BLOG: Birding in Door County

The high-pitched, repetitive cries of seagulls always make me secretly smile. “AAhh, AAHH, AAhh, AAHH.  You see, that sound is a sound heard up north by the Big Lake of Michigan, and being there makes me smile very much indeed. I even get excited about gulls circling around mundane parking lots, checking for dropped food, hovering above me as I approach my car.  It’s not a romantic notion, but it’s got teeth. In Door County, when gulls are circling, crashing waves, tall pines and diamonds glittering on the water are nearby.

I’d always been a Midwest girl, shedding tears each time I left a paradise like Door County to return home. Imagine my glee when I arrived in Door County for an entire summer, to be greeted by squawking gulls, following a tractor, squabbling over worms in newly plowed fields. And I hadn’t even gotten to the beach yet. That’s where they usually hang out, bird delinquents, with their beady eyes, certain to find a sympathetic tourist or a discarded potato chip. “AAhh, AAHH, AAhh, AAHH. Summer gulls are a given, but there are less brazen birds to search out.

I am not a bird person, nor do I particularly swoon over animals. I am the part of the biology class that the high school teacher always neglects: The Plant Lover. More specifically, I go gaga over trees. But, because I seize the moment when a moment is there to seize (and here I was in the “Bird Heaven of Door County”), I dutifully arose before the sun a few times, to join others in roaming around woods and shore (its own reward for me) to look for birds. These are people who came supplied with fancy, schmancy telescopes and earth toned hiking clothes; who peeled off bird names faster than the birds could call: “is that a vireo or a tanager?” I’m more of the sort to swoon over vibrant plumage, just as I delight in the paint of a bright yellow (having no idea what make or model) car. Plus, I have always had a “finding-the-bird-in-the-viewfinder” deficiency. I knew I would not be able to get my binoculars to home in on the feathery specimens before they, or the group, moved on. It didn’t matter. I saw brilliant splashes of color, birds zooming around chasing each other; heard spine tingling, simply amazing calls.  The rising sun glinted gold through dewy branches and warmed my skin; the sky changed from pale to strong blue; I stepped among odd shaped, green, growing bits, feeling my feet solid on the earth; ran my fingers through pine needles, caressed waving grass heads. Here and there, a purple flower, a delicate pink flower.

It is also reverent to be in the company of people who are reverent about the birds they are looking at.  Such agility. Such speed. Such know how. And in the people too.

We are arrogant to believe we are good at what we do.  I defy you to flit around like these birds do, certain to not crash into boughs, or each other, perching on branches waving wildly in the wind, opening seeds without benefit of hands, building architectural wonders of intricate nests, singing their little hearts out (they are after lady birds, you see). Birdsongs are every bit as wonderful as anything famous composers ever put together. I realize people come up to Door County to engage in other pursuits, but I have never reaped such rewards as the ones I gathered, along with the birds’ calls, those early mornings. I felt almost as virtuous as the birds themselves.

A duck is something I can actually trap with binoculars.   We make fun of ducks, but I defy you to find a human as magnificently clothed as in the glossy green and brilliant blue plumage of a mallard.

Friendly Chick-a-dee_Peninsula State ParkMy favorite little species is the chickadee.  Their name is their call: chicka dee dee dee. Their seeming play is their finesse. They stick it out up here in wicked winter, you know; tiny fluff balls zooming about—how they survive at all, what diligence, is inspiring. I think of chickadees if ever I’m having a rough day. You will find me, at the Peninsula State Park Nature Center, sunflower seed sprinkled on my outstretched hand, engaging in contact with these cheery gems, as they dare to swoop in on me, the giant people monster, regarding me as close up as my neighbor in church, then to remove a single seed and flit back to a safe branch to pick it open. We do not often, these days, take the time to come in contact with anything so wild. An afternoon of chickadees is an afternoon well spent.

Other showstopper birds:
Turn onto any random, wooded, back road to cruise for turkey families, out bobbling around with their jerking neck walk. You may find them visiting your lodging site.

Last Spring, an entire playground full of children paused to point up to the sky where two bald eagles soared above for 15 minutes. It was every bit as wonderful to see the eagles as it was to see the children excited about seeing the eagles. I also held communion with a bald eagle during a Portage County Park (a bit north of the Canal Light Station off of Lake Forest Park Road) beach hike (it is lawful to walk at the high water line around Lake Michigan).  The eagle and I both paused in our labors, he to preen, me to stare, with a big grin on my face, at a bird, that it was not even possible to see so easily, not so long ago.

I’ve had the good fortune to witness a snowy owl perched, without any pretense of showing off its elegant feathers, on a simple fencepost at the edge of a field in the middle of the peninsula.

A Big Door County Welcome to all birders and birds. Let your sightings begin! But bring your ears along too.

For more information on birding in Door County, visit