Thursday, February 28, 2013

Birding Maple Lake and Briggs' Pond

Briggs' Pond from the Red Arrow Highway side (dam side)

         As the word gets out about Paw Paw, Michigan's great birding, more and more people are asking, "Where the heck is Briggs' Pond? How do I find all those herons, ducks, and geese?" So I thought it was time for a tell-all post people can refer to!

          Basically, Maple Lake and Briggs' Pond are in the heart of Paw Paw. Briggs' Pond appears under several names depending on where you look, so I decided I like Briggs' Pond and I am sticking to it.  From I94, take Exit 60 towards Paw Paw. This puts you on Kalamazoo Street, which is also M40.  All the locations I describe are entirely west of M-40, except for the last one. All of these locations are mostly surrounded by private property, so please behave appropriately. Keep in mind that waterfowl move, so check all locations before giving up on a particular bird.

1. Marshy area of Briggs' Pond - From Kalamazoo Street, turn west on Commercial Street. The St. Julian Winery is on the northwest corner and is hard to miss. Follow Commercial until it deadends at Briggs' Pond, next to the old Paw Paw Press building. A missionary group is slowly renovating the building, but they told me it is fine to bird from the corner of the building. This spot overlooks the marshy area of Briggs' Pond. Depending on water level it can be good for shorebirds in season. This is where I usually find American Black Duck. Green and Great Blue Herons are resident, and I often see Great Egrets here. This is the spot where I most recently saw Greater White-fronted Geese and Cackling Geese. In summer, this is a great spot for watching the resident ducks, geese and swans raise their broods. Green Herons also nest here.

2. Dam Side of Briggs' Pond - When you leave the marshy area, go back out to the first stop sign (Gremps Street) and turn left. Follow this street to the traffic light, which is Michigan - this is the name for Red Arrow Highway where it goes through Paw Paw. Turn left. After you pass the state police post, you can either find a spot to park along the road to bird Maple Lake to the north, or you can continue on the parking lot for the dam trail on the south. Check both the pond on the south and the lake on the north side of Michigan. The hybrid goose featured in my last post hangs out around the dam trail. If you bring bread, you will get to see all the local resident geese and ducks. Or even if you don't bring bread. They are always hopeful. The little trail over the dam can be productive at times. I once found a snapping turtle laying eggs back there!

3. Maple Isle - Maple Isle isn't open in the winter time, but, in season, it can be a great vantage point. Parking is across the street next to the nursery. From the Dam Side parking lot, turn right back onto Michigan and go back to the second light (Kalamazoo Street). Turn left. After you pass all the in-town residences, you will see the gate and sign for Maple Isle on the left.

4. Boat launch ramp - On the north side of the lake from Maple Isle you will see the boat launch area. Depending on the ice situation, this part of the lake can be great for diving ducks. The only access to check the east arm of the lake is from here, scoping from the sidewalk.

There are a couple of other areas where you can get some frustrating peeks at the lake, but please be mindful of commonsense, traffic laws, and privacy issues. And let us know what you see! Good birding!

This Ring-necked Duck and his odd companion hung out around the boat launch ramp this winter. 

Briggs' Pond from Commercial Street

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