Both North Manitou Island and South Manitou Island are part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and both are excellent birding areas. Ferry service from Leland is through the Manitou lsland Transit and is available to both islands from about mid-May through mid-October. Personal vehicles are not allowed on either island. Call (231) 256-9061 for costs, schedules and other details.
South Manitou Island lies about 16 miles west of Leland and is 5,260 acres with approximately 10 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. Birders visiting South Manitou Island can go for a day trip or an extended camping trip. Day trips usually allow about four hours on the island and another three hours to look for birds over the open waters of Lake Michigan while on the round-trip ferry. The scenery on a clear day is spectacular. There are many good birding habitats on the island including Lakeshore, dunes, shrub-scrub, open fields and different types of woodlands. It can be excellent during spring and fall migration. If you don’t have much time, check the shoreline, dunes and woods near the lighthouse. The Florence Lake area is also worth checking if time allows. On most days, the Manitou Island Transit staff offers island tours in open-air vehicles. This is a good way to visit a variety of habitats in a short period of time; however, there is usually a limited amount of time to spend at each stop.
North Manitou Island is about 13 miles from Leland and lies just 3 miles north of South Manitou. North Manitou Island is three times larger than South Manitou and has about 20 miles of shoreline. This large island is managed as a wilderness area and the ferry does not travel to North Manitou every day. Birders visiting this island need to be prepared for overnight primitive camping and backpacking. Birders looking for this type of experience should check ahead with the Manitou Island Transit or the Sleeping Bear Dune visitor center in Empire for more information. North Manitou offers a tremendous variety of birding habitats including inland lakes, old farms and orchards, dunes, shoreline, shrub-scrub and forests.
Directions: Maps to both islands are available at the Manitou Island Transit office and at the Sleeping Bear Dunes visitor center in Empire.