Waterfowlers and birders from across mid-Michigan gathered April 2 at Maple River State Game Area, outside St. Johns, to scan the skies during a spring migration tour event.

The Maple River Spring Migration Tour was sponsored by Ducks Unlimited, the Michigan Waterfowl Legacy, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Barnes Aerospace.

Attendees toured portions of the 9,000-acre wetland complex managed by the Michigan DNR. They were joined by waterfowl experts who helped point out species using the game area as a stop-over on their migration north.

Kathy Miller drove an hour to glimpse waterfowl that normally don't visit the marsh at her home in Gowen. She was excited at the variety of species. "I've never seen a redhead at home," she said. "I love being able to see something new."

Beginning in 2010, the game area underwent a five-year transformation to revitalize wetland and wildlife productivity. A $415,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was made possible by the DNR and Ducks Unlimited matching dollars.

Improvements included two new water pumping stations, repairs to miles of dikes, new boat launches, modified farming plans and more foot access for waterfowl hunters. These efforts help the DNR sustain high quality wetland habitat for breeding and migrating waterfowl, shore and wading birds and other wetland-dependent wildlife while also improving public recreational opportunities.

"It was heartening to see people experience what a viable restored wetland is all about," said Steve Wyckoff, Ducks Unlimited volunteer and event co-organizer. "It's exposing people to what conservation partners really do to restore our habitats."

Barb Avers is a waterfowl and wetlands specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

"The bird use we saw Saturday is a testimony to the habitat management we can do with partnerships and improvements," Avers said.

April 2016