A large variety of birds makes Maple River exceptional any time of year. I try to visit the area at least once a month.
During early spring, the river often fills with hundreds of migrating Tundra Swansthat stop over for about a week before moving north. I also like to drive around to find the Bald Eagle, Great Horned Owl, or Red-tailed Hawknests that are common throughout the area. As spring progresses, colossal numbers of diving and dabbling ducks gather across the flooding. On a good day, you may find the vast majority of Michigan’s inland ducks.
During the peak of spring migration, warbler flocks pass through the forests lining the river, and Prothonotary Warblers and Red-headed Woodpeckers arrive to nest on the west side of the flooding (Unit A). While walking to the viewing areas, I often come across several rails or a Least Bittern. A few summers ago, two of the state’s endangered King Rails were seen there.
In the fall, the fields and impoundments flood, and impressive flocks of shorebirds gather. But my favorite season to bird Maple River is winter. The fields surrounding the flooding bring in large numbers of Rough-legged Hawks, Snow Buntings, Northern Harriers, and occasionally a Short-eared Owl or Northern Shrike. — Erik Enbody
Erik Enbody is a high school student and an avid birder in East Lansing, Michigan. He works in a bird acoustics lab at Michigan State University.
Floodplain. Paved and gravel roads. Dikes lead to views of the flooding. Many birds and habitats can be viewed easily from the car.
Large numbers of migrating waterfowl March-May. Also herons, Bald Eagles, Osprey, rails and bitterns, neotropical migrants, including breeding Prothonotary Warblers, and nesting grassland species near the Unit B parking lot. Winter: Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Shrikes. Rarities: Hudsonian Godwit, Eurasian Wigeon, Snowy Egret, and King Rail.
When to go
Spring and fall for waterfowl and shorebirds, summer for breeding warblers and marsh birds, and winter for raptors and passerines.
More than five miles of trails. Wheelchair-accessible viewing blind. Observation tower. Restrooms available at nearby gas station. Area map available at www.michigan.gov/dnr.
State game area. No permissions or entry fees required. Limited access during fall hunting season. Unit A accessible on the western side of US-27. Additional units east on Taft Rd. near the parking lot.
A spotting scope is useful all year. Bring insect repellent or wear protective clothing. Some areas may contain deep water during seasonal flooding. Use caution on dikes.