WRITER | CANDIE CONAT
There are two sure signs of spring in the UP. Depending on the mood of Mother Nature, the timing may change a little each year, but, inevitably, the snow and ice will melt, and birds will migrate.
Eleven miles north of Paradise at Whitefish Point, birdwatchers from near and far gather to witness an awe-inspiring miracle of nature. Whitefish Point is a peninsula that extends out into Lake Superior and creates a built-in rest stop for migrating birds – a sort of funnel effect brings them here each spring and fall. Thousands of raptors, waterfowl, and other migratory birds stop here, providing the ultimate birding experience. Many of the birds make Whitefish Point their home, but even more are just taking a rest before they journey across Lake Superior. While visiting Whitefish Point, there is a good chance you’ll have the opportunity to chat with an experienced birder. The area is tagged as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) by BirdLife International. Experienced and novice birders alike gather to assist with banding, counting, and observing the birds, recording important information for researchers and conservationists. Birders love to share their excitement for a favorite species or help you find the best places for viewing. Every year the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory hosts its annual bird migration celebration in April. Visit their website or Facebook page for more information.
Another spectacular spring show put on by Mother Nature that signifies the changing season in the UP is the break-up of river ice and the snowmelt. “Pieces of ice as big as a house will break free and begin their journey down the river, crashing into other enormous pieces. The noise of the massive ice floes smashing into each other can be heard up to five and six miles away,” says Tom Nemacheck of the UP Travel and Recreation Association. Sometimes, the ice chunks will pile up on top of each other creating giant ice cliffs until the sun comes out long enough to get them moving again.
The spring snowmelt makes even the calmest river churn with power. As the ice works its way down the river, the UP’s 300 waterfalls help to intensify the thrill. When the ice floes shoot over the top of a waterfall, it is a sight (and sound) to behold. Nemacheck says that some of the most exciting viewing is in the Lake Superior region due to its rugged terrain.
The melting snow and ice floes last for weeks, depending on weather conditions. Many people will visit multiple times to experience a river and falls at different stages, each trip offering a new and exhilarating experience. Tahquamenon Falls is one of the most popular places to observe the spring melt, with its well-established pathways and viewing platforms, but there are many other locations that provide a spectacular show as well — just be prepared for a hike! Miners Falls in Munising has an almost 40-foot drop into a narrow gorge. Just imagine the explosive sound as an ice barge flows over its edge. There are falls near Ishpeming, Marquette, Rockland, Paulding, Copper Harbor … the list goes on. Make sure to dress warmly, wear your boots, and, for heaven’s sake, stay away from the edge of the river! Oh, you might want some earplugs, too.