Beaver Island Birding Trail 1
Whiskey Point, described by Beaver Island Birding Trail as Beaver Island Lighthouse or Whiskey Point Lighthouse, juts south into the entrance to Paradise Bay. The lighthouse and old Coastguard boathouse stand as a reminder to the island’s nautical heritage. Only the tower of the lighthouse remains, the keeper’s house being lost years ago. The coastguard boathouse stands, and its ownership has been transferred to Central Michigan University who has made it useful again, housing their research vessel and research facilities. Parked at the lighthouse, one is given a unique view of St. James and the entire harbor. On the lawns near the CMU property water snakes bask on the rocks and, in May and early June, families of Canada geese lounge. If you’re not squeamish about VERY large water snakes and copious amounts of goose droppings, the walk to the shore south of the boathouse often rewards one with good viewing of birds of the big lake.
View of Whiskey Point from the Emerald Isle. Andrea Grabill photo
Double-crested cormorants, those often-vilified water birds are plentiful in the harbor. Buoys, piers, and dock pilings are favorite resting and drying sites. Cormorants lack the efficient waterproofing of waterfowl like ducks and geese and must, therefore, perch on a dry location, spread their wings, and let the breeze and sun dry them off. On the water, they sit low and, being large and dark, are often mistaken for loons with whom they share the harbor and its fish bounty. Common terns are often found fishing in the bay as well. The buoy at the harbor’s entrance is a good spot to see them if the perch isn’t already taken by cormorants. Each spring, I look forward to a close view of the buoy off the port bow of the Emerald Isle as we enter the bay. It’s a familiar spring welcome to the island. Standing to the north of the boathouse, mallard families feed in the shallows and reeds along with spotted sandpipers and killdeer.
From the rocky shore north of the boathouse, swallows can be heard. These little aerial acrobats twist, dive, and swerve after insects over the lawns and water. Tree swallows and barn swallows come to the point to feed and, in the case of the barn swallows, to collect mud, which they mix with saliva to make their cup-shaped nests. Along with the tree and barn swallows, though, is a swallow particular to Whiskey Point. These are cliff swallows. I don’t know of anywhere else on Beaver to find them. They also collect mud for the shoreline to mix with saliva for nest-building. Their nests, though, are an amazing feat of engineering. Under the lip of the Whiskey Point Light, just below the railing, these little brick layers make a gourd-shaped home adhered to the underside of the overhanging steel. Looking up under the black rim, birders can find dozens of these structures and, in the right season, parents peering out from within. I’m told by my friend, Jim Gillingham, that these birds once nested in one of the old Beaver Island Boat Company ferry “South Shore” and they would follow the ferry as it left Beaver for the mainland.
Viewing cliff swallow nests. Andrea Grabill photo.
As I make my way back to the parked vehicle, I look carefully back toward Paradise Bay, not to admire the view but to search the small trees in the boathouse lawn for northern mockingbirds. It’s likely to be futile but once (yes, only once) I happened upon a mockingbird here, flying from tree-to-tree. It stayed at the point long enough for me to help several birders find it. I’ve not seen one here since, though I look as though I expect one each visit.