface of the peninsula is generally level, broken by conical hills and glacial moraines usually not more than a few hundred feet tall. It is divided by a low water divide running north and south. The larger portion of the state is on the west of this and gradually slopes toward Lake Michigan. The highest point in the Lower Peninsula is either Briar Hill at 1,705 feet (520 m), or one of several points nearby in the vicinity of Cadillac. The lowest point is the surface of Lake Erie at 571 feet (174 m).

Numerous lakes and marshes mark both peninsulas, and the coast is much indented. Keweenaw Bay, Whitefish Bay, and the Big and Little Bays De Noc are the principal indentations on the Upper Peninsula. The Grand and Little Traverse, Thunder, and Saginaw bays indent the Lower Peninsula. Michigan has the second longest shoreline of any state, 3,288 miles (5,292 km), including 1,056 miles (1,699 km) of island shoreline.

The state has numerous large islands, the principal ones being the North Manitou and South Manitou, Beaver, and Fox groups in Lake Michigan; Isle Royale and Grande Isle in Lake Superior; Marquette, Bois Blanc, and Mackinac islands in Lake Huron; and Neebish, Sugar, and Drummond islands in St. Mary’s River. Michigan has about 150 lighthouses, the most of any U.S. state. The first lighthouses in Michigan were built between 1818 and 1822. They were built to project light at night and to serve as a landmark during the day to safely guide the passenger ships and freighters traveling the Great Lakes.

The state’s rivers are generally small, short and shallow, and few are navigable. The principal ones include the Detroit River, St. Marys River, and St. Clair River which connect the Great Lakes; the Au Sable, Cheboygan, and Saginaw, which flow into Lake Huron; the Ontonagon, and Tahquamenon, which flow into Lake Superior; and the St. Joseph, Kalamazoo, Grand, Muskegon, Manistee, and Escanaba, which flow into Lake Michigan.

The state has 11,037 inland lakes (totaling 1,305 square miles (3,380 km2) of inland water) in addition to 38,575 square miles (99,910 km2) of Great Lakes waters. No point in Michigan is more than six miles (10 km) from an inland lake or more than 85 miles (137 km) from one of the Great Lakes.

The state is home to a number of areas maintained by the National Park Service including: Isle Royale National Park, located in Lake Superior, about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Other national protected areas in the state include: Keweenaw National Historical Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Huron National Forest, Manistee National Forest, Hiawatha National Forest, Ottawa National Forest and Father Marquette National Memorial. The largest section of the North Country National Scenic Trail passes through Michigan.

With 78 state parks, 19 state recreation areas, and 6 state forests, Michigan has the largest state park and state forest system of any state.

Michigan is fifty percent forest land, much of it quite remote. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources manages the largest dedicated state forest system in the nation. Public hiking and hunting access has also been secured in extensive commercial forests.

With its position in relation to the Great Lakes and the countless ships that have foundered over the many years in which they have been used as a transport route for people and bulk cargo, Michigan is a world-class scuba diving destination. The Michigan Underwater Preserves are 11 underwater areas where wrecks are protected for the benefit of sport divers.

And now, a little about how the shape and geographical location come into play as far as birding.

Because the Great Lakes are more like inland freshwater seas than lakes, they provide habitat for species of waterfowl that would only be seen along the east or west coast of America otherwise, not in the heart of the north American continent, where Michigan is.

To give a little perspective, Lake Michigan is just over 300 miles long, and averages about 100 miles wide. It’s the Great Lake closest to me, the long, narrow lake to the west of Michigan.

Because many smaller species of birds won’t migrate across the lengths of the Great Lakes, their migration routes take them through Michigan, and the shape of the state acts as a funnel of sorts, concentrating those birds in several small areas where they are able to cross shorter expanses of water.

One of those places where birds congregate during migration is the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, and here’s a blurb from their website that explains it better than I can.

“Whitefish Point provides a phenomenal concentration spot for migrant birds. Here, land and water features create a natural migration corridor. Tens of thousands of birds are funneled to the Point every Spring and Fall while migrating through the Great Lakes region. For over 30 years, Whitefish Point Bird Observatory has been monitoring and documenting these annual migrations. Our mission is to document the distribution and abundance of birds in the Great Lakes Region, with special emphasis on migration.”

And because Michigan has a long history of being in the forefront of protecting wildlife, most of the concentration points along the bird migration routes are protected areas, and most of those are open to the public. There are a few spots that are considered to be so environmentally critical to wildlife that they are closed to the general public. Those are mostly islands in the Great Lakes, where human visitors could force tired birds that needed to rest before flying on to the next land mass to take flight before they are rested enough to make it to the next land.

So there’s a quick overview of my home state. Doing this post points out something to me, that I need to retrace many of my earlier trips around the state to update my photo collection! And also to do more posts about Michigan, and our many attractions, both natural and man-made.

Most of my photos of the scenic wonders of Michigan are in the form of slides, not much use for posting here. There have been times over the past few years when I thought about stopping at a particular spot to take photos, but I’ve stopped myself, telling myself that I had already been there and photographed those places. But in doing this post, I had the urge to use the photos from Wikipedia to illustrate this post, remembering how beautiful those places are.

Hopefully, this will start another project for me, much more in line with my original intentions when I began this blog, highlighting many of Michigan’s great wonders. It will go well with the My Life List project that I am doing on the birds of Michigan. I’ll just have to stop and smell the wild roses!


18 responses

  1. I’ve only been to the great state of Michigan a couple of times (covering motocross events, way back when!) and did not get to see even a fraction of the birding life you’ve been sharing. It’s a great service to show out of state folks that there’s more to MI than they may have thought.

    April 21, 2013 at 8:53 am

    • There’s more to Michigan than I’ve seen in my lifetime!

      April 21, 2013 at 10:04 pm

  2. From what I’ve seen from your photos it’s a beautiful place. I like the fact that you have so many parks and other places that make it easy for anyone to get into natural surroundings.

    April 21, 2013 at 9:17 am

    • We are very blessed with public land, so blessed that many Michiganders take it for granted.I hit five parks today, city, county, and state, all in the Muskegon area, and there’s at least twice that many that I missed.

      April 21, 2013 at 10:08 pm

  3. I envy you the great number of lakes but you seem to be a bit short of hilly country.

    April 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    • They don’t call us flatlanders for nothing! And, the areas where there are hills, the trees are so thick that you can’t see the hills.

      April 21, 2013 at 10:11 pm

  4. I love Michigan, too! Some seasons more than others… P.S. 99.9% of us Yoopers are tired of snow now…

    April 21, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    • I like all four seasons, but not when one of them overstays its welcome. 😉

      April 21, 2013 at 10:13 pm

  5. The mad you posted really sunk in how much Michigan is surrounded by large bodies of water. How lovely for you to live in such a wonderful place. I, for one, would love to see you doing more landscapes of your area. Just wish your choice of theme allowed for slightly larger images to really do them justice.

    April 21, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    • Thanks, you can always click on any of my photos to see an 800 X 600 version of it, just remember to use the back button after viewing the photo.

      April 21, 2013 at 10:14 pm

  6. plantsamazeme

    Cool post Jerry, and even after living in Michigan for over 50 years, I learned a few things from your post. And you have another project to work on, which with your Subaru you can have fun buzzing around the state.

    April 21, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    • Thanks, I’m getting the travelling urge again, now that I can afford gas, I think that I may indulge myself.

      April 21, 2013 at 10:16 pm

  7. Wow, thank you for this. I can read and read about it in encyclopedias but somehow it “feels” and sounds different from a local’s perspective.

    April 22, 2013 at 11:42 am

    • Thank you, it is a great state, and area of the USA, I hope that I can do it justice in my upcoming posts.

      April 22, 2013 at 12:42 pm

  8. Whitefish Haven sounds like birding heaven to me. How I wish i could go and enjoy all those lovely migrant birds. Hope you make the most it for me.

    April 23, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    • I forgot to add that Whitefish point and bay is the area that the Edmund Fitzgerald was trying to reach when it sank in Lake Superior. The memorial to those lost is right next to the bird observatory. It’s about a 400 mile drive for me, I won’t make it this spring, maybe next year.

      April 24, 2013 at 2:09 am

  9. That’s truly a lot of water surrounding your state! No wonder you do kayaking, it’s not like it’s hard to find the wet stuff!

    April 25, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    • Thanks, hopefully this summer, I’ll be getting some good landscape shots. Our dunes and Lake Michigan attract people from all around the world. A group is just beginning to mark a water trail for kayaking the entire coastline of Michigan. By marking, I mean pinpointing access and camping sites, and safe havens for when the wind kicks up on the lakes.

      April 26, 2013 at 2:11 am